And it was probably as bad as you are imagining it in your head. I was letting Ollie visit his grandparents when my sister invited me out to dinner with her and a close friend. My dad and stepmother generously offered to watch him so I could have a screaming and crying-free dinner (like they don’t live for his overnight visits… Ha!). I needed to get Ollie’s diaper bag out of the car, but he has some killer separation anxiety these days. I grabbed my keys and tried to sneak out to the car. He spotted me and let out a piercing shriek. I sprinted for the door to the garage and barely closed it in time behind me. Through the window, he was looking up at me, bawling and saying, “Maaaama!!” I said, “Give me one second. I’m just running out to the car and I’ll be right back, sweetheart!” He was still crying. So, I turned around and sprinted in the direction of my car.
BAM. Apparently the garage door was only down to around neck height.
The next thing I knew, I was sprawled out on the concrete laughing. I seriously could not believe that had just happened. I was laying on the floor of the garage, face throbbing, laughing and saying, “Really?!? Is this my life?” Very loudly to no one in particular. I got the diaper bag, went back inside and told everyone that I ran into the garage door with my face. I was really fine until I realized that my lip was bruised, swelling fast, and my tooth had definitely gone through my lip to create a pretty deep cut. I still went out to dinner (ibuprofen is a miracle worker for swelling, by the way), because a screech free meal is just too good to pass up these days.
Later, I was trying to process what happened. It was a 2 second ordeal. Very vivid, painful, and shocking. No warning was given. It reminded me of other experiences in my life that involved trauma. Car accidents, bike accidents, cooking accidents, and finally abuse. Then, I thought that this was the perfect analogy for people who have never been in an abusive situation to understand what physical abuse is like.
Do you know that feeling after a traumatic event?
Slamming into the back of another car, another car hitting you, running into something, stubbing your toe, anything that happens quickly, with trauma and pain. I’m sure everyone has at least one experience like that. One where, much like me, you are sitting there looking at the after effects trying to process exactly what happened in those 2 seconds. That is the nature of trauma. Its 2 seconds that takes hours to process. And many times, you wonder how it happened. Why it happened. If it indeed really happened. Sometimes, all you have are the after effects to remind you that it was real. Your totaled car, your scrapes, your bruises, your swollen lip. The cut that you constantly look at to remind yourself that it actually happened.
In my experience, that is what physical abuse is like.
One minute, you think that someone could never hurt you. They love you and they are a decent person, albeit with some issues. Next thing you know, you have this explosion of 2 seconds. They lose control. And, much like when I hit the garage door, you hear it before you feel it. And you are sitting there in disbelief. Did that really happen? Is this real? Did I just imagine it? I remember the first time that I was shoved to the ground when I was pregnant. He lost control for 2 seconds. And the next thing I knew I was down, crying, wondering if it was real. I felt the cramping and the pain. I knew that it happened. I had the concrete after effects all around me. By his frantic apologies I knew it was real. But, talking to other abuse survivors, it seems like we all have to say it out loud:
“You hurt me.”
Why is that? Shock I guess. You have to say it out loud, communicating to yourself that it did happen. Some days I feel like I am still having to say it out loud. It really happened. I remember it clear as day, but it doesn’t feel real. I think, the way it becomes a cycle is that you tell yourself it didn’t happen. You let yourself forget. I know I did. As soon as the honeymoon stage hit (more on that, if you don’t know what that is, later), I had allowed myself to let it go. I told myself that 2 seconds didn’t matter next to 2 weeks of him trying to treat me the way that he should. Besides, that 2 seconds was a mistake. I would be a mean, horrible grudge holder if I continued to think about it. Deep down, you know that it isn’t right. But, you tell yourself that 2 seconds of trauma isn’t worth changing your whole life. It’s a wicked lie that is built on the nature of trauma and the disbelief that comes with it.
Because just like a car accident or any other physical trauma, it does change your life forever.
Is this revealing a lot of stuff I would rather not have people know? Yes. But the fact that I feel ashamed about my series of 2 seconds is the problem. I shouldn’t feel ashamed of what happened. I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve to run into that garage door either. And I would never even think to myself that I deserved smashing my face into a solid object. Abuse is different. It carries shame. When someone who you love with all your heart hurts you, you automatically think that it’s your fault in one way or another. I know that many people who are abused feel like they can’t talk about it. And if I don’t talk about it, then I’m adding to the problem. I’m letting something I didn’t deserve run my life. I’m choosing to forget that it happened and build a new life, when really I’m not the same. I’ll never be the same person. And I shouldn’t hide the impact on my life that those instances of 2 seconds of trauma have had.
I refuse to add to a shame culture that allows people to live in abuse.
And that’s the bottom line. While I was on the floor of the garage, I had a really profound thought: I have really evolved. I think a couple of years ago, I would have cried about my face hitting the garage door. But I didn’t. I laughed. Why? Because it was done already. Crying only makes things worse. I wasn’t reapplying my makeup because of a stupid garage door. Mascara is expensive and I’m not wasting it like that! I feel like my abusive relationship is a lot like that damn garage door. I can cry about it. I can choose to allow it to change me in a negative way. But, I’m not. I want to be a stronger person. I think I’m stronger now than I ever have been in my life. I no longer have a problem standing up for myself and what I deserve, which I struggled with for years. It’s the kind of strength that allows me to tell people about my abuse when I would rather not. On my weak days, I just keep reminding myself that
strength is a choice. And every day we have to choose strength.
So, why? Why would I explain this to you using a stupid, klutzy episode from my life as a visual? Because I’m not the only person who has ever been abused. And I definitely have not had the worst experiences with it. By the grace of God, I got out. But, unless everyone starts looking around them and seeing the red flags that violence produces, this abuse cycle is going to continue to eat people alive. And I want to make sure that people who are stuck in situations like this don’t feel ashamed like I did. It’s okay to tell people what happened to you, escape, and bring every horrible episode of 2 seconds to light. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. You are worth it. And in the end, you will have the ability to live a peaceful life if you do. And if you are lucky enough to not have experienced this kind of situation, you can be aware. You can realize that some people are stuck in these awful situations and need a way out. The only way that we can end abuse is with exposure, compassion, and understanding. I think that if we are all willing to say that enough is enough, we can have some real change in a world full of hurting people.
I think that’s as heavy as I’ve gotten so far with this blog. I keep on trying to lighten it up around here, but then God hits me with something (Hilarious, Eliza. Not.) and I have end up with something entirely different than I planned. I hope that this helps people understand what domestic abuse is like or lets someone in a bad situation know that they a) aren’t alone and b) it isn’t their fault. Because, no matter who you are, you are too awesome to let someone treat you like that! You deserve the world and you are awesome!
P.S. And if you have trouble choosing strength, just remember Psalm 31:24: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” I think that when I’m at my lowest, Psalms never fails to lift me up:)