I have been working on this first story for months as I mentioned in my last post.
"My hope is that it helps anyone in need, that it sheds light on the epidemic of Domestic Violence, that it gets you thinking and talking about it."
This is Jane's story.
I met Jane under completely different circumstances than you'd expect for us to be discussing domestic violence, but here we are. She agreed to talk with me, to share her story without hesitation. She wanted to share because she, like many others, never believe they are the one in the statistic. She is the one who thinks "it wasn't that bad", or "well he never hit me regularly", when in fact she was the one in four women in my state to have been a victim of domestic violence.
She said I could use her name, but like most mother's was more worried about her daughter, and her reaction. Because I can empathize with that to my core, I decided to change her name anyway.
Jane wanted to talk about a specific incident of domestic violence that she experienced more recently but what I discovered right away was how far back her experiences actually went. Decades. She went through several situations and relationships over the decades of her life that fit the domestic violence profile, however, listening to her I found her minimalizing her pains at the hand of someone else, almost unable to come to terms with it all herself.
Also like most (not all) profiles, Jane's history all began in the arms of her parents and close family. She was assaulted at a very young age by someone in the family and was hushed to secrecy over and over again. She had to get tested for HIV at the unfathomable age of twelve years old, after a year of abuse by her cousin. Then, she felt like she was the hideous one when her attacker came out, admitting he was gay years later.
"Talk about a blow to your confidence. Not only was this older cousin raping me, then I felt like I was bad enough to 'make' him gay." It was clear hearing this, the idea hadn't formed in her own mind naturally but rather passed down from the generations of close-mindedness before her. Disgusting and awful.
*Sidebar here, she, as an adult, and thinking on her own, now knows you don't "make" someone gay, however, it was what she was told at the time, leaving the scar and self-doubt nonetheless.
When you're raised learning that you mean nothing, that assaults to your body are your fault, that you do not deserve better, you begin to believe it. You harden yourself to emotion, you accept less than you should and lower your standards. She had a cheating father and an abusive mother who would rather ball up a fist to pop Jane and her sister than give her children a hug.
"It wasn't always bad, some nights we would stay up and play Nintendo 'til 2 am," but she also disclosed that there were plenty of nights where she would attack her children for no reason. Her older sibling was just as awful, possibly experiencing her own traumas, even participated in the abuse on Jane and then she left as soon as she was of age.
"She tortured me all the time, but she would get up if mom went for the face. 'Ok mom, you can't do that, people are going to see' but as soon as she could, she left me too."
Her protectors failed her and abandoned her, abused her and turned an eye to all the assaults happening to her. How could any child thrive after all of that? The setup is disastrous but unfortunately, not all that uncommon. As a teen, she found her way on her own very quickly. But, a teen in a grown-up world is a slippery slope into a tough life. At that age, with the experiences thus far, that slope landed her in relationship after relationship full of cheating, abuse, neglect, deceit, and violence.
"I finished high school, I was kind of homeless, kind of anorexic, kind of a mess, and I left for the military."
Her first domestic violence experience was textbook. At her first duty station, he found her. He was just like her own father, who set the low bar for her expectations of men and how she should be treated. But, he was familiar. This charmer was charismatic and all he had to say was, "You're beautiful!" for this young and broken girl to be at his beck and call. She was swept up into the fun and passion, ignoring the red flags, and was quickly married and pregnant. By twenty years old she was preparing for her first child, right around the time that she learned of the very first affair.
"I let it slide, he was young and newly married and we were continents away. I let that one go."
When things were good, they were great. But when they were bad, there was lying, manipulation, cheating, verbal abuse, and eventually even physical abuse. It was easy to make excuses for a man that saved her from the emptiness of her upbringing and family, or lack of it, and promised her their own family, especially when they spent more time living in different parts of the world due to the military. The welcome home was always grand and just enough to make it feel as if the problems were always because of distance, something, or someone else.
"Damn that 20/20 hindsight vision."
However, three years and nine affairs later (that she knew of), with her daughter to raise she found herself worlds away from her husband who was now wanting a divorce.
After fighting for it to work time and time again, she reluctantly agreed after his last homecoming proved to be routine. He came home and they were intimate, imaged like a perfect little family, and then he had the nerve to remind her he did still want the divorce. Without the means to support herself and her daughter, she stayed. Legal separation granted him the audacity to bring the cheating and disrespect home with him.
"He cannot be alone. He has never been alone. His mom did everything for him, and still does."
The tempers flared, and disrespect continued. One night as he was getting ready to go meet one of his women, leaving Jane and her baby girl behind, she lashed out saying, "Don't be late for your whore!" To which he responded with a blow to the face. The fight only lasted a few seconds and she stood up for herself, but it was enough to get her to see she needed to be out of there immediately. She packed up and got out for good.
Enter transition period fluctuating between liars, cheaters, and users. Most of which she doesn't associate with "abuse" but that all built up to the relationship that made her want to come forward. For being a seemingly strong and independent woman, her desire to fill the void left her jumping from one relationship to another. Dating the kind of men where her reflection back was "well all that one did was cheat on me," or "he cut my name into his arm" or "I came home and everything I owned was gone".
