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.





October if Awareness month

September 2012_ Abusers dsn’t move on. They are very emotional ill and they need to want to get help before their behavior changes. They don’t always look like abusers or even bad people. They can look normal and sound normal. But you might be able to pick through the pieces of their lives and find red flags. You might not.

Victims have a hard time moving on, too. There may be a reason why a victim was a victim, there may not be. But, victims don’t cause abuse. Victims are victims of abuse.

As a victim of physical abuse, I still struggle with moving on. I still suffer from trauma and stress. Sometimes it feels like I am about to get hit. I lived for so many years under the fear of future physical abuse and emotional abuse that I still look over my shoulder today from time to time. Actually, the more accurate description is that I feel the weight of the fear on my chest so strong that is can be hard to breathe.

I’m told that is a symptom of post traumatic stress and it sure makes sense. When anything looks like the behavior that so messed with my life, I get scared.

Unfortunately, my abuser still tries to abuse. He calls me names and makes threats. He works on the minds of our children to spin details of our lives, separate as they are, to paint a pictures of him as the victim. This is very difficult to tolerate because it hurts the wounds of the past all over again.

I work very hard at trying to move past the pain and stress of the demented relationship.

Therapy is the answer. But only with a therapist who understands the wheel of power and abuse. Grieving is so important as well. The five stages matter.

Next month is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. It is a great time to share your story here on this blog or others. It is a great time to let someone you know who has faced DV that you care. Ask about their story. Show your support. Be a friend. It matters.

With love to all of the readers and DV survivors. Help stop this awful problem around the world.


Sandra Bullock is not to blame

I heard the other day that Sandra Bullock was taking some of the blame for her marriage woes in the wake of her husband’s reported infidelities. Her famous husband has entered rehab for sex addiction and there are reports that he had many mistresses throughout the length of Sandra and his marriage.

I was sad to read that Sandra felt she needed to blame herself, but I wasn’t surprised. Unless Sandra had agreed to an open marriage, had infidelities herself or otherwise knew that her husband was sleeping around, she is not to blame.

I can also relate, because I constantly struggle with taking on the blame for my ex-husband’s decision to abuse me. But, I am not and neither is any other person who has been the victim of any kind of abuse.

If there is any one piece of advise I could give other women who have abusive husbands, it’s that you are not to blame. It seems that every woman that I have met during my recovery from domestic abuse has felt that they played a major role in their abuse and that if they had changed, then the abuse would have stopped.

But what I see when I look at other people situations, and I’m learning to see in mine own, your partner is the cause of the abuse and your partner alone.

We all make a very personal decision how we are going to handle frustration, anger, conflict, desires, and so on. Those decisions are not the result of other people’s actions.

If my ex-husband was so unhappy with me and my actions, he could have made any number of ways to handle it that would have been much healthier than taking criminal action.

During my marriage, my husband never asked to talk to me about the state of our marriage. He never asked that we seek counseling, together or separately. He never asked for a separation or a divorce, despite packing a bag and leaving me hundreds of times.

And when I finally told him I was seeking divorce, he asked me for one last change to make it work. Within just a few weeks of that request, he hit me for the last time.

I know why Sandra is blaming herself. She is taking a healthy look at her own behavior and believes like most of us that it takes two for the success or failure of a marriage. And if that is where the story ends, she would be right.

But it does not take two to cause abuse. It takes one person’s willingness to resort to violence or betrayal or lies. It takes one person’s belief that their partner is not a partner at all, but chattel in their lives. It takes one person’s desire to control the behavior of another to benefit their own position.

I wish Sandra and Elin and all the other women who put their trust in their husbands only to feel betrayed luck in their recovery. It is not easy to give up on the dreams of a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. If fact, for me, it has been more of a process than an epiphany.

They, like all of us who have been victimized by someone who we thought loved us, will have to forgive them… because that forgiveness is better than resentment and anger.

All in due time, for sure. And of course, time that I still need as I navigate life after abuse.