by April Dawn
A reflective soliloquy and case study on the nature of domestic violence.
|There was a time, not two years ago, when I could hardly go a night without the memories keeping me from sleep. I was suffering what was termed post-traumatic-stress and had difficulty engaging in interactions with others without feeling unwarranted panic. I was prone to fits of tears, long moments of reflective quiet, and uncharacteristic outbursts. My mind was plagued by the pains of emotional recovery from, what had been for me, an excruciating ordeal.
Now, my days are calm, my work relatively unhindered- but still there are those occasional nights when a passage from a story, a newsreel on television, the notes of a song, or the words of a coworker will bring this past life to the forefront of my thoughts as if brought forth from a dream. It hardly seems to come from the life of the same person, the sharp emotions that were once so fresh and heavily attached to the memories fading with the healing of mental scars though the memories themselves remain, never to be erased.
Never was there a suspicion in my mind that I might experience abuse. My life was a good one, a healthy one, and I was always reserved and prudent in my relationships. The ease of my good life, however, meant I still held tight to the ignorance and naivety of youth. When I felt the first touch of infatuation for a man, I was carried away by fantastical dreams for where this relationship would lead... what my future would hold. I was convinced that no barrier would be beyond the healing and joining power of love and affection.
There was, however, no "happily ever after". Reality struck like a silent serpent, wrapping its coils around my heart and slowly seeping its poison into my soul. How does one express the profound nature of a relationship gone so awry? There are volumes of books and studies on domestic violence- expounding the dangers, the hardships, the warnings... But can anyone who has not experienced such tragedy for themselves ever truly understand what a shock it is to face such a perversion of so sacred a trust?
I gave my heart to a man who shattered it upon his own hardened soul. I was broken as a mustang that is crushed under the dominating power of another being's superior strength and forced to give up notions of freedom and individuality to accept the rule of an iron fist. It did not happen suddenly; it was not easy to see. Rather, it crept upon me as stealthily as the darkness at dusk, the light gradually fading until we realize that the sun is no longer present and night has arrived.
The very hands that lured me in with their gentle caress became the hands that broke me. The soothing voice became a venomous tongue. The protective embrace became a crushing hold. Yet standing out more clearly in my memory, more than all the harsh words and physical pains, are his eyes. When seized by his fits of rage, his entire demeanor changed and his eyes burned with the fires of a demon. That simmering gaze was more terrifying than his fist, and still they haunt my darkest nightmares.
The first fight did not make me cower. I was a strong-willed woman, determined to have my say in an equal partnership. I expected us to have disagreements and heated discussions but to always reach compromises as we learned to mold ourselves to one another. Little did I know, the man I'd grown to love would not be molded. The conflict intensified and eventually came to blows, blows which threw the reason for the argument out the window, and instead of compromising I caved.
Despite reassurances that he was sorry, that he hadn't meant to hurt me, that he would never do so again, each time I ventured to assert myself his anger was kindled and I faced the wrath of his words and hands. Each time the hurts intensified, the level of fear and tension increased like the rising tide covering the shore. He sought to teach me my place in his world, and the thought that this battle was nothing more than an endeavor in futility did not enter my mind until my spirit and will were already lost to his sea.
How many other men, women, children, and even animals have had to accept the cruel realities that there are some who rely on strength and force to exact their way? These abusers need not even be horrible people- but their resolve to maintain control twists their minds into the acceptance of the most perverse behaviors and actions. With professed love, they seek to cow those under their power- and perhaps this is the only way they understand how to express their devotion. For in their minds they see a singular path toward happiness and expect to force that happiness upon those under their control.
These dominators fail to realize that truer happiness is gained through tenderness and understanding- that individuals must be free to use their own judgment, make their own decisions, and chart their own course. Learning from their mistakes, they can then turn to their loved ones for comfort and guidance, seeking compromise and equality. While such lives may not be perfect or free from suffering, they will be content in that the spirit is made free and wisdom gained through experience and contemplation.
Never should a loving hand be raised with the intent to crush the explorations of a care-free soul. Gently coaxed, guided, prodded in the direction of growth and discovery, but never squashed as a flame deprived of oxygen. Such was the state of my being after one year of what started as a blissful relationship. Once a roaring flame of curiosity and vitality, I had become little more than a meek and flickering candle. My heart was broken, my spirit crushed, and every moment was plagued with fear.
The trauma was more than my sanity could bear, and I felt trapped. Closed off from friends and family, forced into a state of dependence on my abuser, staggered with apprehension and self-doubt, stepping away from my torturer to face the wide world seemed infinitely more terrifying than continuing to accept my abject situation. Though frequently fearful for my very life, I had come to value that life so little it mattered not, and I was convinced time would only see an improvement.
Were it not for another small and helpless life that depended on my own, it is likely that I never would have escaped the trap that had been sprung around me. Yet escape I did, for I found strength in my need to preserve the life and health of my child. The threat to his safety worked as a trigger in my mind, as I realized I was living with false hope for improvement. If anything was to improve, I had to drastically alter the situation through the removal of my captor.
The planning was no easy feat, for I was certain that letting him catch wind of my intent to leave would stir up his anger and tighten his grip so that my life itself would be forfeit. If my days had been spent in fear before, they were now spent in absolute terror. I could not eat, could not sleep, for fear he would discover my thoughts, my intentions, and I would face the fullness of his wrath. I lived three days in this state of constant tension before my opening came, but flight did not bring with it immediate freedom. Though my body had escaped and was now free from physical harm, my heart, mind, and soul were still stuck in the state of the abused.
Not moments away, I was struck with a desire to return and tearfully confess my betrayal. Yet again, I knew that doing so would likely cost me my life, and if it weren't for the child I bore with me I may have caved to that desire. The damage that took a year to instill took another year to mend... mostly. It has been almost three years now, and while I would consider myself healthy I fear I will never be rid of my newfound cynicism and distrust. This journey through the harshness of reality has been, for me, a loss of innocence. Never will I be able to recover the sweet and trusting nature which was once a part of my virtue.
What's more, these memories remain always fresh, and it is nights like this when my heart seems to twist in my chest that I wonder if I will ever, truly, recover. I have read and studied, sought the advice of professionals, spoken with others who have experienced lesser and worse abuses than my own, and reflected often on my own personal experiences. I have focused my time and energy on fruitful endeavors that have driven me forward with purpose and direction, giving my life meaning. Yet still, I feel as though this single year in my history, this singular intensive traumatic experience of my past has shaped the whole of my future and given me more definition than anything else.
I do not want to be defined as a "battered woman", though my heart remains beaten. It is not something that can be seen on the outside. No one who meets me knows I have experienced one of the horrors so terribly common in our society, and those with whom I have shared seem unable to truly understand. I am grateful for the lessons I've learned and for the circumstances which facilitated my escape and recovery. Though it was an experience I would not wish on anyone, I feel that it has granted me a portion of wisdom that could be gained no other way. But was it worth the price? Worth the cost.... of my innocence?