I don’t usually talk about this, but I think it’s time.
I survived more than three decades of abuse at the hands of several different abusers.
Warning: The contents of this post may be disturbing and/or triggering to some readers.
To the best of my memory, the abuse started when I was around six-years-old. I was sexually abused by an uncle and three male cousins (the reason for specifying gender will become clear later on). This abuse entailed everything from voyeurism to physical sexual assault.
I was also molested by an old man who lived down the street from us when my sister and I were kids. That started at around age eight. I was made to watch slide shows of things I couldn’t even process while one thing led to another. I can’t elaborate any further on that right now.
My father beat me with a belt on a regular basis, from around the age of eight until I left home at fifteen. When I was in the fourth grade, I had to stay home from school for an entire week because my father had given me a horrible black eye.
When I was a teenager, the beatings with the belt became even worse than they had been before. I was sometimes made to take off my clothes and he would beat me while I was wearing only a bra and panties. The open wounds in my flesh were so bad that I was often unable to put clothes on again for several days. This also prevented me from going to school sometimes.
There were even times when my father would straddle me across the chest, pin my arms to the floor with his knees and press his forearm into my throat. I couldn’t breath. My face felt like it was swelling and I could feel globs of saliva running out the sides of my mouth. I wondered if it was blood and, if I was dying. He would let up just long enough for me to gasp, taking in a tiny bit of oxygen, and then go right back to strangling me. This went on until he grew bored with it, I suppose.
When I left home at fifteen, I married (with the consent of my parents) my eighteen-year-old boyfriend who I had been sneaking around to be with. I think my parents consented just to get rid of and silence me; I had started protesting the abuse and threatening to go the authorities.
Inside six months, my teen husband became abusive as well; he beat me when he was drunk, which was most of the time. He broke a kitchen chair across my back once. Another time, I was sitting in the driver’s seat of our car, refusing to let him drive because he was shit-faced, so he bashed my face into the steering wheel.
I only stayed with him for about a year. I got away because he was too drunk and/or high to notice (or care) that I was leaving. I ran away to another city where I stayed with friends.
Over the years, I was in and out of several other abusive relationships, and in and out of the emergency room as a result.
When I was twenty-five, I met a man through a mutual friend who I had grown up with. The man I met would soon become my second husband. He was handsome and charming and he treated me like a queen. He was vibrant and exciting and everyone loved him. He was the life of every party and, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I felt honored to be with him at the time. When he proposed marriage, five months after our first date, I eagerly accepted.
Things were not so bad for the first few years, although I discovered that he lied like healthy people breathe. But, hey… he wasn’t beating the shit out of me, so anything else I had to put up with was tolerable.
We had been married for four years when I became pregnant with my son. I was so happy! I was about to turn thirty and I really wanted to have a baby. My pregnancy was high-risk, and I was on bed-rest for most of it. Needless to say, I had to quit my job. That was OK, though; his salary allowed us to live comfortably enough, which was great because I wanted, more than anything, to stay home and raise my son. We both agreed that I should do just that.
Things went steadily downhill after my son was born. The ex became more demanding and even seemed jealous of our baby. A lot happened over the following few years and before long, we were living under the same roof, but in separate bedrooms. We weren’t legally divorced, but our marriage was definitely over.
The point I’m leading up to, is that he eventually became physically abusive as well. During the last beating he gave me, he was pounding my head on the floor repeatedly. I was certain that if he didn’t stop he was going to kill me. So I stopped fighting back and played dead. If he thought I was dead or unconscious, maybe he would stop. It worked. He jumped up off of me and ran out of the house. He left me there, not knowing how badly I was injured or if I was even alive.
Our son was seven-years-old at the time. He left him there too. I’m glad he did, but what a shitty thing to do to a little kid. For all he knew, our little boy would wake up and find his mother dead in the bedroom floor. He stayed gone for a couple of days and I let him sweat it out for a while, but my son started asking for his dad and it was getting close to Christmas, so I called our mutual friend (who was becoming less “mutual” by the day). My ex was there. I asked him to come home. He did.
I had tolerated a lot of abuse in my life; I had grown accustomed to it, in fact. One thing I promised myself, though, was that I would never let anyone hurt my son. I honestly didn’t think my ex would ever do what he did. But he did.
A few months later, he attacked our seven-year-old son. He was throwing him around the room like he might have done another man in a barroom brawl. Then, suddenly, this great big man was on top of my little boy in the kitchen floor twisting his arms and shoving down on him over and over again, like he was trying to push him through the floor. I was beating on his back and screaming for him to get off of my baby. I don’t know what finally made him stop, but when he did, he got up and ran out the door just like he did the night he had beaten me for the last time.
He called and said that he would be staying with a friend from work until he could find an apartment. He offered to keep paying all the bills at the house until I could get on my feet. I agreed. His tone sounded slightly remorseful, but he never asked to speak to our son or even how he was doing.
