I was sixteen. Our school band was doing a concert program with the band from the next town. A boy I had a crush on from the summer program I had been in asked me out. I was excited. It was the first time I had been asked out. I got in the car to go home. I told my mom. Before the words were gone the hitting and screaming started. The next day I told him I couldn't go out with him. He didn't know why and I was the butt of jokes.
Why didn't I tell?
When you live with abuse, abusers do their best to control your life. They manipulate people through how they act. They can act better than a Shakespearean performer. They have an image they carefully construct for the outside world, away from others, the mask comes off. I learned to do my best to tell the truth, and found despite this, friends and peers wanted to believe the sugar coated persona of my mother. There were exceptions. People who knew what abusers and abuse was like, people who spent time with her watching how she interacted with me. In Girl Scouts, one of the other leaders watched as I sat in a corner excluded from activities and snacks, ridiculed and put down by my mother when I tried to join in. She wasn't someone my mom wanted to impress, so she got treated to mild abrasiveness and hostility as well. That woman fed me, included me, encouraged me to visit her family and gave me a place to feel safe and normal.
There is the threat of violence and disbelief. Being told people will not believe you, and when they aren't around getting you back is a top priority.
You get out of an abusive relationship. You work on yourself. You work on yourself. Because you can trust you.
I found myself in an abusive relationship years later. Waking up to be baited into arguments. Being told daily that while I was amazing I was terrible and undesirable. And the threat of if I lose my temper it is your fault that I hurt you. Your fault.
Abusive people work hard to present a persona they want the world to believe. They talk highly of you, they are proud of you, grateful to you. They do this to affect people's perception. Who do you believe, the one shaking and crying and messy crying abuse or the one so eagerly complimenting and seemingly hurt and confused by the allegations? Too often people minimize and doubt. I can't believe he pointed guns at you and dry fired them. Why didn't you tell us? It would have escalated him. I wanted away. I wanted to be safe again. I didn't want to face my friends and peers and see them weighing and deciding whether I was telling the truth. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted it gone. The past. What if I told you and you told him before I was gone? What if I told you and you told him now? He frequently expressed his desire to shoot am ex wife that left and broke the silence. He frequently warned me if I told he would nudge people to believe it was exaggeration. I blogged every few days as I dealt with heavy emotions and situations I could not write about, hinting that there were a thousand things I could not write. I could not express.
Coming from abuse, it takes me time and support to speak. I shut down. I have to evaluate and come to terms with emotions to release them. I am elusive, keeping even the closest friends at a distance like the barn cat that survives. Good friends know, when things get very bad I call, but still have trouble getting the words out. Ironic, being a storyteller and facing the challenge of breaking the silence to find my words broken into nonsense sounds and tears. Thinking of the awkward dance to keep my ex from breaking my fingers at my friend's house as I have another friend say "I don't know who to believe, I hear you but he compliments you- you should talk to him. Its a misunderstanding." Being on trial in life, no representation but the truth and the truth is no showman. The smooth charismatic defense for the Defendant is all Hollywood, that Law and Order Attorney you catch yourself believing even when he tells you it is raining on a sunny day.
Even though the truth is a tired public defender, I stick with it. The truth isn't good at consoling me when I face the anxiety and the emotions from the bad shit again and again as I reach the point where I can process and release it- or have it suddenly thrown back at me. Go ahead, someday you will tell people, you will use this against me and I will tell them you exaggerated. I will compliment you and the seed of disbelief will plant.
When you ask us what happened: it was humiliating, it was depressing, it was stressful- living with a bomb you are constantly trying to keep from exploding. Do not wake the dragon. When you ask us what happened: we have to think about it and how we felt again. When we see the abusers it is the same. I survived by hiding, by running, by isolating. I chose when I left to live. I choose to break the silence, not to allow the isolation but to do my best to avoid for my own safety and peace of mind.
I know it can be frustrating and difficult to deal with abuse survivors. We try to please you. We try to do our best to keep everyone calm and smiling. We are insecure at times. Sometimes we hide and cry because an injury from the past came back and haunted us. We have to fight not only our own demons but the ones abusers add through emotional abuse. Comparing us to others, acidic ridicule, belittling, controlling.
Today, I am in a safe place. I am communicating despite the anxiety that threatens. I am in a healthy relationship. I get up, work on goals and plans, enjoy the day. Little drama, mostly vehicular. Do I know if I will always be safe? No. Will I make choices to stay safe as best I can? Yes. Sometimes it is going to be hard. Very hard. The anxiety is strong and real.
When I face it now though, I am going to face it by communicating with my supports. When someone you care about has survived an abusive relationship, or is in one: give them a safe place, give them trust and consistency, give them time. In their own time the words will come. In their own time they will grasp the support when they feel they can. Give them numbers to hotlines, hotlines are anonymous- it is likely they will feel safe talking to a trained stranger before they feel comfortable unloading on you.
We see the change in your eyes when you see our broken places, and sometimes it hurts that you know we should have left, should have talked but could not. We don't want to be seen as broken, defective. Our abusers already made us feel that way.
We want to feel normal, strong. We want to really smile and just enjoy every normal moment as it comes.