October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence is a disease, a virus that feeds on silence and lack of education. My hope is for my poem to be one small step, one voice toward turning up the volume of the dialogue of abuse.

 

Thank You For Watching

Lately, I’ve become a bit obsessed with listening to slam poetry. So… I thought I’d try my own.

Linked to the post is a video I uploaded onto Facebook. I was trying to use poetry to contribute to the dialogue surrounding domestic violence. I will add that I placed a trigger warning on this. Please watch at your own discretion.

If this moves you, feel free to share, or leave a comment.

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“More than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime” (American Psychological Association).

For a large part of my life I never considered myself a writer and I still remember my stinging cuticles (because I bite them when I am nervous) as I walked into one of my first university courses called “The Writing Process”. What could have easily been a traumatic experience turned into an incredibly positive experience; with the help of a wonderful and supportive professor, I learned the importance of “voice” and the impact it could have on a reader.

The more I wrote, the more I could feel these ideas in my head, forming words, sentences, and paragraphs. 

And as much as I enjoy my feeble attempts at writing humor, I also feel compelled to write about domestic violence. I realize it is not a subject that people look forward to reading about and even though I am well aware of the statistics, I never can get over the initial shock when I hear tell of another woman (particularly a woman that I have known for sometime) escaping her abuser. I freeze up and at first, I am not able to process her story as I remain on the “cause/effect”: he abused her and she left.

He abused her, she was abused by him, he was her abuser; she escaped. 

In many situations I find myself comforted to know I am not the only one: I’m not the only mother who has almost baked her cell phone, I am not the last parent in the car pool line because the baby decided to have a diaper blowout on the way out the door, or I am not the only person sitting in rush hour traffic on 95 south from D.C. at 3:00 P.M. on a Friday afternoon. But, I would be more than happy to be the only person who ever had to experience the during and after effects of domestic violence.

As if experiencing domestic violence wasn’t enough, survival after escaping is even more difficult; but this can be overcome.

When I escaped I faced homelessness and I won. Even though the protection order gave me possession of the house, I was weary of living in an environment where he was familiar with every nuance. Likewise, many well-meaning friends offered to allow us to stay at their houses and I declined out of concern for their safety. My children and I lived in a domestic violence shelter for nearly a year.

I overcame poverty. He controlled the finances. My paychecks went into his account and I never had access to the money. He decided if and when the bills were paid. One morning, I was getting the children ready for school and as I turned the faucet to brush my son’s teeth, water did not come out. I found out later that he simply didn’t bother to pay the water bill and he also saw no need to inform me of this; he bought a gun instead. Needless to say, when I escaped, he drained the bank accounts. I had about $20. Despite this, I applied for any aid that I could receive for my children and myself, as we escaped with next to nothing. After sometime, I was able to continue working full-time and continue taking college courses.

overcame adversity. This might be difficult to believe, but some people treated my children and I as though we had survived the plague. When I told a person, in confidence, that we were living in a shelter, they asked if we had been exposed to TB. I was also scorned for using food stamps and welfare money (even though I have been a working taxpayer since I was 15 years old.) The thing that hurt the most was when I was told that the abuse that my children and I suffered was “a direct result of my life choices.” Those words not only angered me, they ripped me apart and I can’t say that I was told them, that person actually yelled them at me.

I want the reader to realize that I never chose to be abused, when I married my husband I married a Christian, police officer who seemed, by all outward appearances, to be supportive, loving, and stable. He had a great sense of humor and was supportive of my goals. There were no warning signs until about a year into our marriage. Suffice it to say that it wouldn’t have mattered if I would have married the neighborhood drug cartel; NOBODY DESERVES TO BE ABUSED; NOBODY.

How incredulous to believe that somebody, more specifically myself, woke up one day and said, “you know, I think that I am going to go find a dickhead that is going to push me down a few times, call me a bitch, keep me constantly pregnant, and then use our precious babies against me as though they weren’t even people, simply weapons that would ensure that I behave myself.” Sounds like good times right?

Even though I lost a lot, I would never take back my decision to escape. When I say I lost a lot, I mean stuff. I lost a lot of stuff: A LOT! But I gained so much more: the most important being my children, they are happy and confident; free to be children and we are embracing every precious drop of this! They are strong, survivors in and of themselves and throughout this they have exhibited a courage beyond their years. I gained independence, slowly but surely I have learned who I am and I have regained a sense of self: my voice, my passion for writing, and self-respect.

I once confided to someone that if I ever did get out, I wanted to someday share my story with others. To let them know that they are not alone. That person condescendingly told me, “Sure, if you really want to put your life out under the public microscope.” It’s not that I want to, it’s that I need to. These stories need to be heard, domestic violence survivors need a voice: they need many voices! I think I have about thirty people who see the articles that I post, and even if only five read this then that is five people that have heard my voice and even if zero read this then at least I have had a chance, for my own healing, to process this trauma through the art of writing.

My poetry professor told us the other day that when people write comments and blogs, then they should leave a name and take ownership and I am not afraid to put a name and face with what I write. I will spend the rest of my life, whether it be a year or many, many years writing and speaking out against domestic violence.

I DO NOT LIVE IN FEAR; I LIVE. 

