V-Day: Stopping the Violence

In my twenties one day, I found myself seated in a room of other women seeking support from each other. Looking around, I felt like a pretender.

As I listened to them share their stories… a husband smashing a dinner plate over the head of a wife, a brother high on heroine stabbing his sister with a knife, a mother with ribs broken apart by her son… I sank further down in my chair wondering if these women might be offended that I’d even bothered to show up.

Open hand raised, Stop Violence sign painted, multi purpose conc

I didn’t really want to be at this domestic violence support group. Unlike these women, who had the scars to show what they’d been through, I didn’t have a bump on my head or a broken arm. I never spent several days in a hospital because of any injuries. My bruises were the invisible kind—the ones that leave your insides black and blue and can’t salved by a week in bed or a cast wrapped around the spirit. Even I couldn’t see the welt marks, so why should I expect anyone else to?  But when my turn came to speak, it was such a relief to share what had happened to me.

I described watching my ex-boyfriend punch a wooden fence over and over again because I actually said hello to a man I’d gone out with a few times when we literally bumped into him at a party. “Can you see how badly what you did hurt me because I love you so much?” He’d asked. I nodded, overwhelmed by how much he cared about me while convincing myself that this is what love can look like.

I told the women about getting yelled at because I didn’t want to watch the same movie as he did, disagreed with his politics, and liked watching Ally McBeal, and how mimicking my not entirely American accent became his regular form of entertainment. I confided that my driving style drove him so crazy that he would have to shout about it in between and at every stoplight, inevitably reducing me to tears.

And then there was that time in the dark during yet another fight, with just the moon watching, when he swung his hand toward me like a wrecking ball, only to stop—right before making contact with my face. As we sat there—our eyes watching for the other’s next move, his open palm dangling in the space between us, I realized that I wanted him to hit me.

This would be the proof I needed… the physical evidence… to show him that I wasn’t too sensitive and I didn’t just have an overactive imagination but that his fierce temper, mean words, and angry gestures really did hurt—a lot. Because then maybe he would finally stop and then I wouldn’t have to leave him and we could just get on with loving each other.

I looked around at the women as I finished sharing. I almost expected one of them to say, “That’s it? Put down jokes and someone who yells and ‘almost’ but didn’t hit you? What are you even doing here?”

Instead, the woman next to me, the one who had ended up in the ER after her boyfriend tried to choke her, put her hand over my shaking one and gave it a squeeze. “That’s the worst, isn’t it, when they hit you so it just slams up your insides, and no one, not even you can see what they’ve done?”

That everyone else in the room was nodding in understanding as if they could see the wounds that were invisible to even my eye was like medicine to my bruised up soul. Then again, judging by the way they were looking at me, I realized, Great, it’s worse than I thought!

And they were right. I was emotionally banged up from a relationship that only lasted nine months, and it was be years before I would feel whole again. Just because I didn’t have physical injuries on my body didn’t mean I wasn’t badly hurt.

The proof of the violence was underneath the surface of my skin—in me—in how disoriented I felt most of the time, and the way I hesitated to voice my opinion, second guessed all of my perceptions, and constantly worried about whether what I was trying to say was coming across clearly. Just the slightest rise in anyone’s voice could cause me anxiety. Flirting for its own sake became a pleasure of the past, and it would be a very long time before I let anyone get that close to me again.

It took 15 years for every invisible cut and contusion to heal up and that feeling of brokenness to go away— although sometimes I can still feel the soreness, as if the bruises are still there. I don’t know that their effects will ever be completely undone.

I only went to that domestic violence support group once. I think I was scared about what it might mean about me if I kept going. By showing up once, I could say I was merely checking it out. But to go regularly would mean that I actually was one of them. What if someone I knew found out? I didn’t want anyone looking at me and seeing a battered woman.

February 14 is Valentine’s Day. It also marks V-Day, the worldwide movement to end violence against women and girls. When Eve Ensler, the founder of V-Day, was recently asked during an interview if she believed that it was actually possible to eradicate (sexual) violence, she compared it to abolishing slavery and said, “We have to have an idea that it’s possible to end this. Because if we all keep going around as if, well, it’s just part of what life is, it’s part of the human condition… it becomes permanently normalized, right? So, yes, I do hold an idea that it’s possible.”

Acknowledging that any kind of violence exists in the first place is the start to stopping it. Verbal abuse is violence.

Like the women who were in the room that day, I am a survivor of violence.

