Monday, July 18, 2011

 It's Not Okay, Part 2:  
Speaking out about Verbal Abuse

I was lying in bed, wondering if it was finally time to tell my loved ones the truth about what happened in a significant intimate relationship. About the verbal abuse and the reason I stopped speaking to my ex: that he had hit me one evening during an insane tirade that had lasted hours. I was thinking about whether I should write about it publically, or if I did, if I would be motivated by revenge or self-righteousness rather than the purer motive of wanting to tell others out there that they're not alone in dealing with abusive partners. I was wondering if I was right in calling it abuse, or if, as my dad told me when I was 25 and confronted him about his abusive behavior, I was just being a victim, just feeling sorry for myself. I'd never told anyone about this behavior, would telling it for the first time on a blog be wrong, be sick? Or would it be more wrong, more sick, to keep silent?

I got up and turned on the computer, meaning to write down some of what was coursing through my mind. As I checked my e-mail, I literally gasped. A friend had written me letting me know something devastating about his relationship. This is a relationship I'd always admired from afar. They had seemed so happy, so perfectly matched. I had envied them. And now this. I was floored. After writing him to show my support, I wondered it if was a sign that I needed to speak out about my own story. I remembered how, over drinks with a friend once, she told about the ex-husband who used to get violently angry and hit her. I almost told my story then, but I was too ashamed. But knowing that she had experienced this and gotten out, moved on, made me feel a little better about my situation. It's silence that hurts, that keeps us from knowing the others around us who might help up, that keeps us from getting out. Why keep silent anymore?

I'm still ashamed. But recently I've become slowly more and more conscious that a big part of my healing is understanding that this behavior was wrong, that it was abusive. More and more, I'm awakening to what really happened, and how traumatizing it was for me. The emotional and psychological manipulation, the sexual withholding, the lies and half-truths,  the triangulation with other women, meant to keep me off balance, the passive-aggressive control maneuvers, meant to slice my heart open. And the verbal abuse: the horrid name-calling, the strings of expletives thrown at me, sometimes in public. The e-mails and verbal rants about what a horrible person I am. And then the last straw, the blood on my lip after he hit me as I grappled with him to save the laptop he'd grabbed from me in a rage. Anger and conflict happen in couple relationships, and fighting is normal. But this? This was not normal, nor healthy.

I used to think it was my fault, which is what I was told repeatedly. But I'm starting to wake up from that, as if from a dream. No. It was not my fault. Yes, I did things I regret in that relationship, yes, I did things that were unhealthy. But nothing I did justified that treatment. Nothing justified the horrible torrent of words that shamed me, cowed, me left me cold, left me wanting to kill myself because I was so obviously a useless waste of breath. In a camping trailer, rocked by the wind, the horrible black river of words triggered by a stupid catty accusation I'd spit out while I was upset - his bizarre, unreal counter-accusations, said with such conviction that I almost believed them - pouring onto me for an hour, so that I literally curled up into a fetal position and wanted to die. He was right, I was absolutely useless and fucked up. I didn't deserve to live. He told me that once: that I was so fucked up I should just throw myself out the window of my third-story apartment.

And then, afterwards, the feeling I had, not of rage, not of anger, not making plans to leave him, but feelings of GRATITUDE that he still wanted me! Walking with him, meek and numbed, pretending to smile and be happy because I knew that's what he wanted, knew he wanted to pretend nothing had ever happened. The hope that if I acted like nothing had happened, then perhaps nothing had.

We don't talk about behavior like this in this culture, unless the abuse is horrific and the story ends up in in the pages of a newspaper. Unless someone is bleeding, in the hospital. There's no hotline for psychological or emotional violence. But it can be just as harmful as physical violence. And it's not okay, the mean teasing, the belittling, the cutting comments, the name-calling, the rage attacks behind closed doors. It's not okay, in any universe.

It's embarrassing, isn't it, to let others know what we've endured? That we stayed in a situation that was so bad? We feel ashamed. I know that's how I've felt for years, ever since I stopped talking about that relationship with my friends and family because I didn't want them to know how bad it had gotten. 

