V-Day: Stopping the ViolencePosted: February 13, 2014
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.
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.