Ryan Bye and his family’s experience with domestic violence.
Sometimes it feels as if every time we turn on the news or read an article, we hear about how one out of every so many people is probably experiencing something awful. Usually these things can range from rape to death by drunk driving, which are all tragically sad, but I had never really heard any statistics for what I was experiencing, so how bad could it have been?
Well, on July 3rd, 2011 around 12:57PM I became one of those statistics. I know shocking, dramatic, and cliché all in one line. Not only did I become a part of one of those statistics, my entire family did, and I am talking about all the way up to grandpa, and yet I hate saying that. I hate saying at that moment is when we became part of the statistic because in reality we had been part of that statistic for about 10 years already.
That afternoon, my family began the grueling, terror-ridden, nerve-wracking, but rewarding and life saving journey to be free of domestic violence. Enough was enough.
Now, a year and a half after I nervously dialed 9-1-1 from 100 miles away, my family has translated our way through legal jargon, trekked over barriers together, and unfortunately had to confront cynics. It’s not all over; it may take many more months just to sort out the rest of the legal issues surrounding divorce, custody, etc. Recently, my mom and I were talking about a question we all get asked often—why did you put up with it for so long?
When I was in second or third grade my mom and dad got a divorce. We all went to marriage counseling together, but in the end they decided it was best to split. My mom had custody of my brother and I, and we had a very open visitation schedule with our dad.
Then when I was in fifth grade my mom met the man who was eventually going to become my stepfather. They dated, he moved in, they got married, and we bought a dog. Simple, right? Except they met and dated online where he could be whoever he wanted, then he moved in and we weren’t allowed to tell anyone that he had anger and identity issues that nobody had ever confronted him about.
The abuse ranged from physical altercations mostly between him and my mother to verbal and emotional abuse. He would seek retaliation on us all—he might lock us out of the house when we came home from school only to let us in right before mom got home and give us the look of I-dare-you-to-tell-her. Or he might use my bed not being made as a reason to yell at me about my pubescent hormonal ungrateful attitude.
Or he might just scream and yell for hours, but worse of all he might be silent. You never knew what was happening when he was silent. I can remember it as pure terror. The uncertainty of never knowing what would upset him, what he would complain about, or what he would do or say because of this anger.
Another question we hear often, and we all wonder the answer to, is when did this all start?
Quite frankly, I am not sure, and I don’t know—maybe it was always this way. Maybe we got conned (we so very clearly did), and therapists have told us it built up over time as a result of an abuser’s low self esteem. All of the studies and questions aside, what I do know is eventually—no always—it was enough. We put up with it for so long because we did not have the strength or courage to change it, because we had hope things would be different, and because sometimes it can just be easier to adapt.
Eventually, we found the strength together to make a change. Whether or not we had the strength to get through these next few years didn’t matter anymore. Enough was enough.
Things had started getting so bad, and we all knew it was unacceptable. It was difficult it was talking to the 9-1-1 operator choking back tears, sobs, and fear, but my mom and brother are the brave ones. I had been away at college for four years and was working 100 miles away to save up to start two years of graduate school 1,200 miles away. They had lived with his rage for that much longer than I had.
There is still a long road ahead. There have been threatening and aggressive communications from the abuser, custody exchanges, tiresome court proceedings, and even mocking laughs from police when we report stalking. Unfortunately it is true; in this case of domestic violence not everyone is on our side. My mom still pays him spousal support as he has not had a job in about ten years and there is not enough proof of domestic violence.
Yes, sometimes it feels as though the legal system is not supporting us. Yet it is better, the love and support (financially and emotionally) from friends and family make it bearable, and it is better because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
My mom said last night, “Some people say everything happens for a reason, but what about this?“
This has made me and my whole family stronger people. I make lists and am very type A because my defense mechanism was to plan out every minute of the day to minimize my interaction with him. In relationships I get nervous when we argue because I do not want to end up like him and sometimes when I am mad I passive-aggressively write it off as nothing.
These are just two examples of how I have seen this experience manifest in my daily life. I identify it, own it, and use it to build upon my identity as a good man.
Enough has been enough. The domestic violence my family has suffered has shaped who I am; it is up to me to use it for the best. I choose to use it to be a man of compassion, nurturing, kindness, and empowerment.
Read more in Advice & Confessions.
Image credit: Alex E. Proimos/Flickr