Saturday, February 20, 2010

Swept Under the Carpet

At my job, many of the people working out in the field would normally carry radios as a means to communicate with those who worked in the office. My abuser had been one such person who used a radio on a daily basis. Because we normally worked opposite shifts, I would often reluctantly agree to meet my abuser before work so, according to his wishes, we could discuss union business. On many occassions, my abuser would become angry with me for a vast amount of reasons; according to him, I was to blame for many unresolved union issues, as well as for starting an endless amount of issues in our personal relationship. No matter what, I came to work every night fearing for whatever words would come out of his mouth. One afternoon, for reasons I don't remember, my abuser became so enraged that he threatened both physical violence, as well as the threat to throw me out our house. Shortly after the threats, my abuser received a phone call from one of the higher-ups...his violent words and threats were heard over the company radio. Of course, my abuser had blamed me for purposely sitting on the radio so that I "could get people to feel sorry for me." He claimed that once we were both home, I would pay for making such a huge mistake. Of course, we had both unknowingly made the mistake to be overheard, but I had hoped and prayed that someone would finally ask me if I was ok, offer me some help, or even confront my abuser about his terrifying behavior.

I felt absolutely humiliated walking into the office for the start of my shift. Immediately, upon my arrival, I could feel the cold stares of my coworkers and the deafening silence of those who had overheard the incident. I had only hoped that once my abuser went home for the night, that someone...anyone would approach me with concern. Time went by....days went by; yet no further mention of this issue was ever brought up to either me, or my abuser ever again. Yet the consequences of this very public argument would eventually play out in the privacy or our own home...

This was the only incident that had been so openly "broadcasted" to the entire workforce, however every night, I would go to work with the constant dread of harrassment. Since I worked in the office and was responsible for answering the phones, my abuser would normally call anywhere between 5-10 times a night. Sometimes, the phone calls would be pertaining to business, sometimes the calls would be nice, but most of the time, my abuser would scream at me over the phone for any reason he could think of. Knowing that I was sitting in an office full of people, my abuser also knew that I had no way to defend myself against his attacks. Basically, no matter if I was at work or at home, I just could not get away from his endless attacks.

This story has great significance because it never ceases to amaze me how often the cries for help, or the very obvious attacks on a victim of abuse, go completely unnoticed or ignored in our society. On a daily basis, batterers are overheard or witnessed attacking their victims without being called out. This ultimately gives abusers the illusion that they can get away with harming their victims without any reprocussion whatsoever. More often than not, victims are left almost completely isolated from anyone outside of their abuser. In addition to this isolation, victims tend to keep their silence because they constantly fear that their abuser will act out their threats of violence. There are many times when an abuser's threats are carried out into actions. No matter what, the words of abusers should always be taken seriously. So I am writing this today to encourage anyone who witnesses or overhears a threat of violence to speak up; be the voice for a victim who has lost their own freedom to speak freely. Don't give an abuser another chance to sweep an attack under the carpet.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Finding Strength

For someone who lives on the outside world, away from any form of abuse, it is hard to comprehend why a victim would stay in a violent relationship. For those on the outside looking in, they may see a victim as someone who must enjoy pain and suffering, without thinking that there could be a million more reasons why a victim would stay. Little does an outsider know that a victim may worry about having no place to go due to isolation from family and friends. Little does an outsider know that a victim may have been left with no control over their own finances or their own means of transportation. Sometimes a batterer keeps a victim from working, going to school, or doing anything that would give them any opportunity to get ahead, to escape. Victims that have children may constantly worry that their abuser will try anything to keep their kids away from them. These are only a handful of examples that may keep a victim in a situation that seems to have no positive outcome...leave or stay.

In my own experience, I struggled with the thought of leaving my home. Throughout my life, I had always been on the go. At the age of 20, I had already moved across the country four times, and I had finally found a place that I felt comfortable and happy. Although my job was not exactly what one might consider a "dream job," I was established and I had fantastic medical insurance; something I needed in order to control my diabetes. And yes...even though I knew my chances were slim, I had really hoped that one day my abuser would change. I remember doing everything I could to stand by his side, to believe in him, even to encourage him to see me differently. Unfortunately, the more I tried, the more he looked right through me, instead of looking at the person I was, standing there with open arms, ready to love and support him.

While outsiders are looking in, wondering what might possess a victim to stay, they may often think that the victim lacks strength. It should be easy to just leave, right? Wrong. The truth of the matter is that both victims and survivors of abuse are probably some of the strongest people around. Victims of abuse deal with countless attacks; attacks on their character, attacks that are physical, attacks that are sexual, attacks on friends and family members that the batterer dislikes, attacks about everything and nothing all at the same time. They silently let their batterer attack them in order to protect their personal belongings, their finances, their families, their jobs, and their shelter. On the other hand, those who have decided to leave their batterers also show the same strength. Although victims stay to protect their own, survivors often leave with the fear of the unknown; the fear of what they leave behind, and the fear of what their abuser may try to take away. I write this tonight to let outsiders know that there may not always be an easy answer. And for victims and survivors of abuse, no matter where you are in your journey, you ARE strong. You have the strength and the patience to somehow keep going even when there seem to be no options. You do not have to search for already have it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A New Beginning

That's how stupid you are!! Those words were commonly used by my abuser to make me believe that I was nothing more than a failure. Of course, according to him, nothing I ever did was right. I was always the one to blame for the problems in our relationship, the problems with our workplace, and the problems with the people who were around us.

Maybe I should go back to the beginning. My abuser and I had met while we were working for the same company. We had known each other for a few years before ever becoming "involved". After organizing a union for the people employed by this company, we became closer. My abuser was nominated as a shop steward, representing our fellow coworkers. A few months after he was nominated, he approached me about taking on the role of an alternate representative. I had loved being a part of the organizing of the union. I loved to help other people, and I loved to be able to stand up for what I believed in. I eagerly took on the position, and was ready to do everything I could to represent my fellow friends and coworkers. Before actively taking on this role, I was involved with another man; my husband. The relationship I had my my husband was rocky, at best. Although my husband never would have done anything to knowingly hurt me, we just could not get through the struggles that life had to offer us. While going through my divorce, my abuser had offered me help; a place to live, a shoulder to cry on. He was my best friend and my rock.

Shortly after moving in with my abuser, the problems began. At work, things started to change. More and more people started to question the status of the relationship with my abuser. Of course, no one really knew we were together. No, my abuser thought it was best if we keep our personal lives far away from our professional lives. Of course, I had thought that in our positions, he was right. I never really noticed that my abuser was doing his best to isolate me from other people. In addition, the people that I had felt most close to were the ones in which my abuser so convincingly depicted as the people who were causing problems and starting rumors. In turn, my abuser's convincing statements made me feel that I could not trust anyone. I became easily angered by others around me. Instead of helping my coworkers, I started to look for ways to anger them. My abuser manipulated me to the point of isolating me from everyone that had ever cared. The people who we were representing were starting to resent us being in that position. The more time that passed, the more they had wanted us to be removed from our jobs. That was when things got worse.

My abuser made it known to me that I was the cause of all the problems betweeen our coworkers. I had caused the friction. I had caused my coworkers to want to strip us both of our titles. At home, things were even worse. It seemed that I could never do anything right; the house was never clean enough, the dog was not walked enough, and I never did anything to make him happy. My abuser referred to me as an inconsiderate girl who needed to be with someone with no expectations. When I didn't fight back, he verbally attacked me more. When I did fight back, he would hit me in the face with his fists, with ashtrays, with beer glasses. Lucky for him, he never left a visible mark. Unlucky for me, the pain I was feeling remained to go unnoticed.

One night after work, I had come home to find my neighbor outside. I had never really talked with him before, but for the first time in over a year, I had been left unaccompanied by my abuser. My neighbor had admitted to calling the police several times before to report my abuser's violent behavior. Of course, the times that the police were called, I was instructed to stay quiet, turn of the lights, and get in bed. I was never allowed to open the door to the police, or else there would be serious consequences to pay. My neighbor had informed me that I was not the first woman to live with this man who had been treated the same way as I had. At that point, I had realized that he would never stop hurting me. I had to leave. The very next day, my abuser had found out that I had been talking to the neighbor. As we returned from work that night, he kicked me as we were going into the apartment. Over and over again, he accused me of cheating. As usual, my abuser started to drink. The verbal abuse only increased more until it turned physical. My abuser hit me in the face with his beer glass. This time, the police managed to get there while the fighting was still escalating. This time, the police did not give up until I opened the door. My abuser was questioned for over an hour about the events of the evening. My abuser outright denied that anything had happened. Finally, he made a mistake in his story, and the police arrested him on two counts of assault. For twenty-four hours, I was granted a restraining order. I managed to call my family and I quit my job, telling them only that I had a family emergency and I would not be back. I was too scared to tell them the truth.

On August 6, 2008, I left my abuser. With a dollar in my pocket and a change of clothes, I got on a plane to go stay with my family. I had finally had enough of the constant harrassment, the lies, the secrets, the manipulation, and the physical assaults.

So why am I telling this story now? Well, it has taken me almost two years to really come to terms with this whole situation. Because my abuser had made sure that I could not feel comfortable telling my story, I kept it secret from everyone I had known back home. I did not feel safe bringing my personal life into my workplace, especially because I felt that both the company and the union would sooner take his word over mine. I was so isolated from the people that had once cared for me that I did not know how to explain to them what had happened. Over the last six months or so, I have started to talk. I have made amends with friends. I have explained my story to my former employers. Everytime I share my story, I feel more in control with my life and more at peace with my feelings. I am tired of living a lie. I am ready to expose my story.

There are so many people out there that have experienced similar situations as I have. Abuse can seem very subtle, or it can be very obvious. Although physical abuse is the most recognized form of violence, many victims are abused emotionally, sexually, and financially as well. No matter what, no one deserves to be treated in ways that make them feel uncomfortable or that cause pain. I hope that my story will help others who have yet to escape the grasps of their abusers, and I hope that there are survivors who are willing to share their experiences, and who are willing to take a stand against domestic violence.

This is my story. This is my new beginning. I'm breaking my silence.