By Heather Dalrymple
Domestic Violence. It’s a hard thing to go through. When you get right down to the nitty gritty of it, it’s the loneliness that kills you. I know for a fact that loneliness is one of the hardest emotions to deal with because it can be the most destructive. Nobody wants to admit that they’re lonely, so you end up experiencing all types of other emotions, such as anger, guilt, fear, worry, sadness, grief or a barrage of other emotions. Loneliness leads to the worst decisions. It can lead you into the arms of someone who could either end your life, or begin a whole new one that you are not ready or willing to experience.
I was a young girl, and I felt trapped. I was abused in my past, and I felt vulnerable. I only wanted one person to love me the way I was capable of loving. I told all my fears, hurts, hopes, and dreams to a man, and he crushed them. But of course he reeled me in by “being a good listener”, and being there for me, and being so nice, but that was only the first several months. People can only wear their masks for so long before they become “comfortable” enough to share their real selves with you. I think they are “uncomfortable” wearing the mask so they take it off and many people are actually confused by this thinking that the person has “changed”, when in fact they’ve been the same person all along, sitting in front of us, we just didn’t notice because of the mask.
If a man or woman is in any type of relationship with you and the “sharing” is only one way—if you’re doing all the sharing—watch out! They could then take that information and store it in the back of their mind later to hurl at you in the form of a weapon. After he got me to open up, and I thought I was in love, eventually, his mask came off, and he started telling me that I would never go anywhere in life, that no one would ever love me, and that I was stupid, fat and ugly. No matter what we talked about, he was always right. He always knew more than I did. I told him I wanted to go to school. He tried everything he could to stop me.
When I did go, I was so strung out on drugs and alcohol, and hurting myself in an apartment because of a negligent landlord, and a fight with him, than I ended up kicked out. I tried to work, and when I did, he made fun of me, because I didn’t have a college degree and I was working in fast food. The harder I tried to make him happy, the more miserable I became. I changed my hair; I started wearing makeup, and I cooked different food for him. Nothing I could do could make him seem happy, or stop being mean to me. And nothing could make him stop cheating on me. I admit that I became bitter over everything; however, I was not a happy person before I met him.
The whole point in meeting a man or having a boyfriend was to have someone to validate me. Of course, this can never be achieved; all it does is add to our problems. You think that your inner monologue is disturbing? Try adding another person’s trash talk to that. It’s a lot worse. When you think you love someone, their opinions matter to you, and when they say those things, it hurts more than when you say it to yourself. Sometimes it’s like an outward validation of something you were already feeling, because they know you and they know your insecurities.
Abusers, I’m pretty sure, seek out those whom they know, by our own admission, have already been abused. And the abuse usually starts in our early childhood. I’ve taken some time to think this through, and as much as I love people, for some of them, all we can do is pray. I spent the majority of my life trying to save people with my love. In the process of getting to know someone, you see their problems, and you can see good in them, so you rationalize to yourself, that there is some reason that you should give them the benefit of the doubt for treating you that way.
So in the process of finding something in someone to love, perhaps a friend, mother, father, brother, cousin, aunt, or uncle, then a boyfriend or girlfriend, you end up losing yourself. Then you try so hard to save them because you see so much good in them. I went to Safe-Net for a year. They have some truly amazing counselors there, and they taught me a lot of crucial information that I’ll carry with me forever. One of the things they have taught me, that has always stuck with me, is the fact that when an abuser says mean things to you, it’s because that’s how they feel about themselves. It’s called a reverse mirror image.
We often accuse people of what we’re guilty of. So in the process of trying to figure why I do what I do, I realized that the mirror also works on the survivors. We are guilty of loving too much and being too kind and other ridiculous sentiments. But the fact of the matter is, because we are so nice and kind and sweet, we tend to magnify these traits in others, or perhaps even superimpose them over the person’s face, when they’re not even there.
In life, I realized, you are going to find what you’re looking for. I tried and tried to make it work with him. I pleaded with God every night to change him, to make it work between us, to make him stop hitting and choking me, and saying all the cruel, hurtful things. The crazy part is, when you’re being abused, not only do you rationalize that there is some reason or excuse for them, but you are so entranced by this person, that you don’t even know you’re being abused.
For years I took stuff from him, and had no idea that I was being abused, only that I was in a tumultuous relationship that I tried desperately to work out. What is the reason for this? I propose once again that it goes back to your childhood. If not that, then another relationship you were in, romantic or otherwise, that heeded you much security, albeit false, yet, at the same paradox, it was sweeping whatever security you had from beneath you and making you more vulnerable. Another point to ponder is statistics.
When I was at Safe-Net, they said at least 50% of men are abusive. I didn’t believe this at the time, but when I looked back over my life, I had many male friends and boyfriends, and only one of them was not abusive. Abuse doesn’t just mean hitting, it can mean pushing, slapping, yelling, threatening, even Spiritual and financial abuse. If a man (or woman) gives you “an allowance” this is usually considered Financial Abuse.
There’s also Sexual Abuse. Just because you are in a relationship with someone—even if you are married—does not give them the right to take your body when you say no. “No” still means no, married or not, in love or strangers. Most of my friends were in abusive relationships too, and most of the people reading this probably had abusive parents, or have someone they are very close to that did. All of these factors make it hard for a victim to get out.
