I stared hard at the crack in the concrete, trying to slow my heart through deep, measured and healing breaths. I focused on my stomach muscles moving, my ribs expanding and contracting. I focused on just on continuing to function. To emotionally survive what was ahead, what was waiting for me behind the closed door at the end of the street. I could do this. I’d survived many times. In fact, I’d survived for over a decade, staying by choice because every day I hoped he’d realise, apologise and things would get better. And when surviving day by day just got too hard… I’d just try to survive in half hour blocks.
That morning I had been accused of hiding money-again. Specifically, I had been accused of opening a Swiss Bank account and funnelling money out from our joint bank account. I had burst into nervous laughter at that point and asked him how he ever anticipated that could occur on my public service salary. I suggested maybe he should Google what the minimum balance was to open such an account. He got mad. White hot mad. He physically shook with his fury. I met his rage, staring back and waiting for the verbal diatribe which would follow. I wondered if this was the time he’d snap and finally hit me. When we left for work, my smiling mask was in place.
Just a week earlier, I had been screamed at for bringing him a six pack of beer. We had been fighting, again, and so I walked 2.5 kms in 35 degree heat to buy some Carlton Draft so we could sit down and rationalise what we had been fighting about. When I returned, smiling, he started yelling. Told me he could see through my manipulation, that I was stupid. Worthless. Pathetic. That no one would ever want to be with me the way I was. Through incredulous tears, I protested, saying the beer was merely a peace offering to try and talk through our issues. But he didn’t want to talk. It was about the yelling, the insults. There is no conflict resolution for a narcissist. I broke down, sobbing. ‘See?’ he sneered. ‘Weak and worthless…’
I know I wasn’t alone. According to the UN, one in three women across the world are or have been abused. That’s over a billion people. Amnesty International reports that violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights abuses. It’s horrifically common yet when it happens to you, you feel so incredibly alone.
The abuse never became physical, he never hit me. He never had to and yet the bruises he left still remain on my psyche. And these aren’t even the bad incidents, there are truly just too many to write about. And, to be honest I am still too deeply ashamed of some to share. After a while, I became almost numb to the treatment, it was a twisted kind of normal. I assumed this is what a relationship, a marriage really was. And I assumed other couples were just hiding their cracks behind closed doors too.
Then one day, knowing it was going to be another bad week… I stared at the crack, trying to calm myself. Remember it’s just one more day. You can survive just one more day. But then it occurred to me… it wasn’t JUST one more day. We were married. I had 50 plus more years to survive. Over five decades. Five times more than what I had already endured. And suddenly the corners of my vision darkened, the crack blurred. I realised, on some level, I was having a panic attack at the enormity of strength and sacrifice I would need to stay in the marriage. I noticed for the first time how thin I had become and realised stress had taken its toll on my body.
When I got home that night I moved into the spare room. I told my husband this was my third, and final, request to get counselling. But this time I wouldn’t be the one to organise the appointments just for him to cancel-it was up to him. I wouldn’t nag, wouldn’t pressure, it was entirely his responsibility -and he had a deadline of 8 months. Otherwise, I would leave. I left 9.5 months later.
Years later I still have a reoccurring nightmare. That I never left. That I remained, behind. In my dream, I have no beautiful children, because he wouldn’t allow it and I don’t get hugged or kissed because he thinks I’m manipulating him into trying to have said children. I don’t have access to money, he wants the control… and he has his own account with an unknown amount of funds. I don’t have many friends anymore, because the emotional guilt I’d have to endure from spending time away from him means I am agitated the entire way through a lunch or coffee. So to my friends it looks like I want to hurry back, and I do for martial peace, but not away from them. I have deep frown lines etched into my forehead and sides of my mouth from trying to swallow my pain. My eyes are dull, there is no life or laughter behind them. I always wake yelling.
When I met my second husband, I told him he didn’t want to go out with me, I had too much baggage from my previous relationship. His response was simply “well, I’ll help you carry and hopefully one day it will go away.” And slowly, every healing day, the load is getting lighter. I only carry a few small suitcases now.
Violence, in all its forms, is born from a lack of respect. We all have a right to be respected, valued and loved. We all deserve that. It is a fundamental human right.
Violence is not your fault. Their actions are not your responsibility.
Remember, you don’t have to stare at cracks in the concrete.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available. You are not alone. You are not responsible: