**Trigger Warning for talk of physical abuse**
I haven’t talked about my own abuse survival in awhile. It’s not that I ever forget, but there are times when it seems so long ago that it’s as if it was in a book instead of real life. Then I’m going about my business, just doing life stuffs, when something will trigger a memory and next thing I know it’s all I can think about. I have no say or control over this. I do try to avoid things that I know will trigger any bad stuff for me. It’s difficult to know sometimes, though. Scrolling through my tumblr page (like a news feed; people/blogs you follow) when I came across a video with some rather striking comments/notes beneath it. So, I had to watch it.
I could not have prepared myself for what I was about to watch. Had you described it to me instead, I’m certain it would not have had the same effect. But watching that video brought back a flood of awful memories for me. Not in an overtly emotional sort of way, either. Really it was more of an icy coldness that washed over me. I know that life is far away from me. I know I escaped. I have an entirely new life now. That was so very long ago. And yet seeing someone in exactly the same position I was in so long ago made it feel like yesterday.
In the video you see a woman with visible bruises on her face including a black eye and split lip. In the video she instructs viewers on how to cover up bruising with make up. Her descriptions get a bit specific and obviously intended to be personal to her situation. She covers her bruising with make up and is looking into the camera when there is a sound of a door opening and closing and suddenly she freezes and jumps up and turns off the camera. Then a message comes up that says, “65% of women who suffer domestic violence keep it hidden. Don’t cover it up. Share this ad and help someone speak out.”
I was that woman. At least, I was a young woman who had to cover her bruises with make up and kept my abuse hidden. I didn’t learn to cover them because of them, mind you. No, I’d learned this time honored technique due to my love of making out in junior high school. Ha-ha! I had to cover my hickies so my dad wouldn’t see! I was the go-to gal for emergency hickey cover ups at school. Once I figured out how green can mask pinks and reds? Oh, I mastered that shit! Ha-ha! I couldn’t have known then that this fun little discovery would later save my life…or not.
I was in a physically, verbally and sexually abusive relationship from the ages of fourteen to nineteen years old. Before I realized what was happening, I was trapped in something way over my teenage head. He was twenty-one and already an alcoholic. He took over my entire life. He made me do things I never would have thought of on my own or would want to. I tried to leave many many times. I called the police. He once beat me up in front of someone whom I had considered my best friend at the time and she said and did nothing.
I don’t know that anyone could have done anything differently or had someone (anyone) reached out with a resource or support or anything, that things would have been so much better for me in the end. What I do know is that before it got really terrible, I withdrew. I had to withdraw from my usual life because he made me directly do so, but also indirectly. If anyone found out that he was hitting or raping me he’d kill me, or so he’d say about five times a day, for one reason or another. But I do see that this period may have been a window before the worst of it came and life as I knew it would never be the same again. Perhaps if you are reading this and you know someone in a fairly new relationship who has withdrawn from doing the things they love and hanging out with their friends and such, this could be a warning sign.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224
It’s so important to check on the people we care about. I cannot stress this enough! It is so good to hear from people when you’re feeling a bit blue anyhow, so why not reach out when you’re feeling good and share that good mood with others! You never know, you could be saving someone’s life! I can’t think of the number of times a phone call saved my life. Not just in the morale sense of it either, but also literally giving me a moment to get away from immediate harm, though that was pre-cell phone days.
This person had complete and total control over every aspect of my life at the worst points of it. He threatened to kill my family in their sleep for all manner of ridiculous and absurd reasons. He dictated how I dressed, whom I spoke to, if I left the house or answered the phone or door. I withdrew into my head and disconnected from my body and the world. Prior to meeting him I was a typical, rebellious, boy-crazed teenager. A few months later and I am trapped in my own home fearing for my life and my family’s lives.
When I called the police on him, knowing I’d be covered in bruises from his most recent attack (I’d locked myself in my bedroom with the phone to call 911), they called me a liar to my face and laughed at my abuser’s sexist jokes. I was fifteen years old! A year later when I called them again because he tried to kill me (strangled me unconscious), I was again dismissed and was then accused of purchasing fake emancipation papers (I became an emancipated minor at his insistence at age sixteen, my papers were real).
I don’t want to identify or associate myself as this sad sack story, I’m so many things and most of them awesome, but I see so much value in sharing my story and I refuse to stop. I know how hard it is to talk about this shit! It is so fucking hard! I was not expecting to have these memories triggered and come back like this. Not now. It’s been a very long time since I’ve thought about any of this, but the harder and scarier stuff especially. I’d nearly forgotten. I don’t think I ever will forget, though. Deep down I will always know what happened. I will always be the only one who knows what really happened during those years.