These relationships led her to Rick. "He was funny, and had a great personality, and he danced. I missed having someone to dance with. And, he seemed like a good guy. But my dog didn't like him from day one, missed that flag!"
The truth is that the rose-colored glasses we wear without abandon in the beginning, make all the flags look the same color. And, he knew what he was doing.
Rick turned out to be a man that would drink himself into oblivion and unleash an onslaught of awful words and condescending behaviors leaving Jane, again, trying to protect herself and her baby girl from. At first less frequent and then consistently more and more regular in habit. Eventually his binge drinking was openly a daily occurrence, where Jane was a sidebar, becoming an afterthought, someone he could take out his anger on. He was an addict.
The routine of bobbing and weaving through his outbursts made for holes through the walls, but "at least he missed when he was drunk" she said. His complete lack of function after a gallon of vodka kept her constantly cleaning up his messes, effectively making her his bed-nurse.
Each deployment, opposite from her marriage, was great, "He couldn't drink on the boat." There he would be again, reappearing back to "normal". Each return though, he would get annihilated night after night. And with each night, more belligerent. Finding him passed out in his truck after driving home, or in the bed with the front door left wide open, or crossing every line when he would end up (mistakenly) stumbling into her daughter's bed instead of theirs and urinating in his sleep.
"There were nights I would pray that he would just die in his sleep, choking on his own vomit, so I could be free from him, from cleaning up his vomit and mess, from his disrespect and selfish and immature outbursts."
She stayed through embarrassment, yelling, assaulting. She stooped to the floor week after week to clean his feces off the kitchen floor when he was too blacked out to make it to the bathroom. She stayed because she began to believe him and that it was "all her fault and that she was fat and awful, and no one would want her. It's not his fault that he drinks, it is your fault because you let him drink. It's not his fault he went to the bathroom on the floor, it's yours because you left the door closed and he couldn't find it. It's not his fault there are three holes in the wall, it is your fault for upsetting him."
She stayed because when you get into a place that dark, it is hard to see any way out, even if it is right in front of you. The door is always right there, and it never seems possible to walk out for the last time.
She stayed. She stayed until her daughter confessed to her doctor that she wanted to run away because she knew her mom wouldn't leave him and she did not want to live there anymore. It broke Jane's heart and jolted her into action. The nights of having to tell her daughter to lock herself in the room had taken the ultimate toll, and she finally had enough. What is astonishing to me personally, even as someone who stayed entirely too long and can relate to leaving for the betterment of my child, is that hearing it from someone else the question begs "Why wasn't it enough to leave for yourself?"
The truth is that after years and years of abuse you find yourself lowering your own value, accepting that this is what life is now, this is what you just have to take because you don't deserve anything or anyone better.
Looking back over our conversation, Jane realized how the devastation in chronological order was consistent and unrelenting throughout her relationships, regardless of her role. She felt how unleashing the floodgates that were holding back everything she never said was freeing, astonishing, and almost felt like she was living someone else's life.
The good news is that Jane is free now. She and her daughter have gotten back on their feet and they are healing. She is coming to terms with the suffering she, and they endured and realizing that no one, herself included, deserves abuse in any capacity. The outcome is she will never again accept less, or fall into the landmines she referred to as relationships the same way again. She is teaching her daughter that she too can excel at life, being loved and not abused, teaching her how to cope and overcome.
Together they are making it through.
I found this conversation enlightening but also similar. The number of times the three of us could agree on something that happened to us all was sad. We would shake our head as the words the other was saying forced a memory of our own to spring forward. The beauty is we were all here. Still standing, still surviving. Trying to thrive with the hands we were dealt. I felt the strength in our truth and in our numbers.
Janes story - a few notes from my point of view, that I shared during our conversation:
This is about coping now, what do you need to get through to the other side of this thing and continue to be a successful human? That is where your healing can begin.
The instant I feel guilt or sadness or shame or any other negative emotion towards what happened or what I did, or how I did things, the depths of that are more than you should survive, but knowing he (my son) is better in spite of it, absolves it all immediately. Hold on to that.
It is okay to be weak and sad because that means it happened. It is the validation that it happened.
Especially with daughters... with our sons, we are shaping how they treat women, what is ok to get from a woman.... but our daughters, they are learning how they should be treated, and what behavior is acceptable from a man. We must set the bar for their future relationships. We must not accept less because they may too.
It is about not looking away. For me, it is not just about a man putting his hands on a woman; it is about the story, the how and the why. The legacy from one man (or woman) to the next leaving their partners lives in shambles. I want to show people that it happens every day, everywhere, in every town. Lives obliterated left picking up the pieces trying to figure out how the hell we got here. I want these stories to show that there is hope and we can pick up the pieces by looking at the how, and the why.
It is as basic as someone chipping away every day at who you are, belittling you, grinding you down.
I had the physical violence and the mental abuse. The physical violence was far less than the daily mental attacks. There are no outward scars left to see, the psychological offense is far less noticed, but far more damaging.
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If you or anyone you know needs help please seek it. There are countless services available, often just a phone call away. Survival is possible.
Sending out lots of love and hope.