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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Fame was a lit match in a pool of gasoline

As I have written before, my ex-husband is a nationally known NFL sports writer. For years he has mingled with famous coaches, players and hangers-on all over the country. His opinion is sought after by radio shows and TV hosts. He has access to games, locker rooms and players’ personal lives. He has the best seats on Sundays. He has interviewed all the big name players current and past, including all the famous players of this year’s Super Bowl match up.

This has given him a certain amount of unearned credibility in a lot of areas, but for starters, as some sort of an athlete. However, he never played the sport, or any other sport growing up. He never coached the sport and never held a job related to the sport except as a reporter watching the game. And as a reporter, this is OK because he is not hired to catch touchdown passes or call plays. He is simply hired to write about what he sees.

However, over the years, there have been a number of players, coaches, and NFL administrators who have no respect for my ex because they wonder how this out of shape old guy thinks he has something to say about what they do for a living. For a while, I saw it as part of the deal and as a working journalist myself, I felt that it was OK. My ex was a good reporter, aggressive and willing to dig. That means something in the journalism world.

There were times when my ex-husband’s job was difficult to live with, though. He traveled a lot and when he was home, he worked a lot. He rarely took a day off, even when we went on vacation. His arrogance got him trouble at work from time to time, too, and he was nearly fired several times. Once, a player angry with what he had written about him, slammed him up against the wall in the locker room. That was a weird day. He became the story that day as reporters from all over the country called him for quotes about how he felt about a player crossing the line. Of course, it was horribly ironic and hard to digest that when he was treated the way that he had been treating me… well, it didn’t feel good. No one said to my ex “Well, you must have deserved it because you are such an ass.”… No, his boss, the NFL and the team demanded that the player apologize, which he did and my ex accepted, mostly.

There were a number of situations that came up through the years. Once my ex ticked off a radio host, I have no idea what about, and the host said on the air that my ex-husband shouldn’t have fathered our two-year-old son. I didn’t find out about it for several months because my ex didn’t tell me. But when I did, I call that radio host and told him to leave my child out of their ridiculous sports talk banter. He said he was sorry and he said he would never do it again. My ex thought I was overreacting.

He nearly lost his job one year when he ticked off an owner for his unprofessional blustering one night in a hotel bar and the owner called him out during a press conference. Owners, coaches and players call out reporters all the time for things they write, but this time it was about my husband’s behavior and I worried about the outcome for him with his boss. I also worried that my children might have to answer to it at school.

And just days after the birth of my second child, my ex and I both got in trouble because he refused to do a story called in to him at 10 at night. When it was clear that he was expected to do the story, he blamed me to his boss, my boss, and worked to keep his job. I was hurt, but went along with it because we needed that paycheck.

In the beginning of our marriage, my ex-husband used to tell me that he would not stay in the job for much longer because it wouldn’t work as we built our family. Covering the NFL included a lot of travel, long hours and little time for a home life. I agreed and believed that he meant what he said.

But when we started having children, my ex-husband changed his mind. He was no longer willing to give it up. Despite the few bumps in the road, my ex loved the limelight and the credibility that he otherwise would not have had. Like many men, he was becoming the job and the benefits of that were too hard to give up. For a while, I pushed for him to fulfill his promise of a less demanding job. I wanted a husband who would be there for Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthdays and important events in our lives. But after a while, I stopped asking and accepted that this was what made him happy.

But it didn’t just make him happy. It helped cover his insecurities. He gave him a sense of belonging and it gave him a sense that he was smarter, stronger, famous, different than most people and above it all. From the day I met him, he was always arrogant, but there was something more. In the mind of an abuser, this is a toxic mix. Abusers, I’ve since learned, believe they are “better” than everyone else and don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else. Abuser believe that when they hit, it was deserved and that they are not the same as all the other abusers. My ex was getting nearly daily reinforcement that he was “special” because of his job. And to use an old phrase from my journalism days… He started to believe his own press.

The more fame he aquired, the less he cared about what he was doing to me. The more he believed that he was the victim to put up with such a witch for a wife and he was the one who was abused. He became more willing to physically hurt me because how dare I tell him anything or stand in his way to do anything he wants.

I really don’t know what would have happened if he had worked a more normal job. Maybe he still would have hit me. Certainly the first time he did hit me, he was just starting out and not that well known. But I believe that the dozens and dozens of people who stopped him in the store, or church, or anywhere we went to get his comments on his latest article, and his proximity to superstars and their lifestyle, led him to believe he was entitled to whatever he wanted and when I was in the way of that, well… I had no business getting in his way. I was wrong, in his eyes.

I have since learned a lot about domestic violence and the mind of an abuser and really, its likely that he would have hit me whether he was a sports writer or a truck driver, because the traits of the abuser are the same, but having a level of fame was just a flame to a pool of gasoline in our lives.