58 Comments on “V-Day: Stopping the Violence”

  1. Lusiana Njo says:

    You have written about how I feel about emotional and verbal abuse so articulately. It is a very unobvious form of domestic violence and so it is hard to prove. Yet, it destroys a person just as badly as physical violence does, if not much more deeply and longer lasting. Thanks for writing so articulately about it.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Lusiana! It really is this weird seemingly invisible act that does so much harm. I really hope that the world becomes more away of its existence so we can put a stop to it.

  2. I am starting to wonder why every single post of yours reverberates unsettlingly inside my guts. It’s your powerful prose, for sure. But it’s also haunting familiarity with your subject matter. I was in exactly that kind of a relationship for four years (I quit displaying my family heirloom crystal vases after the first year – – but what an idiot….that was ALL I learned??) and convinced myself this was passion with a capital P. If he wasn’t jealous or angry like that, it meant he didn’t really care. In my next relationship (with a healthy person) I kept trying to “stir up the pot” to see that over the top expression of “love” once more. I was never brave enough to go to a meeting like you did, but I knew in my heart of hearts, I probably would blend in…just a little bit. Thank you for your ever significantly meaningful blogs. They do wonders.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Stephanie- I hear you about getting to that point where all the “passion” starts to be the indicator of love and needing to recalibrate that afterwards. Thank you, as always, for your support. and “I quit displaying my family heirloom crystal vases” – What a great line- potent in its humor, poignancy, and truth.

  3. I have so much to say, but I can’t. Not yet. I can, at least, say once again I love what you’ve chosen to write about, and how you wrote it. I send warm kudos for your openness, and your brilliance, and especially for your strengths. Happy V Day Diahann..

  4. aqilaqamar says:

    Yeah verbal abuse is very violent. And like some kind of herpes most common kind of violence and most pervalent. If you disagreed with some things you said thats understandable but putting emotional pressure on you to like them all the time is wrong. Its wrong because it only accepts you as rekevant only when needs are met like a salesperson :/ your writing just inspired me some posts too.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I’m trying to click onto your blog, but can’t seem to find it. Would love to see the articles. And yes- verbal abuse is super common… sometimes people don’t even know it is happening to them. Patricia Evan’s book, The Verbally Abusive relationship, was really eye opening to me in understanding the psychology of someone that abuses. Thanks, as always for reading and sharing your insights!

  5. This is an amazingly brave post and so very very true. My family suffered from mental and verbal abuse for most of my life and I know how it changes every aspect of your life and interactions with the outside world. It’s been about four years since we finally left and started again on our own and I still feel the old hurts and wounds and still sometimes catch myself worrying about things like I used to…”Oh my God, I drank the last drink, I’m in so much trouble…Holy crap they messed up someone’s food order and I know I’m going to get screamed at…I can’t find what I was sent to get…please don’t yell at me, please don’t yell at me”, such little things that add up and add up and leave you a bundle of nerves. And most of the people I talked to downplayed things, they didn’t understand that abuse doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to inflict bodily harm, purposely frightening them on a daily basis is just as bad. Being terrified to come home is something that no person should have to go through.

  6. katherinejlegry says:

    I just want to thank you for writing this. It’s like having a protective sister when I really needed one. It’s so easy to backslide into thinking verbal emotional abuse is “normal” just because it’s rampant. The article is a most important reality check.

    • diahannreyes says:

      You are so welcome, Katherine. Agree- verbal /emotional/abuse can be so hard to identify. I think that it’s part of their effect-blurring ones perception/experience of reality so that it can keep happening.

  7. drshapero says:

    You certainly bring up a good point. Which I think is missed by many. If we continue to condone through media and inaction the various moral wrongs we are actually promoting it. It is not right to stick ones head in the sand. Taking what ever action one can and if we all do this or most of us do this we truly can change the world. One life at a time. That ONE life that gets changed could be a neighbor, relative or even ourselves.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Dr. Shapero! And I so agree- it’s not up to just one of us to change the whole world- we just have to do our bit in our corner- even if only for the self (a worthwhile endeavor) – hopefully if enough of us do that and enough corners get changed the whole world is renewed.

  8. Hi, my beautiful friend. Just so you know, my eyes were tearing up reading this. I’m so sorry you had to experience that abuse and I’m so happy and grateful that you’re healed from it. I know you mentioned you went to the support group only once, but the amazing power of sharing your pain with others has this power to plant a seed of hopefulness, a hopefulness which lead to your own healing. ❤ I wish you a happy Valentine's day that is full of love and also full of hope that one day violence against women will be no more. =)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Christina! I definitely felt that seed of hopefulness hearing all those women share- and I think that is how we help each other and ourselves by sharing our stories. I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day– and that you were embraced in as much love and goodness that you are always showering the world with.

