When I heard the story on the radio about Ray Rice beating the crap out of his wife, Janay Palmer Rice, I listened, even though I felt uncomfortable. When I heard there was a video of it–a video that people were watching–I felt sick to my stomach.
It’s really hard to talk about domestic violence. And it’s really hard for me to listen to other people talking about domestic violence from an outsider’s perspective.
That’s because I’m an insider.
Right now, my fingers are typing what my heart is saying, but my brain is like, “Stop doing that. It’s done. It’s over.”
And it is. Yet it isn’t, since our experiences shape us into who we are today. I have learned from my past and have grown up. There are four stages that women go through which constitute what psychologists call “The Battered Woman Syndrome.” (I’m not talking about the cycle of abuse, which is different.)
Janay Rice is not in the fourth stage. She may never get there. Many women (or men who are abused) never get there. The fourth stage is not called “responsibility” because you take responsibility for the abuse. It’s called “responsibility” because you take responsibility for your life and you choose to no longer live that way. You accept that your partner is not changing and is making the choice everyday to not change. And you decide that is his choice which has an effect on his life–but not yours. You reclaim ownership of yourself–your feelings, your spirit, and your right to happiness. Responsibility looks like courage in the face of someone who wants to overpower you.
I won’t discuss the details of my story, because I believe it is important to share your painful experiences only with those people who have earned the right to hear your story. This blog is public, and I don’t know every single person who is reading it, so some of those people have not yet earned that right.
But what I will tell you is this: people don’t want to believe that horrific things like a wife getting spat on by her husband or almost being strangled or choked to death can happen to people they know. People don’t want to know about such awful things because WHAT THE HELL DO YOU DO WITH THAT KNOWLEDGE? It’s gut-wrenchingly revolting.
And so people end up thinking thoughts that are more pleasing for them like, “He’s such a friendly guy or they seemed like such a loving couple…could that really be true?” or “Maybe he just has an anger management problem and needs counseling” or “Maybe she hit him back and it’s a volatile relationship” or even “What did she do? What did she do that started the whole thing?”
People don’t want to think about how an abuser’s mind works–whether it’s emotional or physical abuse.
The reason why all of this is hard for me to talk about–even with those closest to me–is because it’s a hole in my heart that never goes away. And oh, I am really a happy person. I am one of the happiest people you could meet. So I don’t like being identified as a “victim of domestic violence.” It’s a part of my past. It is an experience I went through, but it doesn’t define WHO I am today.
I wrote this tonight to tell you that odds are you know someone who has experienced abuse. And when you are an outsider and are trying to understand how someone could do such a thing to someone, what I want you to understand is this: it’s not about anger. It has never been about anger. It’s about power and control. It is about another person using subtle or not so subtle tactics to gain control of another human being. And what an abuser takes from his victim is valuable. When another person wants to dominate his partner, he uses threats, jealousy, isolation, and other tactics to break down his partner’s confidence, security, and belief that she deserves to be treated well. He tries to take away her very ability to trust herself and believe that her feelings have value. And that’s why she stays with him and that’s why it feels like her spirit will break into a million pieces if she leaves.
So now, in the words of Maya Angelou, “Now that I know better, I do better.” I’m thankful this Christmas for my life. I’m thankful for my daughter. I’m thankful that we live in a happy, healthy home and that I chose courage over fear. Because I’m her prototype and that’s kind of a big deal.
And I pray for and remember those who haven’t yet left. My heart is heavy for them during this season.
I leave you with a cheesy collage I made right after I was out of my abusive relationship. My favorite phrase on there is “turn out.” Because what I finally realized was that I was waiting for an outcome that wasn’t going to happen. It had already turned out. It was up to me to change my life. ❤️
In the spirit of the season, tonight’s recipe is “Christmas Morning Rolls” from Aunt Roxanna. So yummy, and I promise this is one thing that will turn out perfectly.