O.K. I thought a lot about whether to address this topic here in Food For Thought. I typically write about topics that invite readers to comment, things that we encounter in our everyday lives. I like to write about things that we can poke fun at and maybe put in perspective. But then I thought that that attitude might be part of a bigger, more shameful problem; domestic violence and abuse are just too unpleasant to talk about. They’re matters that, if not addressed openly, can so easily be swept under the rug. And since I’m not much for whistling past the graveyard, here goes:
I recently wrote in this blog about divorce and how it changes people’s lives forever. I was surprised and touched, really, to subsequently receive e-mails and comments from readers about the cancer of domestic abuse. “Why didn’t you address that problem?” I was asked repeatedly. “How can you write about divorce and not mention domestic violence?” I did give the issue one line, I believe, and that was to say that in my mind, abuse demands divorce. But the topic deserves more space than that.
Without getting too personal in such a public forum, I have first-hand knowledge of the insidious nature of domestic abuse and violence. It starts out slowly and builds over the years. I’ve heard it said that, if a guy punched a woman in the face on a first date, there likely wouldn’t be a second date, right? But when the incidents start out “small” and grow over time, and when the woman is blamed for the abuse (“You made me do it, you know that, right?), it spreads and takes hold just like cancer. And abuse can be physical and/or emotional. It’s control and manipulation by any means available.
Something else to keep in mind: Abuse NEVER gets better on its own. If he keeps telling you it’ll never happen again (unless, of course, you provoke him), that’s not true either. Roses don’t make it better. Blame doesn’t make it better. If your family and friends tell you he’s abusive and you defend him, let me share some ancient wisdom with you – “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, odds are it’s a duck.” There is never an excuse for violence against a “loved” one, ever. Get out.
Now that I am on the other side of that nightmare, I can look back and see very clearly how, over a period of years, a well-educated, self-sufficient woman can become so hopeless and feel so helpless that she is literally trapped. I feel passionately about helping women who are stuck, who feel trapped, who feel powerless against a bully and sure that they’ll never get out. And again, without divulging an inappropriate amount of information, I spent several years doing my best to help other women once I got out.
Sadly, I used to look down my nose at women who were in abusive relationships. I thought, “How could anyone with an ounce of self respect tolerate such treatment?” If there’s one thing I learned during my ordeal and in the years of helping other women in similar relationships, it’s this: Do not become isolated. Isolation is just one tool in the abuser’s toolbox. You will become isolated from family and friends, because those are the people who will help you see him for what he is and help you get out. People who truly care about you are your lifeline, literally.
I know that right now, today, there are hundreds, probably thousands of women in Gwinnett County alone who are in abusive relationships. Some don’t realize it yet. Some get it but feel powerless to change it. Some are trying to change it and are being failed by a system that a) looks away and b) slaps a small Band-Aid on incidents and lets couples “work it out for themselves.” After all, it’s a domestic matter, right?
I remember the day that a judge finally got that my life was in danger. He issued a permanent restraining order against my abuser. I suppose I could have wadded it up and thrown it at him as he repeatedly violated the order. Other than that, there wasn’t much help. You see, an abuser believes he is perfectly within his rights to do what he does. He sees nothing wrong with it; therefore, he is not breaking any laws.
The problem of domestic violence and abuse extend far beyond the property lines of the couple’s house. As horrible as abuse is for a woman, it’s exponentially harder for children. They simply cannot process what they see on a day-in, day-out basis. Left in the volatile, frightening environment of an abusive home, children are terrified and often grow up with a twisted take on relationships; that’s why it’s called a cycle. In fact, many women find their children to be their motivation to get out, even if they can’t do themselves that same favor. I was one of them.
I learned something else too, and this is for you women who are in the middle of the nightmare. It’s not hopeless. That’s just what your abuser wants you to think. As soon as you get out, stop going back, and stop taking him back, you begin to breathe a little easier. You can see it for exactly what it was, but only in the rearview mirror. And you will not believe just how strong you really are.
I have not even begun to scratch the surface of this epidemic. I am not a professional counselor, and I cannot possibly know the specific circumstances of every situation out there. I realize that. But I also know that no one understands the crippling fear and dread of finally stopping the abuser better than someone who’s been through it and come out on the other side. If even one woman who’s enduring abuse at home reads this column today, then hopefully you know you’re not alone.
Gwinnett County has some valuable resources for women who feel trapped in the cycle of abuse. Here are just a few:
Battered Women’s Shelter, Council for Women, Partnership Against Domestic Violence: 770-963-9799
Men Stopping Violence: 404-270-9894
Gwinnett County Family Violence Task Force: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Churches often have resources to provide women and children the initial help they need, and they can likely get women in touch with county and state resources, as well as critical counseling resources.
Reach out to trusted family and friends. They will fight for you even when you can’t.
If you know of other resources or have something to share that might reach even one abuse victim, please share it with readers.