5 Things an Abused Woman (This Woman) Wants You to Know

 Sarafina asks only that you not judge her as she challenges the assumptions most people make when they find out she has been abused.

Five -

I’m not weak.

I , legitimately, walk the planet on a daily basis knowing that there is someone out there that wants to physically harm me. I live knowing that, at any minute, Scott could return. And I’m only able to do this because on a hot July afternoon I picked up my broken body from the concrete floor and limped out of the door, without looking backward. Nobody else did that for me. Nobody was there to protect me from the madness, nor did they hold me by the arm while I walked on a strained ankle and battered knee. I was in so much pain that I wanted to crawl. But I didn’t, knowing that if I took even a second longer than necessary he might kill me. Weakness wasn’t an option. Strength is what allowed me to survive. And it kept me alive every day before and every day after.

It wasn’t easy to come home to a house that didn’t have electricity or running water. It was heartbreaking to have my car repossessed two days after I made the decision to leave. Trying to find a job, without a car, was embarrassing and difficult. But I did it. And I lived in a home for the next several months knowing that, at any moment, he could walk back into my life (and my house) because he knew where I was and he knew that my back window was broken out (because he shattered it with his left fist).

Survivors of domestic abuse are strong. We fought our own disease. Don’t ever doubt that. It’s offensive. It’s appalling. It’s also the easiest way to find yourself outside of my circle of friends. I’m not asking you to understand what I’ve been through, but I am asking you to understand that my strength is there.

Four -

Abuse rearranged my beliefs. Yours are only yours. Don’t try to pawn them off on me.

Abuse changes everything. Before my abuse I searched for answers about religion. I wasn’t sure who made decisions or why they were made, but I wanted to find out. I looked for answers in churches and conversations. But when things began to become abusive and I seriously questioned whether or not I’d be given the opportunity to wake up the following morning, I became an evangelical Christian. I PRAYED and pleaded and THANKED god that he was there, looking over me and keeping me alive. I knew that he had a message for me…that I was there for a reason. I stayed, longer than I should have stayed, because my faith in the lord was strong enough that I ‘knew’ I would live.

Yet something changed inside of me during that time and now I say this almost every day: when you are slammed against a concrete wall and thrown down a flight of stairs…when YOU are YOUR ONLY HOPE for survival and no higher being is there to lift you out of an awful situation, your hope lies within your own heart. I knew I had to get out. I knew I was the only one PERSON who could save myself. And I still know that. My savior? Myself. When you tell me that god helped me get out of the situation, and to thank him for that, it takes away from the strength and courage that I had to conjure. No higher power got me out of that house. It was my feet, my heart, and my strength. It was me.

Three -

Dating isn’t the answer.

If dating were the answer, I would’ve started already. Yes, at some point, I have to start seeing other people again, but I deserve to (and will) give myself enough time to feel ready before I allow someone to buy me dinner. I already understand that I won’t ever feel fully ready to date, but respect me enough to let me make the choice for myself. When the day comes that I say, “Okay. I want to try this again,” your help will be appreciated. Until then, questioning my readiness only pushes me further away from the idea. I’m not ready because I don’t trust anyone that I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t trust a lot of people who I do know. I have to retrain my brain. I have to accept myself. I have to feel strong enough that I won’t second guess every move I make. I still do that with friends. How could I ever create a successful relationship from that? I couldn’t. So please stop trying to tell me that I should.

Two -

I won’t get over it…soon.

I can’t get over it because my life has been forever changed. Downplaying the severity isn’t helpful; it’s denial. Acknowledgement and acceptance are necessary.

Some days are easier than others; I know it’s getting better. Yet there are days that I’m crying before I get out of bed. I don’t want to leave my apartment. I’m angry and sad and scared. The world isn’t one that seems to hold opportunity on those days. It’s a place that swallows me whole. On those days I have to remind myself that I was in such a devastatingly bad place a year prior. I have to allow myself to cry in the shower, so that I can keep it together during the work day. I have to be angry on the way to work, and I have to remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to feel anything for two years of my life. I wasn’t allowed to be human, so how can I expect myself to act like I am human?