I had always had a hard time making friends, but when I met him, I was learning to reach out and trying to find some decent people, who, at the time, weren’t exactly like me in some important ways. I wanted friends who weren’t addicted to drugs and alcohol as I was. I found some good female friends. And he was successfully able to drive me away from them and my counselor. He was always hitting on my female friends in order to keep me away from them. My jealousy kept me isolated, to keep my abuse hidden, and perpetuated. Keep this in mind ladies and gents.
There was nobody to tell me that what he was doing was not only wrong, and that not only were we very wrong for each other, but also that it was illegal. I was under the influence in more ways than one. (Looking back, I feel like it was the Devil. I had accepted Jesus Christ right around the point where he almost took my life. So, Christ saved me literally, again. Praise God!) The abuser will also tell you when they hit you that it was your fault. They will never take responsibility for anything they did. If they ever do apologize, it is only to keep you at their disposal for more abuse.
You really can’t give other people advice. Even if a woman tells you her story, you can pray for her, and you can tell her your survival story, but she will probably not listen, unless she has already planted that decision firm in her mind, and let it take root. You can talk this over and over with yourself and you can convince yourself that he loves you and that he is just a sick person, but in the end, if you get out, it will be because you love yourself more.
I think when you are in a bad situation, no matter what it is; abuse by someone else, or by yourself, there is always a point in which you say “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” Whenever anybody asks about my ex, and whatever happened to him, I tell the story of the P.F.A. but I always tell them that when I made the decision there was this great moment, where even though I hated myself more than I did at any time in my life, I loved myself just enough to get away from him.
I wanted so badly to get away from him, and to begin my own life. I wanted to finally pursue my education and my career. I wanted to meet nice guys, and even nice women. I wanted to have adventures, to learn new things, to wear the clothes I wanted to wear, eat at new restaurants, and find new hobbies, and go back and find old things as well.
But most of all, I wanted to be free. When I got the P.F.A. it was one of the greatest feelings I had ever experienced at that point in my life. It was pure unadulterated freedom; the beginning of a new life and a new adventure. It’s so scary at some points, that although we love this new found freedom, it also scares us to death, and if we aren’t brave enough, it could lead some of us to walk right back into that jail cell, giving us the death sentence.
I think this is where they get that saying “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Maybe not exactly, but why wouldn’t it start at home? Those are the worst kinds of enemies. They’re like spies. I barely escaped with my life. I am forever grateful to God, but I am also very grateful to the man who did this to me, for he will never know what he has done to move my life along. I’m “troubled on every side, yet not distressed, we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9)
Since the P.F.A. in 2009, I have bought a guitar, graduated college with a Bachelors degree, and continued on today with my Masters. I have become more social, having recently joined my church; I finally found a place where I feel like I belong. I have learned how to go out and do things on my own. I don’t wait for people to hang out with me, because I enjoy my own company again, like I did when I was a child. I have become clean and sober and quit smoking cigarettes, and lost 200 pounds, all because I asked God to help me, and started trusting in Christ, and loving myself. I have begun relearning languages, and going on stage and singing and do stand-up comedy. In a sense, he pushed me along, as a sort of propeller to excellence.
Everyone we meet, everything we do, or see, or hear, has the potential to shape and mold us, if we let it. I heard a saying, which I always keep close to my heart, “No experience is bad unless we fail to become better because of it.” Well, I don’t know that I’d say it wasn’t bad, but I would definitely say that I’m glad I went through it. I would also say that, I would not go through it again. I am only glad to have gone through it, so that as a counselor, I can tell young women, or men, “Yes, I do know what you’re going through, I’ve gone through it myself.”
Safe-Net has some really great counselors, and when you call, you don’t even have to tell them your real name. When you go in, they don’t keep files, and they don’t ask for insurance cards, or identification of any kind. They truly do keep you safe. If someone calls looking for you, no matter who it is, they will not tell anyone that you are there. That person must call you directly.
When I got my P.F.A., the counselor that convinced me to do so, told me it was necessary, and I was terrified of going to court. She showed me a video, and they helped me get things started legally. It didn’t cost me a penny for the P.F.A. Whomever the P.F.A. is issued against has to pay. The phone number is 454-8161. When you go into the building, you can only be buzzed in when you give them your name, and the person you have the appointment with, and you have to wear a badge the whole time. They have to know who is in the building in order to keep everyone safe. Men can receive counseling as well as women, and anyone can go regardless or sexual orientation, religion, marital status, etc.
I know I’ve said a man or woman who is being abused won’t listen to you, and they won’t leave until they’re ready and they’ve had enough, but I still want to urge you to talk to that friend, or loved one who is being abused. Even if they won’t listen to you and leave, your continued support, emotional and physical means the world. When I was going to those counselors, what made the difference was their emotional support, love and understanding. Feeling their love and support was what ultimately made me realize that what they were giving was the opposite of what he was giving and it gave me the courage to get out. So, please, be there for your friend. Be brave when they cannot.
Contact Safe-Net at 814-454-8161 or Visit online at www.safeneterie.org