November 20, 2011
Why Nothing Gets Said – Quiet Victimization
Fear is the motivating factor in keeping one’s own mouth shut
If there is anything that I am very learned in, it is fear. When you are the intended target of abuse, when you are blamed for everything ‘wrong’ that happens, when you find yourself thinking of lies to tell as a reason why you are a mere few minutes late from the time when they told you to be home or to call, you know fear and you know it well. Never in a million years does any abuse survivor think that they will not ever be afraid again. You live your life afraid of everything and everyone. You believe that since your spouse or partner thinks and acts a certain way around you that everyone else will also think and act that same way.
Fear keeps the abused in line and in the control of the person abusing them. It is a difficult thing to have to always be prepared for an ass whipping, always be prepared for this abusive creep to do the physical body checks (yes, he really did this shit – including and all the way down to inspecting the crotch in my underwear…yes, seriously..to make sure that I had not been out in the world “whoring around” as he so not-nicely put it more than once…), to check and see if you smell like men’s cologne, to see if you are chewing gum to hide what he referred to back then as my having “dick breath.” Imagine the beating I got when I asked him how the hell he knew what having dick breath smelled like and how we was so sure. I got the ass kicking of my life. I think I was 22 and I think I’d caught him smoking crack in the bathroom – and this was after we were married, at a time when I had no clue that I could have left and stayed gone and that my stuff didn’t matter as much as my 22 year old mind had told me that it did.
And they like to use our stuff against us, telling us that since they bought it for us that they have the right to take it from us. I will not ever forget watching all of my clothing burn in the parking lot of his dad’s shop, will not forget the smirk on his face as he dared me to buy more, will not forget feeling like I somehow must have done something wrong – really wrong – to deserve being made not only without even a shirt on my back, but also homeless. He threatened me and my family by telling me that he’d had a key made to my mother’s Covina house and that if I went home he would burn it to the ground with all of us in it.
Of course I was scared. I was scared to death. I was so scared that when I did finally go back to Covina, I called my cousin, Gina, who came right away and took me to their Glendora home. I was safe there from him, safe from his threats and safe from his instability.
But as all abuse survivors know, safe with family is only temporary. As we all know there is not a lot that the cops are going to do without proof that you have been abused, and without proof (i.e. scars, bruises and bloody wounds) they will ultimately tell you that you are lying, that you are the one who will go to jail because you are just being a whiny little bitch who wants her way. This is wrong. This is the travesty that is life for abuse survivors. The cards are stacked against us. We have laws in place but the laws are limited in what it is really able to do, and what it is able to do is not a whole lot. It seems like…no, it really is that we have no real protections from the people who are bad to us, and if we retaliate with deadly force, the salt in the wound is that we stand the chance of being put in prison for the rest of our lives and we are the ones who have been victimized.
It is a mixture of a lot of different emotions that we are dealing with
I can only imagine what my mother went through when she first found out that the man she’d entrusted her eldest child with was beating her. I can only think what went through her mind and since my Gracie was born I can only do what a mother who’d been abused can do for her only daughter – keep her informed, tell her the truth, let her know that not all men are creepy like her father was and is, make sure that she feels safe at least in my presence, even when he is around.
No one who has never been hit will ever know what it is like to live in the fear that we live in, and though we may be the picture of strength when we get to this point in time where I am, where we are finally fucking tired of dealing with our own pain and the pain caused by a now dying man (in my case, that is) we retaliate. Some of us retaliate with force and end up in prison for the rest of our lives, and some of us end up going out into the world and becoming and doing all those things that we were accused of, and still more of us stay with our abusers for any variety of reason, and in lots of cases unlike mine is now more of us stay because leaving brings with it uncertainty. You can leave anytime you like but the guarantee that they will come look for you is good, and if they do not find you they will use your loved ones to make you come back. I know this because my parents were always threatened, my friends, my place of employment – everything that I loved and felt I had a measure of safety with was threatened, and in your own abused mind you believe that they hold that much power. Even today there are times when I look back and I shudder because I could very well have been killed by now.
