After binge watching “Big Little Lies” on HBO, I felt a pit in my stomach and a flood of memories I didn’t want to relive watching Celeste’s story. She was the victim of her dashing, impossibly rich, abusive husband and no one knew until it was almost too late. The fact is, there are plenty of people in the real world that hide their ugly, not-so-little lies in plain view. I know because my ex was one of them.
Abuse comes in many forms. The word “abuse” stirs up images of back-handed slaps to the face or well-hidden bruises. Not every abusive relationship is strictly physical. Oftentimes, mental abuse is used to make a partner feel hopeless and isolated. Some partners use the threat of self-harm to force their partners into staying. These fear tactics aren’t a healthy solution to solving problems within a relationship, and sometimes they’re used sparingly enough that one partner doesn’t even realize she’s in an abusive situation.
I was amazed by how quickly people forgave and forgot. My relationship ended with a loud, tumultuous bang — literally. He punched a hole in the wall and threw me up against a glass bar in a terrifying, garish attempt to keep me from leaving the room we were arguing in. Luckily, several of his housemates burst in and separated us before I was really hurt. Although these men saw and heard the abuse with their own eyes and ears, there were Facebook photos of them all partying the night away just weeks later. The abuse wasn’t a permanent dark mark on my boyfriend, it was a temporary transgression to the outside world.
My abuser was a different person behind closed doors. After I opened up to my friends and family about the years of abuse I had experienced with my ex, they were understandably shocked. In public, my ex was charming and polite. He went out of his way to make people feel welcome and entertained. He posted professions of love on my Facebook wall almost every day and made sure to document every high moment in our relationship. The cameras weren’t out behind closed doors, though. He was a different person when we were alone.
The majority of people that didn’t support me were women. I was surprised to find that the majority of judgment I received for coming out with my story was from other women. I thought I’d immediately be smothered with love and understanding, but I was met with skepticism and prying questions. The women in my ex’s family were particularly horrible. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree I suppose.
I’m not stupid for staying as long as I did. One of the most frustrating questions anyone can ask an abuse victim is why she chose to stay in the relationship as long as she did. It’s not a simple question to answer, and frankly, the question itself is a form of victim blaming. I stayed as long as I did because I thought things would go back to the way things were when I first met my ex. I stayed because I was afraid. I stayed because I loved him and when he loved me back it was intense and unlike anything else.
Abuse can happen to anyone. I’m a white woman and I was raised in a very comfortable, upper-middle class neighborhood. I went away to an expensive private college filled with people just like me. Abuse can happen in a disgusting frat house bathroom, it can happen in a lavish guest house, it can happen absolutely anywhere to anyone. Abusive men and women do not discriminate, they lash out at whatever is in front of them.
Opening up about my experience was incredible. Although I was met with some disappointing, surprising responses, a majority of people were extremely supportive. Classmates I rarely spoke to reached out to me in private to tell me about their experiences with abuse in the past. Sharing stories with others that could really connect with me was liberating.
I’m lucky I had the ability to leave. I don’t mean to downplay my own experience, but I know the outcome of my situation ended much better than others. I had the ability to leave the day the abuse tipped out of control and I know there are men and women that are in situations today that they can’t get out of.
The scars will last a lifetime. I will always reflexively flinch and tear up when a man raises his voice to me. I will always jump and assume the worst when a larger man blocks my view of an exit. No matter where I am, the memories will follow me.
I will never shut up about my experience. Believe it or not, I have been told to “just get over it already.” I won’t, and I shouldn’t have to. Another human being saw fit to manipulate me mentally and physically and I will never forgive him for it or forget the pain it caused. I will never stop telling my story in hopes that one day I’ll be able to connect with other men and women and help them the way others have helped me.
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