“I yelled. I screamed. I said awful things. I broke things. I slapped him across the face on two different occasions. I pushed him. I slammed doors. I teetered on the edge of despair and outrage every single day.”
I have thought long and hard about this particular post. It requires a level of vulnerability and honesty that is downright uncomfortable. In my last post I talked about the first layer of my shame and ended it with the ugliest layer of my shame: shame that in my marriage I became someone who was no better than he was. That sentence is difficult to read, but is something I have thought about regularly. It is one of the reasons I hesitated even sharing my story. How can I share my pain if I was guilty of the same behaviors? I promised to share all of my story – the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, here is my ugly.
I yelled. I screamed. I said awful things. I broke things. I slapped him across the face on two different occasions. I pushed him. I slammed doors. I teetered on the edge of despair and outrage every single day. I would pack up my things and threaten to leave in hopes he would show he cared by trying to stop me. We fought in front of his daughter. I did or participated in all of these things. Every. Single. One.
I endured what I truly believe was psychological torture. He would belittle me while he had a smirk on his face. He would keep breaking me down until I would yell and scream as an attempt to make him stop. Then he would smile and say I was the one with anger issues. He would tell me to keep my voice down like I was the perpetrator. I could never process my emotions with him. Whenever I tried, he somehow made them invalid. I would slam doors and break things as an emotional release. At the time I justified it by telling myself at least I wasn’t hurting anyone. I would push him so I could get past him or because he pushed me and I wanted to defend myself. The two times I slapped him, he said he wouldn’t be in an abusive relationship and made me beg for forgiveness. This was after he covered me in bruises and had me in choke holds without any kind of genuine apology.
I became someone I wasn’t. I would do these things and then sit with guilt for days because I was so ashamed. I knew it wasn’t okay. I knew there was nothing justifiable about it. I knew I was becoming no better than he was. I knew I couldn’t continue being this person anymore.
The difference was, I took accountability. True accountability. Every. Single. Time. Not only did I take accountability for my actions, I set out to correct my behaviors. I went to counseling. I started taking anti-anxiety medications so I wouldn’t get so worked up. I read books and researched coping strategies online. I started writing my feelings down in a journal so I wasn’t keeping everything bottled up. I did not justify my actions or make excuses. I recognized the pattern of behavior, knew it wasn’t acceptable and did I something about it.
He on the other hand, did not. He blamed me or alcohol for his actions. I was being controlling because I didn’t like him drinking. He never put his hands on a woman before so there must be something I was doing to make him put his hands on me. The list goes on. He never stepped back and said what he was doing was wrong. He never took appropriate actions to make sure it never happened again. Instead, he would go back to doing the same things that led to him hurting me in the first place. There was no true remorse. It was as though he felt he did what he needed to do at the time. There was no acknowledgement of the fear for my safety and at times, my life. If there was, he would have made sure it never happened again.
So in some ways, I was no better than he was. Yet, in others, our situations were quite different. There was a power differential. I was 5’4″. He was 6’2″. He was much bigger than I was. He never needed to worry about me being able to overpower him or put him in any life-threatening situation. He always had the upper hand. I tried to defend myself as best as I could. He was able to overpower me and he did. He put me in life-threatening situations when he had his hands around my neck so tight I started to get tunnel vision.
I realize now that while my actions are not acceptable in normal circumstances, they were understandable given my situation. Someone punching, kicking and biting someone who is trying to harm them isn’t abusive. They are trying to survive the only way they know how. An abuser who is stronger and uses their strength to overpower their victims are not acting in self-defense. They are making an intentional choice to harm. When you are in a vulnerable state and know someone has to the ability to take your life, the same standards shouldn’t be applied.
Forgive yourself for what you needed to do to survive.
Photo: Flickr – Hernán Piñera