Every week I feel stronger, even though I’m digging into the issues further and further in therapy. I do feel better…but just because my recovery doesn’t fit your needs doesn’t make my small steps any less significant for me. I am moving forward. If you can’t handle the pace, then just don’t say anything at all.  I will get there. Your doubt and criticism prolong the recovery process.

One -

Never ask me why I stayed.

If an abuser was abusive from day one, there isn’t a woman in the world that would stay. Scott was charming, he was romantic and understanding. He took care of me, complimented me, and made me feel as if I was the only girl who had ever made him feel loved. He listened. Scott helped me heal a wound in my heart from my previous relationship. He was everything that was missing from every relationship I’d ever been in. What 26-year-old girl, looking for love, wouldn’t stay in a relationship like that?

I’d talked up his dedication and love to my friends and family. I’d beamed with pride when I thought about my relationship. We were in love and we were great together, so it wasn’t exactly easy to admit to anyone that things had changed.

When things began to turn, when the verbal manipulation began, I saw this as the man who I loved changing…and I needed to do whatever it took to fix the problem and make things go back to the way they once were. So I devoted my free time to ‘fixing’ the issues because then I wouldn’t have to eat my words. I bent over backwards to make sure he was happy. For awhile, it worked.

But anyone that has ever been in an abusive relationship will tell you that right when you think you’ve ‘fixed’ something, your attempts aren’t good enough anymore. More is expected of you. And, by the time you realize this is the cycle, you’ve already given up so many things in your own life that you feel like you’re trapped. If you try to leave, he’s going to come after you. If you stay, you’ll eventually get to the point where he’s happy. He can’t really expect the world from you…so you just have to reach his expectation.

Why did I stay?

I stayed because I loved him. I stayed because I thought that I could help him. I stayed because I have a heart that works the way a normal heart should work. It’s one that tries to love unconditionally and doesn’t assume others will meet their expectations. It’s one that assumed that a man who treated me so well was only suffering from something else. Maybe if his mother was nicer to him. Maybe if his dad didn’t expect so much of his time at the office. Maybe if his son’s mother wasn’t such a bitch. Maybe if he could find a medication that would actually help with his ADD. Maybe if he hadn’t taken steroids in college. Maybe.

I stayed because I was trying to solve a problem. My heart kept me there for a long time…

…and then he put a gun to my head.

He picked it up off of the top of the refrigerator and cackled his manipulative laugh. He turned around, put his hand on my shoulder, and I could feel the cold metal of the barrel on my temple. He said he loved me so much that he could kill me. He laughed again. And then the gun was placed back on top of the refrigerator, where it hung just out of reach. But it was close enough that he could grab it if he wanted. And it was close enough that I could see it while I was cleaning the kitchen. It was a constant reminder that he could kill me.

And I was never left alone anymore, so I couldn’t escape. I wasn’t allowed to be out of his eyesight. He got me a job at his office so that I could be there with him all day too. I was trapped in his life.

So I stayed because I didn’t want to die. Because somewhere inside of me I knew that if I tried to escape he’d pull down the gun again. And he’d load my head with bullets. But staying meant I’d have a chance at another day.

A list of 1,000 reasons why I stayed wouldn’t ever appease someone who’s never been in my shoes. And that’s fine. But the bottom line is that when you ask me why I stayed, it puts the blame on me. It alleviates Scott of any of the blame. Why did I stay? I stayed for a million reasons. Why don’t you ask why I left? Or why he was abusive? Or if I’m still scared?

Don’t ask me why I stayed. The answer is far too large and confusing. And I’ll never give you the answer that you want me to give, because no answer I give you will make you understand. I know that. And I think deep down you do too. So just let it rest. And let me rest too.

