Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Lives Matter *Updated*
This is a difficult post to write, not because of the content, as one would think, but it's hard to do without telling a story that isn't mine to tell. So I'm going to do my best without infringing on anyone's privacy. It's just something I think is really important to keep talking about. It's domestic violence.
We all saw the whole Ray Rice thing go down and it really jumpstarted a conversation that was a long time in coming. It spurred debate, action, reaction, and who knows what else. The problem is that it's never enough. Because it still happens. Right in our backyards. In our homes. People we know, strangers, famous people, coworkers, that mom from school.
Someone I knew, peripherally, was strangled by her husband. This is all I can say- that's what was in the news, so it's what I feel is okay to put out here. It's public knowledge. Beyond that- not my story. Unlike Marie (who passed away when a plane fell into her house), who I wrote about a few weeks ago, I did not know this woman well. We were not close friends. I knew her. Since about 2005. I remember her as warm, honest, funny, and a loving mom. I knew bits and pieces of her life. Bits and pieces of what she was going through. What I did not know was that she would be dead by the hands of her husband, the father of her children, at the age of thirty-seven.
In the daily grind we're all in, I think we just have a certain short tolerance for OPP (Other People's Problems). We listen, we take it in, we dispense advice, and wait. Wait to hear how our advice played out, the excuse for not taking our advice, or what they did in lieu of using our words of wisdom. When you hear the same problems over and over again, we have a threshold. We care but we just can't care...as much. Or we do. We care, and we worry, but we push it out of our minds because we have to do it that way. It's really the only way. Because if you're not willing to change your situation, then how much can anyone else invest in it? I know personally, I can have the same conversation with you time and time again with no limits, but eventually, I'm just not as invested in it. We've talked about what the right thing to do is but I can't make you do it. I'm the farthest thing from uncaring, it's just being practical. Maybe it's just human nature. I know I can't be more invested in your well-being than you are. Even if I want to, I know it's a fruitless endeavor. It's like trying to drag a drug-addict to rehab. It isn't going to work if you're not actually invested in your recovery.
Or we don't want or know how to get involved. I'll be honest- I'm forty now and I feel somewhat wiser than in my 20's and 30's. Back then I got involved in some domestic...interventions, not exactly involving abuse, but other kinds of highly sensitive situations that I won't go into. Let's just say, in my trying to help, at the very least I could've lost friends. I did lose friends. Things got awkward. I put myself in some precarious situations, butting in, and I'm lucky I didn't get killed myself. And the reality is, I didn't save anyone. No one died, but nothing much changed. I didn't really help and I just gave myself a lot of trouble.
That's where guilt comes in though. What could we have all done different? Could we have forced someone to leave? Could we have kidnapped her? Could we have called the police? There are statistics, and I'm not going to look them up. All I do know for sure is that there is no right answer. Because every person and every situation is different. Sometimes we feel like getting other people involved just makes the situation worse. No one knows what is said behind closed doors. Threats. Promises. You never know if or when someone is going to snap and actually take a life. It's incredibly naïve to assume as either the abused or friend of the abused that their abuser won't end up taking a life. But I just don't think the rational or "normal" person's mind goes to that. I don't think most people want to believe their spouse or their friend's spouse could actually kill them.
Well, I'm here to say- It happens. I now know someone who is dead from domestic violence. Around my age. A mom. A sister. A daughter. A friend. Someone young, who had a whole life ahead of her, who didn't have to die. Not like that. Think about just how much anger it takes to strangle someone. To watch as the life leaves their body.
Someone on one of my message boards who recently came back after an absence, "What happened with all the people who got divorced?!" Some people answered truthfully. Their answer was basically, "I didn't love him". The interesting thing about that answer was that some felt they had to qualify that answer with other excuses. Like not loving someone wouldn't be "enough" of a reason to leave a marriage. Yet, to me, that's a HUGE reason not to be married anymore. I definitely see it as "good enough". There was a common denominator of those who said that other people didn't understand why they had to get divorced. That the situations or reasons under which they made their decisions didn't "sound that bad". Like you should only consider divorce if you're being beaten. Anything less is just not trying. That mentality was even portrayed on the show, Girlfriends Guide to Divorce a few weeks ago. The main character's brother was giving her a hard time about leaving her husband. He basically said- "No one was getting beaten!" as if that was the only acceptable reason out there to want or need out of a marriage.
Except that even getting beaten is sometimes met with the idea that it might not really be "that bad".
Even if it remains unsaid, I think there are many people that don't understand "that bad". Like they have a scale where they are judge and jury to what someone should be able to take before calling it "that bad". And then, even in cases of physical abuse, some people outside the relationship just don't want to deal with it. They don't want scandal stemming from their family, they make excuses, they just turn a blind eye because they don't want to face what will happen when it all comes tumbling out.
