Why does she stay?!
This is another loaded blog post. I seem to be good at those. I’ve never been one to write fluff. Don’t get me wrong, fluff has its place and I even enjoy reading, but I can’t take myself seriously and write it myself.
Why does she/he/ze stay?
I hear that so often. It kind of breaks my heart because I know why, but how do I make other people understand? How do I explain to them what it’s like to be in a position they have never been in. That’s what it boils down to. Until you have been put in that place you can’t fathom what it’s really like. Most of us have no clue what darkness really is until we’re in the middle of it. I can attempt with my words to make it clearer, but who is to say if it is enough?
Let me be clear. Men can abuse men. Men can abuse women. Women can abuse men. Women can abuse women. Gender stereotyping has only made the issues of domestic violence worse because it perpetuates the idea that men are savages beasts and women are not. It doubly victimizes the survivors. So let’s leave the preconceived notions at the door.
The things I have to say are the same whether your abuser has broken bones, or never even threatened to raise a hand.
We do a pretty good job of warning girls that abuse happens and it’s more than just physical. We don’t do a good job of warning boys. There is a ton of propaganda out there aimed and girls and women. We’re told to draw a line and don’t let the abuser cross it. We’re told these things are abuse, sometimes the lists are long, and sometimes they’re short. Sometimes they actually give you some insight, but usually they’re warning signs most of us would consider common sense…until it actually happens. Where the warnings fail miserably is explaining just how the line gets crossed. Drawing your line is a point of pride, and letting that line be crossed becomes a societal shaming.
What really happens is you start out with your line, based on warnings, past experiences, friends’ advice and a million other little cues that are factored into making you you. Things are good. You trust this person you’ve brought into your life. Yeah they can be bullheaded, but so are you right? Then they step closer and closer to the line. The whole time you’re thinking, it’s okay, they haven’t crossed the line. Every time something is said or done you compartmentalize. They didn’t cross the line and every other time you’re their whole world so it’s normal right?
Then one day they step boldly up to the line. Inside you’re shaking, thinking is this it? But they didn’t really cross the line, and maybe they had a tough day, maybe you said something mean out of character, maybe, maybe, maybe… In that moment the line gets moved. Probably not too far the first time, but just a little nudge. For a while they back off and you breathe a sigh of relief. It was all okay after all…until they toe the line again.
This is a repetitive behavior, but each time they come up with some logical excuse playing on your insecurities, taking away your confidence to make your own decisions…taking away your confidence that the line belonged where it was. By the time you realize things have really and truly gone too far, you have no idea how you got there. You’re scared because you finally realize that it’s a no win situation and you have no idea what they’re going to do. You’re scared because you believe something must be wrong with you for letting it get this far, maybe they’re right. Maybe you deserve it. You’re scared that everyone is going to judge you because you let it get this far. Maybe they’ll believe you deserved it too. Maybe they’ll believe whatever your abuser is telling people in your life.
You’re lost and very alone. You have this friend or a family member who tells you they love you no matter what and they’ll help you, but you don’t go because what if your abuser hurts them too? What if what the things your abuser told you about your friends and family was true? It got this far, you deserve it right? You give up friends, family, kids, co-workers, even online friends because you have to keep them safe. You can’t let them see that you’re not strong on the inside that you let this horrible situation happen. You choose your abuser over your kids because it keeps your kids safe. You choose your abuser over your parents because then you won’t have to look in your mom or dad’s eye and have to see their pain because this happened. You do a lot of crazy things.
All but the one thing you should do.
Why? This is simple folks. Fear. What are they going to do when you leave? Sometimes they have something to hold over you. Your own guilt. Something you once did. A child or loved one. Your insecurities. Financial security (shelter, ability to feed yourself, medical care). Much of the time it’s not physical safety, though that is a real concern. They’ve done all this haven’t they? Maybe they’ll kill themselves…or you.
Survivors don’t leave because of fear. That makes them stay. Telling them all the things that could happen if they stay or that their kids will learn this stuff is okay, or any of the 100’s of things people who have never been abused will say to convince them, does no good. Fear is a brick wall. There’s no going around it.
Survivors leave because they hit so low they stop caring what happens. So much has been taken from them, death or whatever consequence is waiting for them holds no power. I left my second abuser (yes second) expecting to die. I did not think I would survive, but it was that or let my kids think they could do this to someone else. It was intended as a last gift to my kids. I still see getting through that night as a miracle. I don’t talk much about the details. I was lucky a neighbor showed up when they did, I can still see my reflection in my good chopping knife.
My first abuser was much more insidious. So much so I had survived the second, moved on, and married before I saw it for it was. He held me hostage just as much as the second by my emotions and by undermining my ability to think for myself.
I can remember being backed into a corner, him screaming at me full voice, so close I could feel his lips on my nose. That was normal. If he didn’t like what I had to say this is what would happen. He would bring other women, “friends”, and tell me they needed to stay with us in our one bedroom apartment. They needed help. At least one was underage. I was no fool. I knew what was going on, but when I would assert myself as the woman in his life he would berate me for hours for thinking so low of him and I was crazy, it was all in my head.
He held our son over my head. Physically pulling him out of my arms when we fought and not allowing me near him because I was yelling and crying and clearly crazy. After a fight he would leave with him and not tell me if he was coming back. I was a bad mom for wanting to breastfeed. The silly part of that one is he actually managed to convince me of this for a short time. I did stand up to him eventually, but only because someone stood by me when I did. He tore me down so far I ran straight to my second abuser, ironically looking for safety.
This man did things better left unsaid. Things got to a point I consented to everything just to make it over quick because if I didn’t, it would go on for hours. I had no desire to even be in the same room with him, but it was a little like taking your medicine. Just grin and bear it and it will be over. That is soul destroying. Took me many years to take my soul back.
Even when you consent, if your heart, mind, and soul is not in it, that is soul rape. That destroys you just as much as legal rape but there’s nowhere to turn because society doesn’t recognize it. They don’t recognize you can’t always say no or fight. These scars go deeper than will ever been seen or recognized by the uninitiated. They don’t go away and forever color every choice you make in the future.
For the person out there wondering if someone in their life just crossed a line or toed it so close you moved it back, ask yourself how you truly feel. Shut off the brain. Close your eyes. Turn away society and all its varied mixed and damaging messages. Forget if this is a lover, a family member or a caretaker. How does this act feel? Is it deeply hurtful? Do you know in your gut that it was wrong just don’t have the words? Do you see how close they are to your line? Are they trying to manipulate you into moving it?
That is the first sign of abuse.
Forget the lists, and give yourself permission to follow your gut. You know this is wrong. You can feel it. It’s tangible like a punch to the gut. Teach yourself, teach your children, teach your loved ones to trust in their own gut feelings. The truth is there and covers things no abuse counselor will ever learn. You have the power inside of you. I promise.
Now that you’ve seen this for what it is, it’s time to go. Get out of the situation. When they call, or come by to tell you how sorry they are or that they can’t live without you, or even to threaten your life, close your eyes again and see every time they pushed your line.
Call anyone, a friend, a family member, even a hotline and tell them it’s time to go, then just put one foot in front of the other. If you have to tell your person to act for you and then follow their lead. But trust yourself, trust your gut. Ignore the rest.
If you have a friend or loved one in this position, the best you can do is tell them to trust their gut and remind them what their gut is telling them.
If we teach our children to trust in themselves and their own autonomy we could rid the world of abuse.
If you need help go to http://www.thehotline.org/
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.