This post first appeared on the blog Future4Fina.

photo by indigo eyes / Flickr

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Sarafina Bianco

Sarafina Bianco is an abuse survivor, retired English teacher, blogger, editor, and ghostwriter from St. Louis. Fina writes about her abusive past, PTSD, healing through therapy and other forms of love and relationships at her new blog, http://Sarafinabianco.com Follow her on Twitter: @FinaBianco

Comments

  1. I’m very impressed by the longevity of this article and feel blessed to have come upon it. My very best friend (Male to Female) also suffered a horrific relationship such as the one that you describe. I however was fortunate enough to enter her life at a time in which the abuse became it’s most severe, when it turned physical. Having previously served as a Crisis Intervention Counselor for Domestic Abuse Victims during my stent as a Military Police Officer in the U.S. Army, I was in a unique position to assist my newly acquainted friend through education, support and wisdom. She also to the world kept hush on the abuse, until I came along that is. With my encouragement and a 3rd party call to the local police one night, Pandora’s Box had finally been opened. As more friends and family became aware of the situation the support network quickly blossomed. I even dipped into my savings and bought her a car because she wasn’t allowed to have one. I did whatever I could to make it stop, because it violates the very fundamentals and morals in which I was trained to uphold. Success stories like hers and yours bring a painfully happy tear to my eye, and I’m glad you survived. Sparing details, as a former cop and current Firefighter, I have seen the unfortunate outcome of these situations personally and it’s something no person should ever have to witness. Now somewhere during this process my best friend and I fell in love. However as you may imagine, she is the preverbal poster child of emotional unavailability. Thus, not only for me, and for “us”, but most importantly for her future, I’m working as hard as possible to help in the recovery and healing process of her life. I realize and understand that I have chosen to take the long road with any obstacles in it’s path. I suppose my question to you is, truly, is there anything I can do assist in the healing process being not only her best male friend which always comes first, but the new object of her affection? Or should I let her figure it out on her own? I know she needs time to heal, but she’s also made it clear that she doesn’t want to be alone. I’ve been told “you’re the only person I can really trust in this world.” So I feel somewhat obligated, but also entirely willing and determined. Therapy is not on the table at this time, after discussion it’s too soon and due to some other life issues, she’s quite apprehensive to the idea. But I think a fair place to start might be to leave some self help books on the topic “accidentally” lying around her house in hopes she will pick one up. And also possibly seeking out a support group in the area. Having been a cop, I’m pretty well versed at being subtle. You seem to have recovered pretty well and thus, do you have any recommendations? Thanks again, stay safe…

    • wow, mike, you’re amazing. I recently ended a relationship w a man who is emotionally unavailable due to divorce and PTSD. I am hoping when the divorce issues have settled, we can try again. I hope your girl is able to see your value and pull you in, rather than push you away as mine did. Try showing her EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) on youtube..my friend uses it with soldiers with PTSD and it is supposed to be very effective. Try battletap.com too. EMDR is a more intense therapy that only trained counselors do. It can be pretty difficult to do emotionally, but it also has a great track record. I wish both of you so much luck and love. And strength. Loads and loads of strength. Namaste.

    • My husband and I met only just after I had left a relationship where I was sexually abused. We were able to get to talk and know one another long before there was any physical contact, which really helped, and he was very careful to respect my boundaries once we were able to meet in person, which also helped. I asked him, from his perspective, what he would recommend, and he said that the best thing is to be open and honest. Don’t tip toe around subjects, and don’t walk on eggshells around her. Be caring, but direct in your motives and conversations.

    • Mike -

      It has been quite some time since you posted and, fortunately, I came back to GMP today and posted another article about my healing process (http://bit.ly/1jZsVzm ).

