She is the poster child for domestic violence, bruised and broken. An awful gray hue emanates from the healing mark she tries so hard to cover with concealer. This is what intimate partner violence looks like, right? Unfortunately, it is not always so obvious. I don’t say, unfortunately, because domestic violence should look any one sort of way. I word it this way because some people have to see it to believe it.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is defined by the CDC as: Physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression by a current or former intimate partner. And yet, physical violence is what most people associate with abuse. I’m not just talking about people who are witnesses, but also the victims being abused. The numbers speak volumes. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced IPV. I am that 1 in 4. I am a survivor.
It’s taken a really long time for me to be able to call myself that, a survivor. I guess I didn’t feel like what I’d been through was bad enough. But isn’t that what we all say? He didn’t hit me, so was it really abuse? She only talked down to me and called me names. Maybe I should have just been tougher? If I wasn’t so sensitive, these things wouldn’t bother me so much. My friend, it has nothing to do with anything you did or did not do. There is nothing you could ever do or say to deserve to be stalked, abused, or emotionally manipulated.
But we don’t say that enough — at least not out loud. And when we’re silent, well, that’s when intimate partner violence thrives. One particular instance from my abusive relationship comes to mind. At the time, I didn’t understand what he was doing. But now it’s clear. He was watching me. Many of us have a 6th sense and know when we’re being watched. But because I had been in this toxic relationship so long, my 6th sense was totally haywire. It also didn’t occur to me that someone who is your husband can stalk you.
The incessant phone calls, the never-ending text messages, these were all normal, right? It wasn’t a total stranger doing these things in the shadows. It was my partner, my husband, the father of my children. In those moments, it felt like he had a right to do what he was doing. After all, we were married. This behavior had been the same since the moment we started dating, so I never thought twice. Even if you are married intimate partner violence can still occur, the lines just feel more blurred.
Even when I was out to dinner with his sister, the phone would non-stop vibrate right off the table. How much longer are you going to be? Who are you really out with right now? I’ll never forget the day it all came crashing down in a way not even I could ignore. I was at work and received a text asking what I was doing. Well, I’m working… because I’m at work. What a weird question, I thought as I wrapped up my short walk around the building on my break. The words: No, you aren’t. You are lying to me. Why do you lie to me? Who were you meeting? I’ll always find out the truth, were accompanied by a photo of me on my walk.
I never saw him or even thought to look for him. He followed me to work 45 minutes away from our house (he was also working, so still not sure what happened there) and watched me. It never occurred to me that this was a symptom of more intense intimate partner violence to come. I was too paralyzed by fear and didn’t want to upset him. I couldn’t handle another screaming match when I got home. Every time I was dropped off after a night out (which were few and far between) dread, would wash over me as I stepped out of the car and back into the prison I also called home.
Writing this out makes me feel so crazy. Crazy because it feels obvious now that none of this was normal. It makes no sense to me because I am an educated woman who had a totally normal childhood. What’s my excuse? How did I not see this sooner? That’s the thing, intimate partner violence can happen to anyone. Who remembers FKA Twiggs’ claims of abuse against Shia LaBeouf? FKA is a musician and a celebrity with more resources at her disposal than many of us will have in our lifetime, and still, it happened to her.
It’s still painful for me to talk about, even after all these years later, but I do. I share because I’ll be damned if there isn’t purpose in my pain. And my purpose is to reach out to anyone who is living this reality and tell them it isn’t okay and it isn’t normal. Most importantly, above all else, it is not your fault. It’s not that you aren’t smart enough or strong enough. Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone.
If you feel stuck in this place, things can and will get better. It took me over 10 years to realize that and even more to get out. But I am here. And I am telling you that things can get better and that you deserve more. Even though we do not know each other, I am thinking about you and sending you the support you need because you deserve the world, health, happiness, and nothing less.