I hid the abuse so well. I became an actress in my own life. In my family’s home I was beat and raped by this person and blamed for it all, too. As far as I know, no one was aware of the abuse at all. I covered with grunge fashion layers and make up and a smile to prove that everything was A-OK! I told my sister a couple of years ago for the first time and she said she never even suspected, but she was five years old when this all began. I told my brother a little bit recently, just that my ex-boyfriend hit me, and he was shocked. I can’t say if my dad ever knew or suspected. He never said or did anything if he did know.
I struggle with this a lot, actually. My mom had just left my dad when I started high school (and cutting class and sneaking out and smoking pot). Suddenly he was a single dad of three. On top of that my grandfather was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and required constant monitoring/care. For years my mom or dad would have to be there to make sure he wouldn’t roam the neighborhood searching for my grandma or get lost. I can’t blame my dad for not noticing the abuse right away with all he had to deal with then. But at the same time, when I demanded he let this abusive 21 year old move into our family home or I’d run away and he’d never see me again? I dunno. I kind of just think he should have done something major there. That was the big moment for me. I thought for sure he’d see through this charade and see what was really happening.
He didn’t. A month later my abuser saw to it that I dropped out of high school, he couldn’t stand the thought of my being around so many disgusting teenage boys. Ha! Dropping out wasn’t so terrible, I hated school and it hated me by then, but again there was a moment when someone could have and maybe should have (or so it’s been suggested to me recently) saw some sort of sign and reached out. I met with my high school counselor for the first time, right before the new school year began, it would have been my sophomore year. I told her I wanted to drop out. She said, “Goodbye.” and never made eye contact. I asked, “Do you know how I can get into independent studies? I’d rather not drop out completely.” She told me that that particular school district didn’t offer such a program. She was a liar. The following day I went to the district office and after a lot of paperwork I got into independent studies. Psshht! (I stayed in that program for the next year and a half before I found out I could never graduate with my class. So I quit and started working full time at sixteen.)
I have only recently begun to see those opportunities where I was sort of reaching out in my own way without actually saying what was happening. I think the statistic of “65% of women who suffer domestic violence keeps it hidden” is actually a conservative figure. Not all domestic abuse cases are alike, far from it, but when you understand the thought processes of those living with this constantly, you might come to see that escaping or reporting it or whatever, is not always an option. Even when you do try to tell someone they may not believe you. Or worse, they won’t want to do anything at all. They may even blame the victim. I know, it happened to me.
I don’t know how I managed to deal with all of that and start over on my own. Only that, well, I didn’t do it entirely on my own. The only way I was able to escape that horrific situation was through a friend. I was living with my abuser in a tiny bedroom in a house shared with his best friend, that guy’s grandma, and (randomly, though my abuser wasn’t aware) my first ever boyfriend who lived in the garage. This friend of mine came to visit, not sure if it was to see the first boyfriend or the grandma, well, he came to visit someone and it was also my 19th birthday. Anyway, he got a sense that something wasn’t quite right and did his best to pull me aside and offered me a room in his apartment twenty miles away. He was getting a divorce and his wife and daughter had just moved out and he had a lease and he offered me free rent if I needed it. Hell to the yes!!!
I had never even heard of the town I moved to until the day before I moved there. That friend was actually the little brother of an ex boyfriend of mine whom I used to fantasize would save me from my abuser for years! Funny how the universe likes to throw you some curve balls! Ha-ha! Sadly, I don’t think I ever truly thanked that friend for his sudden and well timed offer of escape. I don’t know if he ever fully knew how bad things were. I will be eternally grateful to him and his family for helping me through that time. A few months later I got a new job and started a whole new life. I got back in touch with friends and with time got out and did stuff again. I wonder sometimes how I survived it all, but survival is just what I know and do. It’s something you do without thinking. There were times when I didn’t want to keep going, when I wanted him to succeed in strangling me to death. I am so glad that never happened, though.
I may not be the happiest person in the world, but I am grateful for every breath I take and every day I wake up! I love having a life of my own choosing and the freedom to do with it any fucking thing I want in a given moment. Nothing is as sweet as that. I have lived what feels like three or four lifetimes, yet I feel younger than ever. I don’t know how that works, but I’m keeping it while I have it! Ha-ha! Please, stay true to yourself, take care of you! Check in on those you love, be aware of warning signs and reach out if your gut tells you something ain’t right. Don’t second guess yourself in the name of proper manners!!!
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224
And here’s the video: