I have listened to the questions and read the responses to the domestic abuse questions; why do the abused stay and why do they finally leave. While I admit it started me remembering my personal experiences it also got me thinking about why I was being abused. Once again, as I had many years ago, I questioned whether I had done something to deserve the mental, emotional, and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of a man who claimed to love me.
Following the long thread back to the first time I had been shoved over a coffee table I realized I could not recall what had precipitated the action. I knew where it was, I could describe the living room in my mother’s apartment, but I could not remember the conversation leading up to the push that sent me flying over the table leaving it in pieces and my arms and legs scratched up and bleeding. I was about 18 years old and had already given up a lot of my “freedoms”; how I dressed, where I went, who I talked to, what I watched on television. Most likely the argument was related to one of those things. But I question what could have been so critical that my fiancé thought it was okay to strike me? Had I argued back about some insignificant thing?
Why do abusers abuse? Obviously it isn’t love or concern. It is about Power and Control. I don’t know why one person would so desperately need to control another person but that seems to be the answer. Because when I examine all the instances I keep coming back to control. He wanted to control every aspect of my life while using the excuse he was “protecting” me. I had grown up in New York City so I knew very well how to protect myself. Yet I chose to believe he was controlling me out of love. It was beyond my comprehension that there could be any other reason for his behavior.
Back in the ‘70’s and 80’s domestic violence and more exactly Intimate Partner Violence was not a subject for public consumption. It was the secret behind closed doors that not even law enforcement recognized. I had never known anyone who was abused or so I believed. Now I know that one in four women has experienced some form of abuse. So I imagine someone I knew was being abused in some fashion. However back then it was a private matter and it certainly didn’t happen in the homes of respectable families. Now I know that domestic violence knows no class, no religion, no race, no lifestyle, no income, and no reason other than control.
Why did I stay through ten years of marriage? In the beginning I believed things would improve. I loved my husband in spite of how I was treated. As I said I even believed he loved me. After I had children I stayed for the sake of the children believing they needed both parents. I never considered the negative effect our fighting and the treatment I received would impact them. I often lied to myself saying they did not know what was going on. I know now that wasn’t true. And I also know intimate partner violence affects the entire family.
Why did I leave? After ten years of marriage I realized things were not getting better. In fact things had grown decidedly worse. And for the very first time I had someone who saw what I was experiencing, recognized my distress, and offered me a temporary escape. My parents didn’t do that and as an only child I had no brother or sister to help me. Toward the end I had deteriorated to the point of self destruction. I had come apart, stopped eating, and often considered suicide. The thought of my children kept me alive and in the end it was concern for them that gave me the courage to leave.
Still the questions of why stay and why leave remain. Every person has a threshold. I had finally reached mine. Many women will return to abusive relationships time and again. I was lucky. In spite of the financial difficulties and the threats and fears I never went back.
Almost twenty years after I left my ex husband I remarried. It took me that long to find someone I trusted. That trust has not been misplaced. My husband has embraced my children and grandchildren as his own. Better yet they have embraced him as theirs. I have never again relinquished control of my life nor have I been expected to. I am not just a survivor of domestic abuse; I am a thriver. I am me, and I like the person I am.