It took a while for me to let my fiancé know where I live. When he finally made it through the door, he had one primary observation—it wasn’t the lack of a TV, hundreds of books, or my environmental abuses.
“Wow,” he said, “you have a lot of weapons.”
My house is laced with tools of aggression. One might argue that anything is a weapon if you hold it right, but I like to be very literal in these situations. There’s a baseball bat by the stairs, a Taser in my handbag, and a knife in the shower. Violence is never the answer … unless the question is an unbalanced man who has finally come to collect on his threat to kill you.
It’s been one year since I had to face my abusive ex in court. On August 20th, 2013, the Judge ruled that he was “calculated and deceptive” and had been rightfully terminated after stalking me and sending my naked photos to our coworkers.
Exactly one year before that, on August 20th, 2012, a different judge awarded me a restraining order. Same date, a year apart. My life is poetic in its coincidences and charming patterns.
Don’t Make Me Be Your Karma
I won’t deny that seeing someone get what is coming to them can be deliciously satisfying. But that was never what I wanted—at every step of the way, I offered him an out. I dumped him. I changed my number. I moved. I begged. He didn’t stop. At some point, it’s not enough to change yourself and your patterns to discourage someone who is intent on hurting you. Eventually, you have to stand up for yourself.
My ex chose to back me into a corner, so I chose to strut my way out of it, tossing my hair as his world crumbled around him. 25-year career—gone. Retirement—gone. Relationships—gone. Respect—gone.
In the grand scheme, he will be a passing blip on my radar. But for him, I was the iceberg to his Titanic, and there were really not enough life boats.
I am OK, I am Safe
It’s been a year, it’s been two years. I still worry he will kill me. Every time I wash my face, I am convinced I live in a movie and he will be there when I look in the mirror. Every noise is the sound of him prying off a window screen. Every peaceful silence is just the moment before the door is splintered by a determined kick.
In the aftermath of the breakup, I couldn’t sleep. I would wake in the middle of the night with an explosion in my chest and no air to breathe. My mind was a scene of devastation, convinced he was there and this was the end. It would take several minutes of crouching by the bed on my hands and knees, gasping and repeating over and over in my head, “you are OK, you are safe, he is not here, you won. You are safe.”
How I Sleep at Night
It would be great if I never had to be afraid, and maybe someday I won’t. A piece of paper doesn’t keep you safe, but fighting back, getting out of a dangerous situation, and refusing to let someone treat you like shit most certainly makes it better. Being in an abusive relationship will leave its mark—but I welcome any scar that I can point to as a testament of my will to survive.
I felt like utter shit after that relationship. I blamed myself for ever saying yes. I blamed myself for staying, and for every little thing he ever did to me. What I’ve realized is you don’t have to immediately feel OK after something like that. You can look at the shit storm and choose to do what you wish you actually felt like doing. You can choose to make decisions as though you are the person you wish you had the strength to be. And eventually—you will be that person.
I Can’t Stop Laughing
To quote Maya Angelou, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” If this hadn’t happened to me, I never would have cultivated such a fierce determination to do whatever the hell I want. I don’t think I realized that I was allowed to look at some of life’s circumstances and simply say “no thanks.”
Nothing has been more empowering than learning to find humor in the darkness and giving myself permission to laugh. Because honestly, what’s not funny about an an attorney trying to convince a courtroom that I deserved to be abused simply because I have red hair and a passport full of stamps? Tell me it’s not a little funny that I plunged an entire room into awkward silence by talking about how my Dad likes to watch gay porn.
One and two years later I am still working my way through the fear and the shame, but I think I’ve learned a few things. We can wander into swamps, we can make bad choices and we can be hurt by people, but that’s not where it ends. We can also change, we can stop, we can grow, and we can rewrite our lives. If you don’t like where your story is going, throw in a plot twist.
Related post: Domestic Violence Awareness Month: I’m A Survivor