A few months ago I wrote an article sharing my experience with domestic violence, and chose to submit it for publishing following the Ray Rice story that swept the nation. Although the article remained online, I almost immediately deleted the link from my social media accounts, distancing myself from an article I had once been so proud to have written.
“You must have deserved it.” “You obviously provoked him.” “How stupid were you to stay?”
These are only a handful of the comments I received shortly after baring my soul, and telling a story that I had once been far too ashamed to tell. Today I was reminded that November is Domestic Violence Prevention Month in Canada. I was reminded of the article I wrote, and of the story that is solely mine to tell. I never forget this story, I bare the scars of my experiences every day, but I too often forget how important it is to spark this conversation. So I am doing so again, only this time I’ve prepared myself for the onslaught of negative comments and anonymous death threats I am likely to receive. Bring it on Internet trolls.
After lying on the floor alone, unable to hear out of either ear, he was gone. I couldn’t hear him slam the door or listen to tires screech as he pulled out of the driveway, but I knew, or at least I hoped, he was gone. Following a year of physical and emotional abuse, this was the breaking point I had finally reached. As I came to at the bottom of the staircase, I realized that I had to make a choice between leaving or dying. All too often these so-called “choices” are one and the same. Those who are a stranger to domestic abuse seem to always ask, “Why would you stay?” What they neglect to realize is that leaving can cause just as much harm as staying – sometimes, it’s even more dangerous. And this was the fundamental reason I stayed.
After almost a year together, I learned a lot. I learned that your bruises don’t appear as fresh when you’re tanned, but that sometimes the darker the foundation the more obvious it is that you have a bruise underneath your eye. I learned that people grow suspicious when you’re wearing a long-sleeve sweater on the warmest day of the year, but that they eventually stop asking so long as you tell them you’re “just always cold.” I learned that despite the fact that he was shameful and abusive, it was me who carried the shame and embarrassment. But most importantly I learned that reaching for the door handle has the potential to cause you far more harm than not, and that staying with your abuser can sometimes be safer than leaving.
I remember making the decision to leave, to end my relationship and finally walk away from the pain I had been enduring for so many months. It seems natural to want to run from the thing that you fear the most, but who knew it wasn’t all that simple. I endured threats toward myself and my family, I was manipulated into believing I was deserving of the abuse I received, and I was further manipulated into believing that things would change. Believe me when I say this: if you’re in an abusive relationship, things are not going to change. At least not at the hands of your abuser. I wish I had some heroic story to tell, to empower the women and the men who have endured domestic violence. But I don’t. I just left. I packed what belongings I had at his place, and I left. I was afraid he would come for me, for my family, for my friends. I spent every second of every day in fear, despite the fact that he was no longer around. Despite the constant threats, I cut off all contact. I prayed that things would eventually be okay. And they were. Months later he moved. I have not seen him since. I want to make it clear that leaving, restricting contact, and praying in desperation are not solutions to domestic violence. As strange as it is to say, I was lucky. There are millions of women and men (though we often forget that men, too, are victims of domestic violence) who are not so “lucky”; whose attempts to leave cause them more harm than good, and in some cases even result in death.
It can be easy to forget that statistics reflecting victims of domestic violence do not reflect numbers, but individuals. These numbers reflect the lives of men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, and so on and so fourth. It is for these men and women that I tell my story. I tell my story in hopes that someone else will tell theirs. That someone, somewhere, will realize that their story is not one of shame, but one of courage. That by sharing their story, they may encourage someone else to do the same. We cannot prevent domestic abuse we are unaware of. We cannot prevent domestic violence unless we are aware — aware of the experiences, realities, and accounts of those who have ever been a victim.