Domestic violence is hard to understand and much harder to experience. For several weeks now, people across the United States followed the story of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. For those of us who are survivors of domestic violence, it brought up the horror we experienced all over again, igniting our PTSD. I know that our legal system supports Brian is innocent until proven guilty, but the facts resonated through my being, making me want to talk about this touchy subject that many want to ignore.
At the beginning of this week, a brave woman in a writing group shared her despair for Gabby and her personal experience, before we knew of Gabby’s death. I could have been Gabby and ended up dead, so here’s my story.
My Personal Domestic Violence Story
I experienced domestic violence at the hands of my first husband, starting in 1972 before we married, and it continued for most of our time together. We didn’t call it that then; in fact, there was no name for it. I never shared what he did to me with my family until many years after the fact.
During that spring, before we married, it started with him backhanding me for a perceived disobedience on my part. He was drunk. Then, he punched me in the stomach several times for not telling him where I was for an afternoon. Again, he had been drinking.
Next, the major horrific event happened. We were engaged, and he was ending his last year at Trinidad State Junior College. It was the Friday before his graduation and beer flowed freely all over campus. Because he was obnoxious when drinking, I had avoided him all morning. When I got back to campus after spending time with my parents, everyone I ran into told me he was looking for me. I found him and he was drunk—in the early afternoon.
After that, we walked back to the girls’ dormitory where I lived, arguing. About what? I’m sure he was quizzing me about where I had been—not doting on him. I took off my engagement ring and handed it back to him, disgusted with his drunkenness and controlling attitude. I wanted to end the insanity.
In a flurry of punches, kicks and pain, I hit the sidewalk. The next thing I remember I’m coming to and he has slipped the diamond ring back on my finger. Bent over me, he whispered in my ear, “You fell. We were messing around and you fell. That’s what you tell people” and ran off.
Right in front of the girls’ dorm! I looked up and saw groups of wide-eyed people gathered near the door who had witnessed his vicious attack. Blood covered my face and covered my clothes as my brother and best friend picked me up.
Then, they rushed me to our family doctor (before Urgent Care and easy Emergency Room access). I remember seeing people sitting in the waiting room gasp as I walked in. I passed a mirror and couldn’t see my face for the blood and my swollen nose. The nurse immediately took me to a room and cleaned up the blood. My family doctor came in and asked what happened.
Then, in the true form of a domestic violence victim, I responded, “I fell. My fiancé and I were wrestling, and I fell.” Deep down, I knew that was a lie. I knew he had beat the hell out of me, but those words came out automatically then and then again anytime someone questioned me.
After my cover-up, my doctor shook his head and instructed me to go to the hospital for an ex-ray of my nose. When we arrived, we ran into my fiancé with hands bandaged up. I gasped and recoiled. He broke my nose, cut my lip and I was black and blue from my shoulders down. He was being examined for his damaged hands, which he told people he had messed up punching headlights out of parked cars.
What I Did!
The insane part—Saturday morning I got up and had my hair fixed for the formal dance that night. I remember looking at my swollen face in the mirror, wondering what to do, but acting like nothing had happened out of the ordinary. I went to that dance that evening with him, my face swollen and black and blue—numb and lifeless in my beautiful pink dress.
On Monday, our families celebrated his and my brother’s graduation as if nothing happened. No one looked me in the eye and asked the hard question, and we didn’t offer any explanation. I acted as if nothing happened.
Yes, his violence continued throughout our marriage, but that event was the worst. After that I demanded he quit drinking around me, and he did for a while, but his dad always threw him a beer to drink when he got home from taking me to the bus depot in Denver. During our early marriage, I lived with holes in many walls in our first home because of his explosive temper when he was anger. Because of a specific outrageous outburst, I forced him to go to couple’s counseling, and he convinced the therapist his dad was the problem. So, I learned to be quiet and invisible.
Finally, why did I marry him and stay married for eight years? After many years of therapy and recovery, I realized I knew if I ever tried to break up with him again, he could kill me. When we divorced, it was his idea. I believe God intervened to save me, because my fear of him outweighed logic and safety. Today I am married to a gentle, loving man who would never think of hurting a woman, so healing happens.
So, what is domestic violence? Why do women (mostly, but I know of one man who suffered domestic violence in his marriage) stay with a violent spouse? How do you get out?
Domestic Violence Defined
Domestic abuse, also called “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
Recognizing the signs of domestic abuse
Does your partner…
- Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
- Put down your accomplishments?
- Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
- Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
- Tell you that you are nothing without them?
- Treat you roughly—grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
- Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
- Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
- Blame you for how they feel or act?
- Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
- Make you feel like there is “no way out” of the relationship?
- Prevent you from doing things you want – like spending time with friends or family?
- Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson”?
- Sometimes feel scared of how your partner may behave?
- Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behaviour?
- Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
- Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
- Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
- Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
The statistics about domestic violence are staggering
- In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime
- From 2016 through 2018 the number of intimate partner violence victimizations in the United States increased 42%
- An abuser’s access to a firearm increases the risk of intimate partner femicide by 400%
- Intimate partner violence is most common against women between the ages of 18-24.
- 19% of intimate partner violence involves a weapon.
Can this happen to you?
I wasn’t raised in a household seeing domestic violence. I am an incest survivor and I believe that affected how I viewed men and relationships. If you are experiencing any of the signs listed above, please get help by calling 1-800-799-7233, text “Start” to 88788 or go to the website https://www.thehotline.org/.
If you suffer from domestic violence, you don’t have to go through this alone, like I did. You don’t have to carry the shame for over forty years. Today, you can get help.
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