What does domestic abuse really look like?

bruised woman

Another season, another domestic abuse story in the headlines.

Another movie star/athlete/politician or otherwise stand-up guy has been accused of harming his partner.

An another week of doubting and bashing the alleged victim.

In has been just a few weeks, and  Amber Heard has already been painted as the antagonist by too many after she reported that her movie star partner, Johnny Depp, beat her up. Their story is just beginning to weave its way through the justice system, but the court of public opinion is driving forward on a predictable timeline. Media outlets are already digging through her past to discredit her allegations, while giving the microphone to Depp’s supporters.

In the United States, we have a Constitutional presumption of innocence. This seems to only apply to the alleged abuser _ not to the alleged victim.

For some reason, we have an impossible time believing that the guy we “know” could be capable of beating his partner. It is much easier to believe that the alleged victim must be a lying gold-digger or some other kind of degenerate willing to fabricate a lie and blow up her world for some sort of gain or revenge.

This presumption is despite studies and statistics that show one in every three women will at some point in their adult life be the victim of intimate partner abuse and that one in 10 men have abused a partner. Studies also show that cases of false accusations of domestic abuse may only make up as few as one percent of all cases.

Maybe we struggle to understand this because we still believe that domestic violence is more a couple’s dynamic problem that criminal assault with a victim. Maybe we are invested in maintaining our opinions of the accused abuser.

Maybe we don’t understand what victims are truly going through.

In my case, I was physically abused for 10 years by my then-husband. He beat me, choked me, stomped on me, threw me, spit on me, slapped me, grabbed me, threatened me, shoved me against a wall and bruised me many times.

We were a middle-class couple living in suburbia with lots of friends, careers, children, a mortgage, a mini-van and all the other signs of an American family. In front of people, we looked normal with “normal” baggage. He was a nationally known sportswriter covering the NFL.

But every day of our 15-year relationship, we were in a complicated and psychological dance between victim and abuser that was stressful for me and our children. As a result of this, I suffered for years from PTSD and my children have emotional pain they are just beginning to understand.

If anyone would have looked through the windows of our four-bedroom home, they would have seen me alone with our children most of the time. My ex spent very little time with us, even when he was in the house. When he did, there was rarely shared happiness.

Though I can’t speak for my ex, I know that my relationship needs weren’t met and I was incredibly lonely and hopeless on a daily basis. When tensions escalated, often it ended with some form of violence.

One of the last incidents of abuse, I walked into his home office and complained about something I don’t remember. He was upset with me for it and wanted me to leave him alone. I leave his room and instead continued bitching. The next thing I knew, he shoved me with quick force and I stumbled, uncontrolled across the room. I couldn’t get my balance and I fell onto a small loveseat. He jumped on top of me. I balled up to protect myself as he pummeled me again and again. When he finally stopped, I pulled myself up off the sofa and fought to get out of the room while he followed me screaming in my ear. When I got to the door of his office, I turned around and shouted back at him. He hacked up the mucus from deep in his lungs and spit the wad in my face. His mouth was inches from my face. His eyes showed the hate in his heart.

I experienced dozens and dozens of violent acts equally as dramatic, scary and traumatic for years.

The only feeling I felt as I wiped his spit off my face was shame.

I kept our secret for more than a decade and never called the police or told a single friend.

To do so, would be to blow up the family I so wanted.

When I finally left, his abuse continued. Living apart helped put an end to the physical abuse but the verbal and emotional abuse and intimation increased.

Domestic abuseAll while he maintained a public persona of a devoted family man, an accomplished sportswriter and a friend to many. He still paints himself that way and fools a lot of people. He has thousands of Twitter followers who read about his opinions on NFL players who beat their partners or his pride as a father to our children. But, I know the truth. He is an abuser. He doesn’t deny it. If anyone asks him, he tells the story of how hard it is to live with what he has done. However, he doesn’t tell me that. He continues to make threats, diminishes my pain when he can and discredits me to people in my life when he has the opportunity.

Abusers want you to believe their spin and the story we’ve help create about them. And they are excellent actors and liars.

The next time the news breaks with another sad story of domestic abuse, I beg you, please don’t jump to conclusions that lead to victim blaming. Please just take a step back, but not a step away mind you. Victims need your support, desperately. Abusers need your condemnation. Children need a society that knows how to handle and end domestic abuse. Silence and turning the other cheek doesn’t do it.

