Content warning: this article discusses abusive parenting and relationships. This includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Please be aware of this before reading.
I recently read an article in the Guardian that focused on two brothers and their relationship with their abusive father. Their father had murdered their mother and sister four days after the family had moved out in secret in order to leave him. The article talked about how sympathetic the media had been to their father just after the murders, because their father had always been a “nice” guy to their neighbours, co-workers, acquaintances. Reading that article was a neon flashing sign in a line of a million neon flashing signs that only became visible once I was far enough away from my own abusive husband. It’s strange how obvious these things are now, since I had always considered myself ‘too smart’ and ‘too confident’ to ever be in an abusive relationship. And my husband had never hit me, so he couldn’t possibly be abusive. He’s just immature. He gives me the silent treatment for days instead of screaming or slapping me, and isn’t that preferable?
That’s the strange thing about domestic abuse – it’s subtle. And slow. And insidious. You don’t realise that you’re treading water until you get a cramp and sink to the bottom. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I also knew that I wasn’t putting in 100% and that no one has a perfect marriage. He was an expert manipulator, so talented that I had no idea and it was happening most of the time. We worked different shifts, and when he started complaining about his truck it only made sense to let him take my car to work every day. I didn’t realise until after we split up that he constantly took my car to keep me stuck in our apartment. He “lost” his debit card and borrowed mine. He just never returned it. He started driving me to all my doctor appointments, what a gentleman! I hate driving in all the Dallas traffic. It also guaranteed that I would never say anything bad about him to a mandatory reporter.
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I wish I could say that I had an epiphany in the middle of this and left him. Things got much worse before we split up. He started reading all of my emails and text messages. He went through my call log. He decided that I was cheating on him, and said he had to do those things to make sure I didn’t “give in to temptation.” My breaking point came when he raped me one night. I knew, I KNEW he did it to prove that I didn’t get to decide what happened to me anymore. But I didn’t leave him. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, I didn’t have access to my bank account, and my family was hours away. So I stayed, and I stayed completely disconnected to my body. Even now, years later, I still have a hard time keeping track of the passage of time in that part of my life. I don’t know what year it was, I know what apartment it was. It still doesn’t feel entirely real, like those years were a long extended weird dream.
The most confusing thing about domestic abuse, in my opinion, is that you constantly have opposing memories of your abuser. I remember all the horrible things. But I also remember him buying out a stand of girl scout cookies, because her table was set up in the cold and she couldn’t go home until the last boxes were sold. So he bought the rest of her stock. It’s hard to reconcile the nice things, the soup fixed when you’re sick and the back rubs and the surprise dinner out when you also remember sitting in my car for 45 minutes after work because you’re dreading going into the house. My own parents had deemed us “the perfect couple” and “made for each other.” How do you reconcile the person who tells you “you’re the most important person in my life” with the person who hurts you over and over?
Slowly. You reconcile it very slowly, with the help of friends and supportive family members and hopefully with a trained therapist. I’ve been very lucky to receive free counselling at my local rape crisis centre. I’ve progressed so far in my healing journey but it seems like every time I think “I’m almost totally fine now!” something comes around to remind me that this is still a very long process. I suppose this blog post is a bit less of a standalone post but an introduction. Join me. We’ll cover the hard stuff: the EMDR therapy, the group therapy, the awful flashbacks. We’ll also have lots of talks about the cat, fashion, and sewing. Turns out that healing from an abusive relationship takes an absolutely massive amount of love and understanding for yourself. So I’m learning to reconnect with my body and treat it kindly, while remembering my own hobbies and passions. Because I’m so much more than my past, I’m so much more than what happened to me.