Recognizing Abuse

Some people ask why I blog.  The simple answer is that I want to share what happened to me so that other women might be helped – to start anew, to pick up the pieces, to leave an abusive relationship, to perhaps even recognize that they are in an abusive relationship and above all to stay safe.  I wrote the following several years ago after leaving an abusive relationship:

It was a weeknight in October with a thunderstorm threatening.   As I parked the car in the parking lot of the Abused Women’s Centre, the clouds opened up and it started to rain.  I had hesitated about one minute too long.  I was here at the behest of good friends, not because I thought I needed any help or counselling.  Feeling invincible and determined, I thought I could make a run for it; but as I dodged people and umbrellas along the busy downtown street, the heavens burst apart and dumped relentless buckets of water on me.

I arrived at the centre in totally soaked clothes sticking to my skin and hair completely flattened by rain.  I stood in reception and asked if there were any towels.  Helpful women scurried around and brought me towels, a baby blanket and a hair dryer.  Still feeling invincible, I went to the bathroom, stripped down and wrapped myself in my temporary donations.  A woman came, collected my clothes, and told me they’d be in the dryer. I apprehensively walked down the hall and into the meeting room with several women. As she saw me draped in towels, one of the counsellors said, “You deserve the prize for having the most moxie!”

The information session’s purpose seemed to be threefold – to inform:

  1. The services offered,
  2. The definition of abuse, and
  3. How to implement a safety plan.

I was keenly aware of my attire being an attention-getter. There might be times when I would relish being the centre of attention, but this was certainly not one. So I just sat silently hoping the others’ interest would be diverted to the leader rather than me. “Services provided by our Centre….blah, blah, blah.” 

I wasn’t really listening. In my typical fashion, I was skimming ahead in the written pamphlet. Third or fourth page in was a wheel diagram called the Abuse Wheel (adapted from the original Duluth Model

I looked at it. It made sense. I was still looking at it as an observer, gathering information. And, with my teaching and curriculum design background, I was reading it as an editor. I hadn’t truly taken it in, personalized it or reflected upon it. I was more concerned that each of us would be asked questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer. I didn’t want to share. I didn’t even want anyone to know who I was. Thankfully, our anonymity was respected. No questions were asked.

We were asked to look at the Abuse Wheel and check off anything that related to us and our relationship with our abuser. I took a second, closer look. “Humiliating you in front of others.” Check. Frank had always tried to. “Name calling”. Check. Frank used to call me ‘tubby’ or ‘plumpy’, because I had asked him to stop calling me ‘fatso’. I continued reviewing the chart. “Controlling what you do”. Check. Yup, that was Frank. “Controlling how you look”. Check. When he didn’t like what I was wearing, he’d tell me I looked like a farmer. To him, that was an insult. “Controlling who you see or communicate with”. Check. Frank didn’t like me spending time with girlfriends. In fact, whenever I spoke with Katherine on the phone, he would say, “I don’t know why you call her. You hardly ever see her and she never calls you.” I continued on.

Preventing you from physical care.” Check.  In the last two years, in spite of the fact that I had one tooth that bothered me, he wouldn’t let me go to the dentist.  I felt a well of emotion rise within me. “Slapping, hitting, punching, pushing”. Check. Until recently, this hadn’t been an issue, but that horrible night flashed through my head. I stared at the booklet in front of me afraid to make eye contact with anyone. My mouth became dry and I felt a lump in my throat. Tears started welling up in my eyes.  Through the blur I continued reading. “Using threatening looks”. Check. “Destroying your property”. Check. The tears started to run down my face. “Forcing you to watch pornography”. Check. My innermost secrets and the darkest part of my life stared back at me from the page.

I could barely swallow. I could barely breathe. I felt naked. I wanted to cry out loud. How did they know how he treated me? I wanted to scream, “That fucking bastard!”  I wanted to kill him. Instead, I just sat there.  It was as if time had frozen. I don’t even know if the presenter was still talking. Maybe the room was quiet.  Maybe others were asking questions – I’m not sure.  I have no idea how long I sat there looking at that Abuse Wheel.

Epiphany:  “Oh, my God, I am an abused woman. It wasn’t just that one night of domestic violence. I have been an abused woman for years.”

My head was whirling. I felt so stupid. How could this be? Suddenly I was cold. I wanted to be invisible. At first, I wanted the earth to open and swallow me up.  I wanted Scotty to beam me up and transport me to a happy place. I wanted to travel back in time. I wanted to push the ‘redo’ button. Suddenly I noticed that no one was talking. I finally had the courage to look up. I wasn’t the only one crying. 

I drove home with more questions in my head than answers. How did this happen? How could I not have realized Frank was so controlling and abusive? Was I an enabler? Was I to blame? Did others know? What will the rest of my life be like? What got me here?

The only way I could figure out what to do next was to understand how and why this had happened.  The only way to do that was to commence an analytical review of my life.  Maybe then I would discern the causes and not repeat my errors.  As part of my search to discover how I had become a victim of abuse, I delved into my past. Was there something about my heritage, my childhood or my personality that contributed? I needed to understand myself. I needed answers. And so began my mission. 

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