Please insist on investigations that are thorough and conducted by trained professionals. And please help stop our collective denial that domestic violence isn’t real or that we don’t have too large a segment of our society willing to exploit others for their own gain.

 

 

 

 

Raw data from survey of domestic abuse victims now co-parenting with abuser

I have been collecting data with a simple Google survey posted on Twitter, here and divorcedmoms.com about domestic abuse and child custody.

After a few weeks on social media, here the results from 33 anonymous responders. I have removed page 14 of the results in order to protect the identity of a few responders who volunteered their names and emails.

Feel free to comment if you would like more information or please, take the survey yourself. It’s only 31, quick questions.

Thank you to those who have already taken it.

Pages 1-13

Domestic abuse & child custody cases without names- Google Forms

Pages 15-17

Domestic abuse & child custody cases pages 14-17 – Google Forms

 

Are You Open About the Abuse?

Dear Readers,

I’m writing a story about women who no longer hide that they are an abuse victim. Are you will to be a part of an article I am writing about this subject for divorcedmoms.com? If so, please msg me at Thriving in Crazy Land on divorcedmoms.com. I would like to interview as many women victims of domestic abuse as possible.

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

J.B.Cole

When your abuser is in the public eye, it all gets a lot worse

Sept. 12, 2014 _ Over the last few weeks, I have watched the NFL Ray Rice saga with uneasy interest because not only is it tragic and unsettling just to watch such a video, my abuser is now on twitter tweeting about it as an expert NFL sports writer.

He is on a national stage, a guest on sports radio around the country, pontificating and judging about the players involved and their missteps and crimes.

I try to stay clear of his internet posts and really stay clear of him in general, but I have stumbled on his words a few times in these weeks.

It is enough to make me sick.

I pray that Janay Rice is staying away from all the media attention and internet comments. I pray that she is with people who truly love her and are showing her they care.

Victims of abuse can be retraumatized as quickly as a war Vet jumps from loud noises years after combat. It sucks.

I have shed more unexpected tears in the last few weeks than I have in many years. Suddenly, I’m caught of guard by a comment, a new item or watching my 15-year-old face when he sees the video as it pops up on TV during his morning bowl of cereal.

I wish that we lived in a world where domestic abuser are not allowed to get away with it. I know that Ray Rice hasn’t. In fact, I actually feel very good about the way society is generally responding to this incident. I mean, its very hard not to be shocked by a video of a man cold-cocking his girl in an elevator then dragging her out like a rag doll with little concern or remorse. But, I think finally we are turning a corner on acceptance of this crime. James Brown’s comments Thursday night were so comforting.

But, this incident also shows me again just how much my ex has gotten away with it and lives with little consequences. Even in this case, my case, where there is no he said she said. He is on court records admitting to all of his abuses, including choking me while I was 9 month pregnant, spitting on me, attacking me over and over. Actions that if he worked for the NFL, would get him banned for life. Instead, he has a national soapbox, a national platform, where he gets to play holier than thou and draws an interested crowd of thousands.

No one tells him that he is wrong. No one tell him that he is a criminal who has no right to do anything about this and he should keep his mouth shut. Using this issue as fodder for his public persona hurts me, and his two children, who struggle still with the pain of domestic abuse in their family, and is yet another moral and ethical line he crosses with ease. Just as shocking as prying his hands off my throat or watching an NFL football player punch is wife unconscious.

In the end, I have turned again to what helps me process this, writing and sharing my story.

And remember to be grateful. Grateful that I got out, not away, but tonight I go to bed in my own space that doesn’t include him. I also am grateful that I am not him. It does occur to me that he is like a wax-wing bird flying to close to the sun. If he is ever outed after the pressure he put on player after player, the NFL and now Goodell, the NFL commissioner, well … my guess is that there will be hell to pay.

I am grateful that I don’t have to live with that.

 

This morning, finally, maybe the beginning of social un-acceptance

Sept. 10, 2014 _ I think we might have turned a corner. I’m holding my breath, hoping its true.

Have we, our society, our male role models, reached a point where enough is enough and standing up against abusers is the right thing to do instead of an act not done in polite circles? God, I hope so.