      Be patient with your friend. It took me three years before I was ready to date, but I’m happy to say I’m getting married next month. My current relationship wouldn’t have flourished if he hadn’t told me over and over again, “We’ve got this: I have you and you are going to beat it.” Somewhere along the line I started believing him, and it made our bond so much stronger than any I’d felt before. Knowing someone’s weaknesses makes them extremely vulnerable, especially abuse survivors. Be sure you don’t use it against her and, instead, offer your ears and arms when she needs them.

      Thinking of both of you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. As a law student, future criminal attorney, and a past DV victim, I have seen how harmful assumptions about DV continue to make it harder for victims to leave and for their abusers to be stopped. To hear a defense attorney talk about using the fact that a woman stayed with her abusive boyfriend/husband past the first incident as “proof” that it didn’t really happen churns my stomach. These are way too many people who don’t understand the very real dangers of trying to leave – that the violence usually escalates around attempts to leave, and thus victims’ fears about trying to escape are rooted in the reality of the DV patterns of control and abuse. Safety plans have to be detailed and thorough, and it’s not the kind of thing you can throw together like packing an overnight bag. Cheers to you for your strength and for going even further than most of us who try to bury and forget our experience, but taking on an active role in challenging the common narrative and responses.

  3. I understand.

    I wish you courage and strength to keep going forward but I think you have that covered.

  4. The tightening of the stomach muscles when he’s around, the tiptoeing around his moods, the constipation of not eating right, the dry mouth, the hard swallowing, the weight loss, the sweats, the lost stare through the window with nothing in particular in mind. Gotta keep image up at work. It’s a big secret from friends cause everyone thinks I have the strength of character to stand my ground. The sound of his voice chills me to the core. His glare like I’m up to something when I’m not. His subtle attempts to intimidate by filling the tub to the top and grins like he knows he can drown me in this amount of water. He’s thrown me out of his vehicle on the highway. Showed me how if I left he would commit suicide and take me with him. Love this man? Nope. Knew that after the first assault. Terrified when we went to camping grounds I never been to, in the wilds without knowing where. What’s he up to? Is this it? Is taking sex (when I blacked out from drinking my night away to drown out the racing thoughts) rape? He said he didn’t but a woman knows when the VJ is red and raw and stings to pee. Knew what cruelty was by the definition in the dictionary but to experience it firsthand stunned my ability to believe it was happening. I learned what hate was. It stewed in me towards everyone who looked at me. I was a ‘fuck you’ waiting to happen if you spoke to me. Took out my anger at the injustice at home on everyone else. I can see how I changed, isolated. I lacked compassion. Nobody cared about me I thought to throw a lifeline. I’d say something ‘off the cuff’ about how charming he is to strangers and people at work. When asked, “How are you?” I don’t answer. Yet everyone saw the changes in my personality. I faulted others for not questioning, not showing interest, not paying attention, not caring to be so active and participating in my life to have seen for themselves I was a scared victim. I was just judged at how I treated others, no one looked under the carpet to see the real dirt. It was my fault for the bruises of his bites. My personality was buried already, was just a matter of time before my body followed. I was the walking dead. At one point I didn’t care anymore, take me now, put me out of my misery. Nobody noticed I was missing in action. No emails, texts, calls from friends when they haven’t heard from me for over a month. Even laughed a second or two to myself thinking the only people who would care would be neighbours when they complain about the smell of a rotting corpse. When I did speak up, no one believed me. Gave me advice, condolences, sympathy, after the fact. I did get out. Filing a police report the male cop said, “Why didn’t you leave?” I sat in silence with no answer, just looked at him. After a long and thoughtful search I realized this one outing at an indigenous drumming circle drew out the silent warrior I never knew existed, it was called to action – my will to survive. I realized my way of dealing with conflict was being an avoider. I had to change my mindset to change my life. Yes I have changed. No longer live in fear or hate. Experience has given me wisdom. My life-print is to safeguard the sanity of sisters that have had or will be or are walking this mile alone.

