Domestic Violence is SO Embarrassing: #whyIstayed


#whyIstayed is a popular hashtag these days. I commend those who are sharing. Now it’s my turn.

I’ve been asked often since the release of “Please, Pretty Lights” the same question. Where did you come up with this story? I know what they are really asking. “Have you ever been punched in the face?” I like to remind readers that it’s fiction and not memoir. Still.

I have never been slapped or hit in the face. He skipped that part. He went from shoving to attempted murder. He never actually hit me though. The progression of domestic violence isn’t always as predictable as people like to think.

It was many years ago. We had been out at a sports bar. He had been furious with me. I can’t even remember why. He had been drinking. On the way to the car he shoved me so hard I ended up sitting on my ass on the sidewalk; my dress grimy from the wet cement. I had braced my fall with my hands, so they were bleeding. Just a little. Someone came over and asked me if I needed help, but he stood in their way saying, “She’s fine, her heels are just too high.”

“I’m fine, thanks.” I told the guy who knew otherwise. He shook his head at me and walked away. I didn’t want help. I wanted the nice guy to just go away because I was embarrassed. Back in the day, embarrassment used to override every other emotion for me: including fear.

Embarrassment made me want to work it all out in my head somehow. Maybe these shoes are kind of high? The pavement is slick. It’s so much easier to have that be the story instead of the truth: the man who is supposed to love me and care for me is treating me like trash. But that night, as I stood up and picked the bits of sidewalk out of my palms, I knew I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. This wasn’t okay. This was never going to be okay. I was too afraid to tell him though. I just kept my mouth shut. On the ride home he spoke the words that I used in Please, Pretty Lights. “I’m sorry you made me do that.”

The next day I returned to my childhood home and confessed the awful truth to my mother. She lovingly took me in just as I knew she would. I begged her not to tell a soul. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a job, a college degree. I had a place to crash. So many women don’t have that luxury.

So, I left. He let it go. No worries. The end. Right?

Wrong. What many don’t understand is that the most dangerous thing an abused woman can do is leave. Yet it’s the only salvation. It’s the paradoxical nightmare that keeps smart, strong women from getting help. My case offers a clear example. A few weeks later, he came over and pounded on my mother’s front door in the middle of the night. My mother worked the graveyard shift and wasn’t there. As I went to the door, my heart felt like it was trying to escape my body by way of my throat. I looked out the front window and saw the neighbor’s lights coming on. He was yelling and threatening to kick the door in. I was terrified, but also mortified.

And then I did the most idiotic thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I unlocked the door and let him in. I had to calm him down. His cursing was reverberating through the cul-de-sac. Everyone would know. I had, after all, chosen this man. Built my life with him. I didn’t want my failure broadcasted.

He had been drinking. A lot. He grabbed my arms and started shaking me. The light above my head finally clicked on. He was out-of-his-mind furious. He was going to hurt me. I considered screaming, but STILL feared having my private life cracked open like a Jerry Springer Show piñata. I didn’t want my neighbors – the same folks who gave me candy on Halloween and cookies at Christmas – to know I had chosen this crazy man. Instead I pulled away and ran for the phone. This was before cell phones, so the phone was attached to a wall in the kitchen. Until he pulled it out of the wall, that is. He blocked my way and came at me.

It was time to scream.

He backed me up against a large second-story picture window that looked down over the back yard; the back yard where I had played as a kid. Where I lounged in the sun as a teenager and dreamed of falling in love. He said he was going to push me through the glass and down onto the concrete patio below. He wanted to break my neck. He pushed, but I pushed back as a swirl of my own questions taunted me. Was the broken glass going to slice me up? Would I land on my head? Why had I let him in? How could I have been so stupid?

And then someone pulled him off of me. It was a police officer. What? There were two of them holding him down on the kitchen floor. Another officer took me into the living room. It was then I heard the sirens. I looked out to see three squad cars. Red and blue lights flashed across the faces of my neighbors who lined the sidewalk. I don’t know which one of them called 911. I’m just so thankful they did.

These kind, concerned neighbors of mine witnessed my darkest moments. They watched as the police stuffed him into the back of a squad car as he yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill her!”

I was shaking uncontrollably. An officer put a blanket over my shoulders. I was too shocked to cry or speak. I was embarrassed – humiliated. But, I just didn’t care anymore because, god dammit, I was alive.

He did 10 days in jail. He did counseling. He still isn’t legally allowed in my home state, which works for me.

I rarely think about that night. It was a lifetime ago. My world is amazing these days. I am strong —  imperfect — but, strong. Domestic violence comes on gradually. First there is a subtle eroding of a woman’s support network, then her confidence. Enter children and financial dependence into the equation and the abuser is in control. From there, the emotional manipulation is easy. I didn’t even realize it was happening until I was committed. Stuck. Too ashamed to admit I needed help. It seemed my fault. I should have known better. This shame is what kept me quiet.

