Those few seconds between waking up and reality hitting you are the most calm, carefree moments life can offer. However, they never last long enough, and reality always hits.
My reality, waking up this particular morning, was barely being able to move my body. My legs were in unthinkable pain, covered in purple and red bruises, from my feet up to my thighs.
The iron fire poker my boyfriend had used to attack me the night before had left lightsaber-like patterns all over my body. All purple and angry, bruises surrounded my split, bloodied skin that stung to the touch.
I was on the floor as he was striking me with the poker, and I raised my legs up to protect myself, leaving me with crisscross patterns all over.
My kneecaps and ankles stung and throbbed as the sheets of my bed brushed against them.
Looking down at my torso, my arms had bite marks and bruises on them. The fire poker had also been used to strike my top half, and the gargantuan bruises on my forearms showed that they took the brunt of it as I was trying to protect myself.
The worst pain of all was reserved for my jaw and my head. I couldn’t open my mouth, and the tin-like, metallic taste of blood swished around my mouth every time I moved my tongue. When I separated my mouth and tried to bite down, I realised that my jaw wasn’t aligned – my teeth didn’t fit together like they should. My jaw was jutting out to the right, and panic washed over me as I traced my finger down my new jawline. I could only imagine what my face looked like.
My head was full of lumps and bumps, all of which caused immense pain. I felt like I looked like a cartoon character.
I very slowly pulled myself up, trying to avoid the covers touching my legs too much. I’d experienced domestic violence many, many times before, and I always dreaded the look in the mirror the next day. Many times I’d been shocked at the monster glaring back at me.
Sometimes the monster would have one swollen, purple eye shut. The other would be bloodshot and have blurred vision. Sometimes her lips would be crimson red from all of the blood that had seeped from her nose or mouth. Other times, the monster staring back would have less hair than she did the day before.
Looking down at your feet to see clumps of your hair matted with your own blood is a feeling I know far too well. The dried, dark red blood would entwine itself with my blonde hair, and gazing down at it would always give me a humiliating churn in my stomach.
When my injuries were obvious, I would have to make up a lie to cover up what had actually happened. I couldn’t tell friends or family, or anyone, about the abuse. Initially it was out of embarrassment, and I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘victim’. When people started to uncover what was actually going on, they implored me to leave him; they offered me places to live, safe havens and opportunities to have a fresh start.
After declining all offers of help, I soon found friends disappeared and my family would only scold me if they found out the abuse was still happening. It’s very easy for people to say ‘why don’t you just leave him’, or ‘all you need to do is pack a bag, then it’s over’. I can’t be angry at those people, as their intentions were good, but you and I know that being in a abusive relationship is much more complex than that. If it were that simple, there would be a hell of a lot less domestic violence in the world.
I knew people didn’t really believe my cover-ups. I could see it in their eyes when they glared at my obvious injuries. Sometimes they would be looks of pity. Other times they’d offer looks of judgment, or even sometimes I would feel like they looked at me like I deserved it.
From walking into my wardrobe door, to a book falling off a shelf onto my eye, my excuses were lackluster at best. At the time, I thought they were believable, often trying to convince myself that it was in fact the truth — I had smacked my face off the wardrobe door, or my lip did bust open when I had an accident putting up shelves.
Of course, I wasn’t even fooling myself. Looking back, I can see things from a much different, clearer perspective. Now I’m stronger and a far cry from the battered down young woman I was.
It began from my very early childhood, witnessing my mother covering up her blackened eyes and bust lips. It was a sad irony that I would go on to cover up my own black eyes and bust lips.
I was engulfed in a world of violence from as far back as I could remember, and today I’ve given my past a lot of thought. I’ve come do far and healed so much, but I watched something on television that really triggered some memories for me and I felt compelled to write a post about domestic violence. I know there are millions of women out there who are dealing with effects of an abusive relationship – God knows you and I wish we didn’t have such a thorough understanding of the trauma of domestic violence.
However, I wanted to write something – to go through a few things with you, to fully equip you with an enhanced knowledge of what domestic violence entails (it might not be as simple as one spouse hitting the other – I’ll explain this in greater detail shortly). I also want to debunk some myths associated with domestic abuse, as well as talk about the stereotypical ‘victim of domestic violence’.
It may seem easy enough to describe what domestic violence is. In a nutshell, most people would summarise that it’s one spouse using violent behavior towards the other.
We both know that this is a very basic and superficial way to describe domestic abuse.
Domestic violence is a much more complex and unforgiving beast than a husband giving his wife a backhand because his tea was cold, although this seems to be the general consensus around what people assume domestic violence is.
I’m going to briefly explain the lesser talked about factors of domestic abuse, aside from the widely assumed stereotypical view of the ‘husband hitting his wife’ scenario.
First of all, there is the psychological abuse. This often starts small, with the abuser chipping away with their subtle psychological games. At first, it can be difficult to pinpoint. The abuser often tests the waters with small doses of psychological abuse. Effectively, they’re seeing how much they can get away with.
