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