Part One: Waking up

October is waning, and I still haven’t posted the domestic violence post I’ve wanted to write. I’ve thought long and hard about this post, which was more difficult to put together than I’d expected. Namely, where in my experience  to begin?

The actual beginning? I think my family knew something was wrong with this situation before I’d realize I was in a limiting relationship at best, and more accurately, in an abusive relationship. I’ve been a freespirit most of my adult life, and in a very short time within my domestic relationship with this man, my world shrank; most specifically, my relationships with and access to my family were discouraged. And my family took notice.

We’d lived in the woods, in a beautiful little spot I’d where I’d dreamed of having a family, caring for animals, and tending to a garden. It was also isolated, and often, I was denied use of a car, and couldn’t hold even the part time jobs I’d settled on to appease a deep insecurity this man exhibited whenever I was out of his reach. Which meant I had little and often no income of my own.

The worst part? I think the most emotionally crushing feeling I experienced would be in the very early morning hours of my fortieth birthday. I’m not one for milestones of this sort, but my fortieth year meant something to me in that it meant that I’d outlived my father, who’d died in an accident at 39. He meant everything to me, and his abrupt passing left a significant impression that anything, anything could happen at anytime. If this cautious man could die in an accident, then maybe I would too. And I did not. I’d lived, mostly on my own terms, in a whimsical manner that allowed me to postpone a secondary education until I was ready, and interrupt a career in journalism to travel when I’d wanted to. To commit to nothing unless it was on my terms, which included flexibility and  ample room to indulge matters of intellectual, creative, and spiritual curiosity.

On my birthday, I’d wanted only a quiet day to myself, ideally child free. Maybe a glass of my favorite wine. Just that. No fancy dinner, no gifts. Instead I was violently awakened at 3:00 in the morning and read the riot act for a good half hour, with my sleeping child next to me, over a triviality: I’d eaten something he’d wanted. I’m not sure I was even fully awake when the tears came down my still face after he’d left the room. I’d felt scraped out and empty inside. Gutted. It’s a word that would best describe my feelings about this time. A systematic violation and then gutting of my self esteem and vitality.

Never a good sleeper, I would be awakened in this manner often and randomly, over little things like this. The counselor I’d sought out half a year later would tell me that this was unacceptable treatment, and often employed on prisoners.

The turning point? came in two parts.

We’d been forced to move (long story) and at my insistence, we settled on a location that allowed me more access to a community. The catch was, in order to access a library and the playgrounds for the kiddo, and more importantly, and secretly, a domestic violence agency, I had to use to a bike to get around. So I did, with the kiddo aboard.

 And another thing happened: I’d made my first friend in seven years of living in Connecticut; an incredible woman who validated my situation and feelings, and supported me in countless ways toward my journey toward independence. In a month, with such valuable supports, I had a little confidence. And a plan.

The more dramatic turning point came unexpectedly, and accelerated, not prematurely, my plans for a new life when a side table full of books brushed my head, tossed from a pair of angry hands. That in itself marked a new element: violence. Before, it had been primarily emotional; a dynamic of denial of common liberties (because I didn’t deserve anything. Anything.), and frequent declarations of my overall worthlessness and stupidity. 

I wasn’t entirely surprised– the prospect of bodily harm forbode itself in subtle threats: a knife swaying casually my way during a lecture, and thrown objects sailing toward the walls to make his point. I knew if I’d stayed long enough, this was inevitable.

The point that transformed things finally,  in a concrete and clear fashion, was the reaction of my daughter after this act. “Mommy, I’m tiny. Mommy, I’m tiny!”, was all she’d say, over and over in clearly terrified screams. Prior to this, I’d sensed she was aware of the tension of this living situation. Later, it would express itself in a generalized anxiety and a belief at the tender age of four,  that the world was a scary and unsafe place.

Her terror flipped a switch in me, unquestioned and direct. A 911 phone call, a statement, an arrest, and a restraining order came in short order. And a year ago this month, the kiddo and I entered a domestic violence shelter to begin a new life in a new town.

My experience is mine, but hardly unique. I lived in the shelter among women with similar stories, coming out of relationships and experiences with the same ingredients: control, manipulation, threats, and violence, seeded and perpetuated by a sense of entitlement on the part of their abuser.

Why did we stay? It’s a question I ask myself still, especially when I realize, almost daily,  in all of its colors and shades, the freedom and power of my new life. I can’t answer for those women. My own answer: Hope. My hope for someday, a stable, family life. And it wasn’t a complete fairy tale of a dream, or a figment of my imagination as long as there were honeymoon periods of calm during what is known as the cycle of violence in these relationships.

I still have that hope, but it’s different. Its realization now resides in my own hands.

Tomorrow, I’d like to share my thoughts about what I feel is the most difficult challenge of all: moving on, especially within a social and judicial system that doesn’t adequately address the needs and safety of domestic abuse survivors.


1 Response to “Part One: Waking up”

  1. 1 Doktor Holocaust November 2, 2008 at 7:01 am

    for me, I stayed in an abusive relationship out of insecurity. Out There, away from her, was a world where i was unwelcome, unwanted, and worthless, and that a violent bullying girlfriend was better than no girlfriend at all.

    i was wrong, and learning how wrong I was has taken aw hile, but it’s been a vastly empowering experience.

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October 2008
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