I believe people in abusive situations don't always know what abuse means. There are definitely people I've come across, especially those of older generations, that don't know what it means. They think it has to be like Farah Fawcett in The Burning Bed. Or something from a Lifetime movie. Sleeping With The Enemy. Extremes. They think it's only when you see bruises, black eyes, and broken bones. In more recent years, it's been somewhat acceptable to use the terms verbal and emotional abuse. But often it's shrugged off. If you can't see the scars, it's easy to pretend they aren't there.
Because of this unspoken rules of acceptability as to what is "enough" of a reason to end a relationship, people in verbal or emotionally abusive relationships delude themselves into thinking, "It's not that bad- He didn't hit me". Or, "he only hit me once". He was sorry. It's also not like it generally starts with a random punch in the face. The build-up of the emotional and verbal abuse is where it begins. Then comes the physical stuff. After you're broken down inside. By then, the outside is just another part of the proverbial punching bag. You get to the point of believing you don't deserve better. Or you won't get better. That it's "normal". Bargaining happens- "Well, it was only once. IF it happens again...." By then, it's too far into the cycle to break with any ease.
I'm lucky I was just born with a strong personality. I knew what I didn't want but I definitely did not know what was acceptable behavior in a relationship. There is a lot in life that I thought was normal that as time goes on and I get older, I know is decidedly not normal. Not acceptable. But I had to go through some situations that I can now classify as verbally and emotionally abusive. I'll never forget words spoken to me sometime after a very verbally abusive relationship ended. He said, "Well, you just knew how to push my buttons. It was you. I'm not like that with my new person". And maybe he hasn't done it to anyone since. But that's the mentality of someone abusive. Blame on the victim. While it was going on, I didn't like it, but I just figured everyone deals with this yelling and name-calling. I surely didn't have the best role models of appropriate, loving marital conversation and tools of arguing. Telling you that you're abused because you push their buttons is a cop-out and an excuse. You may very well be adept at pushing this particular person's buttons. However, it's on them to know how to deal with that without becoming in any way abusive.
What is scary to me is that I just lucked out when I met my husband. He's the opposite of abusive. But I was just lucky. I could've just kept going, meeting asshole after asshole. It was actually being with someone who didn't scream in my face, so close he was spitting, that opened my eyes to normal and not normal. He didn't call me a "Special Aunt" or "C-U-Next-Tuesday" (whichever way you understand it). He didn't throw and break things. I was able to learn that none of that is normal. NOT everyone acts like that. Had I not met him though, I could've just kept the pattern going and not learned anything. And that, is the problem. That is how you have people knowing things aren't "great" but that don't know it's actually abuse. That it IS enough to warrant leaving. Even with kids. Even with embarrassment. Or the perception that it will be embarrassing.
Plenty of people have been taught- You just stay together for the kids. Kids are better off in a two-parent home than with a single parent and of divorce. I will never forget an older woman on one of my message boards who used to say that all the time. That there are very few reasons that should be grounds for divorce. That in almost all cases, staying together was the best option- happy or not. That you decide to get married and have kids, then your happiness isn't a priority anymore. That just ISN'T true. Kids thrive in a healthy environment. Together, single, or some other configuration, all it needs to be is emotionally healthy. It isn't emotionally healthy when mom and dad are screaming all the time. When someone is constantly cursing at the other or all of you. When kids are seeing their parent be belittled, yelled at, or being hit, pushed, and/or knocked around.
I know it sounds like it should be common sense but it isn't. It isn't even about common sense. The psyche of abuse is so complicated. I can't even begin to delve into all the whys when someone seems to just "accept" abuse. When they stay. What I do wish is for all the lives lost to domestic violence MEAN something. They will mean something if even just one person gets the courage to leave a situation that is abusive in any way. I want to make sure it's said out and loud that you don't have to have visible bruises and broken bones to be abused. You don't have to suffer being unhappy, unloved, unappreciated. And you certainly don't have to live with verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
It's a helpless feeling when you're on the other end and you know someone is being abused in any way. Feeling like there is nothing you can do. The truth is, there really isn't much you can do. You can't force an adult to leave their marriage. You CAN talk, listen, and try to get them to go, but short of kidnapping, they have to come to it on their own. Just be there and try not to just write them off. Just let them know that there is no pressure and you're there whenever they need you. It's all you can do. Make sure they are aware of all the resources available.
Lastly, for those who are questioning or know they're being abused- There is help. THERE IS HELP. Even if you think it's hopeless, that he'll find you, that you won't be able to get away. It isn't true. I once knew someone who was told repeatedly over many years that she'd be left with no money, no home, he'd take her kids, he'd ruin her life. No one has that much power. She could've rolled the dice and taken her chances. She never did and never felt the freedom of happiness. She never got to live a life with the kind of love she deserved.
There. Is. Always. Help. Trust someone. Trust yourself. If you're not sure if you're being abused, call a hotline and talk about it. You're worth more.
Resources for Domestic Abuse:
Go Fund Me site for Christine: http://www.gofundme.com/forchristine