I am going to try to attach a video, I am not technology savvy so I hope it works. This is a good friend of mine whose mother I knew growing up. Even though I spent many a night over at her house, I never realized that abuse was occurring in the home. This was one of those jaw-dropping, heart breaking moments for me and I hope, if I can get the link to work, that you all take six minutes and listen to my friend’s story.

Surviving Domestic Violence

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From childhood I was taught the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” From as early as I can remember, I was picked on; teased at school and had very few friends (but for those who were, I remain thankful), I would come home and cry, beggining to move, “somewhere, anywhere.” My desperate request, always met with the aforementioned saying and the scolding that I should not allow what others say to,”get to me and bother me.”

However, this advice was fallacious as words are extremely powerful particularly when the one speaking them has agency; whether spoken or written, words have built and destroyed nations: inspired and decimated.

As human beings we want to invest emotionally in people, to not make that investment in at least a few could render one a socio-path who has no sense of humanity or empathy. Our emotional investment is what allows us to form lasting relationships.

Sure, there are certain people who I do not know or couldn’t care less about knowing and they can say whatever they would like about me and I would be more preoccupied with how often my neighbor picks his butt after exiting his car from his evening commute than their slander, but if my husband came home and said, “I’ve been thinking and you’re a real bitch.” I would be torn to pieces.

And that is because I have given his words agency in my life.

In my first marriage, I did the same, obviously because I was married and I loved him and he not only abused me, but he abused the trust and love that I had given him. When the verbal abuse started, I was very hurt and saddened that he would feel like I was just a, “nasty, useless, whore that couldn’t do anything right.” Some of the things that he said to me and about me were very hard to swallow and process and somewhere in his horrific orations, I began to buy into what he was saying.

When people think of abuse or domestic violence, they jump straight to the physical aspect: broken bones, black eyes, or tremendous bruising. They don’t understand the emotional and verbal aspects when it really is not that complicated of a subject. They tend to think that if there is no apparent physical violence then the victim was not really abused.

They are so very wrong.

Bruises go away and when treated properly, broken bones heal as well. The most exhausting aspect of an abusive relationship is the verbal and emotional abuse that is suffered by the victim. Those words become grenades that leave permanent holes which never quite heal, breaking more than mere bones. After a day of severe verbal abuse, I remember looking in the mirror and not even recognizing my own face. The deep lines under my eyes formed scars that were far worse than any black eye he could have given me; the swelling in my face worse than the harshest slap, and the exhaustion more far-reaching than any could fathom.

If he had caused physical harm, I could have called the police and received medical treatment. What he did, caused me to suffer  alone, and in silence.

I have been told throughout my life to, “Toughen up,” or, “grow thicker skin,” and to some extent I have; but, I refuse to completely harden up and stop emotionally investing in people.

“When you’re drowning you don’t think, I would be incredibly pleased if someone would notice I’m drowning and come and rescue me. You just scream.”
― John Lennon

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When I left my abusive marriage I realized that I would be afraid: I had a lot to fear. Not only was my ex in possession of multiple fire arms, he was well trained in using them. That, combined with my knowledge of his mental and emotional instability left me in a constant state of anxiety and fear; I can easily recall the panic moving from my weighted chest to the pins and needles feeling in my arms and hands and eventually to sweat on my pulsating finger tips. Imagine looking down at the floor and instead of 5 ft. 3 in. away, it looks as though you have climbed a 100 ft. high, teetering wooden ladder that could fail you at any time. I refused to be alone and would lie in bed at night, waiting for the door to burst open with him standing over me. His voice haunted everything I did, his face glaring at me. His hot breath burned the tiny hairs on my neck.

He Was Winning

I really do not like using this phrase because I feel as though it categorizes the notion of control and abuse to a menial game of chess or Jenga; admittedly though, even after I got away from him, he still had complete control over me. I feared every aspect of my life from a visit to the grocery store to pumping gas. I was, quite literally losing my mind.

My attorney had advised me to not speak about the situation (like I wanted to keep reliving this hell), and he freely composed fictitious allegations that led to extremely vicious attacks toward me. In a sense, these claims re-victimized the victim and I will post on this another time. This contributed to my anxiety.

Taking it Back

I had to realize that I can only control myself; I cannot control him (heck, he couldn’t even control him). And I could not control the one-sided opinions of others.They key being: I CONTROL MYSELF. This means building the courage to not only ask, “why did I leave if I am still so scared? What was the good of being out of an abusive marriage if I am still going to be abused?” I had to be courageous enough to take a critical look at my actions and devise a solution.

I could not control if he decided to come after me as he had promised so frequently throughout our marriage. I could only be prepared for it. This meant, without being overnparanoid, devising a safety plan for myself, my children, and close friends. We made up safety words such as: “fire” and each of us had instructions to execute.

I realized that even one week, one month, one year of feeling like a human being, an individual or feeling like I was more than just the bacteria on a dirty McDonald’s wrapper abandoned in a parking lot, would be more meaningful than the rest of my life (however long that would have been) in such a horrible circumstance.

In other words: staying in that marriage would have been risky and leaving it was risky. At least, by getting out, I could have the quality of life that everybody deserves.

To those women who are afraid:

You CAN do this! YOU CAN DO THIS! YOU  CAN  DO  THIS! 

(Note: This is only observations gathered from my own, unique experience. This may not be applicable to everybody)