What I Want the World to Know About Domestic Violence
I left already. A few months ago. We were just stopping by. You know, to close the loop on a bunch of old house stuff and school stuff and the minutia of life. I also wanted to say goodbye. Some sort of closure on a life that started in a black and white sweater on a Monday in front of the JOP to legitimize our son. Some sort of closure on thinking if we had another child, maybe this time things would get better. Some sort of closure on a life that turned out so different than I hoped or imagined.
Breathe. Suck in the air. You can do it. These are the words that ran through my head while he was choking me. Not “you have to live for the kids” or “if you don’t get out of here, HE will raise them.” At some point other things went through my head like, “No one will notice, you are wearing black pants” and “You have things in the car to change into.” I said these things because while he choked me, I pee’d my pants.
Then, walking quickly to the car. He is with me. He is crying. I’m not. He just choked me. My pants are soaked. But he is crying. I’m not. He knows what he has just done is across the line. Any line. Every line. He wants to be where he can’t hurt anyone. He bangs his head into the dashboard. The kids cry. They don’t know what to think or do. They are scared. No, Terrified.
We drive. Maybe just 10 miles but it feels so much further. Then we sit. We wait. We check him in. Commit him. To the hospital. He is not well. He has a history. He might harm himself or others. We know the script. We recite it. We sign papers.
Then we drive. We drive home which at this point isn’t really home. He has taken home. I have taken home. Now all we want is safety. Sanctuary.
This was the scene when I left my domestic violence situation. It was awful. It was beyond anything I imagined for myself and my children. But it happened. And… It was not the last time.
This sounds awful right? You already hate him right? You are so glad I got out. Right?
Me too. But it was close. It was not easy. I played my part…and very few people really understand.
A terrifying situation recently unfolded in the town that I went to high school in. A man murdered his wife and then killed himself. She had already left. Her friends knew she was in a “Domestic Violence” situation.
I didn’t know them. But they are me.
And because of this, and the suffering that community is now enduring I want to share this. Its my story. Its what isn’t said. All the things I want you to know about domestic violence.
First, there were four defining moments in my life of DV.
1. The choking me so bad I pee’d my pants then checked you into a hospital incident. The end that was not the end.
2. The time my 4 year old, during a Kindergarten project in school that I was overseeing about the essentials of life (Food, Clothing, Shelter) said, “Mom! Remember when we were in a shelter?” (um, yeah. Thats called a women’s shelter and its where you go when your Dad tries to kill himself with a gun.)
3. The time I begged my little 6 year old son to come to mamma because I knew his Dad would not burn me with a cigarette if I did. Then after refusing the first time, cause he was scared, he came to me. And his Dad threw a Pepsi on us instead. Which to a 6 year old is just as scary.
4. The time my Dad said, “The way you yell at him I would have hit you too.”I idolize my Dad. We didn’t speak for 3 years. He didn’t know what he was saying. He didn’t grasp what he was endorsing. He was trying to make sense of what his daughter was going through, to navigate not picking a side was saying literally: I would hit you too.
The thing is, Domestic Violence is not what you think. Its not the stereotypical white guy in a wife beater (really?!we have named a shirt this?!) dragging a woman across the floor by her hair for not making his dinner.
And here comes the first part people don’t like to hear: These guys, most of them, are not BAD guys. They are SICK guys. They are guys who didn’t learn how to cope, how to love, how to handle the pressure that life brings. They are smart. REALLY smart, actually. So smart, that SMART women fall for them. So in need of nurture, that some of the best Mom’s are attracted.So connected to a story of sadness,that they win the enduring heart of a woman who simply wants to put it all right in this world.
And…guess what. There is a reason we pick them. Maybe we are trying to fill that hole of emptiness left by an emotionally unavailable Dad. An addict. A Mom who only could focus on him because to focus on us was, well- not optimal.
Here’s what else people don’t want to hear. It only hurts worse when you tell us to get out. We are embarrassed we chose this for us and for our kids. We are defensive that you hate him. Not only don’t you know him the way we do, you blame us for being so weak we stay, so stupid we endure, so blind, we allow. You tell us “I don’t understand why you just don’t leave.” you say, “It will be okay”, you say ”It’s not worth it.”
What you don’t know is that WE don’t feel worth it. When and If we get out its not because we felt worth it. It’s because we know our kids are worth it.
Then when we do get out its a long back and forth. We didn’t leave for us. We left for them. It’s a battle of head and heart. You don’t leave your spouse who has cancer. That would be unacceptable. But you DO leave your spouse with addiction. This is wholly acceptable. The mental illness of DV is somewhere in between.
Here I am. Married again years later. I have two successful, beautiful, amazing kids who are every aspect of wonderful. All I dreamed of, not because of DV but in spite of it. One of them has even started a PR campaign to end DV (#RIPDomesticViolence). and… that is not all. I didn’t let fear rule me. I have another child, a beautiful, vivacious gift of only 3 years who will **never** know the pain her siblings faced at her age. I am HAPPY. I am SAFE. I am LOVED.
I am RARE.
This is what I want the world to know about DV. That there is no RIGHT thing you can do for the woman you know who shows up with too many bruises and excuses. If you judge her husband — she will circle the wagons. If you offer help- she will be ashamed.
But don’t stop trying.
Once, she will let you drive her to the shelter. Once, she will ask you to watch the kids while she gets a protective order. Once, she will go back to him again and you won’t understand why.
And here is why. Here is why we have not eradicated DV. Once, she sees the broken child in him she can only try to fill the hole in his heart. She will give herself, and sometimes even her children to help him. Those who are lucky leave for good. Some have to build the discipline to stay gone. Some have to be so startled by the vibrancy of true love that they can commit to a forever of gone.
Some… well… some can’t give up.
And I wish we would stop judging her. Or putting her on a pedestal. She is simply human. She might lose her life to this cause, like many men have lost in war. Her children? Collateral damage. I know I won’t be popular for saying this. But it was my truth.
That is the simple fact. She has elected to fight a war. On her own. Without you. Its hard to watch. You don’t know what to do to help and even if you figured it out, it would not matter. DV is like the war with terror. You don’t always see them coming. Its not an organized offensive. Its lone wolves who are acting from a misplaced ideology.
I pee’d my pants that day. I took him back several times after. I am still sad that people will think he is a bad guy when he is only a sick guy who didn’t grow up fast enough. I am still sad that some people reading this will think I am making excuses for him.
What I wish the world knew about DV is simply this: Its not simple. You didn’t cause it and you can’t fix it. Your judgement can hurt as much as your ignorance. You can’t save us. You can’t fix him. We don’t all get to get out. In fact, many of us will not get out. We don’t all get to be the phoenix from the ashes. It does not make her less. It does not mean she was weaker. It does not mean she was not smart enough. It does not mean you didn’t do enough to help her.
It’s ok to mourn her. But when you do, know that love still wins. That there is a power greater than us that is divinely orchestrating good out of the suffering.
What I wish the world knew about DV is just this. No brilliant insights or solutions. Just my story. It is all I have to share. Only this, and my message directly to you if you see yourself in my story:
Keep trying. Keep fighting. Keep leaving. Keep praying.
Keep at it again and again until you succeed.
Know that I understand. Know that one day, he will understand. You will forgive him and he will forgive you. Know you will not have failed. Know its the greatest gift you will ever give him. Know that you are loved by so many and their offers for help are genuine. Know that you can get the help you need to get out. Know there is grace and peace and love and self-forgiveness. Know you deserve all of it.Know that the other side is more beautiful than you could possibly imagine. I’m on the other side waiting for you.
Originally published at www.t8020.com on April 3, 2015.