I guess I'm writing this here because I want to finally not be ashamed anymore. I want others who experience this kind of treatment to know they're not alone and that it's not okay. I started this blog because I wanted to help others by exploring my own journey. My story, as all our stories, is universal. We all struggle to learn and grow through our lives, and I want to help people by showing my own explorations, struggles, and triumphs. And this episode in my life, one of the worst times of my life and also, sometimes, the best, how can I not write about it? This is part of my experience. A part I'm still healing from and coming to terms with.

Once, in a group therapy session where I was talking about my dad's physical abuse of me as a young child, the women in the group became enraged on my behalf. "Why aren't you mad??," they yelled at me, after I talked about what happened in a very matter-of-fact voice. "Why are you so reasonable about this? Why aren't you upset??" I said I didn't know. I just didn't feel mad anymore. I had forgiven him. 

I am angry - furious - and sad, so sad. I still miss the good things. Still sometimes miss him. Why did I let this happen? I still blame myself, and he blamed me, too. My rage comes and goes, dancing with self-doubt. I don't know if it's right to go public with this, but I do know that it's not something to be ashamed of.  I did nothing wrong, or the things that I did wrong did not justify the hateful treatment.

Today, I start telling people. Today it's no longer a dark secret hidden under a rug. I'm here to say: This type of behavior is not right, no matter who is doing it; it can never be justified.  Nobody has the right to treat anyone that way. And no, it was absolutely not my fault. My only fault was staying when I should have walked away. But maybe that was also part of not wanting to admit what was happening. 

How about you? do you have a dark secret you've been hiding, out of shame or embarrassment? What do you think it would take to start talking about it?

Photo: This is part of an ad campaign sponsored by the Aware Helpline in Singapore, informing the public about verbal abuse and offering help and support for victims.

There is no hotline specifically for people being subjected to verbal or emotional abuse, but in the US, the Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-SAFE (800-799-7233)

if you suspect you're in an abusive relationship of any sort, here's an informative website.


donna said...

Beautiful, brave and inspiring. Brava.

Becky said...

Thank you. This is such an important issue, that not enough people are aware of. I was in a verbally abusive relationship for 2 years, I tried to leave several times (which was then used against me since "only he cared about our relationship" in the hour-long tirades breaking me and my self-esteem down). It wasn't until I discovered he'd been cheating on me that I found the strength to leave him. Frankly, I've never been happier since I did so (six months ago). So thank you for sharing this. Brought tears to my eyes.

Honey B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

What you said about people standing by and doing nothing... I really know that feeling so well. After I left him, I had so many of his/our friends tell me "we couldn't believe how poorly he treated you when WE were present", and all I could thing was WHY did you say nothing.

Also, when I found out he'd cheated on me, I felt so betrayed, because half of the people we used to hang out with together knew about it, and had said nothing to me.

Dann said...

Thank you girl Friend for sharing so much of your inner self. It does matter and will help all of us heal. Amen

Honey B said...

Ugh, Becky how awful! I'm so sorry that happened, but I'm sending you lots of healing energy. We are so much better off now!

Honey B said...

Obviously, I deleted a comment. I don't really want to point fingers or get in a public discussion with people who were involved. But I did want to fill in the missing piece, which is that there were people around who saw what was happening and said nothing. This is a source of incredible grief, resentment, and confusion to me. Truthfully, I don't know if I can trust people anymore, after seeing people who supposedly cared for me letting this happen without any support or action. I am so grateful for people who did speak up, even though I probably didn't really listen as I should have. I am committed now to speaking up if I see someone being treated badly, even if that person hates me for it. Please, let's all look out for one another!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I was really moved.
I have plenty of skeletons in the closet in respect to physical abuse that I don't share. Noone could ever imagine , so when sometimes I metion it , people gasp and don't know how to react. I am trying to let go and forget, I don't want to be angry anymore

Unknown said...

I am on the tail end of recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted for 2 years. It was following the end of a 13 year marriage, and since the good times were so good, I thought the bad were just moments. Anyway, I would write a novel about my experience, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing in your blog and to tell you that you did the right thing in making your experience public. If I could find a group in which I can share my experience to other women to protect them from what I had been through, to teach them, give them some awareness, I would do it in a heartbeat. thank you melissa.