It was 2:00 am when the door opened to the house.
“Why am I not surprised?!” he yelled, as the refrigerator door slammed.
I crept downstairs to the kitchen. As usual, he was intoxicated. I should have known better, but I did it anyway: I asked him where he had been, and to please quiet down as I’d just put our colicky baby down to sleep.
I was exhausted.
“How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t like that kind of cheese!?!” he said angrily.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about “as I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the cheese and waved it in his face. “This IS American cheese”.
“No, you dumb ass it is not”, he said with a grin on his face.
I wanted to smack that grin right off his face. “I don’t understand what the difference is…and please let’s not discuss this now. You’re drunk”.
He persisted to mumble under his breath so as to be antagonizing and condescending.
“Please be quiet” I pleaded through gritted teeth.
More words were exchanged and one thing led to another. Before I know it, I am on the ground getting my hair pulled, being punched in stomach, and kicked in my head with his steel-toed work boots. It was the first time I actually thought I could die.
I began flailing my arms in the air searching desperately for a way to get him to stop. Eventually, I found the “sweet spot” and I brought him to his knees. Without thinking, I got up and called 911. I feared for my life.
When the Erie County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived, I knew all of them. Immediately I was embarrassed and regretted calling them. My dirty little secret was revealed.
They handcuffed my husband and put him in the police car. One of the remaining Deputies asked me if I wanted them to call my father, and I replied with a firm “NO”. You see, my father too was a Grand Island Police Officer and collaborated with the Sheriff’s Department. I was embarrassed and ashamed for myself and my father. I thought, “If I had only just stayed upstairs none of this would have happened.”
Later that morning, I called my abuser’s father to come and take the kids for the day as I had some things to take care of. I had to go to the police station and file a report.
At the police station photos were taken of my bruises and the report was filed. I left feeling such shame.
The next evening, I found myself in town court for the hearing: a very public forum. As I looked around, I found that I knew several people in the courtroom waiting to be seen by the judge for their parking violations and speeding tickets. I felt myself shrink as I was trying to be inconspicuous. I felt so alone and ashamed. I was at an all-time low. A friend approached me asking me why I was there. I stuttered…I couldn’t answer.
Then, right at that moment, the judge took to the bench and my heart sank even more: discovering that the judge was a close family friend. Almost simultaneously, my abuser was being brought in handcuffs and wearing an orange jumpsuit. I stood there, mortified and ashamed. I left court that evening with a restraining order and my abuser was mandated to anger management classes.
“That’s it?” I thought, “I went through all that embarrassment for a lousy piece of paper that stated he couldn’t come near me or my children?”
Nonetheless, statistically, you can guess what happened…
I took my abuser back, and I never called the police again. I feared being judged for taking him back and I did not want to have to go through that process and ordeal again. I gave my abuser all the power back.
As a result, I lived with domestic violence for another ten years, almost 20 in total. It started insidious in onset, like a malignant cancer metastasizing in me until it infected every part of my soul and well-being.
I never considered myself to be in a domestic violence situation, let alone a “victim”. I made choices, right? To stay. To fight back. I was very much a part of the problem, if not to blame…right?
He was a master, he perfected the term “gaslighting”. He manipulated every situation. He called me abusive for reacting to his abuse. He manufactured so many responses in me that I felt as if I was truly crazy. He tormented me almost daily and turned me from an easy-going, loving, confident woman, to being unrecognizable.
The emotional and psychological abuse was constant.
The physical abuse was random, and unexpected.
In fact, to me the physical abuse was a relief, as he would retreat, becoming tender and solicitous afterwards. I relished that power and the righteous feeling of being wronged. And then things were once again wondrous….so I thought.
Domestic violence continued to permeate my daily existence. It became the norm.
I could go on and on about what my life was like with my abuser: I would have no lack of material. However, this isn’t about my abuser. This is about ME, the victims that are still caught in the cycle, and the victims that never made it out.
As I reflect on that time in my life: I was ashamed, I felt as though I deserved it. I have asked myself over and over “Why did you stay? Why did you go back?”
I have no answer. I wish I did.
What I do know, is that I never thought I would be “that woman”. A woman who isolated herself from family, friends, and colleagues. A woman who lacked self-confidence, becoming more weak and depressed with each passing day. I was suicidal and felt like a terrible mother, and I cared way too much about what others thought, that it paralyzed me from leaving again. Who was I? I was a woman I did not know anymore.
Living with this abuse changed everything about me. My decision making, my values, my family interactions (or lack thereof), my interactions with my children, and my career. Every decision and reaction in my life was based on what his responses would be.
I realized I couldn’t continue this secret life, I had to do something, so I started with Al-anon; it’s anonymous and I wouldn’t know anyone. I found comfort here and as I worked the steps and became healthier in my own life and faith…but the abuse became worse.
It was then I realized it wasn’t me, it was him – interesting revelation right? I had to be certain I wasn’t to blame…and then I left him.
Insert Family Justice Center: Let’s imagine in this moment, if at that time, there was a Family Justice Center on Grand Island [where I lived]. A place where there is collaboration of services, privacy, safety, and child care provided in one secure environment with loving, caring, professionals. I believe I would not have to endure the public humiliation and embarrassment of “the system.” I would not have had to stand there in front of the judge with my abuser. I would not have been made to feel that this was an anger management issue, and feel hopeful that my abuser – having gone through anger management classes – would have made it all ok. I may not have felt responsible. I may have not gone back…
Despite not having access to a Family Justice Center in my hometown, I was one of the lucky ones. Today, you read the words of a STRONG and CONFIDENT woman!
I have since forgiven my abuser, removed the negativity from my heart, and have moved forward without any regret. I love myself and who I have become. I am not perfect, but I work on myself daily to be the best I can be: a better mate, mother, daughter, sister, colleague and friend.
I am in a loving relationship for 12 years, I am a Nurse Practitioner in Neurosurgery. I am a consultant for medical legal, I am an adjunct Professor at D’Youville College, and I recently started my own aesthetics business called, Anew You. (The name – ironic? It is not.) And most importantly I have become a strong advocate for the Family Justice Center against domestic violence.
This is why I share my story. Hoping my story will remove the stigma and stereotype. It can and does happen to anyone. We as a society need to make a paradigm shift, asking the question “why do they hit?” instead of “why do they stay?” We need to change the stigma of shaming and blaming the victim. Only recently has society made small gains in those areas. It is a slow arduous process.
So, what can you do to help? You can help by volunteering, contribute financially, or support the FJC in advocacy work. Help the Family Justice Center to continue to provide services, so that those, unlike myself, have the opportunities and resources that the Family Justice Center provides. Help by changing one community at a time.
Help those that live with domestic violence become victors and not victims. So like me, they too can say, “I am a Victor!!”