The “Other” Other Side ~ Domestic Violence Awareness Month
In addition to October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, although less widely known, it’s also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten.
I’d like to share my personal experience with Domestic Violence in the form of an article I wrote for New Hope, a Domestic Violence Shelter, Hotline, and Advocacy organization in 1998 on the evening that I took my first call on the hotline. I guess it was a bit of foreshadowing that I named the article, The Other Side? However an important detail I left out of this story at the time is that just when I was deciding to leave my ex-husband and the abusive marriage for good, my grandmother came to me in a dream. It was a real visit with her where she told me to leave my marriage because it was unsafe for me and my daughter. Her support in that dream, which I now know was an actual visit with her, helped give me the confidence to hold to the plan to remove myself from that unhealthy marriage and situation. Our loved ones in spirit are creatively trying to help all of us get the support we need when we need it. If you know someone struggling with Domestic Violence, feel free to share my story to give them hope and courage. For indeed, we could all use more hope and courage at times no matter what struggles we are challenged with in our lives. Feel free to share with me any feedback you might have and until next month, may your heart be filled with Peace and Love!
The Other Side written by Laura Emerald and published by New Hope in 1998
Why did he have to treat me so horribly? What did I ever do to deserve such treatment? What happened to “Love, Honor, and Cherish”? When did the marriage vows disintegrate? If I only tried harder, ironed his shirts more crisply, cooked dinner perfectly, kept our child quiet and out of the way, maybe he wouldn’t snap. These were the questions of my daily life and the mission: to maintain peace and not “set him off.” If he lost his temper, he made me feel as though I had provoked the incident and therefore deserved his wrath.
He only physically hurt me once. He punched me in the face in front of my daughter. But once was all it had taken for the fear of further violence to become a constant. A fist through a door, a wrench thrown across the room within inches of our child, locking me out of the car and driving away because I wouldn’t take his barrage of insults: these “incidents” brought about a deep fear. I knew he could and would hurt me if provoked so I learned to tread lightly. Walking on eggshells, I would try to prevent myself from lighting his fuse.
Mired in the constant criticism and abuse, I really believed that when he snapped I was responsible. It was all part of the system of our daily life.
Sobbing myself to sleep at night, I thought about the nightmare I was living. He would tell me that I should appreciate him and be happy for what I had since, after all, he didn’t drink or sleep around. Having had the good fortune of growing up in a home free from domestic violence, my girlhood images of married life were shattered only two weeks after the wedding. I knew deep down that things in my marriage were very wrong and different than anything I’d ever experienced. Still, I had taken a vow and my staunch fundamental Catholic beliefs encouraged me to stick it out “for better or for worse.” When I had consulted our local priest, the advice I got echoed that sentiment, and stick it out I tried. (Note: that same priest later left the church and is now happily married with children…funny how things change!) After many futile rounds of marriage counseling which always turned things around to be my fault, I finally gave up on that route. After each major incident, we would separate only to be reunited “for the sake of our child” and the family.
After a five-year marital roller coaster, our daughter began treating me like he did. What started out as staying together “for the sake of our child” ended up as a first hand lesson in how an abusive husband treats his wife. Thinking his behavior acceptable, my daughter adopted the same tone and words that he would say to me. The very first time this happened, I realized that was dreadfully wrong in my assumption. The love between him and I had long since been replaced by a sick, controlling, demeaning, and hurtful dynamic… he was in control and I was his pawn.
It was then that I began to imagine what my life could be like without him. The kind of person I would be to others, but especially to my daughter. I took a leap of faith and imagined what a home free from domestic violence would be like. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to remember my own childhood. It seemed like an eternity ago, when really it was only five years ago, prior to the abusive marriage. Once I imagined it, I began to get philosophical about life. Bumper stickers, such as “Life is not a dress rehearsal,” seemed to jump out at me. Gradually inside of me, a small but persistent voice began to whisper and eventually demand “I have a right to be happy and I can do something about my situation!”
It took months of deliberation but when I reached the “I’ve had enough” point, I very confidently told my husband that it was over. Since I had left before and returned to him again, he was certain he could win me back. This time however, it was different. When that finally sunk in, he got really angry. He made threats and was always using our daughter as a pawn to get back at me.
When a fearful incident caused me to go to court to get a restraining order, I was the recipient of New Hope’s legal advocacy service. I can still recall my own paralyzing fear, both of my ex-husband and of the process of getting the restraining order. I was calmed by the indomitable support and strength of Jean, the Legal Advocate. That day all these years later I carry her angelic image in my mind’s eye. She was an Angel for me in one of my darkest hours of need.
As a professional and educated woman, I found my own complete lack of skills required to maneuver the legal process overwhelming. The assured and confident manner in which Jean handled my case and ensured that I knew what to do to be safe, was so very appreciated. Words can never describe the indelible impression she had made upon my life. It provided me with unexpected support at the lowest and scariest point in my life.
Standing safe in my kitchen that afternoon, the phone rang. It was Jean calling in to check up on how I was doing. The support yet again so unexpected helped me find the courage to stick to my plan of surviving this ordeal. I quietly vowed that someday I would give back to New Hope. When I finally made it to The Other Side, that place far off in the future when things in my life have turned around, when I am free, safe, and happy, I’ll help others who need support.
After months of training and many nights at New Hope’s shelter for battered women, where I’ve been doing lots of necessary things aside from answering the phone lines, tonight it happened. I reached out and personally extended an ear to someone who needed the support.
Tonight I answered my first call, where the caller requested information because she was assessing her options. During the call, I swear she was describing my ex-husband when she was describing her own abuser. I answered all of her questions, encouraged her and told her honestly that speaking from experience, “it’s a long journey to The Other Side, but with courage and confidence, the same that enabled you to make this call, you too can get there. Many of us have gone before you and we’re here to help you too.”
I was twenty-one when I married my abusive ex-husband and twenty-six when I left him. I had graduated second in my high school class and have a bachelor’s degree. During the first year of my marriage I was pregnant while finishing out my final college semester. I continued waitressing after our daughter was born and went to work for a software company when my daughter was a year old. Since the separation my daughter and I have enjoyed a home free from domestic violence.
Today I am a software manager at a large international company. In less than two weeks I am getting married, this time to a wonderful man who is also my best friend. For the past two years my daughter, now nine, has had the benefit of seeing two adults interact lovingly in a healthy relationship that is founded on respect for each other.
If you think domestic violence affects only a certain race or class think again. This problem cuts across all social boundaries. If you know of a friend who could benefit by my story, please share it freely.
If you would like to make a donation of an old cellphone to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, visit: Donate Cell Phone to Help!