Read an Excerpt
Before a secret is told,
one can often feel the weight of it in the atmosphere.
Cathy was raised in an abusive family. Today, she is married and has three children. Her husband is very controlling and jealous. Cathy is abused by her husband, who promises he will stop.
The very first time it happened, I knew in my head it would happen again, but in my heart I wanted to believe that he would never hurt me. I loved him! The first time was around Christmas. I had just quit my job. We went out with my mother, her boyfriend and his son Jack. Everything was fine at first. I saw a friend of ours (my husband didn't like him) and went over to talk to him. When I returned, my husband said he was leaving and left me there. I was very upset and confused. Why would he do that? Jack took me home. Stan was waiting for me when I got home.
We started to fight, I got my keys and went for the door but he grabbed me before I could get to the door. He ripped the keys out of my hand and crushed my fingers. He whipped the keys across the room, grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the Christmas tree. I fell to the floor and he started choking me and bouncing my head off the floor. I was gagging.
Then he suddenly let go of me and went into the kitchen. He was very quiet and hung his head down. I lay on the floor for a few minutes and I was scared. I had never seen him like this before; he was a madman.
At first I thought he was going to kill me. That is a terrible feeling to have. I was sitting on the couch,and was crying and shaking. He came in and sat down beside me. He went to touch me and I jumped back.
He started to cry and told me he loved me and didn't want to lose me. He said he was so sorry for what he had done to me. I felt so hurt. I also felt guilty and sorry for him. I knew he loved me and didn't mean to hurt me. I believed him when he promised he would never do it again. I wanted to believe him so much.
In July, I was on vacation from my job. I asked Stan to take a day off so we could spend some time together. He looked at me and laughed and said, "For what?" That was the day I stopped loving him. I went into the house and cried. I felt like I was worthless and not important enough for him to take a day off for. His job came before me; everything came before me. Things were never the same between us again.
The second time was more frightening than the first. We went to a party at my sister's house. I knew something was wrong. He made mean, nasty remarks to me while we were getting ready. I was very upset even before we left for the party.
When we got there, I went to a corner and sat and was nervous. I was afraid he would get mad. He didn't talk to me for a while. Then he came over and I got up and we danced. I stayed with him all night and did not talk to another man for fear Stan would get mad if I did.
He got drunk and I wanted to drive home. Everyone at the party agreed, so he handed me the keys. In the car he started yelling at me, saying, "You think you're smart, don't you? You think I'm a dummy, don't you?" I didn't say a word.
He kept it up all the way home and I knew I was gonna get it. We got home and I jumped from the car and ran toward the house. He got to me on the porch, knocked me down and bit my lips. Oh, did that hurt. He knocked me through the door and hit me again and again. Oh God, why didn't he stop?
My daughter got up and I screamed, "My babies are up!" He knocked me down on Deana and then fell on top of us. I could hear my daughter screaming, "Mommy, you're hurting me." I kicked him off of me and drew my fist back and punched him with all my might. I was so mad that he had hurt Deana. Then he really started hitting me.
I ran to the phone but he grabbed it from me and smashed it. He fell to the floor and started to cry. I stood there watching him cry and begging me not to leave. I felt sorry for him but I also felt hatred for him for treating me that way. I was so confused. He begged me to stay and told me he loved me and would never do it again. These were the only times he would tell me he loved me.
I didn't know what to do. I didn't have any place to go and I really didn't want to leave my home. The next day Stan couldn't remember anything he did or said the night before. I asked him why he hurt me; he said he didn't know why. I couldn't understand him and I couldn't understand me for staying. I told him that if it happened one more time I was leaving for good. He promised me he would stop drinking and would never touch me again.
I didn't leave him the next time it happened. Each time he beat me, it got worse and worse. I put everything else in front of my needs as excuses for not leaving. We owned a nice home and had some nice things. I had worked hard to get what we had. My kids needed a father and I needed a husband to take care of me and the kids.
My own father had left us when I was real young. If I walked down the street today and he walked by, I don't think he would know me and I'm not sure I would recognize him, either.
Stan never laid a hand on the kids; if he had, I would have killed him. I kept begging him to stop drinking and stop hurting me and he kept promising, but he never did. Things were pretty bad between us. I avoided him as much as possible. I didn't sleep with him and avoided his advances; I couldn't stand to have him touch me.
One day we went to a wedding and I talked to another man. On the way home Stan was driving very fast and telling me to go get this guy because he had lots of money and that was just what I wanted. The more he yelled, the faster he drove. I pleaded with him to slow down, but he didn't. The kids were with us and they were scared, too. When we got home, he grabbed me by the neck and choked me and knocked my head off the walls. I'll never forget the look in his eyes. It's burned into my head: those eyes and their look of hatred.
When you think someone hates you that much, you don't feel too good about yourself. I thought I was a pretty bad person for him to hate me so much that he would beat me. Afterward he said the same things, but I had no feeling. I was just numb and empty.
I made him leave, but he came back in a couple of weeks. I felt this was his home, too and I felt bad for making him leave. I didn't want to leave and give up everything either. This was my home. I didn't know where to turn.
I pulled away from him because I couldn't trust him anymore. I was afraid all the time and felt I lived my life walking on eggshells. No one could help me. I wouldn't go near him and would not sleep with him. I made up excuses to not sleep with him. If he did something for me, he would always remind me and made me feel like I owed him. I felt like a whore. He had me believing that everything was my fault. He degraded me in front of my friends and in private.