  5. That is what happened to me also. The relationship started out good and I felt understood, wanted and loved. It was so nice. Then it changed little by little, and it is such a mind trap, because you can’t figure out what happened and you want what you had back. You think the very things you thought, that you can fix things, that he will get better, that there is something wrong with him. It doesn’t come back because abusers always pour it on thick in the beginning and it doesn’t get better because they rarely think they’re wrong or remorseful about it. The man I was with never hit me, he was a verbal abuser and emotional manipulator. I worried in the end that he might snap and kill me.

  6. Ten years ago this April, I sat with my mother and aunt in the waiting room of a hospital, waiting for word on my cousin. She spent three hours in surgery to repair her shattered jaw and a badly broken arm, thanks to her angry, violent, drunken husband. It was not the first time he had hurt her, nor was it even the first time he’d put her in the hospital. But it was the first time the police arrested him and said he’d be charged, no matter what she wanted . He’d been arrested twice before, but both times she had refused to press charges, and so the police had dropped the matter. This time, the beating was so severe that letting him go wasn’t an option. (Of course it probably didn’t hurt that while being arrested he hit and spat on two police officers, and later assaulted a jail guard as well.)

    And yet, when she woke up from surgery and found out her husband was in jail, she was not relieved. She was angry. She wanted us to go bail him out for her. She insisted that he only got angry when he was drunk, that he wouldn’t drink so much if his boss wasn’t such a slave-driver, or if she was just a better wife. She did not want him to go to prison, instead she asked my aunt to call their pastor, so he could come down and pray with her, and pray for her husband.

    I was aghast, but not surprised. My cousin, aunt, mother and most of my family are Christians of the born-again, fundamentalist stripe, the type whose pastors preach that wives are to “submit” to their husbands’ “sovereign leadership.” When my cousin sought counseling from her pastor about her abusive husband, instead of telling her to leave him, or to go to Al-Anon, or giving her the phone number of a battered women’s shelter, he instead gave her a pamphlet about an upcoming “marriage encounter,” then told her to go home and read her Bible and pray that Jesus would make her a better wife.

    Even after her husband was sentenced to a four-year term in prison, my cousin continued to write and see him, at first. But eventually she started going to Al-Anon, and hearing stories from other women who had been in similar situations, and absorbing the message that she had enabled her husband’s alcoholism and abuse, and she could not change him. And so she gradually cut off contact with him. (And again it probably didn’t hurt that one of the terms of his post-prison probation was that he have no contact with her.)

    I wish I could say that she’s fully enlightened, but she still gets guilt-tripped by church friends and even family. Some still see her husband as a “good guy.” He was a high-school and college football star, good-looking, gregarious, involved in coaching and a church youth leader. But he was also your classic manipulator, smooth-talking and sweet, love-bombing my cousin with flowers and gifts and an engagement ring just three moths after they met. Everyone thought he was a “catch.” There were rumors he had a “dark side,” But it was not until after they were married that it began to show. When she complained about her job working for an HVAC contractor, he told her to quit, promising to take care of her. In reality, she now realizes he didn’t like the fact that she was mostly around other men all day. He screened her phone calls and didn’t want her going out with her single friends, because that was “improper” for a married woman. He told her that they should only associate with other married couples from their church, but even that stopped when he decided she spent too much time talking with the husbands instead of the wives. And when he drank, he turned flat-out demonic, but that was often dismissed as “just a good ol’ boy blowing off steam.” He’s moved on, now married to a woman much younger than he, and they have two small children (and I shudder to think what their lives might be like.) Meanwhile, nearly a decade after a near-death experience, while she hasn’t been in another physically abusive relationship, my cousin still drifts in and out of train-wreck relationships with emotionally distant and manipulative men.

