I used to have a boyfriend who would scream inches away from my face. I would endure it by kind of turning off my brain. I would sort of mentally blur things and eventually he would stop and I could get on with my life. He called me incredible names- whore, bitch, cunt, stupid... and I would endure it and eventually things would go back to normal. Except nothing was normal. Normal was to be constantly on guard and aware of every movement I made. Normal was sitting at the bar while he played darts, not talking to anyone because he would assume they were hitting on me. Normal was ignoring any man who talked to me in his presence, for the simple reason that he might attack or beat the man in question. Normal was watching young people laugh and flirt and thinking "I wish I was that young." I was twenty years old.
How did I let things get to that point? I met him when I first attended art school away from home. We went to a concert together, slept together on the first date, and moved in with him about a month later. When we started fighting it was more mutual. We would yell at each other and create a scene. Gradually things began to change- he started shoving me, holding my arms down, pinning me until I started relenting sooner and giving in more. One evening he became drunk and belligerent and I locked him out of the house. He called up to the windows, and was soon yelling outside the door for me to let him in. I finally relented because I didn't want to wake the neighbours. That was the first time he raped me. Soon it became routine, and I wore long sleeves and jeans to cover bruises on my arms and body. Soon I was flinching when he yelled at me, and curbing my actions and behaviour.
I asked the question on my fan page: "What in your opinion constitutes domestic violence?" I got some brilliant answers. It seems many of my fans share the opinion that Abuse is a better word than Violence, because we as a society tend to associate violence with actual hitting. Many people shared their own experiences of abuse, including one woman who said:
"I have to agree, domestic abuse is a more fitting term... I was trapped in an abusive relationship for years and though he only hit/kicked me a handful of times the emotional abuse I suffered torments me to this day. The physical bruises heal without a trace but the psycholgical ones last a lifetime. I feel so sad saying it, but way back then I wished for him to hit me so it was over with."
Why don't women leave their abusers? In my case I felt that there were many good things about the relationship as well. It's hard to believe now, or explain, but there were moments when I felt we had something beautiful. We were incredibly close, inseparable, to that point that I swear we dreamed the same dreams. We literally fell asleep together and dreamed the same thing. I wanted to leave him. I wanted to be free, but I also wanted him to be ok. I had an incredible amount of sympathy for him, and I felt like I would be betraying him if I left. I sometimes considered suicide, because it was one way I could leave him without betraying him.
"I Shall but Love Thee Better After Death"- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
As strange as it sounds I did not believe I was the victim of abuse while it was happening. I felt like my boyfriend was "passionate," and emotional, and perhaps hot headed. I did not believe I was abused because I was never hit exactly. It didn't help that people around us made the same exceptions for him- "that's just the way he is, he's just hot headed, he really does love her." People seemed to expect me to stay with him, help him, deal with him. When he yelled at me people, friends of mine and his who seemed to care about me otherwise, would literally turn their faces away. Maybe it was embarrassment, maybe they just didn't know what to do, but the impression I got was that they were condoning his behaviour. That it was ok with them. I had become so cautious and so meek that I became co-dependent. I found it difficult to conduct a conversation without him, and was unable to maintain friendships outside of his influence. I described it once as the movie "Wayne's World," the scene in which Wayne leaves Garth to finish the show alone, and Garth is completely tongue tied and cannot even speak.
(If you can't remember the exact scene just think of me as Garth, it will be good comic relief.)
While I was still in art school at the ACAD I still felt like things were under control. I was making good work, I was working hard and I felt like at least part of my life was stable. My boyfriend undermined me though and did various things to make things difficult for me at school. He pulled all the film out of my camera for my photography class, exposing the film and earning me a failing grade for that project. I believe he confiscated some of my finished artwork from my drawing class, earning me an incomplete grade in that class. He did everything he could to sabotoge me until I finally dropped out. Every time I brought up my difficulties to a professor they told me I should keep my personal life out of school. They didn't want to hear about it, and I think they felt I was just making excuses. No one suggested I get help. No one directed me to any sort of counseling or aid. I truly believed at the time that I was somehow to blame for all this, and that I alone was responsible for what was going on in my life.
During that time I got to know a man who was also an aquaintance of my boyfriend. I loved talking to him, thought he was so gorgeous and tall and I loved his smile and his laugh. Later on my mother helped me escape. I moved away to Saskatchewan, re-enrolled in Fine Arts at the University of Regina, and regained my life and my happiness. The man I met while in Calgary got back in touch with me when he was building a climbing wall in Regina. We went out almost every night, talked hours together and spent much time together as we could. He knew my ex and knew something of his behaviour, and thus we were both reluctant to officially "date" because we knew how upset my ex would be. Finally we admitted our feelings to each other, and prepared to let the news out that we were dating. My ex reacted very badly. He broke into my new boyfriends house, trashed his furniture, broke his bed frame and ripped his mattress in what I think was a symbolic gesture. He called my house and left death threats. We reported all this to the police, but nothing was done. Later he came back and attacked my boyfriend. Luckily my boyfriend was a large, powerful man. My friend's only injury was a broken little finger, while my ex was definitely worse off.
After this we received no more harassment from my ex. We were always on guard however. We had heard too much about men murdering their ex girlfriends to feel comfortable. We kept our phone number unlisted, we never hung out at the same places as before, we even saw less of former friends. After living together for a year we got married. This friend is now my husband.
Why did I share this story?
- For one thing I don't think I fit the "type" who would be abused. My point is that there is no "type," and strong feminists can be just as vulnerable as anyone else.
- Abuse is not always clear cut. It doesn't always come with bruises, nor is it always obvious.
- I wanted to pin point how difficult it is to leave someone when no one acknowledges that it's happening. So if you suspect abuse- talk about it. Talk to that person, offer help.
- I wanted to point out how very little the law or the police did to help me. I was lucky to have my husband, who is a physically powerful man, but I shouldn't have had to rely on him. This is something that I hope has/ or will change with time.
- I want to put a hand out and a few kind words of encouragement to anyone who is being abused out there. I want you to know that there is life after abuse, that you can get out, that you can get help. I hope you will make a move to escape if you feel threatened, verbally or physically.
Here is a link to a Domestic Violence website. Please check it out if you need help. There are also several hotlines, American, Canadian and in the UK that you can call for help.
If any of you have more tips or advice or websites to check, please add them in the comments section. Thank you.
A blog on art, roller derby and life.
I'm an artist and mother of two in Courtenay, BC. I've completed a project called the "Madonna and Child Project," and I'm now working on a series of roller derby inspired drawings. In my spare time I play roller derby with the Brick House Betties.