By A.M. Thompson
I’m sorry to put this on you. I know it isn’t fair. I know I can’t ask you to save me. I know only I can save me, but I have to ask for help — for your help — because I cannot bring myself back from this. Not alone.
I am coming to you exasperated and desperate, with news you don’t want to hear. I think part of you knows, deep down, that something isn’t right, that something hasn’t been right for a very long time. You may not know what, but you’ve probably caught my vacant expression every now and again or my “deer in headlights” gaze, though if you have I most certainly looked down or turned away.
Maybe you thought it was my depression (and sometimes it is). But I’ll let you in on a secret: sometimes my depression is more than a mental illness; sometimes it’s the direct result of something sicker, something far more secret, and something far more taboo: domestic abuse.
I am the victim of abuse: mental and physical-fucking abuse.
I have been hit and punched and kicked and choked. I have had my head held underwater, my ass (literally) dragged across concrete, and my body pinned to the floor. I have been told my life doesn’t matter; I’ve been reminded I have nowhere to go.
I have been abused, and the person I loved and cherished the most beat me.
I know what you are thinking: leave. Just fucking leave. But it isn’t that simple; please stop trying to make it that simple.
You see, our marriage didn’t start out like this. It isn’t like I fell in love with a guy who put me in a coma on the first date. I fell in love with a boy, a boy I met in art class. A boy who liked backyard wrestling, Stephen King, and Jurassic Park. A boy who I “parked” with, wrote poetry for, and lost my virginity to. A boy who took me to a movie and dinner for our first date. A boy who became a man, a man with an alcohol problem.
Looking back there were signs: a push here, an offhanded comment about my appearance or intelligence there. But it didn’t really start until the time he clocked me in the face over a 25 cent piece of fruit.
But the truth is, the why doesn’t matter. It didn’t then and it doesn’t now. What matters is that you know that when I ask for help (when we ask for help) it is because I am/we are desperate — absolutely desperate.
I was too scared to leave and afraid that, if I stayed, I would die. (Either at his hands or my own.) I was financially dependent and physically isolated. My mind became so entangled in this sickness that I began to truly believe I deserved it. I believed I deserved to be hurt and to suffer. I believed it when he said I was worthless. I believed it was my fault — if I didn’t push his buttons, if I didn’t engage him while he was drunk…if, if, if. And, worst of all, I believed him when he said he was sorry, when he said it wouldn’t happen again, because he only hit me drunk. Because he always seemed remorseful when booze left his bloodstream. Because there were good times. (He was sweet and kind and seventeen.)
I know no one wants to get involved in these dark matters, the ones that happen behind closed doors. I know you don’t, but I need you. I need you more than you know.
Violence is only part of the equation, and abuse is more than an action; it is a mental state. It is demeaning, demoralizing, and all consuming. While bruises fade and wounds scab over, even “good days” are riddled with perceived threats, indecision and constant fear, like a finger rapping methodically against a car door in standstill traffic. Tap. I should leave. Tap, tap. I can’t leave. Tap. Why don’t I leave?
Because it isn’t that simple. It isn’t “simple” at all.
I am writing to you — to those we ask for help — because my own pleas for help were dismissed, not once but twice by people who could have helped me. I need you to understand what that did to me.
The first time the abuse was excused was by my best friend. She was someone I trusted I more than myself. She was “older and wiser” and would give me advice even when I didn’t ask: blunt, no-shit, hard to swallow advice. She knew the gory details of my life — the troubled relationship with my mother, my personal struggles with depression. She, and only she, knew of my suicide attempt. But when I turned to her for help with domestic violence, I got something different. Instead of telling me to leave, she implied it might be my fault. She implied maybe I pushed his buttons, maybe I said something I shouldn’t have or didn’t do enough to stop it. Like a girl wearing a skirt or walking home late at night, she implied I asked for it. And so I stayed. I stayed, thinking I was crazy and overly dramatic, in an abusive relationship for seven years. Seven-fucking years.
When I came forward once more — this time after my significant other entered AA and after the hitting had ceased — I watched as my abuser’s behaviors were defended once more, this time by his father. Truth be told, I didn’t care to let anyone else in. I needed help, but I didn’t want to ask, but at my therapist’s insistence and my sponsor’s urging, I was told to make a “safety plan.”
I wondered who I could turn to until, like a sign, my father-in-law reached out to me and told me if I needed anything, he would be there. And so I clung to his words. I clung to him. I opened up, bit by painful bit. Just when I began to feel safe, I asked for his help. I asked for him to be an integral part of my safety plan. He bristled at the idea. My husband was only abusive when he was an alcoholic, and since he was no longer drinking, I was okay, right? Not to mention he was “too close.” He didn’t want to hurt either of us. What he didn’t realize was how his blindness was hurting me, could hurt me. What he didn’t realize was how hard it was for me to even ask.
For the second time in seven years, I was told I wasn’t worthy of help. For the second time in seven years, I was made to feel as though the abuse wasn’t that bad, as though I was making shit up in my head. For the second time in seven years, I was made to feel like my life didn’t matter, and for the umpteenth time I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor, crying and pressing a steak knife into the small of my wrist, praying for the strength to push down because no one would help me, and I sure as shit couldn’t help myself.
If someone comes to you and tells you they are abused, listen. Offer them help: an ear, a ride in an emergency, a place for safety. Help them find resources and tools to help themselves. Know if they are coming to you, it is worse than they let on. Far worse. Abuse victims will minimize the amount and intensity of the abuse and many even defend their abuser’s behaviors, taking the brunt of the blame on themselves.
It is how they cope; it is how they learn to live with themselves. It is how they learn to live with the abuse.
They need you. Please don’t dismiss them.
If you are the person the victim of abuse has chosen to trust, don’t place shame or guilt on their shoulders; they do that already, every minute of every day. Don’t excuse the abuser’s actions and chalk it up to a mistake, mental illness or addiction-fueled anger. The victims already do that, too.
Abuse is inexcusable. Period. They need to hear that they have been abused (don’t shy away from the word). They need to be reminded that they need help, and they need to be supported in getting that help.
They don’t need you to be an expert; they just need you to be there.
So please be there, because — while no one was there for me — I was lucky. Not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone makes it out alive.
A version of this post originally appeared on BLUNTMoms.
About A.M. Thompson
A.M. Thompson is a wife, mother, distance runner, and survivor. She holds an AA in Liberal Arts and Certificate in Creative Writing, and her work has appeared on Blue Lyra Review and BLUNTMoms.