“He pushed me into the table before throwing me on the bed and climbing on top of me. His hands were around my neck as he yelled, “You bitch.” I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t pry his hands from my neck.”
The first time he put his hands on me was Labor Day weekend, 2012, just 5 months after we met. We went to visit his dad and stepmom for the weekend. We sat around the bonfire while he and his dad drank – a lot. Later that night we went into the basement to go to bed. He went into the bathroom as I curled up under the covers. Suddenly, he was on top of me, with his hands all over me, trying to initiate sex. I told him to stop and that I just wanted to go to bed. He wouldn’t stop. I told him to stop again. I tried to push him off me. He wouldn’t stop. I knew if I didn’t defend myself, I would be raped. I grabbed him and I twisted. He picked me up off the bed and threw me against the table in the room. I got up and he grabbed me and threw me on the floor and kicked me. He pushed me into the table before throwing me onto the bed and climbing on top of me. His hands were around my neck as he yelled, “You bitch.” I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t pry his hands from my neck. I grabbed his glasses off his face and threw them against the wall. He leaped off to grab them. I made a run for the stairs to get his stepmom. He pushed me down the stairs and went upstairs.
What ensued makes me sick to this day. His dad and stepmom came into the basement and told me I needed to leave him alone and go to bed. They told me I had too much to drink and needed to calm down. I was crying and beside myself. I reached for my phone to call my mom, the police, someone, anyone. They took it away from me and would not give it back. I was told there was no reason to get anyone worked up over an argument. They left me down in the basement in the dark with no support. I cried until morning when I went upstairs, asked for my phone, and went straight outside. I walked down a path alone and looked at my legs and arms. I was covered in bruises. I called my mom, but I could not tell her I had been physically and almost sexually assaulted. When I went back inside, with visible bruises all over my body, no one said a word about what happened.
Later, he told me he couldn’t handle liquor. Liquor was the cause of what happened and so was I. He had never gotten physical with a woman before so there was something I was doing that caused him to respond that way. He promised once he stopped drinking liquor that it wouldn’t happen again. But it did. With wine. Then with beer. His hands would be wrapped around my neck and he would push me against the wall. I would be covered in bruises again. After every incident, he would claim he had no recollection of what happened, but I must have pushed him too far if he did that. The arguments continued. He continued to push drinking, despite what he did to me when he drank.
Oftentimes after a domestic assault, people ask why the person didn’t call the police. Sometimes it is as simple as it was in my situation – their phone was taken and they were not allowed to call. Other times he told me he would just tell the police that I was the one assaulting him or tell me that if I called the police and he was arrested, his daughter would be taken away and it would be my fault.
More often than not, however, I didn’t call the police because was afraid if I did, he would leave. I know to most this will sound incomprehensible. People will wonder why I didn’t want exactly that – for him to leave. It’s not that simple when your mind and emotions have been manipulated to the point where you literally feel like you cannot exist without that person. As awful as it sounds, I would have rather been getting abused if it meant being with him. He had me feeling like without him I would not be able to survive. After all, I was depending on him to tell me what to think and how to feel. How would I know how to function if I did not have him there to tell me? My self-esteem and self-confidence had been eliminated, in steps that were so small and calculated that I was not even aware of it happening. I had a master’s degree in applied psychology, but I could not recognize my own demise.
There are so many things we are asked and downright told to do during those times. Oftentimes, we have already asked ourselves the same questions and told ourselves the same things. Yet, unless you have personally experienced an abusive relationship, you will never truly understand the dynamics of power and control. We would all like to think we are too smart or too strong to end up in a situation like that – hell, prior to this marriage, I thought that, but their tactics are so well-developed that you don’t realize what is happening until you are in the middle of it.
Imagine being dropped in the ocean on a buoy where you can barely see the shoreline. You don’t know how to swim. Your friends and family are on the shoreline yelling for you to come to shore – to safety, but they are not aware of the dangers that come with coming to shore. You can see the shoreline and in many ways desperately want to reach it, but you can’t. You can’t because you don’t know how to get there. People say just jump in and in life-and-death situations, your body will just know how to swim, but you know for you, that isn’t the case. You have tried leaving the buoy before and almost drowned so you cling to it, thinking it is your only means of survival. Yet you also know if you stay there for too long, you will die of starvation and dehydration – and if you hold on for too long, you will be too weak to pursue other options.
This was my daily life for 5 years. I’m not asking for pity or for sympathy. What I am asking for is empathy; an understanding that this was real for me and is real for many others. You might not be able to fully comprehend it, but that is the beautiful thing about empathy – you don’t need to have experienced something firsthand in order to acknowledge the pain it causes someone else.
Photo: Flickr – Andreas Wulff