Last week, I planned to continue my series for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. However, I consciously decided not to write. In case you didn’t notice from the last two posts, domestic violence is a pretty weighty subject. I thought a break might be a good idea and, well, if you didn’t need one, I sure did.
You see the subject of domestic violence isn’t just something I’ve read about. Statistics show that one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Many years ago I became that one and spent about seven years in and out of a relationship that went quite a few steps beyond “unhealthy.”
He was a handsome, charming man but with an emotionally volatile past and an emerging darker side. Throughout the relationship I experienced frequent physical intimidation and intense verbal and emotional abuse. Although the young man I dated at the time never struck me, he often leveraged his size and strength to pin me against walls or down on a bed or to hold my face in place while shouting obscenities in it. His verbal assaults were toxic, and the effects lasted for many years.
Over time, the level of abuse gradually escalated to personal property. Clothes were ripped; my car was vandalized and other personal property destroyed. I lied to family and friends out of shame, embarrassment and fear. I remained in the relationship for so long out of a mixed sense of guilt, fear and misplaced obligation. By the end of it all, I’d added more than 50 pounds to my physical frame and the weight of depression to my emotional state that could easily have buried me.
Believe it or not, it was years on the other side of the relationship before I even realized I’d survived a domestic violence situation. Today, when I reflect on that season of my life it appears quite surreal. As a young woman, my dream of a fairytale romance didn’t include incessant name calling, embarrassment, verbal battery and intimidation.
Earlier this month, I attended a presentation on domestic violence. The presentation was full of statistics and sprinkled with audio files – actual phone calls, voice mail messages and in-person conversations from abusers in intimate partner relationships. In hindsight, I’m not sure I was ready for the hour and a half that lay before me as some of the descriptions and conversations I heard transported me back to my young, naïve co-ed self. I left the presentation with a heavy heart and a strong determination to share on this topic.
I realize one blog post isn’t nearly enough real estate to cover a story that spanned seven years. Trust me, my reflection and commentary on that experience could easily fill many pages. Still, I felt compelled to share this snippet from my life to reiterate this point:
No one ever expects to be a victim of domestic violence. Yet anyone can be.
And just like no one expects to be a victim, I doubt anyone wants to grow up to be an abuser. I’m thankful that, in my situation, two lives were spared from what could have had a variety of far worse outcomes. As I close this series, I encourage us to examine our own relationships and make sure we’re making healthy choices, not only in intimate partner (or romantic) relationships, but in friendships, as well. And let us continue to pray for victims, witnesses and perpetrators in domestic violence situations around the world.