October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Heartbreakingly, every year we work with clients who have been abused by their spouse. Each year we continue to hear the truths of women who suffer so as to protect their children, who stay silent for years before seeking security, and who come to our office full of trepidation and vulnerability as they courageously begin to break the cycle. Today we re-share Susan’s own personal journey of domestic abuse.
We argued about the garlic in the guacamole. He stormed outside. I stood at the bathroom mirror focusing my shaking hand on my mascara when I heard the front door open and his footsteps on the stairs. He opened the bathroom door, punched me in the stomach, and calmly said, “Now you can tell your friends I’m abusive.”
I was young but I was strong, confident, and independent. How was I reduced to justifying the purchase of a two dollar tube of lipstick and defending why I wanted to see a movie with a girlfriend? How did I stay with a man who threw the bowl of my freshly made pasta against the kitchen wall as I set the table, cracked the windshield with his bare fist as I drove, and smashed the bouquet of mums against the mantle as I wept?
Despite knowing that domestic violence is the misuse of power and control, I couldn’t see it clearly when I was in its midst. I compared myself to those I considered “real” victims---like my clients with blackened eyes and broken bones and battered children----as I denied my own reality.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Despite decades of public education and the fact that one of every four American women reports being physically abused by a spouse or partner at some point, many people still don’t understand intimate partner abuse. Being a divorce attorney taught me that whether you are a welder or an accountant, rich or poor, a Gen Xer or a boomer---you are not immune to domestic violence.
No two situations are alike. Looking back I see how others helped me find my path forward. I had to tell the truth to myself. It helped when a friend gently asked “Is this the first time he hit you?” “Do you think that’s normal?” The concerns of others---shared without judgment--- supported me to see the seriousness of my situation. “I just called to see if you were safe I’m worried about you.”
I was lucky. I had a job, places I go stay if I needed to, and extraordinary friends. The thousands of victims who die each year from intimate partner abuse weren’t as lucky. If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of domestic abuse, let in support now. Call the 24 hour domestic violence hotline at (800)799-SAFE (7233). Develop a safety plan. Call an attorney knowledgeable about protection orders. Don’t wait.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is the time to be aware of the risks, your rights, and the next small step forward for your family’s future. As for me, the only regret I ever had about my first steps was that I didn’t make them sooner.