Learning that [not stating how I know this person] has been hiding an abusive relationship for years has put today in a combination of overdrive with accompanying tail spin. My first reaction is to gather all the information needed, supplies, etc., and rocket launch that to the woman in need. Now that I've done as much as I can for the moment, everything in my past is hitting like a ton of bricks. Good thing I have therapy tomorrow. =/
It's been 18 years and three months since a man first hit me. I remember every single time he hit me after that, too. It came out of nowhere, was terrifying and awful, but more than any of the pain I felt from all the times he hurt me, I remember the overwhelming shame that followed.
I was ashamed that I let it happen. Ashamed that I didn't do anything more than look away after it had happened. Ashamed that I didn't find a way to make it stop. I was too smart to be in an abusive relationship, and yet there I was towards the end, cowering in the bathroom knowing that it was going to be really awful this time because I dared fight back. (I had locked the deadbolt on the front door.) Well, that didn't stop my 6'8" 280 pound husband from knocking the entire front door off the house - hinges, trim and all.
My being too smart didn't stop him from picking me up at 8 months pregnant and literally throwing me across the room into the wall. From slapping me across the face and bloodying my nose minutes before he knew my dad was going to show up, because what, I was going to tell my dad? Didn't stop him from any of the times my "smart mouth" pissed him off just enough to pin my arm behind my back until I cried, shove me with his open hand against my face until I got out of his way, on and on.
Nothing about ME mattered, which was the whole point. And funny enough, IS the whole point: it wasn't ABOUT me. It was about him. HIS anger, HIS frustration, HIS what the fuck ever. I could have been stupid. I could have been rich, poor(er), black, white, whatever. HE was the abuser - it had nothing to do with me, other than the unfortunate circumstances of being trapped with that person.
I actually lived next door to a cop. I was Mormon at the time, and he was in my ward (parish). We lived in a duplex, so he knew what was going on. Come on. And he would time getting his paper or the mail when he could hear me going out to get my paper or mail and quietly ask me if there was anything he could do to help.
Oh, of course not, because nothing was wrong! <-- that was the shame speaking. FFS, I wore long-sleeved shirts in the DESERT in AUGUST. I had a half-starved baby, because my ex would disappear for days at a time and wouldn't leave me with my car or any food. GAH.
I wouldn't accept help, because it was embarrassing to admit that I couldn't handle it, that I'd made a mistake in marrying him, whatever. I also wouldn't accept help because it wasn't overt. You know what was? My sister showing up with her husband (who had a handgun on him, I later learned) in a truck. We managed to get me and the kids out when my ex was working. I threw together two suitcases full of kids' clothes, a shopping bag for my own things (so many of my clothes and personal belongings had been given away to girlfriends, wow, still not over that!), and some of our dishes and kids toys we hadn't unpacked before moving into the duplex. And there was $.38 in the junk bowl for keys.
That was it.
I spent the next five months shell-shocked, trying to figure out what the hell to do with a twenty month old baby (my son) and a barely four month old (#2). We stayed with my sister for 36 hours, flew back to Texas (omg, #2 drank her bottle too fast on the plane's decent and threw up all over the woman behind me, and I burst into tears - I'm tearing up just thinking about the humiliation I felt - and almost gave her my shirt to wear. (She was so nice and calm, telling me she had twins and that wasn't the first time it had happened, and I was so fucking GRATEFUL to her in that moment. I don't think I've ever been so grateful for a person treating me so calmly in my life as I was right then.)
We stayed with my awful, awful mother for two and a half weeks until she couldn't "deal" with it anymore and shipped me off to live with her mother, the one with schizophrenia who lived (truly) in the ghetto. One neighbor raised fighting dogs and fighting cocks, and the other neighbor made/sold meth. It was her "bridal home" so she wasn't leaving. Please know that I was so, so grateful to her. We had our good times, it just wasn't an ideal situation. Her tiny 800 sq ft house had me and my two babies crammed into one little room among her 50 years of memorabilia. We stayed there for five months while I went on welfare and WIC, searched for a job and learned how to be human again.
(To the Mormon Church's credit: I never would have made it as fast as I did without their help. They arranged babysitters for me, clothing for an office job, and set me up with a job specialist to find an appropriate job for my skill set, learn how to budget as a single mom and figure out how to make it all work.)
