To the Bystanders
Today is the last day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I promised to write something. Waiting all month, however, meant that people already wrote just about everything there was to write about DV already. So, I’d like to invite y’all to dig a little deeper and discuss something that’s often overlooked. Sometimes, the worst part about being in an abusive relationship is the people surrounding you.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the abuser is always the biggest bad guy (or gal or person). I’ve been in three abusive relationships and I say without a lick of shame that I am patiently waiting for my abusers to die a very unpleasant death so I can show up to their funerals with a smile on my face and a “Bye, Satan!” sign to wave in the air. Their cruelty is unmatched and I’m sure most victims would feel the same about their abusers as well. What they may also feel but not vocalize is how the people on the outside of the relationship made them feel.
When you’re in an abusive relationship, you may see people act 1 of 3 ways toward you (directly or indirectly). They tend to deny, ignore, or blame. Let’s discuss.
One of the most common tactics of abusers is isolation. They make it so their victims cannot reach out for help by cutting off ties with friends and relatives. They can complain about how your girlfriends are bad influences. They can use the venting you’ve done about your family to make you feel like you need to stay away from them or like they’ll only harm you. They turn you into a homebody by making any outing an unbearable experience by complaining, or embarrassing you, or simply telling you your clothes and hair look ugly. The end result is less contact with the outside world and less accountability for their actions. But sometimes, victims have lifelines. Sometimes we find ways to share our secrets. Sometimes we do so hoping to be saved.
In my last relationship, I experienced both physical and emotional abuse. Of course in the beginning it was all good. It takes a while for an abuser to get you to trust them. Often times that trust is earned by creating shared enemies and feeling a sense of comradery. With him, it was “jealous girls.” His son’s mom, random groupies, the chick that popped up on us one date night and cried in the bathroom when he curved her (Girl, I don’t remember your name but I am so sorry for being a part of that mess). All these adversaries created an “Us against the world” picture in my head that made me feel like he was everything I needed. And then the abuse started; first emotional, then physical.
The first time he put his hands on me, I posted a Facebook status. I detailed how he dragged me by the ankle out of the house and into the front yard and locked me out without my purse or phone or keys then called the police on me when I refused to leave (and tried to break in to get my things). In the 24 hours that my status was up a couple of people reached out to me. However, everyone seemed to forget about it after the fact except for his son’s mom’s friend who had took a screen shot that was used in court months later to prevent him from getting custody of his son. (and became an excuse for more abuse)
That incident happened 2 months before we made our relationship official and for the year we were together (and the year after we broke up but continued seeing each other) nobody seemed to care. My friends came over for brunch. My family invited us on camping trips. He and his kids were even added to our Christmas name drawings. I had told every one of my Facebook friends that this man had assaulted me and still, everyone liked the pictures of him I posted and talked about how cute we were together. Aside from a couple of creepy men who tried to sleep with me (and I later learned were also abusers), nobody really voiced concern at all.
A part of me believes they ignored my cry for help because, well, I chose to stay. If I was still with him, it must not be too bad, I must want the abuse, I must have been lying. Why else would an attractive young woman stay with an abusive man? Well…you want the truth? If I left him, I’d be homeless. He helped a lot with my kids, so I might end up unemployed too. And, most importantly, you have to remember this all started with emotional abuse. Before he ever hit me, he would tell me how worthless I was.
“You’ll never be as good as my ex-wife.”
“If you get down to 160 lbs I might wife you.”
“You’re a hoe, community p*ssy, nobody wants you like that.”
So in the back of my mind, if I left him, that would be it for me. I’d never find a man who would love me despite my flaws like *he* did. So I stayed. I thought I earned the abuse. He reminded me of all my flaws and tied abuse to them as punishment. He hit me, tore me down, threw things at me, and threatened my kids’ livelihood. I was depressed. I lost weight, because I don’t take care of myself when I’m depressed and because he told me I was too fat to be wifey material. And because people kept telling me how good I looked, I figured it was working.
And then, we finally broke up. Or rather he dumped me because I “turned into a feminist.” Again, I shared the abuse with Facebook. His mom was even my friend on there at the time. And still, nothing. He started the “crazy ex-girlfriend” stories (that still continue years later). I actually lost many mutual friends because they said I was talking too bad about him. I was only telling the truth.
We were on and off for the year following our break up. Because he was still familiar and the impact of the emotional abuse had not worn off; because my aunt and grandfather died and I needed a shoulder to cry on; and because I finally got down to a sickly 160 lbs and he couldn’t stay away from me, even when he started dating the next woman. But it finally ended. And the last thing he ever said to me was, “I should’ve let you commit suicide.”
All that said, I still have friends who are friends with him. There are still people who think I’m just crazy and he’s a god. I’m sure he tells people stories about me just like he told me stories about the women before me. I’m just another crazy lying bitch. He said the same about his son’s mom and I remember when he told me one of my old mentors confronted him about rumors that he beat his ex-wife too and I laughed those off back then (so very sorry for that too).
I assume he’s abusing the woman he’s with now. I’ve heard stories of physical and emotional abuse from a few women who came before me as well. All that to say, he is just an abuser. He abuses women. I do not expect that to change. I do not write this hoping to convince him to stop being a human garbage pail. Abusers are not the ones we reach out to during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And not really victims either. I know too well that when you’re in it, there is not much another victim can say to you other than to give you assurance that you’re not alone.
I write this for all the people surrounding abusive relationships. Don’t ignore it. Whether it’s subtle or in your face. Listen, step in, help. Start a secret fundraising campaign to stack some money up for those afraid to leave because of financial dependency. If you know the abuser, make it clear you’re not okay with their behavior. Don’t take their word over the victim. It’s hard to see people in such a negative light, but it’s even harder to live with yourself if someone ends up dead because nobody believed the victim.