When I was in my DV situation, I didn’t see it as abusive. When things would get really bad, I would tell myself that “this was a woman’s lot in life” and wrote off hurts, insults, degradations and humiliations as part of the role expected from a wife and mother. There was one time, however, when I realized that there might be something “off” about my marriage - a brief thought triggered by a momentary glance exchanged between another husband and wife.
My best/only friend in my town at the time was my mail lady, Gina, who I’d converse with daily when she’d stop by (what I jokingly referred to at the time as) my “pretty little prison” (how’s that for subconscious insight?). Gina’s husband, Wayne, would dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas time and my kids adored them both. So one day I decided to invite Gina and Wayne over for dinner.
When they showed up at the door, Wayne gave me the most beautiful bouquet of roses I had ever seen – blooms in a stunning array of purples. Unaccustomed to getting flowers, Wayne handed them to my husband and told him to go put them in water. My husband grabbed a vase, filled it with water and stuck the roses in it. Wayne laughed, took the roses out of the vase and asked for a scissors. As Wayne began snipping the bottom of the stems off still smiling, he asked my husband if he had ever bought me roses before “because you’re supposed to cut the ends off like this before you put them into water”. I knew the answer to Wayne’s question was no and so did my husband. I don’t remember how my husband responded but I remember the smile fading from Wayne’s face as he exchanged a glance with Gina.
The only glances I ever got from my husband were “shut up stares” so I wondered what their glance was about and then wondered if it was normal for a husband to get his wife flowers because I thought flower-giving was reserved for dating, illness, childbirth and funerals. In any case the image of Gina and Wayne’s visual exchange “haunted” me because in that glance, I realized that they had something between them that was missing from my marriage. This incident didn’t drastically change anything for me at the time but in hindsight, it was like a little hole was poked into my curtain of reality – a clue that other people saw something in a way that I didn’t and the incongruence bugged me because it left me with a feeling of “something isn’t quite right here”.
Months later I would be seeing a therapist who point blank said “You’re in an abusive marriage and you need to get out of it”. In return I flat-out rejected her assessment and she'd get me so angry with her “observations”. Why did I stay with her if she only got me angry? Because I was determined to prove her wrong; I was so sure that one day, she’d be owing me a huge apology for saying such horrible things about my marriage. The worst thing she ever said to me was
It’s only going to be a matter of time before he starts on the kids.
When she said that I laughed because I felt the apology from her was going to be coming so much sooner then later. I told her in full, God’s honest, “I’ll bet my life on this” confidence “He’d never, ever, ever hurt or harm the kids!” From there on, she ended every session by asking if I had a Safety Plan and a suitcase at the ready. I lied to her and said “Yes” every single time she asked, getting more frustrated and determined to prove her wrong – until the day came where she proved me wrong…
I say all this because there are some crucially important points about DV that everyone should be aware of – victims included.
Although I had a Masters degree shortly after I was married, I didn’t realize what real denial was until my abusive marriage. Anyone pursuing an education in counseling will be introduced to the “Father of Psychology”, Dr. Sigmund Freud, and his theories. One of his concepts, denial (an unconscious defense mechanism), I had (mis)understood to be someone willfully ignoring the obvious and blaming his/her “ignorance” as unconscious – I learned the hard way that real, honest-to-God denial is utter cluelessness. Once I had “successfully escaped” the abusive situation, it was only then that I saw how much of a lie I was living but even more alarming to me was how and the extent to which I didn’t see the truth of my situation. As I said, there was a gnawing hint that something wasn’t the way it should be (Wayne and Gina’s glance) and then there was the therapist’s blunt, all-out, “full frontal assault” - “You’re in an abusive marriage” – but despite these, I couldn’t put two and two together until it was too late. (He proved me wrong and hurt our daughter exactly as the therapist said he would.)
As so many victims do, I blamed myself for what he did to my daughter – “If only I had listened! If only I had seen! If only I hadn’t been so blind/stupid/so bent on proving the therapist wrong!” This was quickly followed my an overwhelming, gut-wrenching sense of guilt and shame – HOW did I let this happen? How did I not see what the therapist was so insistent about? How could I live such a lie and then worse, let my children live in that lie with me?
I saw myself as an honest person BUT by my own admission, I was a liar – “Yes, I have a Safety Plan; yes, I have my bags packed” and then I realized even worse: “Remember, when we see Grandma and Grandpa don’t tell them what Daddy did/said…” – I turned my children into liars too!
Living a lie, living in denial or in absence of the truth was do-able; it didn’t feel wrong but it was wrong – it was comfortable in the sense that there was nothing to challenge and I accepted everything that happened without question – but here’s the rub: what happens when your truth becomes a lie because of facts?
When I was living a lie I was a “happy” housewife and a content stay-at-home mom living “the American Dream” - that's what I was AND that’s how others saw me; when I had to live with the truth because of facts, not only did it not feel good it didn’t look good either: a victim of domestic violence, I became “one in four women” – a statistic – the illusion broken and the truth laid bare for all to see.
Once the truth was revealed and facts came to light, it seemed everyone around me suddenly had the right to scrutinize and judge in a quest for the truth regardless of how personal the situation was and in some instances, regardless of the facts! It was like because domestic violence was the issue, that somehow gave others permission to question my parenting skills, my mental health, my decisions - NOT his! Then what was really interesting (and hurtful) was how strongly and how far other people would go to try to make the lie become “the truth” again because that was more comfortable for them to deal with!
Living a lie - whether you're in denial or not - may be a happy, comfortable and conflict-free way of life but it doesn't erase the truth and doesn't change the facts which will always come out in the end.
Domestic violence and the truth have both been referred to as "ugly" and painful but one we’re better off living with and the other we’re better off without.