I have avoided writing about the issue of domestic violence even though it’s been something I’ve wanted to address for a long time. My recovery embodies many aspects including addiction to chemical substances and food issues. The other aspects of my recovery are from life traumas which include chronic illness. But the one that is most relevant for me recently is my recovery from the effects of domestic violence. Even typing those two words “domestic violence” make my stomach sick and my head spin. I’ve chosen to write about it now because I’m the strongest and healthiest I’ve ever been at any point in my life.
I’m fully aware now of the impact it has had on my life and how I’ve minimized it to a large extent because it’s too painful to deal with. I’ve also decided to talk about it because I am very aware of the total disrespect that I constantly encounter by men towards women, and indeed that women have for ourselves. The sexual objectification of women all adds to the vulnerability of the female human being. Domestic violence is a very deep and complex situation. It’s about control. It’s about the abuser feeling very deeply inadequate and projecting those feelings onto a person they can manipulate. I believe that the union of a two people who love each other is the most wonderful thing when it’s healthy. But when it’s not healthy it’s the most destructive force on the planet.
My experience with abuse at the hands of men has spanned my entire life. There are some aspects that I won’t talk about publicly but the issue of domestic violence is something that I feel needs to be opened up and highlighted more. It is still a taboo subject. Women who are abused are often viewed as untouchable, damaged goods, weak, dirty. We are called crazy, accused of making it up, asked what we did for the man to turn on us. Many abused women are abandoned by family and friends. You may think that is a very harsh view to have, but unfortunately many of us have experienced all those prejudices and more. That is the stark and disturbing truth and as a result, our view of ourselves becomes so low that we believe every negative thing that has ever been said or done to us. We become trapped in a world of violence and aggression that never ceases. We become passive people pleasers who will do anything for peace. We compromise our values, we stop thinking, we stop having opinions and the only thing that stops us from ending it all is the love and desire to protect our children. We find strength in some small hope that one day someone will rescue us from this hell. We crave the sound of a kind word, or a soft loving touch and ultimately continue to look for those things in all the wrong places.
In my experience, I didn’t talk about it to anyone because I blamed myself. I felt shame, humiliation, degradation and less than human. After all, for men to continuously treat me like they did, I must be a pretty disgusting person. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I felt ugly, undesirable and totally unlovable. A woman who experiences domestic violence of any kind is left with scars so deep that the recovery from such an event is very long and very painful. Some of us never manage to fully recover and are destined for a life of abuse till the day we die or are left unable to forge a relationship with anybody else. And just because a woman hasn’t been punched and kicked does not mean she has not been abused by her partner. Indeed, it comes in many forms. The constant threat of being harmed, even if it never physically happens can be even worse sometimes than a beating. Being denied money, being called disgusting names, not being allowed to leave your home are all forms of violence and the list goes on. I am also very aware that women abuse also and that the domestic abuse of men by women is a growing problem. However, I can only talk about my experience as a woman.
I’ve been physically, mentally and emotionally abused by several men in my 39 years on this earth. I’ve been as baffled as the rest of the people who know me as to why I kept attracting such people into my life and why I had to try and “fix” them or try to make them love me before finally running for the hills; but usually into the arms of another abuser.
Well, I’ve recently come to understand through intensive therapy, that my part in all this is that my self-worth was already nil. Evidence for this theory is apparent through my love affair with alcohol and drugs. It appears that I sought out people who would treat me the way I felt I deserved to be treated. When I was being hurt or put down it almost felt comfortable. As sick as that sounds, it was the validation that I needed that really I was a worthless, no good tramp. The first time a boyfriend spat in my face I was 17. He threw me in the middle of the street and he spat on me. Something changed in me that day that I can’t quite explain. I’d had plenty of other traumatic experiences up to that point but that particular incident took the last glimmer of self respect I had from me. The abuse escalated from him and subsequent men. It became normality for me and indeed I did learn to minimize it, hide it and pretend that it wasn’t happening. I continued to live like that until shortly after the birth of my second child. I broke completely and ended up in a mental hospital.
Sometimes I think that it was alcohol that saved my life. It made my life somewhat bearable. It kept me functioning to some degree, which sounds totally insane I know. After that hospital stint I continued to drink for another 3 years, and continued to get into violent relationships. I believe all that repetitive behavior is a manifestation of my disease of addiction. For me, my recovery fellowship has helped me regain strength, self confidence, self respected and the willingness to go to any lengths to recover from not only my addictions but from all the negative issues I have encountered. 12 step rooms were my first introduction to the process of rebuilding myself, or should I say constructing a person that was never there in the first place. I’ve also realized that in response to my abuse, on occasion I’ve been abusive also and while I’m not proud of it, I have no problem admitting to it.
Every day, when I get out of the shower and as I dry myself off, I become aware of a lump of scar tissue under my skin next to my spine. That scar tissue represents to me a horrific past. It summons up memories at times that make me shake with terror, fear and sadness. It also signifies the strength of a woman who has overcome and survived huge obstacles and makes me determined not to allow anyone to degrade me again. Things are changing for me in all parts of my life. As I learn to love and respect myself I find that in return, people love and respect me more. I have met the most wonderful people, both men and women, in the past four and a half years of recovery. I am learning to have healthy loving relationships and not be afraid to stand up for myself. And to find the positive in all the negative, I have experiences that I can share with others, I can hold my hand out and say “I know how you feel and what you’re going through.” Human beings can be the most destructive creatures on the planet, but we can also be the most loving and wonderful. It is important to remember that violence and abuse is learned behavior. Life can and does get better and we do get stronger when we know how.
Photo courtesy of Socialist party for workers, unity and socialism.