I want women to know that domestic violence can happen to anyone. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you weak or stupid or trashy. I’ve been there. So many of us have, but it’s humiliating and so we just don’t talk about it. I’m thinking that we should because information is power.

Please share this and/or comment if anything I’ve said strikes a chord will you.

For information about support services and counseling, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.



Comments (13)

  1. Aw. Ina, thank you for sharing your story. I was in an abusive relationship for 12 years, so I was shaking my head as I read this (and tearing up). And while it is always comforting when you aren’t alone in feeling this way, it is also sad knowing other people, so many people, have had to endure this kind of life experience.

    Luckily, like you, I am in a wonderful place in my life, and have someone who treats me the way I should be treated. Thank goodness for the good men in the world!

    Thank you again for sharing your story with us. You’re beautiful and wonderful and I’m glad the world has you in it!

    1. Lisa,

      Thanks so, so much for that. You’ve proven my point. I’m not the only one. It doesn’t define who we are or who we become.
      You’re beautiful too.

  2. It is amazing how many women have suffered from abuse – we pride ourselves as being civilized but the veneer of adult behavoir is awfully thin.
    A very difficult story to tell but you tell it well.

  3. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to write this and then hit publish. But I am sure your bravery will help others… It is so sad and scary how many people suffer abuse, especially in silence. I am so thankful that your story had a happy ending with you being rescued… hugs

    1. Thanks so much for that. Some of my closest friends didn’t know. It’s odd how writing a post about opening up can be so scary. Writing about it is one thing, but then actually doing it is hard. Feels good though.

      Thanks and hugs,

  4. ***What many don’t understand is that the most dangerous thing an abused woman can do is to leave***

    My sister did not know this. Our family did not know this. When she finally decided to leave, her husband shot her
    in the head 3 times as she was walking out the door.

    The darkest day of my life.

    THANK YOU for telling your story, for not being silent. I thank God you’re living to tell it, scream it, write it.

    Love from Minnesota. xx

    1. Big hugs and deepest sorrow. Sadly, I know of another childhood friend killed while trying to help a friend flee an abusive relationship.
      I want to dispel the stigma. I don’t want women, particularly young women to think, “Oh, that would never happen to me.” That thinking separates us. I’ll keep writing.

  5. Wow! We never know, do we. I had about six weeks of threats, intimidation and stalking and a broken finger after I finally said it was over. Only confided in someone who was almost a stranger at the time. Masters degree and my own business but it really took the generosity of an angel to give me the cash to do everything I had to do to get myself and the kids out as quickly as possible under a restraining order. I don’t know how it would have played out if I had to wait any longer. Thank you for articulating much of what I was feeling too. Big Hugs to you.

    1. Thanks Julie,

      Masters degree. Business woman. Thanks for commenting because this is my point exactly. There is this stigma associated with domestic violence, which is why it’s great that we are talking about it. I’m so happy things worked out for you. Stalking is serious. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. New lives after crisis. Thanks so much for commenting. Big hugs back to you.

  6. I want to thank you for sharing your story. It takes true courage to experience, survive and then be able to overcome the shame and stigma of being a victim of DV. Just last month, I had a 12 inch kitchen knife pointed at my jugular. Somehow I got the courage to call the cops and he was taken away after a stand off that lasted 2 hours and ended with him being shot two times with rubber bullets. It was eye opening and gave me a reality check. I had not considered myself a battered wife. I am currently in Graduate school finishing my Masters in Social Work. How ironic. Many victims of DV are educated and high functioning individuals however, the fear, shame, and humiliation the abuser instills in the mind is far greater than any of that. It is not easy to overcome those fears and face the guilt and shame the society puts on us. I have days when I feel weak and question my judgement. Some days I’m battling anger, disappointment and outrage over how could he do this to me, and while some days I find myself thinking maybe he will change. I know I need to walk away and leave all this behind but its a process I am working on unifying my heart and mind in my decision to move on.

    1. Roojie,

      Thank you for commenting. It means a lot to me. You prove my point so well. You are intelligent, accomplished, and highly functioning yet it still happens. In my case, I remember thinking, “I should know better.” As if my education should keep me safe. And, as I look back, that attitude was unfair and condescending to others in the same situation.
      I hope you will remember your strength in spite of times of confusion or doubt. DV won’t define you. It doesn’t take away in any way your accomplishments. I’m so happy you’ll be working as a social worker. I admire social workers above all other occupations. Teachers are right up there as well. But, social workers have to have a special heart charged with empathy and resilience. I hope you have a support network in place. I know coming out and asking for help is difficult, but it is a crucial part of the process. Be safe. Be blessed.

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