Once they’ve established that they can manipulate you or make you believe what they’re saying is the truth, then the subtle signs turn into something much bigger and frightening.
As well as yelling, name calling, swearing and threatening, the abuser can also find ways to abuse you psychologically without being so aggressive. They can offer hurtful and humiliating abuse in the form of mocking you, ignoring you or isolating you. Often, they’ll exclude you from events or places knowing just how much it’ll cripple your self-worth.
The often frustrating thing about some of the psychological abuse outlined above is that a lot of it can be done in plain sight. More often than not, my ex partner would mock me in front of other people, making sure his audience laughed at his humiliating imitation of me. He would also make jokes about my input in a conversation, making me feel stupid and worthless whenever I tried to join in a conversation. Ultimately, I ended up just keeping my mouth shut to avoid being berated or mocked.
This element of abuse can turn the most outgoing person into a wallflower. I went from a bright and thoughtful (albeit shy and insular) young woman to a shell of a human being who didn’t have much of an opinion on anything at all. I believed I was stupid and that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to offer.
This is one element of domestic violence that’s rarely discussed or brought up as part of the topic, but it’s something that I feel strongly about. I’ll offer my thoughts and advice on that later in the book.
Another factor of domestic violence is financial abuse.
This can mean the abuser is the breadwinner and withholds money from their victim, in order to keep a tight grip on their control. It can also work the other way around, whereby the victim is the breadwinner, but has to have their wages paid into the abusers bank account, or give them the majority of their paycheck.
The end goal in either situation is the same for the abuser: to seize control and restrict the victims freedom.
Financial abuse can also reflect the abuser putting debt into the victims name or using their credit cards or bank cards without their consent. This can often ensure that the victim doesn’t have enough money left over for essentials such as food, bills or clothing.
My ex partner would often drink himself to oblivion, and my bank card was often the way he bankrolled this, although often not to my knowledge; until I tried to buy milk with a debit card that had no money on it, of course. One time I was left with minus figures in my account, and couldn’t afford to get to work. I had to walk to and from work for a fortnight until I got paid, during the Christmas period.
Here in this part of the U.K, the snow is pretty tough during winter, so I became pretty ill after walking a three and a half hour round trip in freezing weather.
What made it worse is that I couldn’t afford a winter coat, or any kind of sturdy shoe or boot that would keep the freezing, sludgy snow from making its way into my flimsy tennis shoes. Where I worked had a free tea and coffee machine that dispensed hot chocolate, and I was so thankful for that machine when I got into work. I would set off a little early heading into work so I could sit and wrap my freezing hands around the steaming plastic hot chocolate cup and dry my feet and hair before work began.
I didn’t have anyone to ask for help at this point in the relationship, so times could be very tough when my abusive ex would literally leave me with nothing. He would explain that it was ‘my fault’ he took the card and felt it necessary to buy him and his friends rounds of drinks. It was ‘my fault’ for stressing him out and ‘making him’ behave that way. Does that kind of blameful manipulation sound familiar to you?
Here are some statistics on financial abuse in relationships, directly from a survey made by UK women’s charity Women’s Aid.
Out of 126 survivors surveyed, the charity discovered:
- 71% went without essentials as they didn’t have enough money.
· 61% were in debt because of financial abuse, as well as 37% having a bad credit rating as a result.
· 52% of those living with their abuser said they had no money so could not leave.
There’s also the harassment and stalking side of domestic violence. Most people don’t understand that you can absolutely be harrassed and stalked by someone you’re in a relationship with.
I endured stalking both during and after this relationship ended. Whilst I was in this abusive relationship, my partner would follow me to work to ensure I was actually going to work. When I worked overtime, he would wait outside of my workplace to see me coming out to ensure I had actually been working overtime, not socialising or seeing other people as he suspected.
One time when I was doing some extra hours at work, he was constantly messaging me to ‘get home’ and threatening to me ‘leave work immediately’ as he had it in his head that I was seeing a coworker. As I had already committed to working overtime, I couldn’t just up and leave, so I made the gut churning decision to turn my phone off. I knew I’d have to deal with the consequences later.
Before I knew it, he had barged himself into my workplace, embarrassing me in front of my coworkers. He was stinking of alcohol, and he swung into my office to tell me to get home. I threw my coat on and rushed out of the door, humiliation washing over me as I imagined all of the things my colleagues would be saying about me and my home life. I knew they pitied my and it made me feel worse.
Stalking can also mean damaging property, sending unwanted gifts or harassing through text, Facebook or other social media.
Another complex component to domestic abuse is the use of coercive control. This is the use of intimidation, degradation, isolation and the use (or the threat of) physical or sexual violence.
The last point there, sexual violence, is also another aspect of domestic abuse that isn’t often viewed or looked into when considering what domestic abuse actually is. Again, because someone is in a relationship with their abuser, there is a common misconception that sexual abuse can’t take place. It can often be widely assumed that being in a relationship means you automatically consent to sex. This is not the case, that ‘black and white’ view of sex is something that is slowly but surely getting turned on its head, although there is still a long way to go.