I had cousins who I'd not spoken with in years send clothes for my kids without batting an eye. My dad - normally a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" kind of guy - helped me buy a beater of a vehicle - but it worked! - because of course my ex ended up with my car. With all of my stuff, actually, things I'd had for years before we'd even met, but WHATEVER. I was free. That was worth more.
What I'm saying is that because people stepped up and wouldn't let me look away, I was able to make a change. I've been reamed here on LJ before for daring to say that sometimes some women aren't strong enough [for whatever] and can't fix things on their own. Well, I fucking know what I'm talking about. I'm not interested in the academic discussion of women's rights using the most modern of terminology. I'm not interested in making sure I couch my words the right way so people who are merely interested in the topic feel included.
NOPE. I am going to talk like a person who has survived. As a person who knew she was making a horrible mistake every day for YEARS but knows that if it hadn't been for my sister showing up with a truck, I would have kept on in that horrible situation. (And maybe, just maybe those people who tell you you're wrong for using the words you use contribute to that sense of shame a little bit?) Sometimes some women AREN'T strong enough to do for themselves, so we need to HELP THEM. I don't think that's a belittling statement, or a statement that "little girls" someone. I think that's an honest truth. I mean, look around. It's the reality, even if it's not what we WISH the ideal was. Splitting hairs on how to define shit doesn't do diddly squat for that person in need of help. Because let me tell you, I am where I am right this minute because someone said, "Girl, you need to let me help you."
And in that vein, if you are in need of someone saying this to YOU, GIRL, YOU NEED TO LET ME HELP YOU.
IF YOU ARE IN A BAD SITUATION BUT ARE OVERWHELMED WITH WHAT THE HELL TO DO, START DOING SOME/ALL OF THESE THINGS:
- Get to a bank, it doesn't matter which one. If your grocery store has a bank, all the better because you can HIDE what you're going to do. SET UP A SAVINGS ACCOUNT. Ask to speak to a female accounts manager. Tell her that you only have a certain amount of money, but it's IMPERATIVE that you have a secret way to keep it. Trust me, you won't be the first woman to hide money this way. Put any and all extra change that you can into this account. It may never be much, but it will be YOURS. (I had to sign all of my paychecks over to my husband or suffer the consequences.)
- Keep your purse nearby at all times. Get in the habit of keeping your phone charger in your purse.
- make a few copies of your house key. Give it to a neighbor, family, your priest, boss, whoever. If you go missing (or if you can't stand and walk to the door) this could save your life
- Have a CODE WORD for trusted friends. If someone knocks on the door and you can't bring yourself to answer (or if he is listening in to your phone calls, etc) this is how you can safely communicate that you need help. "Honey, how are you, really?" "Me? Oh, I'm aces, no worries!" *friend calls 911*
- Have an escape route in mind. Is there a library you can run to? A neighbor's house within walking distance? Have two or three places in mind that you can get to in a matter of minutes.
- If you can manage it, make copies of things like car registrations, lease agreements, mortgage papers, green card documentation, birth certificates, driver's licenses, immunization records, whatever. PUT THAT IN YOUR PURSE. (Shrink it down, fold it up, and slip it in a shitty novel that you keep in your purse. He'll most likely NOT look there.)
- if you can, get a gallon ziplock bag and put in it: tampons, travel shampoos and toothpaste, soap, tissues, extra meds, you get the idea
- keep your diaper bag (if applicable) filled with changes of clothes, diapers, snacks, formula, etc.
- [ETA] great tip: if applicable, establish a code word with older children to let them know they should avoid coming home for their own safety. Something innocuous like "the dishwasher's acting up" or something that won't raise suspicion with the abuser would be best.
- You might not be able to use a computer freely - he's monitoring it, has blocked your access, whatever it is. If you can get to a library at any point, use those computers and go to WOMENSLAW.ORG to find services in your area. Most are discreet and many will come meet you in safe places (coffee, car drop off at school) and know how to disguise that they're there to offer you assistance.
