On Day 13 we share this very powerful and thoughtful personal account of abuse and survival by Avril D'Arcy who is using her own name.
"As a survivor of intimate partner abuse, people have often asked me some infuriating questions. Most commonly: ‘Why didn’t I leave?’ and ‘Why didn’t I tell anyone?’ However, when I did try to explain, many didn’t want to listen.
People often think that they would tell someone, that it would be easy to tell someone. It is not. And as hard as it is to talk, it is even harder to be heard. They ask me why I didn’t tell anyone I had an abusive partner, that I was struggling, that I couldn’t find a way out, often insisting that they would have helped, often expecting explanations or almost apologies for not letting them help me. But honestly, after years of torment and apologies, years of being told I was exaggerating, over-sensitive and crazy, the reluctance to ‘make a fuss’ or ‘bother’ anyone, definitely played a big part in my silence.
I found these sentiments echoed in society, both before and after I left. The focus on physical violence in the media’s reporting of abuse, while providing much needed awareness on the issue, can also impede those women who believe that their situation doesn’t fulfill the perceived criteria of abuse. If I can say one thing, it is that there is no such thing as ‘not being abused enough’.
In speaking to other women, other survivors, I have found that many believe that what they are experiencing isn’t bad enough, that it isn’t the same as the account they are reading in the papers. And it is my belief that a renewed effort in highlighting the emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuses perpetrated by abusive men, that we can offer women more understanding and support when they need it. And hopefully give the support they need to leave before the violence escalates into the horrific physical violence we have all seen.
On both sides of the relationship, I have found people distancing themselves from the stereotypically perceived abuser/victim character. There is no area of society that this issue does not reach. In my case, there were no drug or alcohol issues, there was no high-powered stressful job or money worries. Often used as excuses for a man’s anger and violence, these ideas only serve to inhibit people to coming to terms with their situation.
The truth is you don’t have to tick every box before you speak to someone, in fact in many cases you won’t be able to, or won’t recognize other abuses until after you have left. You don’t have to remain silent. One ticked box is all you need to walk away. It is tragic to me now, that I felt I needed to stay until things were undeniably bad enough. I wish I had known that I could have left sooner.
I do now know however, that the only real power and control my ex-partner had over me at the end, is that he believed I would never tell anyone. Once I began to speak and to be heard, the relief was enormous. I wasn’t the crazy, selfish bitch my ex had made me believe I was. He wasn’t my responsibility and it was not my job to ‘deal’ with his moods. I was never responsible for his choices and actions and I wasn’t to blame.
As one woman put it to me “I think it’s the little things that are the worst, women say to themselves, ‘it could be worse, he could hit me’. But you can break people quicker emotionally than you can physically.” There is a perception that we are weak, but this is so far from the truth. We are still living or trying to live a life outside our relationships. We are mothers and students and housewives and working professionals the same as everyone else in society. We are dealing with all of life’s normal issues, trying to remain professional, maintain friendships, build careers and care for our children. We do this all with an unbearable underlying current of stress, all with a smile plastered on our faces. We are survivors, not victims. We survive every day: Trying to manage an unmanageable situation, trying to save some part of ourselves that we can still recognize.
When I eventually left my ex, my mother, after speaking for days and seeing my anguish, said two things I will always remember: She said “God forgive me, but you would have been better off if he had given you a black eye” and secondly she told me despairingly that I would never see retribution.
She didn’t say these things to be cruel or cold or to make me feel bad. After almost forty years of working with women in similar situations, she was trying to prepare me for the worst. She had seen it before and she knew that if I wanted to talk, to stand my ground and stick up for myself, that I would have an uphill battle.