    There are plenty of reasons women (and men) do not leave abusive spouses, even when their lives are at risk, and they are well-detailed here. And it will continue as long as we live in denial, as long as we have heavily patriarchal churches and religious communities that deny and downplay the reality of abuse and blame the abused for their fate. As long as friends, family and communities refuse to believe that a man could be abusive because “he’s such a good guy,” and we live in a culture where women are still given the message, subtly and even blatantly, that it does not matter how beautiful, intelligent, smart, capable, successful and accomplished you are, if you do not have a man in your life, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU (emphasis deliberate), and so the insecure latch onto the first man who shows interest, no matter who he is. My cousin, and other women I know who have been trapped in abusive and dysfunctional relationships, often despair over their inability to find a keep a man, and the psychopaths among us smell that desperation a mile away, and they prey upon it. (And I would imagine that similar could be said of men who find themselves in abuse situations.)

    This message cannot be repeated enough. Thanks, GMP, for posting it, and bravo to the author as well.

  7. Thank you for sharing your experience; my ex husband had PTSD and while not as escalated as your situation, I experienced some of the same. Healing is definitely a long process, and I agree it should be on your own terms, that nobody else can understand it’s depth but you. You’re right about denial, it only makes healing that much slower. Good luck

  8. anonymous says:

    i find it very strange how many things this article hits to a t, even the names((his ex)) and his name. sometimes i wonder if im in a good place or not sometimes i wanted to talk to her to ask. but i waas abused as a child to… so i get used to it. but all dreams except for our child who is amazing down the drain….sigh

  9. I agree with most of this article. Before having been in the situation I was one of those people who didn’t understand why women stayed but you said it so perfectly. The relationship is so wonderful at the start and you just feel like if you just gave a little more it could be that way again. And the feeling of fear once it has set in is unreal. I applaud you for writing this. The only part I disagree with is the part about not thanking God. You said yourself that you prayed during the ordeal but that God didn’t help you out. But he did. Because you prayed, he gave you the strength to get up and get yourself out the door. We hope that out prayers will be answered by things like your partner changing or something happening to him so you can be free but the reality is that it doesn’t always work that way. Who did you turn to in your darkest hour? God. And he was there for you by giving you the strength and the will and the gumption to finally say you’ve had enough. Yes, you physically walked out that door and no one can ever downplay that or take it away from you but don’t forget to thank the one you asked to help you do it.
    Much love. And I’m glad you got out. Don’t let anyone force you into another relationship. You are right to stand your ground and take time to heal. And if you don’t want another relationship? Who cares. It’s your choice. <3

  10. It’s not just women who suffer domestic abuse–it’s men as well, and all of this still holds true.

    As a survivor of an incredibly abusive relationship with a much older individual who was also addicted to drugs, this just beautifully encompasses everything I could never really explain.

  11. Brittany says:

    I just want to say thank you for writing this. I was in an abusive relationship similar to yours and got out of it about a year ago. These points just really hit close to home(especially 1 and 2). It’s been a huge struggle moving on from the mental and emotional abuse and, like you had said, that I wasn’t allowed to feel human. It’s very hard for me to share how I feel with other people because I had been so brainwashed into thinking how I felt and what I thought didn’t matter. I have a family member who was also in an abusive relationship so she understands a bit more than my other family members and friends do. I shared this though to spread the word that people don’t realize. Nothing irritates me more than people saying “why did you stay” and then say I made the mistake of being with him. No one goes into a relationship thinking these things are going to happen. Like you said, it puts all the blame on the abuse survivors when it should be placed on the abusers. We have enough to deal with. Then we wonder why abusers keep on abusing…because no one tells them what they are doing is wrong and puts all the blame on the person being abused. Again, thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Fina’s Two Most Recent Posts On Domestic Abuse Here and Here [...]

  2. […] excellent article on the Good Men Project website is worth reading. Shattering myths about victims is as important as […]

  3. […] you wrote about in your article “5 Things an Abused Woman (This Woman) Wants You to Know”  is so similar to my current situation.  The parallels are truly […]

Speak Your Mind