  9. BroadBlogs says:

    So many young women don’t know the signs of an abuser and mistake jealousy for love–which the abuser is actually incapable of. It’s common for abusers to use jealousy as their excuse for battering/emotional abuse because it keeps up the fantasy/story that he does it because he loves her so much–and if she believes he does it because he is so in love with her, that just makes her more likely to stay.

    I’m so glad you left and that you are sharing your story.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Georgia.

      Yes- easy to get sucked into that “Look what I’m doing or what I am feeling because I love you so much” and then feeling responsible for whatever it is “all this love” is making him do.

  10. Reblogged this on Freeing the Feminine and commented:
    Thank you diahannreyes for sharing this gift of your story. These are the words of my bruised spirit as well. What a stunning, brutal, beautiful expression of the truth.

  11. Miranda Stone says:

    Emotional abuse is often the most insidious kind of all. Thank you for sharing your story; it just may reach someone who’s enduring the same experience and hasn’t yet realized that this behavior doesn’t constitute a normal relationship–it’s abuse, even if the bruises aren’t visible.

  12. KP says:

    I read this last night immediately after I received a notification, and I was so moved by it that I couldn’t respond immediately. You’re a brave and compassionate writer, and this post, I know, will give many the inspiration/courage/gentle nudge they need. You’re incredible. Thank you for sharing your stories. ❤

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, KP! I remember reading a book about V.A. and that really woke me up to what was going on- so for sure if this post does the same for anyone else- that would be wonderful.

  13. secretangel says:

    Awesome post. You story sounds so familiar. I also went to a woman’s shelter and to their counseling group once. I still had a job and worked but was just as broken as those with the bruises and broken bones because of the extent of the wounds from the verbal and emotional abuses and other DV. God has shown me the depths of the wounds of brokenness. I hope that you read my book, The Walking Wounded. So many of us are “the walking wounded” and God wants to heal us. Thanks for sharing. Many blessings to you!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you! I will check it out. Many blessings to you too. I admire your ferocious tenacity at helping others heal.

      • secretangel says:

        Thank you so much Diahann. I really appreciate your support as I walk this path that God placed me on last year. So many other abuse victims need to hear what we have been through and that there is hope to get out of it. Many blessings to you!

  14. Ralph says:

    Hi Diahann 😀 Wow. That man really, really put you through the psychological mincer !!

    I am amazed at how many bloggers use their posts to tell quite horrendous tales of their lives. I have recently read posts from 2 wives and a 23 year old student who are being treated as “doormats”, not violent, but mentally damaging. Also a waitress who is shouted at like moonstonemaiden’s comment and can’t take any more, yet has to as she needs the money.

    Many countries have legal protection for physical violence, but mental violence should be classed as a form of torture and legally treated as such.

    I wish you well Diahann and I hope you find/have a great guy. Ralph xox 😀

    • diahannreyes says:

      Ralph, Thank you. I agree- mental/verbal violence should be a crime but it is not, unfortunately… but one day, I hope! And yes, I do. He’s really wonderful. 🙂 I think blogging has become a wonderful way for people to tell their stories–one of the blessings of this new way of communicating. I appreciate your insights and good wishes.

  15. weavergrace says:

    Reading your post was like looking in a mirror. I went through something like that.

    During my freshman year of college, I worked at a women’s crisis shelter. I saw the women as something strange, and never thought I’d ever be like Them.

    Years later, a counselor persuaded me to attend meetings for battered women. I didn’t see the sense in it because I believed that I caused my husband to get angry, just like my family told me. I tried so hard to be lovable. When a woman walked into the meeting in a designer suit, looking like a lawyer, I assumed she was giving a presentation. Her only presentation was her personal update since the last time that she was there, which had been weekly for several years. More people came in, looking like women who might be my friends or neighbors. What stunned me was: how could such intelligent people be so dumb?

    My marriage lasted 13 years, and even now, nearly 20 years later, I am still reeling from the invisible blows, and learning how to let them pass like the wind. His cold interactions with our children reassure me that his behavior was not my fault.

    I don’t mean to belittle drone attacks, but I liken domestic violence to them: being constantly wary of attacks, adrenaline pumping when detecting indications of possible attacks, waking with nightmares based on reality when all has been calm for a while, feeling out of control. Experiencing domestic violence gives me a peek into what life is like for people in countries where terrorism is a daily occurrence. I see domestic violence as much more of a personal concern for the Western World than other forms of terrorism. It is much more frequent and costly in one year than all of the terrorist attacks on Westerners. I am putting together an article about this…

    One of the best weapons I have found against domestic abuse is to think about what the other person could have done instead. How could s/he have responded more kindly? I guess, though, that first I had to learn how to respond kindly, consistently, so I could expect the same from others.