Yet now, even as there are shards of my memory and pieces of my soul which cry out for me to not do this, to not do things that I dearly want to do, I do it. I do it because I know there is nothing left to fear. One cannot live their life thinking that what one person says they will do they still can do. This is the beauty of my fractured life at this time – my old man is sick and dying. There will come a day, and that day is fast approaching, where I will not have to bother with even the tiniest amount of fear of or from him because he will be gone from this life. Gone, gone, gone! However, there is an entire global population of people – most of them women – who are being abused and who are being told that this is their lot in life. Much of the abuse goes on because of religious beliefs or because of social and cultural norms, but it is not normal to live fearfully. It is not normal for an adult woman to need permission from her husband to do anything.
It is just not normal.
Being quiet about it saves us from the shame of our reality
I need those who read this who have never been abused to please STOP with the accusatory bullshit, the saying that the reason we get abused is our fault because we won’t leave. You can shut the fuck up right now, because you have no clue of what you are talking about. You say it out of concern, I know this, and to say that you will never be in this sort of situation – well, that is not your choice, because we are all available to this same lesson. We just don’t want to believe it. You can say all you want that you would never be in this predicament, but that is irresponsible – this can happen to anyone and if you are not careful it can happen to you,too. Please stop telling them to just leave. Leaving takes time and planning and leaving means that you leave yourself open to a lot more abuse if you get found. I have been found. I was stalked all the way to San Francisco where I was readying to board a plane to Honolulu to live with my now departed grandparents. Back then it was still ok and not a matter of national security for a spouse to cancel the other spouse’s plane reservations and all it took him was for him to show his license. It is not easy to leave. You try like hell and sometimes the only thing that will make it so that you will not be abused anymore is you do as I have had to as of now (and yes I HAD TO so back the fuck up off of me already) and wait for the nutjob to die.
It is already shameful enough that we stay, but people telling us what they would do if they were us- just shut your ass up already. You have no idea what you are talking about and you end up pissing us off because without a plan you have nothing, and I would like to see YOU come up with a plan when everything you have been told will work fails you and everything that you try fails you and you end up being even more afraid of your abuser because once it is that they find out that you have exhausted every possibility they know that they proverbially win. This is the reality of what happens. Though you mean well in dispensing advice you are actually placing them in harm’s way even more. Take my word for it. Just Love your Loved one and be there for them. They need you there to listen, not judge. If you have no idea what you are talking about, and most people do not know what the hell they are talking about when it comes to being abused, then please say nothing. Again, be there for them, because they need that the most. Support is everything to an abuse victim.
If you were lucky enough to get out from under an abusive relationship then you know well the work that it takes to leave. You are afraid to do anything. If you continue to tell an abuse victim who has not yet claimed their suvivorhood to leave without fully understanding what it is that you are telling them to do, let me explain it to you this way.
You are already way afraid to even breathe wrong. You are scared to say anything wrong. You are afraid to look them in the eye and tell them how you feel because you are scared that they will take it the wrong way and again you are going to get beaten. You don’t want to call anyone out of the fear of them dialing *69 to find out who it was that you called for assistance because then what happens is that they show up at the place you went. You cannot say where you are going, and eventually you stop writing down the names and numbers of people who you still have contact with, committing it all to memory because you cannot risk the abuser finding out that you still have people in your corner, still have places that you can go to in order to be safe. You stop leaving things around like your phone book and cell phone, and to this day I am careful of where I leave either of these two things because of what happened in August of 2008.
What happened in August, 2008
It was bad enough that it had only been a month since we’d lost our home. We were broke, dependent on food stamps to feed us, and only I was working and the job that I’d held was a temporary one. The property manager wrote my name wrong on the contract for rental, and that same September we were evicted because simply put, we could not pay the rent. We’d lost our home, and on that end I knew that he was going to be a bit of an ass – I mean, I was an ass about it for sure! I’d kept contact with my friends in the high desert, and I called them all daily, hoping that at least one of them who was not April would clue in to what I was going through. I finally broke it wide open, tearfully even, to another good friend, Larry, who just listened and when I alluded to the man that I was trying to get back on track, get myself back to the desert, when I was in a full blown crying fit, he told me that I had to do what I had to do and that he didn’t think it was impossible but that I was going to have a long battle ahead of me. He was right.
I was at work the next day after that conversation with Larry. I got a phone call from John and he was angry, and threatening me, and told me that I had better get my ass home because he needed to beat my ass because the property manager had shown up for the rent. How the hell was I going to pay that woman her rent when my husband took what little money we’d had and was holding it hostage for his own use – weed? He was more inclined to give his friend the money we’d had for his weed than he was interested in giving me the money to buy food, even though that is what he was bitching about.
