On Secrets and Lies

Every year, millions of Americans irregardless of age, gender, race, class or creed are victims of domestic violence. The statistics are sobering. Almost one in four people in this country alone will experience some form of domestic violence perpetrated against them in their lifetime.

It is an especially cruel intimate crime, as its victims often know their abusers well and often care a great deal for the people who are hurting them.

And more often than not, they suffer in silence, living lives constructed of secrets and lies.

How do I know this?

Because sixteen years ago, I was one of them – and have been ever since.

And for those sixteen years, I’ve kept secrets and told lies.

But not any more.

I’m not trying to play the martyr here, but I am not going to be another nameless victim any longer, some sad statistic without a face or name.

It is time to tell the truth.

Because the only thing silence and secrets and lies do is cause further hurt and pain. Not just to the person who keeps them, but to all the people they keep them from.

Because I hope that the sound of my voice (too long silent) and the words that I (finally have the courage to) speak, may give those will no voice and no words the voice and words to say – Enough!

For those of you who are or who have been victims of domestic violence –

Know that you are not alone.

Know that there is still hope for help and for healing.

Know that you don’t have to live a life of silence and secrets and lies.

So if you or anyone you love answers “yes” to any one of the questions below please, please, please get help.

The best place to call is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can and will put you in contact with people and services within your communities that can and will help.

The following questions are taken verbatim from a Domestic Violence Awareness flier.

Does the person you love…

Put you down, call you names, constantly criticize you?

Threaten to hurt you, the children, another family member or your pet?

Say it’s your fault if they hit you, then promise it won’t happen again (but it does)?

Put you down in public or keep you from contacting friends or family?

Throw you down, push, hit, choke, kick or slap you?

Just one “yes” means you are involved in an abusive relationship. You can be a woman or a man, young or old and you have choices.

No one deserves to be abused.

When I first saw this list, I almost stopped breathing.

In a rush of things I so desperately wanted to believe I had forgotten, it all came back to me – almost as if it was yesterday and not some horrible memory from ages and ages ago.

Oh God, no.

Sometimes “yes” is not the answer you want to be giving.

But –

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I’ve heard people – who were more ignorant than unfeeling – ask with the ever present disproving shake of the head: How can someone just let another person hurt them like that – abuse them – systematically destroy them?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case it was — there is no other word for it –

Easy.

I was barely 15, so was he.

My father had died the year before. My family had just moved to the neighborhood not long before that. I didn’t have many friends. Neither did he. You fall for a sob story, you want to believe the best of someone, you open your heart and your home to someone who values neither.

Yes, love, or what we want to believe as love, can make us do stupid things.

My family took him in. He lived with us and in my mother’s eyes it seemed he could do no wrong. But in her defense, I never said anything.

All those things listed above, he did those things – again and again – over and over — and worse.

Oh, his abuse was never sexual – in that way I was fortunate –- and perhaps I should be thankful for that small comfort at least.

That doesn’t mean it was any less hurtful or dangerous.

The first time it went too far, I should have known.

To this day, I still panic at even the hint of a pillow fight, at even the most gentle and innocent press of anything against my face or neck.

There are still moments when I still struggle to breathe.

Of course it didn’t end there. The verbal abuse, the physical abuse, the mental abuse kept on.

I did nothing to defend myself, I never fought back, never said a word.

People say – you don’t deserve to be abused as if it is some innate, inalienable, unquestionable truth, as if it were so simple to just believe and live in the veracity of that statement.

The truth is that when I was with him, I felt like I did deserve everything he did to me.

I would like to absolve myself and say HE made me feel that way – he treated me that way – he may have even told me that I did deserve it – but I let him.

Heaven only knows why.

I certainly don’t.

I don’t know now and I certainly did not know then.

The second time he tried to kill me was the first time I was really afraid, the moment I first became afraid and that fear lasted long after I was finally free of him.

It started off seemingly innocent – playing in a river – splashing, laughing, teenage silliness.

When he first pushed me under I thought it was a lark, a game.

Until he wouldn’t let me come up for air.

I don’t know what made him let me go – I don’t think I even had the time or strength to struggle.

What happened after that I’m not sure.

The how or why he finally left I don’t know either.

All I know is I’m still not free of him – not even now.

And I lost a lot more than my innocence.

And I wasn’t the only one who got hurt.

After that I was afraid – afraid to be touched, afraid to get close to anyone.

There were times after he was gone and hundreds of miles away — far, far away, where he could never touch me, reach me, hurt me ever again — that I used to literally hide under my bed from even the nicest, caring and compassionate people I knew.

And I couldn’t tell them — any of them –

Why for years and years there were no hugs, no handholding, no kissing, no hint of physical intimacy.

Why I was cold and emotionally unavailable.

Why there was a wall around my heart and soul that not only kept them out, but me in, too.

Yes, the silence and secrets and lies hurt me, but they hurt so many others who never deserved it.

And for that I am sorry.

And I am sorry I never said anything — not for myself – but because I worry that I may not have been his first, nor his last. That if I had said or done something then perhaps it would have ended with me.

But it ends with me now.

No more secrets. No more lies.

I am saying right now what I should have said 16 years ago:

You don’t have that power over me anymore.

I am saying —

Enough!

*******

Postscript

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. eagertalker
    Apr 16, 2009 @ 02:09:35

    This makes my heart hurt. And I don’t seem to have any words that could mean anything. I hope that you have found happiness now. anne

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