As I’ve followed twitter and news media on the punishment of NFL player Ray Rice and his violence against his wife, I’ve been in tears a lot. It is nice to see players and other men call the abuser out over and over and leave the victim alone. She is not being blamed or shamed because of what he did.

Player after player have posted their comments about the punishment Rice received, and they are blunt and to the point.

Bronco’s player Chris Harris tweeted:

“The NFL should have zero tolerance for domestic violence. There is never a reason for any man to be violent towards any woman.”

Bless you Chris. Your words help so much. Your words will alone will stop some guy out there from hitting his wife. Your words will help heal a victim who thinks she caused the abuse. Your words will help put an end to this crime. Your words will save a life.

Abusers abuse because they can. Because they don’t loose too much if they are caught. Look at Rice. Convicted with a slap on the hand, two game suspension, endorsements in tact. … At first … just a few days later, the consequences of the choice to abuse just skyrockets for Rice. And other abusers are watching.

I know that my abuser, my ex-husband, and national NFL writer, is watching. He said the same stuff as Rice. He is sorry. He is horrified by his actions. He has to live with this horror. He, he, he, he … Never though does he say a thing about what I live with. Nightmares. Flashbacks. Shame. Broken dreams. …. Rough, yes. But, its hardest when I stumble on my ex’s latest sports show or column where he pontificates about the abusive NFL player … hard to watch, so I try hard to stay away from that. Because, when he does that, I know my abuser thinks he got away with it, and therefore, will do it again. Maybe not hit me, but he might sue me, or worse, hurt my children.

This morning, I have a little hope personally that my abuser will keep his head down and leave me alone. This morning, I am comforted by complete strangers, men of the NFL who are standing up and saying no more. This morning, I am reminded that my ex can hurt me again, but I am a survivor who has a good life despite him and because of me, my loved ones, my friends and family. This morning, I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction and maybe we can put an end to this crime.

Abusers aren’t bad husbands or out of control guys with anger management problems. Abusers are criminals and need to be told over and over again, “NO. You can’t do that.” And they need to hear it from everyone. Not just their wives. That is how it will stop.

It has been awhile since I’ve posted

June 22, 2014 _ I am a survivor of Domestic Violence and Abuse, recovering from PTSD, a mother of two wonderful children, 51 years old, divorced, a writer, businesswoman and unfortunately co-parenting with my abuser under court-order.

It has been 20 years since I was first physically attacked by then husband, 9 years since the last time he attacked me.

It has been one day since he last emotionally abused me. He did it by creating a fight with me while our child is in his care by telling me that our child is upset with me over my parenting style and a “decision” that he fears I’ve made. When I wouldn’t engage with his abusive texts, he contacted the parenting coordinator and told her to call the judge and report me as neglecting my duty to communicate. I asked to see our child so that I could hear the concerns directly, my ex said no.

After 20 years of abuses my ex has expressed, the details aren’t really all that important anymore. There are so many incidents of controlling, malicious behaviors, that they blur together.

My brain works very logically. I want to understand relationship dynamics because I want to get along with everyone. It is part of my co-dependent nature. When sudden trouble shows up in any of my relationships, I am immediately disturbed and begin the exhausting process of pealing the events and actions back so that I can understand how we got off on the wrong track.

However, relationships with some people don’t work, no matter the path it takes. Some people have problems, to say the least. And that notion has always been hard to get my head around. I’ve always believed in the fantasy that with enough, acceptance and explanation to avoid misunderstanding, people’s better nature will win out and relationships will run smoothly.

That fantasy has caused me years of pain.

It took me just about half a century to learn that some people are very broken and their better nature is hopelessly entangled in their own fear and personality disorders and impossible to operate normally, and

I don’t have the power to cause anyone to operate through their better nature.

Some people aren’t waiting to clear up a misunderstanding.

Some people don’t want relationships to run smoothly.

Some people don’t care if another person is hurt, or worse, want others hurt.

I think that fantasy is one many hold. I don’t think that I am alone. In fact, I’ve seen many people believe that my ex, an admitted abuser who relishes dominating people in every way, can be reasonable, even kind and loving if only he is in the right circumstance.