How I let his fame keep me silent

My ex-husband is a sports writer and with that comes a certain level of fame. Not the kind that brings autographs and paparazzi, but the kind of fame that causes family and friends to be somewhat enamored with his status and his proximity to NFL football players.

Throughout our marriage and even throughout our divorce, I’ve had friends and family ask me to be a go-between with my ex in order to get tickets, player autographs and his general opinion about various players, games and coaches. Many times I have been involved in conversations where my friends are impressed with what my ex-husband does for a living.

I have also watched my ex-husband write many, many stories about “bad behavior” of NFL players who have spit on each other during games, beat up their wives and girlfriends and run their relationships into the ground. And as he wrote about these abusers, he was beating his own wife.

There were times that I used to think to myself after he undercovered a story of NFL player abused against a wife, just what would they all think if they knew what my ex-husband was doing to me. But it also showed how far down both of us pushed this reality of our lives. And when my family and friends were impressed with my husband, there was a part of me that got to live the fantasy that we had a great life. In a life that was filled to the brim with pain, it was an oasis of happiness.

I don’t have any resentment about it, though anyone might have the right to feel that way. I was a willing participant in glorifying my husband for a long time. However, what I do see is the unhealthy feelings I had about it… in other words, it was another way I was denying the truth and hiding it away.

I really believed that if you add a lot of decoration to a marriage… aspects that make it look healthy and normal, then it just might become what you hoped it would be. The perfect house, the perfect kids, the right life decisions, responsible, clothes, friends, family, and on and on… then maybe this one little aspect… that my husband was treating me horribly… would go away. I stabbed at the problem, or so I thought, with therapy… trying to fix it. But my ex-husband didn’t want to fix it. His coping skills were working for him. Afterall, he had a great job, a perfect home and a way to get out of all responsibility and partnership whenever he wanted. He was totally in control of his circumstance and he didn’t do a thing that he was willing to do. He could sleep well at night.

But, when I began to come out of denial and into reality, my husband’s fame posed a big problem for me. A therapist kept telling me to call the police the next time he hit me. Well, I would play that out and it didn’t look good for anyone. I knew that the minute I called the police, was the minute the abuse went public, not just to friends and family, but it would be in the newspaper and local TV and maybe even national sports news.

My small children would have their world turned upside down at school. Their dad would go to jail, and that would be bad. But the story would be in the newspaper. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to explain it to them or handle their pain.

My husband would also loose his job and likely loose his career. Afterall, how many NFL players has he dogged for beating their wives? A lot. Reporters are not suppose to become part of the story or the story. It tends to make editors who hire reporters nervous about objectivity and whether those reporters can get the job done.

So calling the police, meant that my husband would be fired, my children would have to deal with the world talking about their dad, our income ending and the mortgage not getting paid and the complete collapse of all of our lives. At the time, it was a very scary choice. The beatings were hard to take, but at least that was the devil I knew.

I am so very thankful however, that I got into a therapist office that gave me the proper perspective. She helped me to see that I could not do anything to change my husband. He was an abuser and that was that. And she helped me to see how far down a road I had gone… that I had only two choices… Call the police and collapse my family structure or keep getting hit and risk death.

I had begged and begged therapist to give me another choice, one that would end happily. No beatings. No police. Just happily ever after and a husband who stopped beating me, lying to me, abandoning me.

But finally a very good therapist read between the lines and saw what I needed. The hard truth. She said to me, “You have two choices. Never comfront your husband about anything he does, wants, believes. Never argue with him and accept him 100 percent. Or you can leave. There are no other choices.”

Those words hit me very hard. I thought to myself. Can I accept my husband and what he does 100 percent and never be mad or disappointed, hurt, in a bad mood, wanting attention and honesty…. Heck no. So that left only one other choice.. I had to leave.

It’s sad, but it took so long for me to realize that my husband hit me because he wanted me to shut up and just go along with his desires and needs. He hit me to control me, as chattel in his world. I was never an individual in his world.

Once I felt it in my heart that I was leaving this marriage, then the fame was no longer a part of the equation. I was getting out and I was going to get out as fast as I could. Once I made that decision, I stopped interacting with my ex-husband, which cut the risk of further abuse. And within months, I was out without fanfare. My family and friends were completely surprised, but my ex-husband and I knew exactly why we were splitting up. And I think my ex-husband was relieved also that no police were involved. He still had his imagine in tack. In fact, he even used the divorce as a way to be the victim once again.

I think that my ex-husband feels like he got away with something that could have blown up his career and his desire for the fame it brings. I don’t know. But I do know that publicly today, my ex likes to play the understanding and helpful ex-husband, but privately with me, he still tries to control me and how I interact in his world. And sadly, I still find myself falling for it, again and again.

I have to remind myself over and over to stay away from him as much as possible. And to avoid the comments of people who are impressed with my ex’s career. I try to be polite when asked about my ex-husband the sports writer, but I have to work at saying to people, “I don’t know if he is going to the Super Bowl or if he is writing another book.”

It is the best thing that I can do for my own health.