One night he wanted me to go to bed with him and I started fighting him. He said he would rape me and I fought him off. He threw me on the floor and told me I wasn't worth it. It's confusing; I didn't want him to touch me, yet when he said that to me I felt cheap and ugly, like a whore.
One day I said to myself, "Is this the way you want to live the rest of your life?" My answer was, "No!" I gathered up my children and left the house. My husband told me, "Go! Get out of here, but you'll come crawling back to me."
Those words burned in me and I thank him because they helped me to stay away. At times when I feel weak and think I can't make it and should go back, I remember those words and they give me strength to stay away from him.
I went to a shelter where I received counseling and got back my self-esteem. I made some good friends there and learned that I wasn't the only one. I heard other women's stories and thought they were worse than mine. I met women in the group who had left and made it. "It was hard," they told me, "but you can make it."
I think back and wonder how I put up with it for so long. I always had a way of making myself very busy, so busy that I could block out all the bad stuff that was happening and not deal with it. I know now that I didn't really block it out; I just didn't deal with it.
After I left, I had nightmares for months. I could see those eyes and their look of hatred and I would wake up screaming and break into a cold sweat. It takes a long time to get over the fears.
My health suffered and my feelings about myself sank real low. I turned to drinking for solace. I never felt I had a drinking problem because when I left I didn't miss it at all or need it. But the drinking numbed me and kept me from doing something about my situation. I never told my counselor or the other women about my drinking, but now, almost a year later, I can admit it and see what it did to me at the time. I describe that part of my life as I look back on it as my being a wild horse and my husband trying to break me. He almost did break me, my spirit that is, but thank God I had enough spirit left to get myself out of there before I was really destroyed.
I'm living on my own with my three children. I am on welfare, have a job that pays minimum wage and, by the time I pay the sitter, there is not much left for us to live on. I'm going to get myself some schooling so I can get a better job. I miss my home very much and had to give up a lot of material things when I left.
I love my life now and I'm very happy. There are so many things to enjoya whole new world out thereand I want to enjoy it as much as I can. I will never go back to that life again; I can't. If I were to say one thing to other women reading my story, I would say, "Get out! It only gets worse. Where there's a first, there's always a second time."
It's regrettable that so many women can identify with Cathy's story. If you can identify with her physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual pain, then you may also be in an abusive relationship. It isn't easy to admit it. Regardless of the pain an abusive relationship causes, admitting its reality hurts emotionally. Still, Cathy's story does not reveal all the dynamics of domestic violence or its many faces. Some define domestic violence simply as the physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment of a woman by her husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, lover or companion. As we will show you, there is more to it than that. Domestic violence, spouse abuse, battered women, family violence and domestic disputes are all phrases used to describe the mistreatment of a woman by a man with whom she lives or has lived. Domestic violence can be considered a pattern of living. It is a pattern in which one member of a household uses violence and emotional abuse to gain control and dominance over the other members.
Violence is one method a male uses to keep a woman under his total control. To survive, she makes adjustments to this dominance. Resentment, hurt, anger, physical and emotional pain, low self-esteem and ruined lives accompany these adjustments. Abuse is a means for a single individual to consolidate and maintain power within the family or a relationship.
Abusive relationships take many forms and are not limited to physical abuse. In reality, there are no "pure" forms of abuse. Although we can identify and describe physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse and neglect, it is our belief that abused women are always subjected to a combination of these. For example, all physical abuse involves emotional abuse. One may recover from the physical impact of being hit but, as with Cathy, the unanswered question "Why?" has lasting, emotional impact.
Abused women's case histories disclose several types of violence used against them. We see these repeated in case after case:
However, as we mentioned earlier, physical abuse is only one form of abuse against women. It is the one most apparent to others because of the noticeable physical consequences. Some of the not-so-apparent forms of abuse include:
Just as we know the types of abuse women experience, we also know their typical emotional reactions to the abuse. These are some of the feelings abused women experience:
Do any items on these lists ring a bell for you? Do you wonder if you are in an abusive relationship, or do you believe that your relationship is "just different"? Often an abused woman does not accept that she is abused and will contend that what has happened to her is not abuse. She makes excuses for his behavior and hers. Abuse cannot be rationalized or denied away. It can be hidden; it can be painfully endured; but it cannot be denied away. On the other hand, there are many women who know they are abused but haven't succeeded in stopping it. Either way, help is needed.
Once you realize abuse is present in your life, it is possible to decide what you should do next. Stopping the abuse itself is a challenge. Recognizing and identifying the effect it has on you and your children is part of the process of positive change. We can't fight or conquer something if we deny its existence. Breaking through the denial is essential to stopping the abuse. Recognizing and pinpointing the types of abuse you have endured is a way to break through the denial.
Once again, if you think you may be in an abusive relationship, ask yourself these questions:
The more questions you answered "Yes" to, the more abusive your relationship is becoming. Further questions might be, "How am I affected?" "What should I know about abuse?" "What is alcoholism and how does it affect my family and me?" and "How do I get help for myself?"
When we can't dream any longer, we die.
The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people.
The hardest is with one.
People change and forget to tell each other.
Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help
you discover who you are.
Bernice Johnson Reagon
No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.
1998. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Before It's Too Late by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D and Susan E. Pickering. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.