I’ve seen that in many domestic abuse cases. So much of our society believes that abusers are abusing because of circumstance and not because they are criminals. It doesn’t compute to believe that a person can follow the rules of society, like marriage, jobs, children, etc., and still be a criminal.

My therapist said it this way to me, “Crazy people still go to the grocery store.”

So true.

The danger in assuming that all those people milling about the grocery store are sane and reasonable, is that we afford a lot of latitude to sane people _ we don’t have protecting boundaries in place for ourselves and for our children.

Last night as I worried about my child, I forced myself to watch a sad movie. It is a trick I have to make myself cry _ really. I have to find ways to make myself cry when I’m worried about my children and my ex because if I don’t, the fear of trauma is trigger in me. Years and years of abuse means fight or flight reflex is easily accessed with who knows how many extra synapses created in my brain. Crying, feeling sorry for myself, actually helps way more than my normal reaction … to problem solve (part of the reflex).  But, years and years of abuse, means that I want to problem solve way more than I want to feel sorry for myself.

So, I force the feeling to come using tricks, designed by my therapist. Watching sad movies, listening to sad songs, photo albums … Essentially, I am forcing myself to feel the real feeling behind all of this.

I am sad that I was abused by my children’s father. I’m sad that I won’t grow old with my children’s father. I am sad that I couldn’t stop my children from having a fucked up childhood. I am sad that my children are forced to navigate life with an abusive father. I am sad that he won’t ever get better.

Feeling the real feeling helps me to no end. Oh, it sucked last night as I cried my eyes out. But, just a few minutes later, I felt a lot better and I accept that there is no problem solving I can do, no fight or flight reaction that will change the truth about my situation … that my ex, the father of my children is a criminal and the courts and society don’t truly acknowledge domestic abuse as a real crime against a person.

Even the term, “domestic abuse” downgrades the crime. “Domestic” implies a lesser crime that just assault. It implies that there is something within the control of the domicile that caused the abuse, rather than the truth, that one person has criminally assaulted another. And in fact, it is worse that stranger assault, because within a relationship, the victim doesn’t have boundaries in place to protect against abuse. Instead, there is trust that abuse won’t happen.

The terms we use actually help keep domestic abuse going and let the abuser know they can get away with it.

One day, I hope that we stop calling it domestic abuse and start calling it what it is: assault.

My ex is a criminal. Make no mistake.

He was never arrested, because I never called the police. And frankly, with the laws in my state, it is really possible that we both would have been arrested if I did call the police, even though I was the attacked.

When abuse means attack and emotional abuse means conspiracy to harm another and corruption of a minor, then we will making some progress.

But, we aren’t there yet.

The movie I watched to set off my healing, cleansing tears was Philomeana … a true story about an Irish women who had her son taken away from her  at an Irish home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church. On her baby’s 50th birthday, she tried to find him with the help of a journalist. She did find him, except, that he had died years before as a result of AIDS. In her search, she finds out that the nuns had sold her child out from under her, without even able to say good-bye and when she finally confronts one of the aging nuns who did it and showed no regret, Philomeana instantly forgives her. Wow, powerful. This poor woman, I thought as I cried a river.

But, back then, the church believed a fantasy too. That this was best and Christian. How truly sick is that, well really sick. But, an entire institution thought it was OK.

Thank God I didn’t have my children taken away from me. Thank God I didn’t go through that hell.

With time, and awareness and understanding, I pray that we as a society come together and change the collective fantasy that domestic abuse is something within closed doors and between two people and therefore is none of our business. I pray that we realize that abuse is criminal and criminals should not go through life without additional boundaries.

Criminals have been given the same choice as all of us. They could have navigated their lives and pain without taking it out of others by committing crimes against others. They had the same choices as you and me. To make mistakes, to get angry of course.

Those who attack others have shown their colors. We should believe them and act accordingly. Today, would we give those nuns the keys to the nursery? I don’t think so.

Watching Philomeana forgive that nun, reminds me that forgiveness is best. But, wow, so hard to do. However, forgetting is not required and boundaries should never be loosened.

To all those women getting bruised today, hang in there and get help. You need it and deserve it.

How to cope and recover after domestic abuse

Nov. 16, 2013 _ Domestic violence reeked havoc in my life, my children’s and to this day, eight years after the last physical assault, still weighs on my heart. It doesn’t help that I must, by court order, have limited contact with my abuser, the father of my children. Imagine being forced to communicate with someone who beat you up, assaulted you, called you every name in the book, betrayed you and repeatedly used you _ it sucks.

