Five Year reflection
It has been five years this month since I was brutally attacked and nearly strangled to death by my then boyfriend. And I was not going to write a post about it, because life has moved so far past that event. But there are many women who experience violence at the hands of the man they loved and trusted, so this is what I have learned having been through it and survived. These are things I wish someone had told me:
- It is not your fault: No matter what you did, what you said, how you were dressed or how long you stayed, it is not your fault. You did nothing to provoke him or deserve being hit be the man you loved and trusted. That is on him. He is an adult and he is responsible for his actions. Not you. Even when he blames you and says it is your fault, it’s not. And no matter how many other people say it’s your fault, it’s not (we’ll get to that later). Remember that.
- Get Counseling: I did. You will need a safe space to talk to, beyond family and friends. Being attacked will affect you in many ways. Taking care of yourself during this time is very important. You may have PTSD, you may have nightmares, you may have flashbacks, you may have panic attacks, you may feel angry, depressed or like you are going crazy. You are not going crazy. But seeing a counselor will help you get through this experience as quickly as possible. If you have trouble sleeping, see about getting on Ambien or similar. If you are getting depressed, ask about being temporarily put on an antidepressant. It’s all about you and making sure you are OK.
- This isn’t the first time: If he or anyone else says that this is the first time he hit a woman or was violent – it’s not. Do not believe them. This is not the first time. You are not the first woman. And, you will probably not be the last either.
- It is not personal: It is extremely personal to you, but not to him. You were just there. But no matter if it was you, or Sally down the street, he would have done it to whoever he was with. It just happened to be you. This time. Abuse is about control and power. It is not because you did anything wrong, it is not because he was angry, it is not because he had a bad childhood and no one understands him. It is not because of anything other than power and control.
- Verbal before physical: Before he will ever hit you, he will be verbally abusive. This may be obvious like yelling at you or calling you names. Or, most times, it starts out very subtle and before you know it, you just feel bad about yourself, but may not be able to put your finger on it. You just feel stupid all the time…especially when you are around him. Many times the emotional abuse goes deeper and is worse. Because when you have a bruise you can point to it and say he hurt me…but when it’s emotional…what can you say? He hurt my feelings? He made me cry? Many times we are told we are too sensitive or are being trivial, over reacting or suffering PMS…You are not. You have been wounded.
- You are not stupid: He probably didn’t start out as an asshole when you started seeing him. He was probably charming and attentive. He was a con artist. You are not stupid because you fell for him. You were just taken in by a con. And it happens to a lot of women. You are not alone. Thousands, maybe even millions of women have been through this. And they survived. You will too. And if people are talking or gossiping about it? Yes it is mortifying, but you’ll get through that too. Because no matter they are, or how together they have it, at some point everyone has relationship drama.
- The police are not Always on your side: When it comes to law enforcement, there is a lot of victim blaming. I naively thought the police believe the good guys and go after the bad guys. It can be the way around when it comes to domestic violence. You will be asked what you did to provoke him, you will be asked personal things in condescending and accusing tones. You may even be blamed…for everything. I was blamed for leaving the first time he hit me, another woman I know was blamed for staying too long in the relationship. I was blamed for being swift and thorough – I went to the cops immediately, assisted officers in locating my attacker, and lured him to the area when the police arrested him. And then was called a vindictive actress by the assistant DA. Another woman was blamed for waiting too long, and giving her attacker too many chances after several violent attacks. Basically, it doesn’t matter what you did, you may be blamed. Don’t listen. Know in your heart that you did the best you could. And that is enough. You are enough.