- DOCUMENT THINGS. If you can get to a computer, keep a log of what's happening to you, how you're feeling, whatever. Put that in a doc and upload it to something like Box.net or other online storage place so you don't have a record on your computer. AND THEN CLEAN YOUR HISTORY AND DELETE COOKIES. Every time you log on. EVERY. TIME. (Here's a site that shows you how to do it for your phone, PC, whatever you're using to access the internet.) DO NOT FORGET THE MAGIC THAT IS INCOGNITO MODE IN CHROME
PINCHING is abuse. POKING. TRIPPING. INSULTING YOU. BELITTLING YOU. RESTRAINING YOU. PREVENTING YOU FROM LEAVING WHEN YOU WANT. STALKING YOU. NOT LETTING YOU HAVE PRIVACY ON THE PHONE, EMAIL, WITH FAMILY, ETC. FORCING YOU TO DO THINGS YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO. Those things are abuse just as much as hauling off and punching you is abuse.
YOU DID NOTHING TO DESERVE IT. You do not deserve to be treated that way. You didn't do something stupid enough to warrant it, you didn't "mouth off" enough to deserve it, you didn't fail to do something properly. YOU DID NOTHING WRONG TO WARRANT ABUSE.
It is not YOU. It is THEM. 80% of abuse goes unreported in the state of Texas alone. You do NOT have to suffer. Is it going to instantly be roses after you get out? No. But you sure as hell won't be with HIM any more, and honey, for me, that smelled like a fucking rose garden. Anything was better than living my life in a full bodied cringe.
You have the right to live life pain and abuse free. It doesn't matter how much he's financially supported you. It doesn't matter if you're in this country because of him. WHATEVER EXCUSE HE FEEDS YOU IS WRONG. THAT IS NOT LICENSE FOR ABUSE.
I don't know where you are in all of this, but I know that fear and that shame. And I know that it doesn't last. *hugs*
CALL 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) (or 1-800-787-3224 for TDD) to immediately talk to someone who will listen to you without judgment and who will find a safehouse for you in your area. If you're able to go online without suspicion, go to womenslaw.org to find specific services in your area, such as a shelter, legal care, help if you're an immigrant, and child services.
THERE IS HELP. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO HELP BUT DON'T KNOW HOW:
- Don't turn a blind eye. Everyone but that cop (and eventually my sister) did that to me, and it fed into the shame.
- Don't judge. You don't know what's going on. Just let them know you see it, you care, and when they're ready, you're ready to help.
- Consider making your next clothing donation to a Woman's Shelter in your area. A lot of women don't have anything but the clothes on their backs. That makes it really hard go on job interviews. (Or you know, feel like a contributing member of society. For me, at least.)
- DON'T JUDGE.
- Consider volunteering at a shelter.
- DO NOT SHARE INFORMATION. The most dangerous time for us is when we're fleeing. Emotions run high. DO NOT SHARE INFORMATION WITH ANYONE SHE DOESN'T EXPRESSLY NAME.
- You don't have to have the right thing to say. Just knowing you're in support of us - however that may be - does a lot.
- Consider making a donation to a shelter in your area. My favorite local place is Genesis Women's Shelter. Check out Noah's Magic Shoes for some awesomeness - and a way to connect with children in abusive families.
- Guys/males, your help might not be wanted at the time. It might be triggering for the woman to be around men. Don't be offended by that, just express that you can be trusted, and leave it up to her to come to you. She might not; it's her right. It's not a slight against you.
- DON'T JUDGE.
I may not have enough in me to show up and help you myself, I may not have it in me to do more than connect you to someone who CAN do that, but by god, I will help you get to the right people. IF YOU NEED HELP, YOU CONTACT ME.
I was raised to be perfect, or to shut up until I was. Lots of bad guidance there, let me tell you. I didn't tell anyone what was going on, because hey. I might've been wrong. He might've gotten better. I might've deserved it, etc. God damn, people, we have to look out for each other. There are times when it is literally life or death. I'd rather piss someone off for assuming they needed my help than to ignore something this major.
(And you can share this post with someone if they need this information, you don't have to ask.)
Note: I know this is gender-specific, but it's because I am gender specific. I only know what I know, and I don't know how to speak about abusive gay relationships for fear of giving incorrect information. I can almost guarantee, though, that the numbers I've listed will know how to help you if you're a gay male/trans/non-cis male/human being in an abusive relationship. And the words of love apply to you, too, don't doubt for a minute that you matter. <3