When I made the commitment to start blogging about domestic abuse and my experience, my main goal was to reach out to victims and families. As I began coming up with a communication plan, I realized communicating with families and other loved ones surrounding the abused is easy. Finding survivors would be reasonably challenging, but getting content in front of those who really need it would prove most challenging of all. Why is this?
Abusers are masters at controlling the environment of their partners. So much so, in fact, that the victim often is unaware that the environment is so closed off, and effectively the person closing the world off is the victim him or herself, as a result of coercion or determent. Victims may be allowed to work, but only under certain circumstances. They may appear to have one or two close friends (common, as we get into our twenties and thirties), but the reality is that even these relationships are controlled. Looking back on my experience, I had a two people who I could talk to without hearing much grief…my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law. I had a few friends who were wives of my husband’s friends that I would see on occasion as well, when permitted, but primarily it was my in-laws who were my support. I enjoyed the time I had with both of these women, but looking back, these relationships were contrived as well. These were women who, in my husband’s eyes, lived the model of womanhood I was expected to uphold. When he would make remarks around them about me that were in retrospect, extremely mean and abusive, they would brush it off as him being in a bad mood. I remember clearly one time my mother-in-law asking me, “What would you do if your mom ever heard him talk to you like that?”. I told her he never would. He knew better. But then again, how frequently did we see my mom…?
I was allowed to have Facebook, but no other type of social media. I got in trouble several times for having “What’s App” on my phone, which he declared as an app to sneak off and talk to people so the conversations can’t be logged. While that would have been a good idea, I suppose, I hadn’t thought of it. I had downloaded it to talk to another (girl) friend of mine from work, who would travel frequently for recruitment, where wireless signals do not work. He insisted that I was having lesbian relationships with any girl I happened to know. Men were not an issue, because I wouldn’t dare try to befriend anyone of the opposite sex, but the few times I did add an old colleague or friend on Facebook, a fight ensued; I was accused of being unfaithful, and ultimately ended up removing them from my friends list. He questioned every new person on my Facebook or in my phone, and any male co-workers I brought up in conversation, and insisted that I explain the details of our relationship, no matter how long it had been since we last spoke (friends from middle school perhaps). It got to the point where I stopped accepting requests altogether, to save myself the stress this whole ordeal caused every time.
The people I did have in my life, (his sister-in-law and mother included) were often subject to demeaning ridicule behind our closed doors. If I didn’t agree with him, a fight ensued and I would be named disloyal. “Why do you give a sh-t about all these f-ing people”, he would say. “What are they ever going to do for you?” Ironically, in the interest of wanting to prove my loyalty and fidelity (and to save myself the aggravation associated with even showing interest in anything else), I found myself sometimes not even asking to do certain things that were outside of the allowed circle. I missed baby showers, graduations, birthdays. Days I can never get back with some people, unfortunately, I will never see again. I’ll write more on this at a later time.
When the fights surrounding these types of things were over, life continued. We would have a lovely day antiquing with his mom, or going apple picking. We would play games and watch movies and eat munchies, all in the false comfort of home. During this time, if I was spotted on my iPad or phone, I tended to get grief as well, so I tried to devote this time to being together. After all, that is what a good wife does, right?
All of this to say, it is extremely hard to infiltrate the iron clad environment in which abusers contain victims. That said, I knew that any support I opened up would need to be viewable, with the understanding that these people may not ever be able to comment, call, or interact. If you have not been in a relationship like this before, pretend the victim is looking through a window from the confines of a locked house. You have no way in, and the victim has no way out. What do you do to convince this person that the world is actually warm and safe, that people are friendly and they will survive? How do you further convince them they can thrive? How do you convey to him or her that some of the people he or she sees as happy outside, were actually once inside a locked house as well? I view what I do in this abstract way. What I hope to do is to be the person standing out there with a obtrusive, giant sign, that simply reads, “I was there, and now I’m happy…really happy. You are strong, and you deserve all this happiness, too.”
In an effort to reach out, I have developed the Heroes Program. Through this program, I hope to develop a library of survivor stories to serve as the light for those still searching for their way. If you have a story to share, I cannot explain how much your anonymous sharing will do for those still stuck.