A Survivor’s Story
There is a stereotype that domestic violence occurs only in low-income, poorly educated, minority or “dysfunctional” families. The fact is domestic violence occurs in every community, among people of every age, religion and race, sexual orientation, and at every economic level.
Here is my story. Five years ago, one week before my thirtieth birthday, I was living in a desirable neighborhood in New York City. I had a high-ranking position working for the State of New York. I had experienced physical and emotional abuse from my husband during the course of three years. There were risk factors early on in the relationship including:
- A push for quick involvement.
- Controlling behavior.
- Unrealistic expectations.
- Blaming others for problems.
- Making others responsible for his feelings.
- Cruelty to animals.
- Verbal abuse.
- Rigid sex roles.
- Sudden mood swings.
- Threats of violence.
The violence was not an isolated, individual event. One battering episode built upon past episodes and set the stage for future ones. There were a wide range of consequences, some physically injurious and some not; all were painful, especially the emotional abuse and humiliation.
What were my motives for staying?
A better question to ask is why did my ex-husband keep abusing me and why didn’t my neighbors call the police when they heard my cries?
Some of my reasons for staying as long as I did:
- Fear that he would not be able to survive alone or would commit suicide.
- Social pressure and guilt about failure of my marriage.
- Social stigma that this should not be happening to me and fear that I would be blamed.
- Belief that he would change (after the battering occurred, he would deny the violence, make excuses for the behavior or apologize and promise not to do it again).
- Fear that he would stalk me and kill me if I left him.
Why did I leave?
My decision to leave was a process, not an event. In the months before I left, I called the police many times and hung up because of fear that they would arrest my ex-husband on a short-term basis and that he would return to my home and hurt me even more. The night I left, my sister witnessed the violence, which gave me confidence that I had a witness who would believe me and support me in getting free. Although batterers cross many boundaries, there is usually a final straw that pushes victims into action. As suggested in When Men Batter Women, by Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, most victims will eventually leave. “Those who stay, hoping that the violence and emotional abuse will stop, are usually disappointed. Once (victims) realize that the relationship won’t change, they eventually begin the process of escape.” I learned the hard way that my mother’s words on the eve of my wedding night that “(people) don’t change” were true in this case. If I could do it all over again, I would have recognized the risk factors early on and left him after the first boundary that he crossed.
Once I left, the universe seemed to be behind my decision. Friends and family housed me and nurtured me. Within four weeks, I got a great job in Vermont. I relocated and received support from WHBW: hotline, support group, legal assistance and counseling. Since then, I completed my Ph.D. while working, met a new, gentle man, and am a dedicated volunteer with Women Helping Battered Women.
If you recognize yourself in my story, please do no wait. Get help and know that, with help and support, you can stop the abuse!