October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Each year we work with clients who have been abused by their spouse. Each year we continue to hear the truths of parents who suffer so as to protect their children, who stay silent for years before seeking security, and who come to our office full of trepidation and vulnerability as they courageously begin to break the cycle. Today we re-share Susan’s own personal journey of domestic abuse.
We argued about the garlic in the guacamole. He backed me up against the kitchen wall. He was furious. I remained calm. He berated. I quietly said, “This is abusive.”
He stormed outside. I took off my apron and went upstairs to finish my makeup. We were about to leave for his family reunion. I stood at the bathroom mirror focusing my shaking hand on my mascara when I heard the front door open and his footsteps coming up the stairs. He instantly punched me squarely in the gut and calmly said, “Now you can tell your friends I’m abusive.”
I was young but I was strong, confident, independent. How had I been reduced to justifying the purchase of a two dollar tube of lipstick? Of defending why I wanted to see a movie with a girlfriend? How did I stay with a man who threw the bowl of my freshly made pasta against the kitchen wall as I set the table, cracked the windshield with his bare fist as I drove, and smashed the bouquet of mums against the mantle as I wept?
Being in college during the second wave of the women’s movement, I knew that domestic violence is the misuse of power and control. Still, I didn’t want to look at something that could end my world that was so wonderful in so many ways. Besides, I rationalized, my situation paled in comparison to my clients with blackened eyes and broken bones and battered children.
Friends helped me see the truth. One gently asked “Is this the first time he hit you?” Another asked without judgment, “Do you think that’s normal?” A third phoned claiming she’d left her favorite pen at our home. She later revealed she was worried about my safety, and her call was to check on me.
I was lucky. I had a job, places to stay if I needed to, and extraordinary friends. The thousands of victims who die each year from intimate partner abuse weren’t as lucky. Whether you are a welder or an accountant, rich or poor, a Gen Xer or a boomer—you are not immune.
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 still don’t understand. If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of domestic abuse, let in support 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.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is the time to be aware of the risks, your rights, and the next small step forward for your future. As for me, the only regret I ever had about my first step was that I didn’t make it sooner.