Nov. 26, 2011 _ I’ve written before about how abuse is suppose to look. Trashy. Drunk. Classless. Trailer park. Dirty white T-shirt. Social misfits. Friendless. Messy. Mean.
Google domestic abuse and you will find pages and pages of hotlines and shelters ready at a moment’s notice to whisk away victims from dangerous households with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
There are stories after stories of lives saved from and lives lost at the hands of an evil, socially inept monsters, who terrorized families to point of dramatic destruction. And, those who surrounded the victims and the abusers weren’t surprised.
But, that is not my story.
My abuser looked just fine to the outside world. Oh, he was a bit of a blow-hard and a little too interested in his own opinions. He was great at debating and pontificating, sometimes at annoying levels.
But he looked, well, normal.
He held a very good job, still does in fact. He is a nationally known sportswriter who writes about the NFL. He does radio shows and writes columns. His opinion is sought often on the various ins and outs of the sport and the industry.
He is married, owns a home, and mostly pays his child support on time. When we were married, we entertained friends, took family vacations, went to church, coached our kids sporting teams, sent out Christmas newsletters, held BBQs and generally looked like an everyday, American family.
But, behind closed doors, all hell was breaking loose.
It was the land of Oz and I hated it when I had to walk behind the curtain to my reality. The fantasy was so much better. When people were around, I lived the life I had always wanted. When people were gone, I was depressed, sad and scared.
Sometimes my surreal reality would drift into my daily fantasy life and I was unnerved. My friends would talk about the misdeeds of their husbands and I would chime in to fit the occasions, but I never told the truth. If I did, my reality would no longer be surreal and I would have to face it.
I will never forget the night I met a very famous NFL football coach at a very formal party that my ex had taken me to. It was an extravagant affair to honor another, retiring coach. My ex walked me up to the new coach and introduced me. “It is nice to meet you,” he said to me. “You know, your husband makes me pretty mad sometimes,” he said with a smirk. “Well, he makes me mad sometimes, too,” I said back and the coach broke out in this hearty laugh. Oh, how funny I was … but there was this voice in my head … the melancholy of knowing that it wasn’t really a joke.
I never dreamed of calling the police or a hotline or a shelter. I never expected that my ex would kill me. Bruise me yes, harm me yes, but kill me … no I didn’t think that. Why did I need a shelter? I had a place to sleep each night. My kids had their own rooms filled with toys. I wasn’t locked in my room and denied access to my family. I didn’t think I was in danger of loosing my life. I somehow accepted for the most part that getting hit, lied too, cussed out, was normal … or at least my lot in life.
I had enough good stuff that I could tolerate it, right?
But of course, it was all a lie.
And the good stuff …. didn’t make up for anything. Instead, I began to resent the good stuff. I harbored anger toward many things and people, mainly against my husband. And despite my head telling me I could live with this, my heart knew better and I rebelled against acceptance.
I dragged us to counselor after counselor and read relationship book after relationship book to try to unlock the secret to a married life that didn’t include abuse.
I prayed to God. I begged my husband. I begged counselors to “fix” our marriage and make my husband stop hitting me. I knew that if only he would stop, then we could have a happy life and I could truly enjoy the home, the Christmas parties, Sunday services, little league games, family vacations, bridge night with friends, and so on.
I didn’t want to throw all of my life away, just the abuse.
And for a very long time, I resented the counselors who couldn’t or wouldn’t fix my ex.
No, I didn’t need a hotline because I didn’t think I was a victim. I didn’t need the police, because if I called the police, my entire life would come to an end. I didn’t need to run off in the middle of the night. I needed to wake up from denial.
My ex wasn’t going to stop me from leaving, but he wasn’t going to stop abusing me either.
Thankfully, I did wake up. And I got the appropriate help that I needed to strengthening me and let me know that I was not the cause of the abuse and so therefore I had no power to stop it, except to leave. And even now, I have no control over my ex, so I can’t control his choice to abuse, so he still does. He doesn’t hit me anymore, but he still attacks in many, emotional and financial ways.
When I look back on my life through clear glasses, I see that on many occasions, I was almost killed. I was left in horrible emotional circumstances again and again. I was thrown under the bus more times than I can count. My ex has taken actions against me that are very harmful to me and my kids.
I recall the time that he chased me through our home in the middle of the night and I ran into my boys’ room in an attempt to lock the three of us in there away from my raging husband. He pushed the door in and got me pinned up against the wall just a few feet were my little children slept. He beat me there where I stood.
Another beating happened just 5 days after I had had major stomach surgery. With staples still in my foot-long incision, my ex threw me around in his fit of rage and I was slammed up against the wall and slid to the floor like a cartoon character. By the grace of God, I was not seriously hurt and my staples stayed put.
Was my husband murderous? No, I don’t think so, though I know very well that on more than one occasion he wished me dead. But was my life in danger? Of course it was. When my ex turned to violence, it was a choice he made to get me out of his way. He wanted what he wanted at that moment, and my life to him held no value. He didn’t hold back his blows or consider how my body would handle them.
And when he speaks of the abuse today, he is very matter of fact about it. Emotionless. He says that he is sorry, but his eyes are blank as he speaks. The only time he has ever been emotional about it is when he describes “how hard it is to live with himself knowing that he abused.” He feels pain about how it affects him, but not how it affects me. Let the psychologist explain that.
I have come to realize that there is another picture of domestic abuse that doesn’t look dirty and messy from the outside. Abusers hide in plain sight. Articulate and well-read, charming and smart. Employed and well-off. Clean and friendly. But, criminals nevertheless.
Abusers can be sportswriters, lawyers, professionals and doctors. Abusers come from all walks of life and there are no limits. Abusers choice to abuse, they are not pushed to it, so they can choice to abuse where no one can see but their victim and they can get really good at living double lives. Like me, many victims become vested partners, willing to lie about the abuse to avoid the shame and to save the good stuff in their lives.
But, it is all a lie. Not one minute of my happiness while married to an abuser felt nearly as good as the freedom from violence I feel today. I still have good memories of my life with my ex, but those memories are about my kids, my family and friends more than about my time with my ex.
The happiness I feel today is about real happiness that I’m proud to share in its entirety with those who love me. No half-truths and secrets. No lies about my marriage. No more bruises to hide.