Wednesday, February 24, 2016

6/100 trigger warning

"Men who slam doors and furniture are making sure you hear how much they want to hit you."
-a screenshot of maybe Tumblr? Seen on Pinterest.

I used to work for a local nonprofit as an advocate for victims of sexual assault. To do so, I took a required 70 hour peer counseling training course, which covered all kinds of information about abuse, rape culture, victim blaming, etc.

People who are fortunate enough to have not been exposed to abusive environments are often perplexed by why anyone would choose to stay with someone who abuses them. "Just leave." They suggest, flatly. There are a multitude of reasons why someone might stay, and I won't go into them here, but just check out the hashtag #whyistayed if you're curious. One big one, though, hearkens to the analogy of the frog on the stove. Plunk a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will jump out immediately. Put the frog in cold water and slowly bring it to a boil, and the frog acclimates to the change and stays until it's boiled alive.

You'd think that after all that training, and working with victims that I might know better, that I might do better. That I might see the signs and get it. But, unfortunately, no one is immune.

I didn't feel like a victim because I participated, to an extent. I fancied myself a strong woman who wouldn't back down or take nonsense, so I screamed right back and slammed things around too, a cacophonous dysfunctional failure at communication in a spectacular effort to not give up on something that was unhealthy from the start. I saw the error in my ways, however. I went to counseling, I kept a journal, a had alarms on my phone to remind me to practice gratitude. I grew up, as one does between 20 and 25. I also toughened up and got a thicker skin. My newfound zen allowed me to grit my teeth and hear the slamming and the screaming without responding in kind.

People knew we fought but I think most had no clue to what extent. We lived in 4 homes together and a drywall patch or three was left in each. I have a scar on the inside of my right middle finger from when he didn't see my hand on the bedroom door frame when he slammed it as hard as he could. That same doorframe had to be glued back together after he kicked it in screaming "no one gets to lock me out of my bedroom!" I'd had enough of the fight and he wouldn't let up, and the last time I tried to leave the premises to get away from the rage, all my tires were slashed (see 2/100). This would usually be well past midnight, sometimes on a work night. I'd give up and try to go to bed, and he'd stand at the foot of the bed, red faced and bellowing. Occasionally I'd flinch at his apparent move to throw a beer or wine glass at me, but the glass never came, just the spattering of whatever booze was left in it. Can't leave, tires get slashed. Can't lock him out, door gets kicked in.

"But he never hit me."

Until he did.

I was fed up with his loser friend being at my house all the time and I one night I was just drunk and pissed off enough to say something about it. I was ranting and carrying on and he got so angry he pulled fridge down so it slammed forward, one side supported by the counter, which left a dent in the freezer door, the fridge side left swinging open, emptying leftovers and condiments into a glorious pile of broken glass, styrofoam containers and muck on the kitchen floor.

Having been desensitized time and again to his antics, I was unphased. I was unrelenting in my bitching, now with more fodder. He slapped me with an open hand on the left side of my head, twice in a row. It seemed like quite a lot of force; it made my ears ring and set me off kilter but didn't knock me down.

We'd eloped a year prior, and the wedding for friends and family was about a month away. I'm good at planning so pretty much everything was squared away. He "felt terrible" and I told myself that I believed it wouldn't happen again. Easier to stay the course than tell the 90 people on the invite list to forget about the beautiful party you painstakingly planned and flush thousands of your parents nonrefundable dollars because of one incident that didn't even make you cry. He didn't hit me again.

Another year later, after yet another fight that would have resulted in another drywall patch had it just been drywall, I drove him to the ER with a broken hand. It was there that they strategically took him away in the gurney for xrays so they could have a moment to speak with me alone.

They asked what they had to ask. "Is everything alright at home? Are you afraid for your safety? Does he ever hit you?" I was a mandated reporter at the time and knew they were too. I knew what would happen if they had any idea, and I didn't want to deal with that mess. "No, everything's fine," I said with a smile.

I'm kind of amazed that that doctor was the first person in 6 years to say something. I kept it all under wraps, of course, but apparently I was really good at it.

It took another 6 months for me to actually leave.

Better late than never.

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