I still have a tendency to tell myself that what I went through wasn't abuse, not because it wasn't physical, but because in the back of my mind I think I wouldn't allow myself to be abused. I'm stronger than that, smarter than that. But that kind of thinking only perpetuates the stereotype that victims of domestic abuse are weak, and ignorant, and that's not true at all. When I read these #whyistayed and #whyileft tweets, I realize that I was abused. That I'm not the only person to have felt what I felt, or thought what I've thought. Women (and men) of all classes, races, religions, etc., have been through what I went through, and what my sister went through.
I saw the image above for the first time today, and as I went through each section, I saw more and more things that I witnessed and experienced in my relationship with my ex. Before I left him (and even after, if I'm being honest) I was embarrassed that I allowed these things to happen. I was embarrassed that I couldn't control the situation by not doing the things that caused him to be abusive. I apologized often (I still do - even when things are out of my control) and did the bulk of the peacemaking when we argued. I told myself that if I told others I believed I was abused they would think I just wanted attention.
#whyistayed: I didn't leave because I thought he loved me and I loved him. I didn't leave because I thought he was sick and needed help, and what if I left him and he never go the help he needed? I didn't leave because I believed therapy would fix him, even as he told me he would never go. I didn't leave because I believed him when he said no one else would ever love me, because I was crazy, and a brat, and I wanted too much, and I wasted my time in school. I believed every lie he told me. That's what they were, lies. Lies to break me down and keep me by his side. Towards the end I stayed because I was afraid he would hurt himself; whether purposefully or accidentally, I wasn't sure, but I knew I could never forgive myself if he did.
#whyileft: I finally left because I was making myself sick. I lost weight. I couldn't sleep. I cried all day. I stopped going to work. I barely focused in school. My family was worried - they could see the writing on the wall. I was worried for the safety of our dog, Riley. When he handed me a loaded gun, and asked me to kill him, I finally began to worry for my own safety. And then I learned about the other woman, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Our society tells us this kind of behavior isn't right. But when an abuse victim comes forward (and even when they don't) we hear a lot of victim-shaming. 'What did you do to provoke the abusive action?' 'Are you sure it was really abuse? Maybe you just want attention.' 'How could you let him speak to you that way?' 'You should've known better.' 'Why didn't you just leave?' Leaving isn't always as easy as it sounds. Some abusers become stalkers. Some victims don't have the means to leave, sometimes because the abuser controls the household income, spending, etc. As for why some victims stay, well, I listed some of my reasons already.
I'm still not entirely educated on this subject. There are a lot of things I don't know, and a lot of things I am learning as I continue to heal. It's a process. But what I do know is that victim-shaming is happening a lot more lately and that only makes it harder for victims to admit what is going on, because they don't want to be that person that's asked what they did or why they didn't leave or how could they let it get so bad? There are no easy answers, no easy ways out, but we don't have to make the process harder for victims. Shaming them, is similar to their abuser putting them down, making them feel small, isolating them, blaming them, etc. and only perpetuates the cycle.