Advice from an Abuse Survivor

Never believe an "I Love You" that's said with a fist.

Never believe an "I Love You" that has conditions attached. "...If you weren't so stupid." "...But you can't do anything right." "...But why the hell can't you be more like so and so?" "...but if you loved me back, you'd let me/you wouldn't make me so angry."

Never believe: "I'm so sorry, you just made me so angry." It's not a reason, it's an excuse. You can only hear "I'm sorry" so often before it loses any trace of sincerity. If they were truly sorry, they wouldn't do it again and there would be no need for the apology. The words sound hollow and empty.

Never believe: "I love you, it will never happen again." It will happen again. The tears don't matter, the bruises don't matter, the broken bones and ER visits and warnings from friends and relatives don't matter. Those scars that we bury deep inside us, the mental and emotional scars that we try to pretend don't exist -- they don't matter. It will happen, again and again and again, unless someone puts a stop to it.

The only person that can do that is you.

No one else can stop the cycle. Concerned friends and family can't do anything to help except support you in your decision. In the end, you are the one that has to step back and get out⁠ . No one else can make the desperately needed decision to leave. The first time the thought strikes you that -- "This is wrong. Why the hell am I still here?" -- go with it. Trust your instincts and get the hell out while you're still alive to run. Not every victim survives to get a second chance.

Even worse, the violence doesn't always stop once the victim walks out. Abusers have been known to stalk a victim and ruin their lives further. 73% of all domestic violence cases continue after the victim has left. Getting out isn't enough. Get out, then get help. Protect yourself, and learn how to stay safe.

There's something obsessive in abusive relationships. No matter how many times the victim swears that they've had enough, they're still there the next time the abuser starts to hit or berate. No matter how many times the abuser apologizes and swears it will never happen again, the punches and insults come again. It's all the victim's fault. If they were only better at this, or if only they hadn't burned the toast, or if only they weren't so stupid...

It never starts with a beating. The abuse⁠ usually begins gradually, which helps to cement the idea that the victim is responsible for the change. Be honest with yourself. If you were decked on the first date (and not into that sort of thing) -- would you go out with that person a second time?

They were so wonderful at first. Everything was sunshine and roses and romance. What happened? What did you do wrong? What can you possibly do to make it right again? Surely they deserve a second chance. Unfortunately, that second chance becomes a third chance, then a fourth, and then you're caught in a vicious cycle that all too often ends with the death of the victim.

The abuse cycle falls into a pattern, and the abuser often isolates their victim from those who could interfere or help. They remove all traces of support so that the victim has only the abuser to depend upon. You start to believe, after a while.

The abuser never needs help. In fact, suggesting that they talk to someone about it usually prompts another beating. It all comes back to the victim. The victim furthers the cycle with defense of the abuser in one form or another. Never mind that the victim has trouble making eye contact when they defend their abuser. Never mind the flinch of the victim when a loved one reaches out to comfort them. Everything is under control -- right?

"No, really. They're normally very sweet, it was just that..." was my fault. You can hear the implied addition, even if the victim doesn't voice it.

Don't defend them. Don't EVER defend someone that beats you, or insults you and makes you feel less than human. There is no defense for that kind of abuse.

"You just don't understand."

I do. I've been there. Several times, in fact. A five year stretch of my life is nothing but a blur of fists and ER visits and excuses to those that cared more about me than I did about myself.

There's a strange curve in my nose where it's been broken by an "affectionate" fist. I've had knives slammed past my head to scare me into behaving the way my insignificant other felt was desireable. I've had hands wrapped around my neck so tightly that I passed out and wore turtlenecks for the next week to cover the bruise marks. To this day, I have trouble with even affectionate touches near my throat. I convulse and tremble and turn into a frightened rat -- over ten years after the relationship⁠ ended. I can't handle people hovering behind me when I'm sitting. That leaves hands too close to my throat, and I will completely freak out if someone looms over me.

I have a horrible fear of falling now. I've been kicked down stairs, pushed off a balcony, and simply been let fall out of a bed, just because it gave the abuser a laugh.

I've been beaten while pregnant. I've cowered around a swelling belly to try to protect the child, only to be strangled till I let go to try to remove the hands from my throat so that my stomach could be beaten. In another burst of affection⁠ for us, we were physically thrown down the stairs. My stomach still can't be touched. I almost weep at any touch on it. Pretending to be too ticklish for belly kisses only works for so long.

I don't sleep well. There's always the fear that pain will wake me up. There's rarely a fear of death by that point. At some point in the abuse cycle, death starts to look like a relief, but it isn't the answer. Escape is.

I've been thrown out of a moving car. I've had broken ribs, and broken dreams. But bruises and broken bones and busted lips heal in time.

The mental abuse is the hardest to deal with sometimes. Those little scars that you can't see are the ones that hurt the most. I have little to no self-esteem. Repeatedly being told that you're too stupid, or too ugly, or too incompetent makes its mark after a while. It's hard to believe in anything when you no longer even believe in yourself. Trust becomes a thing of the past. You second guess everything you do and everything you see. You stop believing in your ability to take care of yourself, and you become dependent on the abuser, since they are the only one patient enough to deal with your many faults.

Through a great deal of planning and support, I managed to break the cycle and get out. It hasn't been enough. Ten years later, I'm still trying to recover. There are still a lot of pieces to be picked up, but on the whole, there's one important fact:

I'm a survivor of domestic violence.

Important facts to think about:

(Statistics courtesy of Domestic Violence: The Facts!)
• Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by their intimate male partners.
• Women are six times more likely than men to experience violence committed by a significant other.
• A woman is physically abused every nine seconds in this country.
• Almost four million American women were physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends in 2001 alone.
• 1.4 million persons were treated in hospital emergency departments in 1994 for injuries inflicted in confirmed or suspected interpersonal violence. Of these, 243,000 were inflicted by someone with whom the victim had an intimate relationship.

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  • Caitlyn Tivy PT, DPT, OCS

The last installment in a series on the physical effects of sexual trauma. To conclude the series, we’re talking about talking: namely, how to talk with sexual partners about any physical effects that you have experienced as a survivor of sexual trauma.