Let me begin by clearly stating Domestic Violence is real, does exist, and affects far too many people’s lives. This is not an attempt to minimize or detract from the efforts to address the many issues and concerns of those who have been affected by this problem in our world.
Now, onto my story.
I ran away with and married a man who was 14 years older than me for three and a half years. Because I had experienced inconsistent nurture, care, and discipline; sexual abuse; the emotional and physical loss of my mother before her suicide; and been exposed to drug culture and a sexually “swinging” lifestyle by my subsequent caregivers, I ran away with a man who seemed to see, appreciate, and accept me for me. At 16 years old, I thought he was the only one in my life who cared about me.
Under his tutelage and guidance I learned how to get what I needed and wanted from others. I learned how to tell my story in a way to incite total strangers to offer their resources to help take care of my needs. I learned how to blend truth with fiction in such a way as to be believable and to tell plausible tales.
I was separated and isolated from my family, but they didn’t seem to care all that much about me anyway. I already knew about the skeletons in their closets and judged them harshly for them. So that task was an easy one for him to accomplish. We hitchhiked and lived out of cars, traveling throughout the country.
Occasionally we picked up followers. He could probably have become a Jim Jones or a Charles Manson under different conditions and circumstances. I stayed enthralled by him and influenced by him until I was 19 and our son was two.
I had become disillusioned during my pregnancy, but stuck with him because I didn’t want to be a single, teen mom and raise my son without his father. At that point there had been a reconciliation of sorts with my family and we might have been able to settle down and be a family, except for the legal entanglements that seemed to put him in a position to fail. That’s when we ran again and my disillusionment really began.
I don’t remember the things he would say to me. I don’t think he was overtly insulting or abusive. I suspect I gave him all the power in my own mind and just assumed he was in the right, even when it felt wrong.
We would roughhouse and wrestle around. I used to be quite physically strong and it was a fun thing to challenge my strength against his. Any pain or injury I experienced wasn’t as a result of abuse, per se, but I would always be the one who ended our little play wrestling sessions in pain.
I caught him cheating on me with my best friend nine months before our relationship ended. Because we were “on the road” and I didn’t know anyone or have my own way home or even believe I had a home to go to, I stayed and lived with a hyper vigilance against further betrayal by both of them.
She and I were a lot alike and had been friends before he and I had met. I had facilitated her joining us as a way for her to escape her life and for me to not feel so isolated. Essentially, I had recruited her to travel and con with us.
By the time came that our son was two and I was 19, I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. I hated myself and what we were doing to survive. I hated and loved both of them. I recognized that he was not my rescuer or my savior but that he was my captor.
I started resisting and sabotaging the con. I began demanding we change our lives and find a way to settle down. I argued and stood up for myself.
Things seemed to start stabilizing. We got into a transitional housing program, got public assistance, and started saving toward a place to live. They got accepted into a vocational skills training program and I got enrolled in a high school completion program.
First his training fell through, then hers did. I increased my efforts in my program. They took our son for trips to the nearest rest area, almost 80 miles away, to work the con and bring in some money. I got scared and angry and issued an ultimatum.
Next he talked our public assistance worker to give him the full month’s allotment of cash assistance and disappeared for several days before we had to deposit money with the housing program or move out. Since I thought he was gone and our money was too, I made plans to move.
I withdrew the money we had deposited, minus the cleaning deposit, and went to meet up with a prospective roommate at the bar across from where we were staying. I heard our car and ran out to make sure I’d heard right. I saw him driving around the corner. So, I ran back to the building we’d been living in.
He showed up shortly after I did and in front of our son and my friend we argued and fought. I pushed and shoved and got pushed, shoved and slapped in return. I was overpowered and intimidated. Our son cried and asked in bewilderment why daddy was doing this. My reply was that he was an effing a**hole. I was on the floor with his dad on top of me at the time. I got hit in the face and asked what I had said. I repeated myself, only addressing him directly. Another blow to the face.
I twisted and wriggled around until I was on my stomach and he was on my back. I had this irrational thought that if I could keep him from my face, I would be okay. He grabbed my head and began wrenching and turning until my chin was going over my right shoulder. I thought my neck was going to snap.
Suddenly, he was off my back and I was free. I flew out of the apartment and down two flights of stairs, pounded on the manager’s door and called for her to call the police. I was then overcome with panic and guilt because I had left my son behind. Terrified they would be gone, I rushed back up the stairs, only to discover that my husband and my friend were leaving. I tried to stop him, thinking I could somehow hold him there until the police arrived. I was thrown, spine first, into an external corner and watched them leave as my son stood crying in the background.
I never saw my husband again.
However, those experiences and the remnant emotional, psychological, and physical damage and scars affected every other relationship I have had. Every conflict Jerry and I ever had or got into with each other while my two older children were growing up was colored by the real abuse I had previously experienced.
In my determination to not be in that situation again, I unconsciously chose a man who was my intellectual inferior and who could be easily manipulated. I chose someone who devoted himself to me and wanted to do for me and for my kids. I say chose, but it really was less of a choice and more of a drive to feel in control, loved, and secure.
What I went through with my husband was domestic violence: Isolation, imbalance of power, manipulation, intimidation, economic dependence, and physical violence.
What Jerry and I have had, the things we’ve said and done to each other, what we put my children through have definitely included aspects and symptoms of domestic violence. Many of the effects on my children are the same as that of children exposed to domestic violence. However, ours has been more complex that what domestic violence is assumed to be.
A lot of our conflict was driven by my broken and wounded psyche. Many misunderstandings and altercations happened because each of us had distorted self-images and were fighting our own internal certainties that the other was diminishing or disempowering the other. Each of us had experienced emotional and psychological abuse and neglect in our families of origin and in prior relationships. Neither of us were able to see, admit, or take responsibility for our own contributions to our mutual destruction and it’s impact on my children.
At the same time, it seemed that whenever we hit our bottoms in individual crises in each of our lives, when we were apart, we were the only ones there to offer care, support or nurture of the other.
Because things like domestic violence and abuse are perceived to be one thing, abusers are identified and classified as perpetrators and monsters while often their partners, the victims, are treated with an underlying attitude of contempt for allowing themselves to be in the situation. There is a tendency to not look past a checklist of behaviors and symptoms and try to diagnose every situation and person involved the same.
I was ignored and basically told I was in codependent denial when I tried to explain and identify the things that were not characteristic of domestic violence and those who perpetrate it. Whenever my depression and anxiety symptoms manifested, they were incorrectly identified as being a result of the domestic violence in my relationship with Jerry instead of being recognized as pre-existing conditions and possible factors in our relationship conflicts.
Instead of being examined and evaluated to determine if there was a mental health issue at play, Jerry has been accused, convicted, and looked down on as an abuser, end of story. Whenever I try to explain and identify the things that point to undiagnosed mental health or personality disorder issues, I am dismissed and belittled as being too much of a codependent who is willing to rationalize, justify, and excuse his inexcusable behavior.
Domestic Violence is real and something that men, women and children need to be protected against and rescued from. However, it is not the only thing happening in the lives of people who are in conflicted, unstable and sometimes violent relationships.
Sometimes things and people aren’t always how they seem.