*******POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING*******
There was news which broke this week, with the release of the Ray Rice video of him blatantly punching his wife in the face, knocking her out cold. I’m not going to link to the video simply because of the triggers associated with it and quite frankly, I don’t think that such violence towards women should be shared like it’s candy. That experience was hers and it’s not something belonging to us to share.
Writer Beverly Gooden started the hashtag #WhyIStayed as a means of combating the unfortunate slamming of Rice’s now wife, then-fiancée in the media because she still married him despite being knocked out cold.
It’s not something I talk about in depth on a regular basis, but having experienced it myself, I have many reasons “Why I Stayed” and I think we need to talk about it more. When I was in the midst of the physical, emotional and verbal abuse, I really didn’t think of any way out as much as I did surviving each day. There was no concept of getting out because I was so preoccupied with getting through and responded negatively when people questioned my motives for staying because there was a part of me that knew I shouldn’t be there, but I had no idea how to get out, so I stayed put.
I remember sitting in the bathroom, unable to sleep because I was woken up with a hard kick to the leg when I moved to their side of the bed. It didn’t matter that I was moving towards them in my sleep and completely unaware. Each time I tried going back to sleep that night I succumbed to panic attacks and heart palpitations that had me wandering the basement apartment we lived in, trying to find reprieve.
Looking back now, I know that I didn’t have to stay, but my barely twenty year old self had no idea.
And I think #WhyIStayed is brilliant because of how much shame the media and others will levy on your already burdened shoulders for staying. There were times I felt like asking, “Don’t you know how hard I am on myself already? I’ve beat myself up worse than they could for being in this position.”
My secondary victimization came in the way the police handled my case.
Three months after I was nearly murdered at the hands of my abuser, suffering from PTSD without realizing what it was, the police came to the door to tell me they lost all the evidence and paperwork. What that meant was I had to fill out an entirely new report, which meant that the fingerprint bruises her hands on my throat left behind were no longer there and the knife wound on my hand was missing also.
Which means that there was no physical evidence with which to press charges and rather than face jail time, the offender got off without a charge and what was a case of attempted murder with evidence to back it up, looked like nothing more than a complaint put to paper. It means that an attempted murderer was allowed to walk free and potentially do it again. Despite having so much more than just my words, the police officers handling my case reduced my very real brush with death at the hands of domestic violence to nothing more than the words I wrote in a second statement. It confirmed much of what my abuser told me about myself- I wasn’t worth it and should be ashamed of myself. So I sat down, shut up and tried to get through all that I was going through then.
The experience robbed me of a voice and I was invisible. Their mistake told me it wasn’t a big deal and that I was making too big an issue of it, despite the fact that I couldn’t sleep at night, I was barely able to eat, the mere sound of ambulance sirens sent me into a panic attack even in the safety of my bedroom and I was struggling with having panic attacks at my then-new job; Moreover, I was in and out of hospitals with the belief I was having heart attacks but the truth was that the panic attacks were so bad and so frequent that I developed a mild irregular heartbeat for the better part of a year. However, because I didn’t think it was a big deal, I didn’t reach out for help, somehow coming out the other side of PTSD without medical intervention or assistance.
Why am I talking about it now?
Having walked through the fire, I feel as though sharing my experience is important because the voices of others talking about their experiences gave me the freedom to heal from mine. It may seem like a twisted thing, to read about domestic violence, but what it does is gives you a vocabulary that expands not only your ability to talk about it, but your ability to heal from it.
If you’re reading this and wondering if any of it was your fault, if you’re thinking that you could’ve done something differently, if people make light of your situation, if you can’t talk about it just yet, if you’re building up the courage to leave or if you just left and feel that gut-wrenching fear- I’m sharing some of my story for you.
It’s true that it wasn’t a happy time and it’s not a happy subject but I can say from what my life looks like now, that knowing how to talk about the darkness is how we let in the light and if you’re in a place where you don’t believe it just yet, trust me when I say after rising up from the depths that the light still shines and it’s still there within you.
First and foremost, there is no shame and if you’re reading this while berating yourself for staying in a really unhealthy or outright abusive situation, you are not alone.
We were all there before and there is a way out to the other side.
It is staggering how many women experience domestic violence and the even more unfortunate part is that so many condemn us for staying, as though the logic of a healthy system works the same as it does in a sick system.
I didn’t have enough money for first and last and didn’t think I could live on my own.
The panic attacks, constant threats of suicide, abuses and the stress made me mysteriously ill and I couldn’t work because I kept getting sick; I didn’t have the resources to support myself without a job.
I thought I was strong enough to help and didn’t want to “give up” on them, because I thought it was love.
When I called someone in tears after the first time I was thrown into the counter, they said to stay because all my stuff was there anyway and after all, that was just one incident.
It was embarrassing to tell others that I had bruises and put up with all the things I did instead of just leaving.
I genuinely believed everything they told me.
I was afraid I would be beaten up when I broke up with them if they flew into a rage.
Her family was depending on me to help her.
I believed there was something wrong with me that, once I fixed it, would put a stop to the abuses.
She said that if I left, she would kill herself and harmed herself often enough to have me believe it.
I was told I had to leave home and my only option was moving in with her because minimum wage wasn’t enough to support myself.
I thought I was smarter than her addiction and violence issues.
It’s not about going to check out the hashtags on Twitter and seeing it from the inside out, but figuring out how we can listen to know how to compassionately help. We often reach out to help others with the perspective that our help is the help.
And that attitude is what helped me the least.
I don’t know how each person needs help but the point is that each person needs our help individually, rather than operating as though domestic violence is an experience with a blanket solution. It’s not and the more we act this way, the less we can affect real change in its wake.
I encourage you to go onto Twitter and check out Facebook (but take care of yourself and be mindful of the potential triggers involved in looking) with an open mind.
The effects of domestic violence last for years after the physical effects wear off. It’s the beliefs created and perpetuated, leaving scars that sometimes re-open. When they do re-open, the point is not to offer just any help, but the listening kind because it allows the most important person to do the talking: the person that violence leaves behind.
That’s how we empower the world around us and while we may not eradicate that violence in our generations, we can make contributions that build a better tomorrow where it has less chance of survival.
And listening is how we begin.
So before you go, thank you for doing just that and here’s to the tomorrow we’re making.
On The Wings of Miracles,