The following words are adapted from remarks given by P, REACH Community Program participant and a member of REACH’s Survivor Speakers Bureau, at Saturday evening’s Reach for the Stars gala. We wanted to share them again, for those who couldn’t make it, or those who did but wanted to further reflect on what she shared.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I live in the Greater Boston area. I was in an abusive relationship for nine years. My abuser was my husband. I am here to talk to you about my life of turmoil and how REACH has helped me to achieve things I didn’t think I could because of my history of abuse.
You know, I did and didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship. I was the go-to person to help others and to think that I needed help was a no-go. So what did I do? I STUFFED it. I stuffed it so deep that no one would find out. This is the way I dealt with it and it worked or at least I thought it did.
My first realization that I wasn’t in a healthy relationship came 3 months into of my marriage. We were arguing over some minor issue and he became angry and threw a cast iron skillet past my head. I could feel the wind of the pan passing me and the pan chipped the side of the kitchen wall. He maintains that this incident never happened. I can assure you it did. Even as I tell you this I can vividly remember the color of the kitchen wall – reddish burgundy –and the white where the wall was chipped. That could have been my head, split open with the white of my skin and red blood gushing out. IT DID HAPPEN. He was trying to get me to doubt my memory and question my reality. Over the next several years, things would get better and calm down, and then there would be another incident, and another, and another.
One day he didn’t want me to go to church and when I decided I would still go he placed his wedding ring in my hand and said see if I’m here when you get back. I was devastated and heartbroken. He began to use fear and intimidation if I didn’t do or give him what he wanted.
On several occasions in the wee hours of the morning he would ask me to massage his back, and if I refused, he would talk incessantly to prevent me from sleeping. Mind you, he’s a big man and strong. He would hover over me and say things like I demand you, no I command you to respect me.
I feared for my life because you see I was in a loveless relationship. There were no hugs, kisses, intimacy, or authentic friendship. It was based on what he could get from me. He paid one bill – the rent – and to him that was the only thing he had to pay nothing else.
In addition it was not his responsibility to look after our kids when I had things to do. He would only watch the kids if it worked with his schedule. This was and still is disheartening that the person I chose to love didn’t value a partnership in parenting our kids.
What did I do to deserve this, what did I do to deserve someone talking to me in threatening tones – so close I could feel his breath on my face? What did I do to feel unloved or unwelcomed and unappreciated?
There were also intense sexual encounters that put me in uncomfortable positions and situations. When I told him I didn’t like it and it doesn’t feel good, he said it’s your duty to please your husband. After a while I just couldn’t do it anymore and I told my pastor. My husband was angry at me for embarrassing him and he said you can’t start something and then stop it. That was when he STOPPED all sexual contact with me for the last 3 years of our marriage. When I would approach him for intimacy he would make up a reason not to. I felt less than, and unworthy of him.
We separated once before our final break. He would tell me, you know, it’s hard to get past a woman leaving her husband with the children. No woman OF GOD would do this, the Bible says x, y, z. I can’t even remember the scriptures. I was put down for not being spiritual enough for him while he with-held sex in the name of God. What a hypocrite! To put icing on the cake, in HIS view, I couldn’t communicate well. He would constantly correct my speech and challenged my intelligence in condescending tones. He would say “I bet you don’t even know what that word means…this is how you use that word. This is how you should communicate with me. I don’t like your spirit, you have a take-over spirit.” Any time I didn’t agree with him I wasn’t being a true woman and I was trying to wear the pants in the relationship.
At the time, I thought maybe this is what I get. When we started dating I insisted that I pay for my own meals. I’m independent, I’m educated, and I don’t need a man. I thought, maybe I created this abuser and I continued to enable him. Maybe I deserve it because when I saw the signs, I put my head in the hole like an ostrich, I stuffed it, I hid it from everyone. I only wanted to show this pristine family and I made excuses for him and continued to blame myself. Could things have been different had I said something sooner? Could I have done something different in the beginning – maybe pretended to be a damsel in distress that needed a man, let him pay for things? These are the thoughts that went through my head.
I don’t know if any of this could have made a difference but what I do know is that today, I stand here as a free woman, free from the verbal assaults on my character, the manipulation and psychological games and I have the ability to sleep in my own bed without fearing for my life.
I am still attending support groups at REACH and connecting with my advocate Jenna. She has been a true blessing to me and my kids. My feelings have been validated and affirmed by Jenna and all the REACH staff I have encountered to date.
I am here today because I want you to know that domestic violence comes in all forms and mine was fear, intimidation, psychological, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. I didn’t recognize this before coming to REACH.
I hope that you leave knowing that I have strong will power and resilience and I was able to escape my abusive relationship with the help of REACH. I now believe in myself and my own self-worth and am continuing to grow. I am being and becoming a new person on a new journey. Thank you all.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in a relationship, you have options. Help is available by calling our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-899-4000. All calls are confidential.