How I Escaped Domestic Violence
I belonged to a secret society. My membership was not by choice, but by chance. It included an involuntary vow of silence—not just my silence, but also that of my family, friends, co-workers and all those around me.
This was over 45 years ago and the secret society is called domestic violence. Even today, it still exists, and there are thousands, if not millions, of unwilling members. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.
First, let me be clear. This is not a “woe is me” article. This is a sharing of an experience I hope will encourage at least one person to reach out to someone in need, and that at least one person, who is currently a victim of domestic abuse, will see themselves in this article and have the courage to break their vow of silence and seek help.
In the early years of my marriage, the abuse couldn’t be seen, only felt … and only by me. Others saw a gentle, kind, giving man. Even if I had the courage to speak up, no one would have believed me—that he was an abuser.
But I had no freedom to make friends. I was allowed to go to work, but at no other time was I permitted to attend social events without him. If I went to the grocery store and was even five minutes longer than he thought I should be, I was accused of cheating on him. I was a prisoner in my own home.
There are many forms of domestic violence, most of which are silent, invisible, non-invasive to anyone other than the person to whom it is directed. The domestic violence we are all most familiar with is the physical ... but even that, in some cases, can be invisible.
Other types of violence are mental, emotional, economic, basically any means in which the abuser can maintain power and control over his or her partner or spouse. My husband used all of these.
I was the sole breadwinner, but he had control of the finances. At one point, upon the death of my mother, I received a small inheritance I hoped would provide some financial support for me to leave. But before I had a chance to leave, he took control of that money, too.
You can see the bruise around the eye caused by an angry fist, but not the bruise of the heart caused by words and actions. Hands are bound literally and figuratively ... you can see the rope burns on the arms that had been physically tied in bondage, but not the invisible marks on the hands of those who are tied by fear.
As the years went on, his true personality became more evident. Even in front of others, as his need to show power and control became stronger, even though this was so that he could feel more in control, it was evident he was actually losing control.
His threats of killing me, my daughter and my family, spurred me to continue my vow of silence, but inwardly I was crying, screaming HELP ME!
Don’t look at me like I’m a fool or shake your head because I’m not leaving him, thinking if I really wanted out, if it was really that bad, I would just leave.
They didn’t understand it was because it was that bad, that without outside help, I was unable to leave. Silently, I would pray HELP ME; surround me with love, hope and encouragement. Show me that there is a way out! With downcast eyes and head bowed in silence, I pleaded. Ask me what I need ... but do it quietly, so he doesn’t hear.
Back then there was no established organization such as Amity House or Glynn Community Crisis Center. There was no entity that could quietly provide legal assistance. There were no programs to guide victims as to what options there were to help free themselves from an abusive relationship. There was no financial assistance for those who were bound to their partner through poverty or lack of access to funds, so they could begin a new life without fear.
No one talked about domestic abuse … because it was a secret … and silent society!
But the silence has been broken. The veil of hiding the ugly truth has been lifted. There is help now, thanks to more awareness of the impact of domestic violence and how it reaches all walks of life.
I was blessed there were people who heard my silent plea and reached out to me, helping me break the bonds of abuse. My faith community quietly surrounded us with love and unspoken support, giving me the courage to take steps toward freedom for my daughter and me. We need to teach our children by providing good examples! Even at an early age, they tend to mimic our actions. By leaving, I was able to show my six-year old daughter she did not have to endure an abusive, controlling relationship. Had I stayed any longer, I would have sent her the unintentional message that this was normal behavior from which there was no escape. I watch her now at 35, a proud, intelligent woman, who although loving and gentle, would never permit that kind of behavior toward her or her child.
Now there are options, which can help break the cycle of abuse by reaching out to those who feel they have no hope. The Glynn Community Crisis Center, which serves victims of domestic violence, provides vital programs ranging from outreach services for financial assistance, legal referrals, support groups and individual counseling, as well as educational services, such as domestic violence awareness training, and Safe Dates. In addition, housing assistance programs are offered, as well as emergency shelter at Amity House.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. Any one, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim … or a perpetrator.
Through power and control, the abuser keeps their victim in the relationship using isolation, economic abuse, physical intimidation, emotional abuse, denial and blame. It’s time to get out no matter who you are.
Break the silence; you are not alone.