Part I: An Open Letter to my Friend Who Survived Domestic Violence

My dear friend,

You told me how he treated you like a lady! A queen, even. This guy who’d taken an interest in you. Flowers. Nice dates. Opening the door for you. Maybe those are cliches, but of course they melted your heart a little.

And what was it — a moment 5 weeks later that knocked the stack of cards down? He found a picture of you speaking to another guy. Maybe you were smiling in the picture? Maybe this guy of yours had issues? Let’s go with the latter, because he called you a “whore” and “bitch” that day and he never stopped.

How did he get you in bed right after? You said to this day you’re still shocked and dismayed at how it happened. How he managed it, just weeks into what was your first dating experience. You’d been taught your whole life, with and without words, that sex was something sacred to be enjoyed in marriage. Sure, you were a preacher’s daughter, but you came to understand and value sex in this way, too. There was no other way.

A picture my friend chose to represent the horror of abuse.
A picture my friend chose to represent the horror of abuse.

But he wasn’t only manipulating you into sex. He was doing a lot of other things, too. Not bodily things, but soul things. Of course you tried to laugh it off the time he held a knife to your throat. What girl wouldn’t, the first time anything like this happened to her?

The less dramatic stuff, though, was what really buried you. The grinding, dehumanizing, embarrassing, day-to-day stuff. No, minute-to-minute stuff because he never left you alone! He walked you to the campus computer lab where you worked, watched your every move behind that desk, walked you back home. You didn’t have a veil to wear, so he was your veil.

He kept you away from your friends — all of them — and from your family. The cheery, kind, freshman and sophomore girl I’d known? Yeah, where did she go exactly? You lost a lot of weight, I noticed.

The nightly routine where he’d make you tell him about anyone you had interacted with that day. “What did he say? What did you say back? Why did you say that? Stupid! What were you thinking when you said that? Do you think he’s into you? You bitch. You’re never talking to him again!”

No wonder you started fantasizing about killing yourself. Who wouldn’t?

Then he was gone. At last. Leaving you with groceries to last the summer and anything else you’d need. He finally left you alone in his apartment. But not to worry! He didn’t forget about you. Daily texts, you said, usually just one or two words: “Bitch.” Every day. Every freakin’ single day. Every single day that felt like hell.

Another photo my friend chose. No words necessary.
Another photo my friend chose. No words necessary.

What set you free? Two things, you said: the Internet and your big sister. The Internet to confirm what some part of you already knew — that you were in an abusive relationship. Domestic violence. Emotional abuse. Psychological abuse. Severe manipulation that placed all the guilt for everything that happened on your wearied shoulders. The words on the screen must have shimmered a little through tears.

The big sister, too. Yes, she would help. Your parents showed up, they moved you out, and you never saw him again. At least not in real life.

So how does he show up again? You’d moved on after all. Married your best friend, had a baby, had another baby. Two adorable baby boys running through your once-quiet house. Your small, dated house because hubby is getting a graduate degree, and your teacher’s salary is all y’all have to live on. Your paintings and drawings are stunning, but money doesn’t come easily, even to busy, talented artists like yourself.

So why did you talk to the priest about it? After all, you said you’d already asked and received forgiveness from your family for “withdrawing” from them, for “compromising” what you’d been taught. Your husband knew what had happened, but he was gracious, as you said. (Should you, a survivor of domestic violence, need to apologize for anything? Perhaps that’s a topic for another day since this is your story, as it is stands now.)

But confessing to a priest is part of converting to the Catholic Church, so that’s exactly what you and your new husband did. You sat in front of that priest and forced the words of your shame, your confusion, your pain into the space between the two of you. The priest sat quietly, studying your face and words, searching for words to offer back.

“What I want you to do,” he said, “is pray for that man. Pray and wish for good things in his life. A happy marriage and healthy children. A good house to live in. A fulfilling and rewarding career. You know — the things you want for yourself.”

So you went home and ever since, that’s what you’ve strived to do. Despite my own negative reaction to the priest’s words, you tell me that this conversation with him started you on a path of forgiveness and healing. Through this encounter, you began to trust that God would rightly judge your perpetrator, even if he gets off easy in this life.

Except sometimes it’s hard.

And the shame comes back in your voice as you explain what happened the other day, when that guy came back into your life. (Or at least you thought for several long moments that he had.)

A painting my friend created while in the abusive relationship. Hope for safety to come?
A painting my friend created while in the abusive relationship. Hope for safety to come?

“My husband was watching the boys for me so I could work on my painting. I’m sitting there in my art studio, busy at work, peace in my heart.”

“Then I saw him. You know…him! Or at least a guy that looked just like him. Striding past my house where my kids are laughing with my husband in my living room!”

“After he was out of sight,” you tell me, “I went kinda crazy!” Flying out the door of your home to peer into this guy’s empty car. Anything you recognize? Planning how to keep your kids away from this monster. Thinking angry, fearful thoughts that didn’t sound Christian-like in your head. Frantically googling his name. Anger to see how he’d just been promoted in his active career, how much attention he’s received for things he never really had to work for. He comes from a rich and well-connected family, and has never suffered consequences for his abuse of you and other women he’d trapped.

And here you are, barely able to pay for your baby’s milk formula. You are mad as a hornet. A mama hornet. And you’re mad at yourself for being mad. For what feels like jealousy. Didn’t you already forgive him, after all? Haven’t you moved on?

The priest’s words ring in your ears, but you don’t feel like praying for this guy right now. His crimes toward you, toward other women, have gone unpunished. He walks absolutely scot-free, successful career and all. You know you were actually smarter than him. Heck, he knew it, too. He leaned heavily on your brain to get through that difficult class!

And here you are, wiping snot from your toddler’s nose while he’s bringing in 6-digit figures every year and getting his face plastered on the front of a newspaper.

Guilt for even thinking about the unfairness of it all.

You remind yourself that you’ve forgiven. That you want what’s best for him, just like the priest said.

What’s happening to me? Why am I upset over this still?

Shame.

To be continued…Part II coming soon!

thawingout

I am a Texan-born Bostonian who wants to understand how we get through hard things in life (aka trauma) using spirituality, meaningful work, life-giving hobbies, connection with other trauma survivors, friendships with non-traumatized people, animals, etc. I am a hospice social worker (LCSW) and I have a bunny named Nadia.

11 Replies to “Part I: An Open Letter to my Friend Who Survived Domestic Violence

  1. As much as this must be extremely hard for the friend you’re writing to, it also must be really hard on you. So awesome that you’re writing about it, because it helps you get it off your chest in addition to helping others who might be struggling with a similar situation– hers as the abuse victim or yours as the friend looking on. Looking forward to part 2!

  2. This is incredibly moving and terrifying. It had my skin crawling to think of how easily abusive relationships are overlooked and seen as normal, acceptable behaviour. Some of these women go as far as to marry their abuser, have kids and never fully realise that they deserved better.

    Thank you and your friend for sharing. I hope she is okay.

  3. I’ve gone through something similar and actually just posted about it on my blog. It’s been 4 years since he left but little things still trigger me. Little things will most likely always trigger your friend, too. It’s not easy to forget.

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