I also want to quickly touch on the perceptions people have about domestic violence, as well as some common myths about abuse.
Womens Aid did another survey on 4,500 participants and asked them various questions around domestic abuse. Both an equal number of men and women answered, and in response to the question ‘is it acceptable to to hit your partner for nagging or moaning’, 9% of men and 8% of women thought that this was okay.
Those figures increase dramatically when the question was changed to ‘is it acceptable to hit your partner if you’ve discovered they’ve cheated or had an affair’, with 24% of men saying that this is an okay scenario in which to hit your spouse, followed by 22% of women agreeing.
I was shocked at discovering this when I first read those statistics. How do they make you feel? Do you think those numbers reflect society’s view on domestic abuse? Has your experience with domestic abuse shown you how outsiders view violence in a relationship?
That last question I asked you leads into my say in this blog – the myths about domestic abuse. There are several myths associated with the dynamic of an abusive relationship, as well as some myths directly about the victims themselves, too. I wasn’t a ‘stereotypical’ victim of domestic violence, nor do I believe there is one, stereotypical mold.
Domestic abuse can happen in the wealthiest of families, to the most confident and outgoing people. It can affect people in seemingly ‘perfect’ relationships, and the abusers are just as likely to be policemen and doctors as they are drunken louts.
Here are some myths about domestic violence:
- It only happens in poor locations, involving poor families.
To answer this myth in one sentence, I would have to retort: anyone can be abused, anyone can be the abuser. Wealth doesn’t protect someone from being a victim of domestic abuse, nor does the size of the house stop someone from becoming the abuser.
- If the abuse is that bad, just leave!
This is a very basic answer to a very complex situation, and it also offers very little understanding to the plight victims of domestic abuse go through.
It can be extremely difficult to leave a violent and abusive partner.
The fear of what their partner will do if they leave is a huge sticking point, particularly if there are threats of violence to the victim or their loved ones. If there are children involved, it can be incredibly tricky – often the victim has the safety of their children in mind, and the abuser may threaten to harm the children should the victim try and leave.
There are also practical considerations to be mindful of. The victim might not have access to money, or have anywhere to go. They may not know where to turn for help. There’s also situations where English is not the victims first language. If they are emotionally and financially dependent on their partner, then there is a huge element of isolation in place that makes it so hard for the victim to escape.
An abused persons self-esteem is repeatedly worn down. They carry guilt, shame and embarrassment with them, and often see no way out.
Some victims, like myself, hope that their partner will change. There were good times, and the start of the relationship sparked a hope in me that I would be loved and cared for – it was this thought that fueled me during the tough times, as well as the longing for my partner to go back to the person they were when we met.
- Abusers and abusees grow up in violent households.
I grew up in a violent and abusive household. My abusive ex partner also grew up in one. Did this mean we were destined to be abused and abuser? No. Did it offer a risk factor that meant we had a higher chance of becoming those things? Yes. But many, many more people who have endured abusive childhoods do not grow up to become anything less than compassionate, understanding human beings who break free of the abusive cycle.
Abusers can come from any background, as can victims. Those who blame violence on their childhood or life growing up are essentially avoiding taking any responsibility for their actions. Violence is a choice an abuser makes; only they are responsible for their violence, nobody else is.
- A person who abuses must have a mental illness, so it’s not really their fault.
Research published by Refuge.org has found that the vast majority of abusers are not mentally ill. They stated that the proportion of abusers with mental health issues is no higher than in society as a whole.
If you went by the assumption that abusive partners were mentally ill, why would they then only abuse their partner – not colleagues who annoy them or stress them out, or a stranger who accidentally pushes into him whilst shopping?
As someone who is an advocate for talking about mental health and supports the freedom to talk about it openly and without judgement – as well as someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety – I’m in no way downplaying mental health issues and the ramifications the can have. My retaliation to this myth is that, oftentimes, this is another way of making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.
- They just lost control; they were stressed out.
Sometimes people justify domestic abuse by saying the abuser ‘lost their temper’, or describe them as being ‘out of control’.
The truth is that they are very much in control.
To pull this theory apart, abusers are often selective about when they hit their partner, usually in private, when guests go home or when the children go to bed. They also often choose not to mark the victims face or body parts that will be overly visible. As I mentioned before, they never ‘lose their temper’ with other people.
This would suggest that they are absolutely aware of what they are doing and are very much ‘in control’.
Now I hope I’ve given you a little more context around domestic abuse. Simply just hearing some facts and having a deeper discussion about the topic can help you see things about the abuse that you didn’t before. I wanted to lay a solid foundation for those of you who are enduring an abusive relationship to be able to view it for what it really is.
I know it can often take multiple attempts to leave a violent partner, and mustering up the courage to eave in the first place is undeniably difficult. But the main thing I want you to understand from this post is that you are not to blame for the violence. You can’t control the violence. And, most importantly, you don’t deserve the violence.