A lot of people look at my life and assume that every day is a Friday for me. Yes, my life is full and exciting and adventurous. I have people around me that love me fiercely and support my dreams and ambitions. I know I am blessed beyond measure and I practice a high level of gratitude every day. What some of you don't know about me, is that my life didn't always look this way. I lived for too many years than I care to admit, in a state of constant "Mondays." At one time I lived in absolute fear, lack, defeat and struggle. At one time, I didn't even want to be alive. Even as I write those words, it is hard to fathom how I had got to that place. I remember feeling such shame that I had "let things get so bad" or "let my life fall apart", but the greatest shame I felt above all else was that I was living all of this pain in secret. I hid it from everyone around me, my friends, my family, my co-workers. I slapped on a big smile every day and put my best foot forward pretending I was living the life of my dreams. One day, I could no longer live that lie. One day, it all changed.
I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. I was living abroad, with a 9 month old baby and was in a relationship I never should have been in. I was away from my family and friends and although I had somewhat of a network where I was, I was still a foreigner with very few rights or support from the people around me. It took me days to muster up the courage to pick up the phone to call my father, 3,000 miles away to tell him; "Dad, I need your help. Things are getting bad". Although I didn't get into the dirty details of the disaster I was in, I told him just enough for him to understand I was serious and needed help. You see my perfect on the outside life was not so perfect on the inside. I lived in a beach house on a Caribbean Island, I was doing work that was fulfilling and good, I had a gorgeous little boy whom I was madly in love with, I had friends, family, I had nice clothes and pretty things. On the outside, it appeared my life was on track. In reality, I found myself in situation I never imagined I would be in. I was in an extremely abusive relationship. All the warning signs were there from the beginning. I ignored them. All of the gut instincts were there. I ignored them. All of the God whispers were there. I ignored them. I wanted so badly to be happy and loved that I was willing to do anything and everything I could do to achieve that. Even if that meant hiding what happened behind closed doors from everyone around me. From day one, there was emotional abuse. Subtle at first, but stronger and stronger as the months, and then years went by. One of his favorite sayings was "The problem with you, is you think you are better than you really are." Wow. Those are powerful words. I may have brushed them off when they were said, but deep down inside, I started to believe them.
I remember thinking that I was LUCKY that it was just emotional abuse. I was LUCKY they were just words. I was LUCKY he had never raised his hand to me. I guess I was discarding all the times my mouth was flicked or leg was pinched. That was just normal, right? Two and a half years of mind control and somehow I now believed those things were normal. He provided for us, we had fun, he was giving and loyal and took care of our son and myself. I could count on him. There were beautiful moments; it certainly wasn't all bad, it rarely is in these kinds of relationships. The highs were high but the lows....the lows were unbearable.
I refer to "that" night, as the night that saved my life. Bear with me, I will explain why. He came home after we had been arguing on and off all day on the phone. Our infant baby was fast asleep in his room, I was sitting in our living room with my back towards the door. I had already planned than when he walked in I was going to hold my ground and vowed not to even look at him, so I kept my back to him. I could hear his steps that only he could make with the swaggarish way he walked. A few seconds later, the force I felt to the side of my face literally took my breath away. What. Just. Happened? I was on the floor, my cheek was stinging and I had no idea how I got there. There is no way he would have hit me, so what actually just happened? I was wrong, and he did. I had never been hit before, I don't even recall being spanked as a child. Maybe a few punches in the arm from my older sisters, but I had never felt a blow to my face before. I looked up and saw a look in his eyes I can never erase from my mind. It was pure rage. The next few minutes and I suppose days were a blur, but I remember so much broken glass, the feeling of a cold blade against my throat and a feeling of terror I didn't know a human being could experience. The only thing I could think of in that moment, was please don't hurt my baby.
You are likely assuming I packed my things, took our young son and left. You would be wrong. I went into complete shock. I picked up the glass, I iced my throbbing cheek, took a shower and went to bed. The same bed as him. Not a word was spoken. Not a tear was shed. It was as if nothing had ever happened. The following days were confusing and magical all at the same time. I know you are thinking that is crazy, how could they be magical? But for the following days and weeks, He was exactly who I wanted him to be. He was doting and caring and thoughtful. He was kind and soft and present. He had apologized so many times and made promises I just knew he would keep. We were on cloud nine. Obviously what happened was a mistake and he realized now that I was wonderful and worthy and deserved respect. THAT is the cycle of abuse. THAT is why people stay in abusive relationships. Emotional, Physical, Financial; whatever type of abuse they are experiencing, they stay for that "honeymoon phase".