    Thanks for rounding out the dark corners in this world.

    • diahannreyes says:

      It really is astounding how there are people walking around and you wouldn’t know that this type of abuse happens in their reality- and sometimes it can be the people you least likely expect it to be happening to in terms of appearances–the feistiest girl in school, the boss at a company, a close friend, etc.

      You likening it to drone attacks – super powerful in the comparison- I totally get it in how you compare the psychological effects. It also astonishes me that often the person being abusive doesn’t get that is what they are doing- so how can it be stopped if often neither participant even knows what is going on? Thank you, for “weaving” so much in our comments.

  16. Getting chills. Oh mY. I imagine you explored why you even entered a relationship with him (not judging, just thinking) and why you stayed as long as you did. And you’ve changed in the ways you deal with boundaries, since? NOT putting the onus on you, D. I fear I’m not coming across quite right. It’s granted he was horrible and in the most obvious wrong. What exactly wEre you afraid of, when you were with him? Asking a deeper ques bc obviously one would be afraid of him.

    Your narration is just wonderful, as sad as this one is. Rich post.


    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Diana, for reading and always asking such potent questions! You are not afraid to go to those tough places in your comments, which I appreciate.

      My responses are Yes and yes and yes! Absolutely. I looked at all of that for sure in my healing from it- and learned so much about myself that I wouldn’t have uncovered… and for sure I have huge ownership of what was in me that allowed me to participate in that dynamic.

      For this post, though, I wanted to focus more on what it’s like when you are in it. So many people don’t know what it is when it is happening to them (one of the reasons that they don’t leave right away)-and that regardless of whatever dynamic one has in allowing it to perpetuate (whether as instigator or recipient) we simply cannot allow this type of violence to go unrecognized or dismissed! I am grateful to the people who pointed it out for me- so if one person sees his/her self in this, then I would have paid that generosity forward. Love, Diahann

  17. HeartBound says:

    Hi Diahann,

    I felt like I could really relate to this post of yours. I’m sorry that you had to experience that abuse. I do believe that you are proof we can acquire real strength and wisdom from such experiences (even despite the inherent pain).

    Although I haven’t been with anyone who was physically violent or threatening, I was with someone who was passively aggressive and very manipulative. It wasn’t until after we broke up that I could see just how damaged I was from the experience of being with him. Like you, it took me years to (mostly) recover, and I have also often wished that he had just been more ‘overtly’ abusive. At least then I would have something really tangible to link my hurt to. Instead his psychological games just left me questioning myself and doubting whether my hurt was founded on something real or just my imagination. I don’t blame him for everything that was wrong with our relationship but I have enough distance and self respect now to know that I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was treated.

    Everybody deserves to be with someone who truly sees them.

    I always look forward to your posts Diahann.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Cat, thank you for sharing your experience. I too am sorry you had to go through what you did. It makes me think- as you mentioned above-that such experiences can lead the recipient of violence to an openness of greater compassion and heart, as so exemplified by you and your work on HeartBound. And your healing from it- I know what that takes- it’s a real act of power and not a small feat.

      I definitely think of my relationship above as the best and worst thing to happen to me up until that point because it forced me to wake up and see myself and own what I was co-creating in terms of any dynamics I carried within to allow for the experience. However, as you so wisely said, while I don’t blame him for everything that was wrong, I also know that I didn’t deserve that treatment.

      Thank you also for your last words- it can be scary to tell stories like this- worry about what people will think- so I really felt what you said this morning. The feeling is mutual!

  18. I can relate, too. In what seems like another lifetime, I was once married for seven years to a man like this. Even years later, I’m embarrassed to call it verbal and emotional abuse, but that was what it was. It embarrasses me to say that because I thought of myself as too educated, intelligent and self-respecting to be in a relationship like that. Yet there I was, until one day I finally had the courage to start the divorce process. That day was a long time coming simply because I was never physically abused. Had he ever hit me, I know I would have left immediately. Sometimes, I even consciously thought to myself “I wish he would hit me because then the decision to leave would be simple.” Now years later, it pains me to see other women I know in relationships like this. I’m assuming they stay in their relationships because, like us, they don’t equate words and control with abuse.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know what you mean about being embarrassed about telling. After I posted this story on FB to people I know- I remember feeling so mortified.. that I’d admitted that this is something that I was involved in–and even feeling that if there had been physical violence involved, that would have been less shameful to admit. (But this reaction of mine also made me more certain that it is important to admit and name what happened.)

