I’ve written and submitted “my story” to Violence Unsilenced under another name. I reread it occasionally, half anticipating, half dreading the day it’s published. But lately I find myself wondering if I’m telling the right story. My past, that story, is something that I’m dealing with. But there’s so much more to my story, a whole other story I can’t seem to force myself to write. And publish? I can’t even imagine. But today? I need to. Yet I find my fingers frozen at this point, afraid to go any further, at the same time knowing that I NEED to.
I read every story that’s published. I comment on each one. I feel the pain, the shame, the anger, the confusion, that each writer shares. I commend each author for being courageous enough to share. And then I pick the stories apart in my own mind, comparing them to my own. Not the one that’s been written, but the one I’m avoiding.
Because I have no bruises, no scars, no blood, no violence. Nothing that justifies what I feel. I should be grateful that I have a husband, a husband who doesn’t drink, or beat me, or cheat on me. And I am grateful that my husband doesn’t do those things, believe me, I am.
But there’s still that small voice inside my head, the one that cannot be silenced, no matter how long I ignore her for. No matter how much I argue with her, how many times I make excuses or how many ways I try to justify it.
It’s that voice that has pushed me to talk to others, to try to instill in them a belief that THEY DO NOT DESERVE THIS. That same voice has allowed me to talk to rape survivors, reminding them that it is NOT their fault. So why can’t I believe this voice myself? Why can’t I allow her to speak freely, to my heart, to my soul, to the rest of my mind? To the parts of me that have shut down and stopped caring, the parts of me that have hardened over time, covered in that invisible scar tissue?
People are quick to say that abuse comes in all forms – physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, emotional. But even I, a survivor of assault, cannot convince that other part of me that verbal and emotional abuse is just as damaging to the soul, to the psyche, as physical abuse is. I would never say to another victim that the non-physical abuse she’s suffering through isn’t abuse. So why do I continue to tell myself that?
Every time that look crosses his face, the combination of disgust and ridicule, I feel it like a fist.
Every time that tone of voice, the condescending, belittling reminder that I am not important, not worthy, is heard, I flinch.
Every time I hear the comments on how wrong I am, how I “should” be, what I’m screwing up now… I’m suddenly a child, not in control again, feeling violated and ashamed.
It’s never obvious. He won’t call me a whore, or a stupid bitch. It’s so much more subtle. It’s the knowing that I’m not worthy of a hug, a kiss, a “Happy Birthday,” a gift, a touch on the shoulder. It’s the constant condescending attitude, the implication that I am nowhere near good enough. It’s the constantly being told what I’ve done wrong, and that I’ll never learn. It’s being told that I need to change, but then told that I’m too weak to change. It’s starting to make those changes… and then being told that they’re the wrong ones. It’s being told that I’m too needy, too demanding. It’s tiptoeing around, afraid of making too much noise, and sending him into a rage. It’s keeping kids and company quiet, because he might get irritated. It’s feeling alone and ignored, but being afraid to say anything, because that WILL send him into a rage. It’s stating my feelings about his online affair with another woman, only to be told that it’s nowhere near as bad as what I did to him in the past – so therefore I have no right to complain. It’s being lied to repeatedly. It’s little pieces of myself falling away, every time I give in, stop talking to a certain friend because they’re a “bad influence” or make him uncomfortable. It’s being afraid to try a new recipe, because he might not like it, and break a plate or spend 20 minutes instructing me on how I “should have” done it.
It’s the pitying looks in the eyes of close friends, who have been around long enough to see. I brush it off, explaining that we have a much more “traditional” marriage than most, and that I’m just submissive by nature. But I’m not. Not even close. I’m mouthy, bitchy, outspoken, and my feelings run deep. Except… with him. With him, that’s gone. That me no longer exists. I’m quiet, soft-spoken, timid, ashamed, guilty, and terrified of what will come next. I don’t think it will turn physical – it’s been this way since the beginning. But how long before the last part of me dies inside? How long before the damage that’s done is irreversible?
How can I start healing from an assault that happened so long ago, when my daily life reinforces all of those sick and twisted thoughts? Thoughts that I got what I deserved, that it was somehow my fault, that it really wasn’t that bad, that… How can I believe that about being raped as a child, when I allow myself to live in a marriage that reminds me daily that I’m not worthy of being loved, respected, treasured?
And yet… I still don’t have the strength to walk away. Because it gets better – I get up the courage to say something, or we talk, or something just gives, and for a little while, he IS that man that I fell in love with. And I allow myself to get my hopes up again, believing that he’s seen what he was doing, and will change. He’ll do something sweet, something I didn’t expect, or make a nice comment.
That’s when I tell that voice inside me, “See, you’re overreacting, AGAIN. He loves you. Why can’t you just accept him for who he is, learn to live with the infrequent affection/attention/praise that he’s capable of giving you? Why do you expect him to be someone he’s not?”
But better never lasts. It always goes back to neglect, belittling, demeaning, condescending, heartbreaking. And I argue with myself that I’ve put too much into this marriage to just walk away NOW. And then I see that my children are miserable, because as much as I might try, I can’t hide this from them. Is my son going to grow up to treat his wife this way? Or will he marry a woman that treats him like that?
I sit and wonder which is reality, am I overreacting when it’s not “good”, or am I making excuses for the bad times when I get a glimpse of what could be?
How do you make a decision like this when you’re at war with yourself, unsure of which side to trust? Not trusting yourself to make the decision to stay, nor to leave? After believing his words for so long, how do I convince myself that they’re not true?
When I sent this story to Maggie months ago, I panicked – I couldn’t imagine it being published, and asked her to please post it anonymously. And I’ve hidden it away in a folder, not looking at it again until today. But today is different. Today? I’m no longer hiding. I can tell you who I am, and where I write.
Because that scar tissue became thicker and thicker, and something inside me broke. I made my decision to leave, and I became totally incapable of backing down. It was survival to me – there was no other option. And somehow, through little clues that I left, a flinch when his tone changed, a comment I had made, the look on my face – my husband began doing his own soul searching. And somehow, while looking for divorce support, he came across a page with a checklist to determine if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship. He read the checklist, and recognized himself.
He couldn’t believe it, so he spent the night researching emotional abuse. He realized who he’s been over the years, what he’s done. And he wants to get help.
Right now, that doesn’t change my plans – but it gives me hope for the future. I know most abusers never admit or recognize what they’ve done… and for being so brutally honest, so willing to try, I thank him. Now, so much more clearly, I can see the pieces of the man that I fell in love with so many years ago. He’s still in there. I can finally say, with meaning, that I am no longer a victim. Instead, I’m a survivor.
And, hopefully, he will one day be able to say that he is no longer the man that he has been for the past 16 years. He wrote about his realization, his discovery of what he’s been doing, at his blog. I’m so very tempted to go back and edit this story – adding things, changing things, that I made sure to disguise or leave out because this was being posted anonymously. But I won’t do that. This was the story I wrote from the depths of my pain, the details are unimportant.
The fact that I don’t have to hide behind anonymous is the gift he’s given me today.
I AM going to write about the end of my marriage – it was definitely traumatic, and caused some serious damage. It didn’t end as nicely as the postscript on the page suggests it would have. His “revelation” only lasted a few days, then it was back to normal. But I survived – both the rape and the abuse. And they both played a part in making me who I am today. They made me stronger.
Oh – and while the postscript on this story “reveals” my real name – it doesn’t. That was also a pseudonym, though a tiny bit closer to my real name than the previous one.