Punched in the Gut NEXT Empowerment Blog

We argued about the garlic in the guacamole. He stormed outside. I stood at the bathroom mirror focusing my shaking hand on my mascara. I heard the front door open and his footsteps coming up the stairs. He opened the bathroom door, punched me in the stomach, and calmly said, “Now you can tell your friends I’m abusive.”

I was young but I was strong, confident, and independent. On the outside. In my home I justified the purchase of a two-dollar tube of lipstick. I defended why I wanted to see a movie with a girlfriend. I stayed with a man who threw the bowl of freshly made across the kitchen as I set the table, cracked the windshield with his bare fist as I drove, and smashed
 the glass vase of flowers from our garden against the mantle as I wept.

I knew that domestic violence is the misuse of power and control. I was a divorce lawyer after all. Yet I couldn’t see it clearly when I was in its midst. I compared myself to those I considered “real” victims—those with blackened eyes and broken bones and battered
 children.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Despite decades of public education and the fact that one of every four American women reports being physically abused by a spouse or partner at some point, many people still don’t understand domestic violence. Whether you are a welder or an accountant, rich or poor, a Gen Xer or a boomer—you are not immune to domestic violence.

I had to tell the truth to myself. What helped was others gently asking about what I failed to see. “Is this the first time he hit you?” “Do you think that’s normal?” The concerns of others—shared without judgment—helped me to see the seriousness of my situation. “I just called to see if you were safe.  I’m worried about you.”

I was lucky. I had enough income, a number of options, and lots of support. The thousands of victims who die each year from intimate partner abuse weren’t as lucky.

The anxiety, isolation and limited options during the pandemic increase the risk of danger. If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of intimate partner abuse, support is essential right now.

Call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (800)799-SAFE (7233). Develop a safety plan. Call an attorney knowledgeable about protection orders. Don’t wait.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s the time to be aware of risks, rights, and the next small step forward toward a safe future.  As for me, the only regret I ever had about my first small steps was that I didn’t make them sooner.

Susan Koenig

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