Fast forward to when the honeymoon wore off, reality set it and it happened again, and again. There were times when I wondered if I would live to see another day. There were times when I questioned if I even wanted to. Thankfully, with the support of the people who loved me, I took the steps I needed to take to keep myself and my son safe and I left. Many don't. Many feel that they can't. I was not brought up in an abusive home, nor had I ever been exposed to it before, so I knew in ever single bone in my body that it was wrong and that I didn't deserve it. That isn't always the case. For some women, abuse is all they know. It's all they saw in their homes, in their communities and in their culture.
Just a tip the next time you hear of a woman being abused, in any form, be careful of your words. "Why did you stay? You are smarter than that. Why would you let someone treat you like that?" Or my favorite one of all times, "What did you do to make him so mad?"
Victims of abuse feel a level of shame you can't even imagine. I AM a strong, smart woman. I DIDN'T deserve to be abused, regardless how "mad" I made him. I KNEW all these things, but my brain and my abuser told me otherwise. Abuse has no color, no class system and no prejudice. Abuse is in the suburbs, the slums, the first world and the third world. One in FIVE women in Canada alone will experience a form of abuse in their intimate relationship. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her partner and every year an estimated 362,000 children witness or experience family violence. This is real.
For anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship, you will understand there are cycles to the abuse. I am going to touch on those a little because it is important to know and recognize these cycles. For those of you who have not experienced abuse, It is still beneficial to educate yourself on these cycles so you can be a support to people in your life who may experience abuse.
Three Parts to the Abuse Cycle:
1. Tension Building Phase: Tension builds over common domestic issues like money, children or jobs. Verbal abuse begins. The victim tries to control the situation by pleasing the abuser, giving in or avoiding the abuse. None of these will stop the violence. Eventually, the tension reaches a boiling point and physical abuse begins.
2. Acute Battering Episode: When the tension peaks, the physical violence begins. It is usually triggered by the presence of an external event or by the abuser's emotional state - but not by the victim's behaviour. This means the start of the battering episode is unpredictable and beyond the victim's control. However, some experts believe that in some cases victims may unconsciously provoke the abuse so they can release the tension and move on to the honeymoon phase.
3. The Honeymoon Phase: First, the abuser is ashamed of his behavior. He expresses remorse, tries to minimize the abuse and might even blame it on the partner. He may then exhibit loving, kind behavior followed by apologies, generosity and helpfulness. He will genuinely attempt to convince the partner that the abuse will not happen again. This loving behaviour strengthens the bond between the partners and will probably convince the victim, once again, that leaving the relationship is not necessary.
The cycle continues over and over, and may help explain why victims stay in abusive relationships. The abuse may be terrible, but the promises and generosity of the honeymoon phase give the victim the false belief that everything will be alright.
Fast forward SIX years later, after intense counselling, prayer, and a true encounter with Jesus, I am whole again. I am me again. I believe I am worthy of love and I believe I deserve to feel safe. Experiencing abuse of any kind is life changing. It changes you, but it does not need to destroy you. "That" night that I was talking about was the start of so many lessons. Should you be grateful for the abuse? Certainly not. Can you learn from your experiences. Absolutely. Through this experience, I have learned to practice gratitude, to trust my instincts, to listen to the voice of God when He is telling me "no" and to reach out to people I see struggling to give them a glimpse of hope. I have learned to hand my fears over to God. I have learned to laugh and forgive and to love again. Through this experience, I have learned to absolutely be in LOVE with being alive. I am in LOVE with LIFE. I am in LOVE with my patient, understanding, new husband who gives me the freedom to feel what I need to feel and the space to work through what I need to work through. On those days that the pain creeps in and my mind starts to go back to that dark place, he is there to love me, even when he doesn't know what exactly it is he is loving me through.
There is hope. There is freedom. There is life out there. I am living, breathing proof of that. I encourage you to reach out to me or someone you trust. I encourage you to share your story, to start to work through the pain and to always remember above all else, You. Are. Loved.