When I finally arrived at home from work, he was a raging maniac. He threw a coffee cup at my mother’s car, trying to break the front windshield. My father immediately called 911. The police showed up and the thing that this moron told them was that this was my fault because I had spent all HIS money when in fact I have nothing to show for the money spent but he sure has a nice wardrobe. I do, too, but mine was acquired through the freecycle and the local thrift store. When you are told what you can and cannot do, and when you want something new for yourself, someone else’s used item is new to you and you are too happy to take it. You become resourceful in the way that you get what you want. I love to have my nails done, so I learned to do them myself. I like my long wavy hair to be shiny, so I do my own hair treatments. I only have my eyebrows waxed in a salon and even that I hide from him.
Anyway, when it came down to it, and seeing as how I again had a gun pointed at me I decided that I had had enough, that I was leaving and that I was leaving with someone and going somewhere that he had no idea I was going. What I should have done was gone to a shelter, but I ended up at my cousin’s house. When I left I forgot to take my phone book with me, and he found us, all four of us, three days later at my cousin’s house. I was scared and angry and everyone who was left in my little circle knew where I was and what I was doing. April knew. Larry knew. Marsha knew. No one else needed to know.
Then I found out that he knew. And that is where the fear came back to me. Yet this event was the one event where I knew within me that I finally fucking had enough. I prayed and asked God for a way out. That was three years ago, and my way out came to me in the form of a massive heart attack and a pack a day habit that I know has turned into some sort of cancer – I know this because no one can be that angry and live this long with all those habits and all that anger. I know this because just like when you have gone blind the rest of your senses become more pronounced, and the same can be said for a person when they have been abused. Your sixth sense sharpens and you become a lot more aware of the things that you are going through and you can read people better than you may have in the past. You start to see things in a way that your mother could never imagine her child as having to see. In my case I was already empathic as it was. To go through yet more crap made me more empathic. That which was sharp already is now sharper than even I imagined it could be. Again, I have said it many times in the recent past, and I am fond of saying it a lot – when I tell you to be careful because I really do know what you are thinking, I really and truly know what you are thinking…really.
But I had to go through a whole lot to get here, where I am, and still, even at this late stage when I know the end of this story, I still fear him. I still fear waking up gasping for air and trying to open my eyes to find that he has tucked the blanket underneath me tightly enough to make me suffocate. I still have nightmares of me running from an angry bull and seeing ahead of me only a brick wall that gets taller and taller and wider and wider the more I try to run around it or scale it. I still fear him, even as he is dying, because what has a dying man to lose other than his life, right? Even as I know that it won’t happen, that my fears are misplaced, they are still there lurking, creeping around in my psyche like so many weirdos in a public park. The only thing that quells the fears and the only thing that gives me comfort is watching him decline physically on a daily basis. Knowing that his expiration date is upon us is the one thing that gives me comfort. I know that his death is imminent, that it is happening now as I write this.
There is no reason to stay with an abuser, but without help and a support system you have no way out. You must endure.
One day, though, you get smart, you get tired of putting up with their crap and you begin to utilize what you have within you to find your way out. When John got sick I got very educated about heart disease, about how long it takes for a smoker to develop some sort of respiratory ailment and how those ailments work in tandem with the larger physical issues. You begin to develop your own sort of ailment, the kind that infects the soul and the kind that makes you wait for something better.
Take my advice – start looking for your way out now. It is going to take a while to get where I am, but you will get here. And whatever you do, you leave when YOU are ready because only YOU know when it is safe to. And sometimes it is not safe to leave, so you have to look for and even create the opportunity to escape.
Never give up hope. That is what they want you to do.
As long as you never stop hoping, as long as you always keep on trying, eventually you will be shown the way out, even if that way out is to their early grave.
I Love You All …
(Rev. Roxanne Cottell is a Freelance Writer, Speaker and Spiritual Counselor residing in Southern California. For inquires regarding the Ka Wahine ‘Ui dance program for survivors of domestic abuse,or any other inquiries. please contact her by clicking here . Her latest book, “Goddesses, Priestesses and Queens” can be purchased at lulu.com and amazon.com)