But, today, I’m healthier emotionally than I have ever been and it is in large part due to great counseling from a very well trained domestic abuse counselor at my local DV agency. With therapy, I am processing the trauma of abuse and healing from PTSD, a condition I never through applied to me.

If you are involved in some way with a domestic abuser, my prayers are with you. I know that your life is harder than most realize. I hope that you will seek help from a very good therapist who understands domestic abuse.

Here are my tips to learning to cope and recover:

1. If you are still living with your abuser, please make a plan to leave as soon as you can. If you have children together, it is very important to meet with an attorney first, before leaving. Many states have antiquated family law that doesn’t yet recognize the facts and dangers about DV. You need to get as much custody of your children as you can and have as much in writing as possible. Please don’t live in the fantasy that you will be able to work together post divorce as parents. Sadly, your abuser is more likely to use your children as a way to continue to control and get power.

2. Get help from your local domestic abuse service. Google domestic abuse and your city to find out who and where you can get help. You need help from people who understand the difficulties you face. Domestic abuse is a crime and like most crimes, it results in a traumatized victim and a demented criminal, and that is hard enough of course. But, with domestic abuse, the victim is often falsely accused of causing the abuse and held at least partly responsible for the dynamic. The legal system, friends and family can cause further trauma, as a result. A good therapist can help you process all of those feelings in a way that can help your recovery. Please don’t try to go it alone. I think it is impossible to recover without the help of good people in your corner.

3. Grieve the loss of your “traditional” life. This means, you must walk through the pain of grief, which is not easy to do after going through the pain of abuse. But, grieving is a healthy step, one that we often gloss over. It is Ok to cry about your disappointment, fear and pain. No one gets married believing that they are going to end up in a mess. It sucks and you deserve to have a bunch of days in tears over it. The best thing about grieving is that when its over, days, weeks, months later, you will feel so much better and the clouds will begin to clear.

4. If you have children together, spend a lot of time working through every parenting issue you think you might face in the future and get it in writing now. The more you have on paper, the less chance your abuser will have to continue to abuse. Get as much spelled out as possible about the kids’ schedules, schooling, medical decisions, activities, church, vacations, drop offs and pick ups, and so on. Don’t spend too much time trying to control how your ex cares for your children, no matter how worried you are about his judgment. Judges don’t like parents who try to control what an ex does with the children. But, when it comes to how you two work together, get it in writing. Abusers love gray areas, because it gives them a way to fight. Abusers really enjoy fighting.

5. Build a new life in ways that make you happy and brings joy. Go back to school. Get a new job. Move. Take care of yourself. This is one of the hardest goals to achieve because it takes two things most victims don’t have, money and time. But, it is so important. Do your best to find ways to take care of yourself and don’t judge yourself too harshly. You have been through hell and you need to understand you aren’t perfect.

6. Cut people out of your life that judge your marriage with the abuser. You do not need anyone in your life who wants to “stay neutral” or think that have a ligitimate opinion on your life together. They don’t.   You need to surround yourself with people who love you, support you and have only the best comments to say to you. If someone wants to tell you how to get over it, get along with your ex or how to feel, you need to find a new friend. Victims are often co-dependents, and really bad at recognizing a good friend vs. a bad one. Tell yourself over and over that you need supportive friends and family only at this time. It is no time to give your time to the wrong people.

7. Work hard to keep distance between you and your abuser. For safety reasons, you need to distance. No contract or limited contact is advised for emotional and physical safety. Work hard at breaking the ties that bind you with your abuser. It takes time, but keep at it. You will be thankful when you finally realize your abuser is completely out of your life.

 

October is a time to remember

Sept. 28, 2013 _ As Domestic Abuse awareness comes on us again, I pray for those victims still entangled with their abuser. They need my prayers and those of everyone else.

Living with an abuser is horrible and traumatic and it doesn’t really matter if the abuse is physical, emotional or all the other ways abusers work. Victims are trying to survive mental anguish caused by the fact that their partners, who are suppose to love them, are exploiting them on a daily basis.

