Three years ago, I was angry. At myself, at the unsafe world around me, at anyone who didn’t understand. Two years before, I left my abusive boyfriend and found myself writing to clear out head noise. My post, “Five Things An Abused Woman Wants You to Know,” hit a thousand views the first day it was posted here, the highest amount of traffic I’d seen for my writing. People poured out comments, thanking me for my honesty or questioning my aggression.
Sucked into a whirlwind I didn’t expect, I found myself shuddering at the thought of dishing out advice to people who needed answers. I’m not an expert. I’m not a therapist.
I’m just a woman who loved a man who stole my money, my confidence and life. A man who beat me.
Then the post was translated into Spanish and shared with Mrs. Carolina Schmidt who, at the time, was the Minister of Women for the Chilean Republic. She thanked me for my strength, courage and transparency and I knew my life was better having written something about domestic violence, regardless of the questions left behind.
In the wake of its publication, my post left most people wondering the same thing they always wondered when speaking to a man or woman who admits they were abused:
“How could you love someone who hit you?”
I tried to answer this question in my responses and emails. I dug deep, trying to search for words I hadn’t yet said to myself, because I feared I was the problem. I didn’t wholeheartedly believe I deserved more than the abuse falling on my back. And I didn’t know how to explain to others what I so desperately needed to understand myself.
Three years of trauma therapy can change a lot.
I loved a man who hit me because his hands were kind at first. They were soft and warm, and when he lifted my chin and caught my gaze with his piercing blue eyes, I knew he held answers to questions I’d been asking myself forever. Because before the abuse, he let me blossom for him. And my past melted away, unnecessary to my future happiness. He taught me it only defined me if I let it. He made me believe I was better than my history and bigger than the future I planned for myself. My dreams presented like blue and red pills: take this one to go back to La-La Land, or take the other to see what your future holds.
The truth is any woman he tried to court would have fallen for him. Charismatic and handsome, successful and confident. I almost thought Scott was too good to be true. But he told me truths and mistakes, and he built the image of a man with blemishes only as big as my own. Baggage made him human, so I never questioned the other pieces.
He gave me imperfection. But we were perfect together because before the abuse he let me open vulnerable places and push out fear. I felt unstoppable. And our sex life was fantastic. He was five years older and much more experienced, so when he wrapped himself around my body in ways I’d never felt, I thought I saw the universe for exactly what it should be.
A year later, when it came time to face the despair I saw in the mirror, the exhaustion and pain he created, he lifted me into his arms and begged me to help him help me. And he wrapped me into him, carrying me back to the bedroom while tears fell from his eyes. He wanted me to heal again. He wanted to get help. And he wanted me to listen to songs reminding him of our love and the exceptional beginning of a relationship fantastic and human enough to write about. Then we went to therapy, separate at first, then together.
As I survived every cyclical event, love and praise and disappointment and guilt, he tested my strength to see how far I would let him go. He promised me change. His willingness to seek help made it easy to believe he was actually trying. But he was really pushing me harder or insulting me more than the last argument.
I believed unconditional love meant you stood by your mate through the thickest of times. And I didn’t believe it could get as bad as it did. So I convinced myself to prove my strength, to stand up to his hands and words, and to look him in the eye as he twisted that gun into my temple.
I believed he would see I was unaffected, even though shutdown is more accurate. And I knew that was the answer. Because I tried to leave him twice before and both times I failed. First because the police wouldn’t help me or believe my story. Which made me question myself more.
Maybe I was dramatic.
And the second time he was sick and needed help with his daughter.
It wasn’t her fault. And I was the monster if I turned my back on someone I loved.
I could continue this explanation of my life. I could give you a thousand more reasons I stayed after every horrible night. But you’ll still have questions. Shit, I still have questions.
What I’ve learned is this:
As humans, when we fear something, we try to minimize it. To break it apart so it’s smaller and easier to digest. We accuse the unknown, the incomprehensible, of being the problem.
It’s why half the population doesn’t understand people who have survived abusive relationships.
You don’t want to believe abuse could happen to you or your mom or your son. It’s too difficult to swallow the reality that sociopaths live in every neighborhood, some obvious in their destruction and others hiding well behind their suits and smiles.
High functioning society members beat people.
It’s scary, isn’t it?
July marks five years of recovery, two of which I fought to do on my own, I realized ignorance and avoidance breed abuse. If we don’t accept it could happen to anyone, if we don’t stop victimizing survivors, we’re never going to win the war.
Please stop saying it couldn’t possibly happen to you. Because it could. And it might.
Just like it happened to me.
Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project.