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Guest Infact: Domestic Abuse and Alcoholism.

22 June 2013

This is a Guest Infact from a person I know, telling her story of domestic abuse related to alcoholism. It’s one of courage, but also pain and deep sadness. As with all such stories, please be aware that this includes triggers for those affected by domestic abuse. All quotes in the story are from the linked article. I am grateful for the strength and honesty it takes to share such stories. It helps to sustain my own sobriety. And I wonder just how much domestic abuse could be eliminated if substance abuse were addressed comprehensively.

A third of women worldwide abused by partners, study finds.

That’s the headline announcing a new meta-analysis in press at Science.

“Around the globe, 30 percent of all women aged 15 and older have suffered intimate partner violence…”

One in three.

“The rates of abuse vary widely by world regions… in North America, violence from an intimate partner, such as a husband or boyfriend, has impacted slightly more one in five women, report the authors.”

A jarring thought for anyone, I should hope.

“The prevalence is shockingly high,” said lead author Karen Devries.

It should shock. It should galvanize. It should provoke outcry and action. The statistics are distressing because they inform us of a substantial likelihood that we personally know someone who has been assaulted by her partner. We would like to believe it’s an impossibility. We would like to think there’s no way this could be a reality for the women in our lives.

I would that I could feign shock, but instead I am possessed with stultifying pain and sadness. I keenly feel the authenticity of these statistics, because I am among them. I am one of that third of women in the world, one of that fifth of women in North America.

I count myself a “lucky” one. I was subjected to physical abuse one time. Those few hours were horrendous and terrifying. I was afraid of what my husband might do to me, even to the point of fearing for my life. I fought back to protect myself – and to protect him (an incredible irony of the situation, perhaps – even after threatening my safety, I felt a responsibility to get him home). I was damned lucky that his coordination and response time were impaired; otherwise, I might very well have ended up with more to show from the encounter than a muddied shirt, a small bump on the head, and few scratches and bruises easily covered by clothing. It was an awful, harrowing experience, one that still periodically imposes itself firmly into my waking thoughts. But it only happened once. That one time was enough to catalyze a cascade that led to me getting out of the relationship – a marriage of nearly 10 years.

Yet the majority of people who know me, who care about me, who count me as a friend have no idea. I told very few people anything about it. Even when I did, I would soften the description and enumerate few details. I would explain that he’d gotten really drunk and upset and angry and that “it got physical”. I didn’t comment how he jerked and twisted my hair so viciously that my scalp hurt the next day. I didn’t reveal how much I equally worried and wished that a cop car would appear on the road. I didn’t explain how my entire body was shaking such that my legs could barely support me by the time he forced me to stop in a secluded spot in very early hours of the morning. For weeks, I didn’t tell a soul that I had been genuinely concerned that night that he might try to rape or kill me.

Yet for months, I wouldn’t even call it “abuse” or “assault” or “violence”. And it wasn’t that I wouldn’t simply use the words. I didn’t accept that was what had happened to me. It was just this awful “thing”, an “incident”. I wondered how things had gotten so far out of control. Over time, I began to first realize that it was an escalation of behavior I’d seen before – getting drunk and then directing his rage at me. And then I began to recognize the “incident” and the previous verbal spats as part of a subtler but more systematic pattern of behavior.

It took my therapist and a couple of good friends to peg it for what it was, to call a spade a spade. To say bluntly (though not without compassion) that I had suffered long-term emotional abuse that ultimately culminated in a physical assault. Initially I recoiled at the word – but I could not deny it. Hearing that assessment was painful, yet necessary. I had to rely on others to vocalize it. It took weeks more before I could even speak words, before I looked in the mirror and said, “I was abused.” And it hurt like hell. Honestly, it still does. Every time I refer to what I experienced as abuse or assault, there’s this pressure in my chest. My shoulders and back curve involuntarily, as though preparing to curl into a fetal position to ward off those words and all the emotion they bring. Every time I use those words, I feel a new wave of pain and sadness. But worst of all, I am faced with the powerlessness I felt in that situation.

That feeling of being powerless is a fierce force to contend with. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable. I think this is a major reason why I’ve fought so hard to keep this secret from the people I care about, from many friends in a community that’s offered nothing but support in difficult times.

This week brought those moments of having my experience thrown in my face. Of reiterating the dreadful news that I am far from alone. I feel profound sadness for those who know the agony and intense pain for my own experience and that of others – knowing that no one deserves to be treated cruelly, certainly not by someone so close to them, and yet so many are.

But I have something to carry me through those dark moments – I got out. I walked away from a toxic and dangerous relationship. I have amazing people in my life who have supported me through this process and continue to do so. I have a new home and a new life. I was a victim of intimate partner violence, but it doesn’t define who I am. I still carry deep wounds, but I’m healing. And now there’s a whole new world on the horizon.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Syd permalink
    22 June 2013 12:06

    Powerful post. Thank you for sharing your experience, strength and hope. I know of men and women who have been abused and witnessed the aftermath of a terrible beating that a woman took at the hands of her drunk husband. Horrible. I hope that people will realize that emotional and physical abuse don’t have to be tolerated. Having the courage to find a new life as you did is something that I hope for all who suffer.

  2. 23 June 2013 15:58

    When some situation arises that involves a conversation about “is it safe to [walk in a particular neighborhood at night, for instance],” I used to quip that most people aren’t maliciously crazy, and chances are if you do encounter one, you’ll be married to them.

    Gallows humor. But it’s true. I’m sorry for what happened to you, and sorry it happens at all to anyone. No one ever laid a hand on me. I ended the marriage just before that happened. He did hit though. Just not me. It makes us fierce warriors, in ways we didn’t want to be, but it is. It’s exhausting sometimes. We don’t have to travel alone. I’ll carry something of yours when it’s too heavy for you.

    The mind fuck for me was the psychological, emotional abuse, which was very much abuse, without a physical mark to mark it as such. I talked about it with therapists at the time. “If I had a black eye, or a broken arm, or a fucked up x-ray to point to, maybe people would believe me. Maybe I could believe this is happening.” I’m sorry you experienced the physicality, but my fiercely gentle suggestion…wear it in your mind like war paint. And if there are kids involved…scorch the earth.

    I wish you healing and strength.

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