In the League of Extraordinary (& Not-so-Gentle) Women
The only reason I am able to write this today is that I was able to take the right steps at the right time. The last person who would have thought that this story would even have been possible even a few months ago would have been me. But, here I am today, a single mother of two beautiful children, living a life of dignity, while being able to help others who might have suffered just like I did. Here’s my story.
Eat, Love, Pray
I got married young, soon after high school, to a colleague I fell madly in love with in my very first job. I was a receptionist for this company, while he was also a new employee in the Admin department. He was so charming, attentive and different from all the others I had dated so far, I was completely swept off my feet! And to my utter amazement, this charismatic person, a bright executive with a promising future seemed as in love with little ol’ me! Of course, I said YES when he asked me to marry him about 5 months of dating. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 88% Americans say that they get married due to love, and I was one of those 88%!
Within a year of being married, I had our first child, a beautiful girl. Two years later, I had a second child, this time a boy. I had left my job when we detected the first pregnancy, since my husband wanted me to focus on bringing up the children, rather than taking on the stress of juggling a career and a family. I thought he was so thoughtful and very brave to take on the complete responsibility of providing for the family. Of course, he was doing very well at work and rising up the ladder quickly.
It wasn’t till almost 5 years into the marriage that I started feeling stifled. I slowly began to realize that my husband had complete control on what I did, where I went and even suggested what clothes I should wear. I tried to adjust to whatever he wanted because not only did I love him dearly, he was doing so much for the family, or so I thought.
He made me realize how stupid I was, given that I only had a high school degree and had worked all of 11 months at my job. I was barely able to keep up with the household chores and looking after the children. I often slipped up in keeping the home clean or making good food. He reminded me how lucky I was not to have to work for a living and that all luxuries of life were being provided by him. I felt so bad that I was unable to even give him a home and wife he could be proud of.
Eyes Wide Shut
That’s how my friend described me! My closest friend from childhood came to stay with me. At this time, my daughter was about 4 years old and my son had just celebrated his second birthday. She too had only a high school degree but was working hard and doing really well. She too was married and had one child. When we shared stories of our lives, she seemed stunned. I was expecting her to say how wonderful my husband was and how I should be working harder to give him a good life. Instead, she told me that I was a victim of domestic violence!
I was astonished. My husband had never raised a hand on me. Yes, he did get angry but he was so good at controlling it that he always stopped short of hitting. He did tell me that he was sorely tempted to slap me many a times but that he exerted immense control to bring down his temper. I really did feel that he was being very good to me by doing so. Unfortunately, my friend thought differently.
She opened my eyes to emotional abuse, which I had not even thought about. I had become so influence by my husband’s words, control and even manipulation that my self-esteem was at rock-bottom. It was my friend who made me realize what impact it was having on my children, especially my daughter.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
After my friend left, I started researching about emotional abuse. I read multiple articles online, which is where I came across the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). According to statistics released by the NCADV, 48.4% of women in America experience at least one “psychologically aggressive behavior” from their intimate partner, while 40% of women experience at least one form of “coercive control” by an intimate partner. I was amazed to find that I had experienced almost all the signs they had described.
I won’t go into the details, but it took me more than four months of work with a therapist to make the most important decision of my life. I decided to move out of my husband’s home, with my two children, even if I didn’t have an income at present.
And, do you know what strangely worked very well for me? My friend had commented on how I had completely changed, especially in my physical appearance, from being a person who loved bright, trendy clothes to one who was almost camouflaged against the wall with my neutral colored clothes!
I read an interview of Jude Connally Zimmerman, founder of an all-American lifestyle brand, in which she spoke about the positive energy and confidence that women exude when they dress up and look good. She described the feeling as “magic” since it could not only lift your spirit, but was contagious, as it could spread the positivity. I decided to give it a try. And it worked! When I looked good, I felt much better. Brighter colors, a good haircut and I was a changed woman. I decided to invest in a really good wardrobe that would speak of my new life.
What I really wanted to do was to tell more women about emotional abuse. I worked till the divorce settlement was reached and I received money as alimony and child support. I used most of this money to set up my little organization, Women for Change. It has been three years now that I have been running WFC and today I have five other women working with me, all of whom have had similar experiences. Together we are spreading the word about domestic violence, especially the more insidious kind that doesn’t leave visible scars and so is often difficult to detect — emotional and psychological abuse.
From feeling like a stupid woman who didn’t even know how to clean a house, today I am confident that I can bring up an empowered daughter and a son who respects women, while helping women like me realize their potential.
I will forever be thankful to my friend for opening my eyes, to my therapist and my mother for supporting me through the most difficult phase of accepting that I was a survivor of abuse and for my children for never losing faith in me.