I had always thought that this was a black and white issue. That there was no middle ground where people could sit and maintain a demeanor of complacency. In this I was very wrong. Previous conversations with friends, family, colleagues and strangers, had always given me the impression that everyone knows that domestic abuse, in all forms, is categorically wrong. That there are no excuses and there are no sides. This all changed in the aftermath of my relationship. I found everything I said was being quantified and qualified. At what point does violence have to reach for it to be deemed bad enough? I had thought abuse to be despicable at every level. My boyfriend and I were together for three and a half years. I didn’t take photos of bruises; I didn’t think I’d have to. I never realized I would have to explain, to discuss and to argue my case. I became both the defense and prosecution. If I had literally actually walked into a door, there would have been rumors and gossip, grave conversations about my wellbeing. But here I was telling people to their faces that he had crushed me in a doorway, that he had dragged me and knocked me into a wall, and most of our mutual friends refused to talk to me about it. They hadn’t been there. They didn’t see what happened. They didn’t want to get involved, take sides. They became more wary of accusing him than actually believing me.
He had gained power from hurting me. Every reaction I had was a source of power for him. I had become used to the usual swearing and shouting. He had to go further and further each time. I was a slut and a whore, I was a selfish bitch, a stupid cunt and a fucking moron. I was disgusting, insecure, paranoid, irrational and jealous.
My feelings were always secondary, always. He came first. If he was having a good day, I was having a good day. I was caught in a cycle of abuse that I couldn’t find my way out of. Our lives had become so intertwined that I would lose everything should I go. He had warned me that if I left, he would make sure I would lose everyone. I should have left then. There were a million times I should have left. I just always thought that there would be time to figure things out, to fix it. He had problems, I would help him and then we could talk about it. Deflection is a weapon for an abusive partner. They displace their issues, they put them on you and then suddenly they are the victims. I couldn’t leave him when he needed my help. But I couldn’t help him, that day never came and things escalated quickly, becoming increasingly worse and becoming physically violent. By the end I felt I needed a ‘good’ reason to leave. I had rationalized and normalized all the other reasons. The psychological and verbal abuse didn’t seem like enough. I would start out standing up for myself, but end up cowering, backing down, apologizing and asking that he just be nice to me.
Part of me thought that if I could fix it, if I could talk to him that I wouldn’t have to tell anyone he had now physically hurt me. If I didn’t tell anyone, maybe it wouldn’t be real. I was in shock by the end, paralyzed with the realization that this had happened to me. You have to be ready to leave. It’s a difficult concept for people to comprehend. For a long time I wasn’t ready. I was terrified that he was right. That I wasn’t worth it, that I was this terrible burden he made me out to be. What if nobody else wanted me, what if he was right? Maybe I didn’t deserve better than this. Another aspect of leaving that was particularly difficult for me to overcome was the fact that a part of me didn’t want to go. Holding onto any hope in my mind that I would find the man I fell for. People need to realize that often, the abuser has not only broken your confidence, your spirit and your sense of self. They have also broken your heart. Towards the end I found I left not because of the reasons to leave but because I had run out of reasons to stay.
Adapting to the real world was incredibly hard. The realizations of my relationship kept hitting me in waves over a period of months and then years. In a lot of ways I am still learning to cope with people, still discovering the ways in which my brain had reprogrammed itself just to survive through daily life.
It never leaves you. You do recover and you do move on. You do become happy again. But the lasting effects linger. I will always be hurt by what the man I loved did to me. There are no rose-tinted glasses, no fond memories I can allow myself to ponder. People said I was lucky I had left, that I should be happy now I was free. There was no luck involved. It is one of the hardest things I have been through. My world had disappeared overnight. My life as I had built it was gone. I felt like he had won. But my mother told me one other thing I remember.
She said, “He hasn’t won Avril, he hasn’t got you.”
If you, like Avril, are experiencing domestic abuse, please know that the Women's Aid National Freephone Helpline is there to listen, believe and support you. Phone 1800 341 900 between 10am to 10pm, 7 days.
Avril D'Arcy has been working with the White Ribbon Campaign Ireland since September 2014. A contributing blogger and active committee member, Avril draws on her own experiences as a survivor of domestic abuse. She aims to highlight the consequences of emotional and psychological abuse and breakdown cultural stereotypes of those who are affected by abuse. She has also worked with Women's Aid and her articles have been shared by various organisations who have praised the realism with which she portrays her experiences.