- He knows how to work the system: Because you are not the first person he has hit, or the first time he has been in trouble for it, he knows the legal system better than you. That might mean not answering the door to avoid being served with a restraining order (if he can’t be served the order will be dismissed). Hire a process server to hunt him down at work, at the store, or where ever to get him served. You can even do a service by publication. When he does get served, he will be charming, extremely charismatic and he will paint himself as the victim. He may get an attorney. And he may be vindictive and try to bring charges against you, accusing you of petty or untrue things. People like that know exactly what they are doing. They know how to dance on that line of harassing and not get arrested. My attacker tried to get me arrested for fighting back when he attacked me, saying that I attacked him, and that he had injuries and needed to be compensated. I thankfully got a female judge who recognized what he was doing and dismissed it. He would contact me constantly but not say anything threatening…and law enforcement would do nothing because he “was being nice.” He also contracted my friends and family harassing them. Again the police said that there was nothing they could do. Then when I tried to get a restraining order against him, he taunted me by sending me emails saying he did not have to answer the door, and described my friend’s houses, and even what one of their daughters looked like going to school. Law enforcement said he was doing nothing illegal because he was not threatening anyone. Laws for stalking have come a long way in the last five years, so it may be easier to get something done now. Just be prepared for a master manipulations of the system.
- Get an attorney: And make sure it is a good one who specializes in domestic violence and understands the personality of an attacker – that he will be slick and manipulative. Even an open and close case can be dismissed if your attorney doesn’t take it seriously.
- Some of your friends will blame you: IGNORE THEM. They are not your friends. They are wrong. It is not your fault, you did nothing to deserve this, you did not ask for it, you did nothing but open your heart to love and trust another. This happened to me and it was both shocking and incredible hurtful. These were strong, professional women who had been close friends. They looked at me and told me I asked for it because I invited this person into my life. That it was my fault for provoking him and having a life so full of drama, it was my fault because I should have known better. These “ladies” were supposed to be my friends. I was shocked that they would take his side, some for them even becoming friends with him. It may sound silly, but it is their loss. They are not your friends; they are weak petty women who would rather point fingers at you because that is easier than supporting you. Leave them in the dust and don’t look back. Your true friends will be supportive, understanding and patient. They will love you and help you.
- You have the right to be shitty: Great advice given to me by one of the wonderful, kind, supportive women who stood by me after the attack. That means you have the right to be mad, emotional, moody, whatever. You have the right to feel however way you want to feel. For as long as you want to feel it. You have the right to fall apart, to be depressed, to be whatever. You have the right to tell all of your friends you need an emergency lunch, then decide you don’t want to eat anything. And your friends will love you anyway. So give yourself time and permission to be shitty.
- Lean on your friends: Let them stay with you or you stay with them. Call them when you feel scared, or just bad. Let them help you through this.
- This does not and will not define you: It feels like it does now. It feels like a definite divide between before and after. But it won’t always be that way. It will rule your life for a period of time, especially if it is going through the legal system (and you have to relive it over and over). But after time, what happened will just be a memory. It will just be a bad moment. Eventually there will be enough miles and time and life and distance between that you will say yes, this once happened to me, but I am still me.
- You will be OK: It may not seem like it now, but you will be OK. And this will make you a better, stronger, finer, more compassionate person. When you get on the other side of this, you will be scarred. But scar tissue is stronger than the original. And you will be too.
- You will never be the same, and that’s OK: it took a while for me to accept this, because I just wanted to go back to the way I was, the way life was, before the attack. There is an innocence that is lost when another human being tries to kill you, especially as violent as strangling you. Because that is so close, so violent, so angry and you can see into their eyes when they are doing it. You see that kind of evil and it changes you. You cannot go back to who and what you were before you saw that. But that is OK. Because now that is part of you. And you have the choice – keep it as a ball and chain to keep you down and make you bitter, or use it as a stepping stone to rise above it to become stronger. I chose the latter and hope you do too.
- Not all men are bad: It is easy to think that all men are bad after being attacked. But very, very few men ever hit a woman. I remember right after the attack being at the airport and looking out at men in the crown, wondering “has he hit a woman before?” Has that man ever tried to strangle a woman?” And I remember telling my therapist that I look forward to the day that I don’t see a man and wonder that. Five years later I am with a wonderful man, who loves me and is so kind. You will find one like that too. But just concentrate on healing for now.
There are many other things, but that is enough for this blog, for now.