Payday came a few days after he attacked my son. My ex went and deposited about $2000 into an account that I had recently opened for myself. Bam! That was mine now and he couldn’t touch it. The second those funds were available, I packed everything I could fit into my Toyota, went and picked up my son from school, and we left town. We’ve never been back.
Things have been difficult since we left. We’re basically in hiding to this day. He doesn’t pay child support and I don’t pursue it because it’s not worth getting him riled up. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times since I left, and the last time I heard his voice, he was telling me that he would “hunt me, gut me and cut my throat” and then teach “that kid” a thing or two about manners, i.e. beat him into submission. I filed a police report (they called it a terroristic threat) and cut off all contact. That was a little more than three years ago.
We’re doing better now, but it’s been a very rocky road. I was able to attend a program through the women’s center at our community college to update my computer skills. I have a good job that pays OK and provides health insurance (the ex dumped our son off his insurance even though it didn’t cost him a single penny to keep him covered).
My current (and final) husband, and love of my life, has been an ongoing source of support in every way. I know this is the real deal, because it doesn’t hurt inside. That scared me at first; I was worried about not having that all-too-familiar knot in my gut. Then I realized that not having it, for the first time in my life, just might mean that I’m finally safe.
I was devastated yesterday when I read the news of Jana Mackey’s death. My initial emotional response was utterly overwhelming. I was sad and outraged; I even felt scared.
Given my history, it would be very easy for me to slip into the mindset of hating all men. Before Mike, every man in my life had been an abuser, and the abuse had been going on for more than three decades. I’m sure anyone could understand how that might screw with a person’s head.
But I am raising a boy! He deserves better than to have a man-hater for a mother. He didn’t cause any of my problems, he was simply born into them. And I have to make a conscious effort, every day of my life, not to dump my baggage on him. Sometimes it takes a little more effort than usual, like when I read about Jana Mackey. I had to reign myself in by using an exercise that I learned a few years back. It helps me refocus my thoughts, and avoid misdirecting my anger and/or having a full-blown anxiety attack. I ask myself two questions: What do I feel? And what do I know?
When I read about Jana Mackey, I felt rage and hatred for the man who had been accused of killing her. I felt a great sense of loss and deep sadness because a woman who had committed her life to helping reduce violence against women, had been murdered.
But what did I know? I knew that a woman had been murdered. A man had been arrested as a suspect, and that man is now dead as well. This did not lessen the sense of loss that I felt over the news of Jana’s death. But it prevented me from flying into a rage and taking out my anger on people who had done nothing wrong.
I think it’s important to note here that when I refer to “taking out my anger” on people, I am not referring to physical violence. I am strongly opposed to even spanking kids. But I can run off at the mouth and say things that I wish I hadn’t, and can’t be unsaid.
I made the small mistake of taking my exercise public yesterday. In a discussion about Jana Mackey on another blog, people were screaming “scumbag” and “murderer” and the like. Someone said that there will never be a trial by which the suspect is found not guilty, which seemed to imply that this definitely means he was guilty. I pointed out that neither will there be a trial in which he is found guilty.
Well the shit hit the fan, as I expected it would. In closing, I have a few things to say to some of the people I had it out with:
You may not like what I said, and you may not agree with it. I may have offended you or pissed you off beyond all measure. The timing was probably bad; you may think I was insensitive or uncaring. You are entitled to your feelings and opinions, whatever they may be.
But don’t you fucking dare try to twist my words into something I didn’t say or even imply, in an attempt to paint me as someone who sympathizes with abusive men who kill their girlfriends. And how fucking twisted does someone need to be to suggest that I, or anyone, could view this horrible and very real tragedy as an episode of CSI?! Talk about sick… You are the one who undermined this poor woman’s tragic death by making such disgusting comments. You disgrace the name of feminism and you sicken me!
PTSD affects my world view, but I refuse to let it become my world view. If part of what I have to do to avoid becoming incapacitated, or misdirecting my rage at the decent men in my life, is to separate my feelings from available facts, then that is what I will do. If it makes me unpopular with other feminists, then so be it. It’s preferable to the alternative.
So the next time a woman says something “unpopular”, perhaps those of you who trumpet your support for women will stop and consider the possibility that said woman has come from a completely different place to where you’ve come from. Or maybe it’s the same place, but she’s found a different way of coping and managing her pain. At the very least, perhaps you’ll take the time to ask a question or two before attempting to humiliate, belittle and shame her for voicing an unpopular point of view. She might not be as unfeeling as you think; it just might be that she’s feeling a hell of a lot more than she’s able to properly manage at the moment.
And just to avoid any confusion, this is not an apology. I am the first to apologize when I feel I have done something wrong. I do not believe I have, and I will not take responsibility for the shitty, abusive behavior of other people. That’s something else I’ve learned over the past couple of years.