*warning: this post may be triggering for survivors of domestic and family violence. Please read in a space that is safe for you, in your own time. If you are currently in an unsafe situation, please navigate away now and clear your internet history after reading this. Please ensure you access information like this from computers where your online activity can’t be monitored.
Why share this kind of personal information?
I attended the Reclaim The Night rally and march tonight and have been pondering since then whether it may be a good idea to share my story. Mine is a really common tale that many can relate to but most don’t speak about.
Members of my friendship circle, my family, and work spaces over the years have all told me their stories…usually on the sly. Relationship violence has happened to people I know of all genders and sexualities (most commonly women-identified people, but that’s only my limited experience).
I’ve actually been a little bit frightened to record what happened to me as publicly as this, since the last time my ex partner got wind of me doing so he ‘gently reminded’ me of his ability to mount legal action should I tell people what had happened (though for some reason he was under the impression that I’ve repeated falsehoods, when all I’ve ever stated has been my understanding of what happened to me). Intimating legal action is apparently a fairly predictable thing for people in his position to do, I’ve since learned. Knowing more about how people with anger related issues think, especially after you’ve left them, has helped me feel much calmer and less concerned.
Now I feel reasonably safe to talk about my experiences openly and I think it could be helpful to others. That’s why I choose to share here. In the past, I’ve had people seek me out privately to share or be directed to resources. That has made the possibility of adversity pretty much worth it.
So, what happened?
I’ve had almost two years now to reflect on the circumstances that led to me leaving my city, home, and partner. I was in my relationship for shy of seven years, and was legally married to them. We had strong emotional bonds, and a depth of shared experiences. We loved each other in very complex ways. We had the normal share of problems that long-term relationships have.
I believe my partner was – and is – a really good person, with many wonderful qualities. He was kind to me in many ways. He cared for me and looked after me when I was sick, and when we went through a miscarriage. He was smart and funny, and I know he genuinely tried hard to be a good partner. He was not malicious or devious. He could be really gentle, and you know, dorky and annoying and just…average. He was, however, a fairly broody and angry person and he chose not to grow beyond his anger in the time we shared together.
Unfortunately, I experienced emotional and physical abuse in my relationship as a result of this anger – because being a generally decent person doesn’t mean you won’t become an abuser.
I was shaken, spat on, called a whore, had things thrown in my home, objects broken, was shoved violently into a fridge, had my experiences of violence from another man denied and blamed on me, was told early on in the relationship that I was a ‘slut’ and slut-shamed generally, was guilted and crazy-made, told I was disgusting and so on. My partner kept a journal in which I discovered violent fantasies about him hurting me physically.
Well, why didn’t I just leave the first time something scary happened?
I once heard someone from my Roller Derby community say “if a woman stays after the first time she is hit, she’s pretty much asking for it”. That was pretty shocking to me (and I don’t think indicative of the wider Derby community at all!), and I’ve listened to colleagues say the same. I’ve overheard strangers on buses say similar things.
This is a pretty terrible attitude. See, abuse just doesn’t work like that. That old horrid analogy about boiling a frog – but starting with cold water – applies here. Very few abusers start out by socking you in the face. They start small…with small controls, or manipulations, or denigrations until they build up to yelling. Then maybe pushing and shoving, and spitting. Throwing and breaking things, isolating you, controlling you more and more. Things that would leave bruises very rarely arrive from out of the blue, with no trail of development behind them. There’s always something, and that something is usually bad, but tolerable enough that you don’t leave right away.
And sometimes it is really hard to leave because it JUST. IS. Financial reasons, children, fear, you’ve tried before, you have health issues, you have pets together, you’re too isolated, you think it’ll get better, you don’t want to feel like you’ve failed, you love them….and on and on. We shouldn’t trivialise these issues – they’re real.
I was carrying a lot of damage from growing up in a home with a really ill parent, and was mentally unwell myself a lot of the time, so I didn’t have the resources to resist for a long period. When I was appropriately supported and had the resources, I left, and due to a lucky confluence of circumstance (love, encouragement, distance, practical support) I stayed out. I’m actually really fortunate I left before I sustained significant physical harm; as it is, I had emotional and psychological bruising that makes for an expensive therapist bill.
Community reactions and being believed: really bloody important.
For some reason when relating this story, I always feel compelled to say “well, I was never hit (in the face etc)” like a justifying preamble denying extreme violence is necessary to be believed. As though, if I don’t say that, nobody will want to hear it and will somehow scoff and wonder why I’m not “over it”.
We have pretty strong narratives in our society that tell people who experience violence to just suck it up, get over it, move on. We’re also drowned in media that downplays the majority of common relationship violence (see Tara’s dialogue in True Blood with her returning ex girlfriend at the door – after she hid her identity. Violence/acceptance of violence/sex is not an uncommon trope, with variation) and lets us give our sympathy to only the most extreme examples of male-on-female physical violence. Same sex violence is rarely dealt with (except in the above example where it is sexualised. Ugh.)
The direct impact of this is that it has a silencing effect. I mean, if you feel like your experience is not “enough”, and that people won’t really give much of a shit if you speak up, are you really likely to?
I worry all the time about being perceived as that harpy that won’t shut up about a little shove. I used to have panic attacks about it, but would talk openly anyway because I knew it was important to. I’m sure many people do think that way about me, but I’m now happy and secure enough in myself to know that they have their own stuff going on that renders them ignorant and harmful.
Being believed is important, and listening and not being a jerk is important. Whenever we downplay the shitty things that happen to people in the context of relationship violence, we take away their confidence to speak, and that’s a terribly important thing to steal. In doing so, we really slow down their healing process. Which is super jerky.
Every experience of violence is shocking and fucked and needs to be listened to. Diminishing someone’s experience will always cost them more than it would cost you to listen and validate them.
Things do get better (eventually)
Well, if you have resources. Not everyone has that privilege, and it is a pretty massive one.
I wish everyone had access to the kinds of friendships, family support, community and therapeutic tools that I’ve had. In NSW, people who have experienced violence can actually get many hours of free psychologists appointments through the Victims of Crime scheme – a cool thing to know.
I would never claim to have worked through the ick leftover after I walked away from my relationship on my own. There have been a lot of lonely moments though, where I’ve been all on my own with memories and a buttload of sadness, having run out of text boxes on social networking sites to fill with my overflowing (and I’m sure frequently irritating) emotions. I’m mellowing. Thank goodness.
But slowly, through a combination of my own slog and just bearing up, and the seemingly endless courage of others on my behalf, things have gotten better. I barely ever think of the bad times now, unless something really reminds me. Loud noises still freak me out, I can’t deal with shouting men, and my pulse races when I see depictions of physical stuff that resembled my experiences.
But less, and less, and less. It just isn’t a case of ‘time passing’ – it is a case of lots of factors coming together to make the burden ease, the scariness fade, and the possibilities of freedom from these things grow larger.
If you’re reading this and you’ve survived, fuck yeah! If you’re still on your way, I believe and hope it will get better for you, and I know you’re already a survivor. If you’re reading this and you think you’re an abuser, please seek help too. It is never too late to be better.
Some useful links.
NSW Victims of Crime (note: you do not have to report your abuser to access this, last time I checked)
Domestic Violence Line (1800 656 463)
NSW Rape Crisis Centre (1800 424 017)