I was talking to my sister yesterday about the dynamic. Abusers will do anything in the moment to get the momentary high of power and control. They fear what will happen to them if they loose control for even a second and will do anything to maintain what they believe is dominance over anything that could disrupt their world.

Most people can relate even a little bit to those feelings, so when we see it in others, we assume that it is normal and the abuser is managing it like the rest of us. However, the abuser is not. Instead, the abuser is hypersensitive to those feelings and work every second of their day to stamp down the insecurity and fear by creating a belief that they are in control of everything.

That makes it hard to be a partner with anyone. And it is exactly the reason why spouses are targets.

Because the abuser is so consumed with internal struggles and “voices”, he or she has no real ability to have compassion or empathy for others, even those closest to them. Or the patience to let someone else be in control of anything, like a good partner would.

I used to spend hours and hours trying to reach the empathy in my then husband whenever I was the direct target of his abuse. I didn’t know what I was doing, because I had very little understanding of the dynamic. I still thought our marriage was sort of normal, albeit in trouble.

Sometimes I would stay up with him until the wee hours of the morning trying to “get through” the wall he built around himself. He acted as though it would kill him to care about me or anyone else. He was like a little child refusing to open his mouth to his vegetables. Sometimes, i would break through and he would finally seem to let his guard down and we would hug and he would tell me he was sorry and I would be relieved. I had hoped that now that we understood each other, we were healed.

Finally, I was just worn out and didn’t want to work that hard to get to some emotional place with my husband that still included violence.

But, when I think back on it now, I know that understanding why I put up with 10 years of abuse is very important to my recovery.

My recovery has taken years. Therapy. Friends. This blog. And time.

It has also included something fundamental. The end of physical abuse and a respite from abuse and trauma.

It is impossible to heal from trauma while it is still going on. While trauma is happening, survival is the only goal and doing whatever is necessary to do it.

And part of recovery is the sad truth that an abuser can’t be changed by anyone.

My abuser will always see me as a source, called narcissistic supply. A well where he can find the sense of dominance or adulation. As long as we have children together, he will always have a way to dominate me.

My abuser will always need to seek a feeling that is only generated when he is either dominating another human being or is worshipped by them. Of course, he doesn’t always get this, but it is what he seeks. Like any addict, the feeling he gets is more important than anything else.

And it is vital that I understand that and accept it. I can’t change him. Sure, he can change if he wants to. But, like all addicts, it is solely up to him. So, until I see that happen, I accept that I have an abuser in my, and my children’s lives and we will always be in danger of his actions.

I haven’t been physically abused for years by him, but he has lashed out at him using our kids again and again and I still have cause for concern whenever my kids are with him. The simple truth that most people just can’t believe, is that an abuser can do permanent damage to others, even cause death.

Most of us belief, completely, that THAT kind of danger and destruction is only in the movies, or would some how be controlled or unveiled by the authorities. And that though we see horrible events on the news, that kind of thing doesn’t happen to people we know. I belief, that is why people have the hardest time accepting that an abuser is dangerous.

It certainly is the reason why I believed, despite event after event of physical and emotional abuse by my husband, wasn’t domestic violence. And that my husband was basically a good guy who was in a bad way.

But, the reality was and is, that my ex-husband is very dangerous and is capable of anything. It is the grace of God that I was not killed while married to him. He attacked me so many times, I can’t count. Life is fragile and precious. Any one of those times could have resulted in my death. He certainly wasn’t concerned with to what degree he was hurting me at the time.

I don’t accept anyone’s impression that my ex is a good father because he gets involved in their lives, or drove them to school or made their lunch. A good father doesn’t choke their pregnant wife. A good father doesn’t use other people ever. A good father is honest. A good father has character. Integrity. And lives by the law.

A good father would never put another human beings’ live in danger willingly.

That is the truth of an abuser. There is no other way to look at it that makes sense.

Trying to give the abuser the free pass that he can treat one person one way and another person another way and call him healthy or a good parent, is what endangers so many victims to this day.

I pray that during this coming month of Domestic Abuse awareness that we all think about what we are allowing to happen, because we don’t want to get involved or believe that abuse is in fact, domestic. It is not.

Abuse is abuse and it is wrong no matter whether it is in a home or not.

Reach out this month to someone who is a victim and let him or her know you care.