      I agree- it is so easy to believe that old saying “sticks and stones…. names may never hurt me”- but that’s totally false. Words can transmit love and they can transmit brutality and both can seep into the body and nourish or knock you out. No matter how strong the target, like a rock that has water crashing on it regularly, eventually even a stone erodes.

      Kudos to you for finding the strength and courage to leave.

  19. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award because I think you’re great! Keep up all the amazing posts, Diahann!

  20. superkev101 says:

    wow this blog has brought back some very old and haunting memories from the early years of my life. as far back as I can possibly remember there was always my father hurling abuse at my mother, infact it wasn’t the verbal abuse that petrified me it was all the physical abuse along with the verbal. my parents had 6 children and all of us grew up with everyday fear of my father either getting drunk or just getting down to hitting and starting an argument over nothing with us. I prefer not to induldge you all with the graphic side of my up bringing but I can confirm that to this day, im 44 now, it has effected my personality and my preference of socialising with certain people. I really did have a traumatic upbringing because those types of violence which have been witnessed never find the escape rout out of my memory. psychologically damaged to this day. I can remember my mother leaving to seek refuge in a battered womens home but she always returned for her children. as we all grew up and became more resilient to my fathers non stop verbal and phsyical abuse we started to stand our ground and re-acted to his bad behaviour but even still his abuse still is paramount with in our family circle. I despise my father for what he has done and I will never forgive him for making our lives a complete mess. even between my brothers and sisters there are feeling which sometimes cause us grief. for any women out there live under the roof of any violence what so ever then my greatest advice to you is get the hell away from it and start afresh else where. I know its easy to say but its the only way forward. best wishes to any women who undergo this type of violence cause my heart has been broken so many times.x.x.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, Kev, for sharing your family story. As you describe, it really is important to acknowledge that verbal abuse happens to both men and women, girls and boys– and that there is trauma when even just witnessing this being perpetuated against another. Sounds like you, your siblings, and your mom found your strength in each other to get through some very tough times. Best wishes to you, too!

  21. daisy says:

    I am glad you had the courage, both then and now, to speak up. And to realize that what you have to say is worth being said. May you always retain that strength, and may you know that by speaking up, you are helping not just yourself, but the countless others who hear. Hearing and being heard is such a great part of healing.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you,Daisy! Yes- it is amazing how liberating it is to speak one’s truth- and the same for when someone else does too. I was able to identify what was going on for me because I read a book that someone was generous enough to write about VA. I truly believe that the stories each of us have to tell can help us free each other. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  22. Audrey says:

    So powerful, Diahann! You already know I am from a family of violence and have experienced other traumas. The behaviors and kinds of things you wrote about that ex-boyfriend, you may as well have been writing about my father. I am sorry for all you’ve been through. Violence does leave wounds/bruises that are hard to fully heal, but you seem to be a a wonderful place in your life and I am happy for you about that. It takes so much courage to share what you wrote here and I so appreciate your sharing it. Reading and reflecting on your piece helps me with my healing process. Every voice like yours who speaks out against violence of all kinds, the kinds that cause physical scars and the kind that the invisible ones, every time we speak out against violence, we get several steps closer to that world without violence. Thank you for speaking out.

    • diahannreyes says:

      “Reading and reflecting on your piece helps me with my healing process”- so glad to hear that, Audrey! And thank you for YOUR bravery- I am familiar with the stories you share up onstage- you are always fearless and a warrioress when it comes to shining the light on your truth. I’m always struck by how your voice and your words permeate.

  23. Sonnische says:

    Reblogged this on sonnische and commented:
    Valentine’s Day may be behind us now, but everywhere women struggle with the abusive treatment they’ve experienced, including the verbal terrorizing that leaves no visible scars. This woman’s voice speaks to all of us. If not you, your sister, your daughter, your friend, your neighbor, your coworker.

  24. Hi Diahann,
    Sorry I’m late to respond to this post, but I absolutely loved it! I was in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship in the past as well, and I’m familiar with the feelings you described here in this post…the idea that my scars were irrelevant because they were not as physical.
    I’m glad to know you were honest, open, and spoke up, and I’m also glad to know that neither of us are alone here. We can be the change in this world that we want to see. 🙂
    Kelly AKA Alpha Female Society 🙂

  25. […] months ago I wrote, “Stopping the Violence,” a blog post about a verbally abusive relationship I was in. He and I were together for nine […]

  26. celonaiphy says:

    Great work dear..
    Very revealing..
    Kindly follow back
    Would need your support and assistance to achieving my goals with your likes and comments on my blog..
    God bless you

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