A look at why society needs to stop dictating how and when domestic abuse survivors tell their stories, using my own experience.
An Announcement: Domestic violence is not an unknown issue.
It’s not a recently made popular subject covered by the news. Society has known it happens for quite some time. Nonetheless, those who don’t have to deal with it, past or present, have the luxury of turning off the television, radio, or computer. On the other hand, those of us who live it or did live it, don’t have that option. Sure, some can tune it out, but we never truly heal that way. No one heals by putting a band-aid over it.
How do you know you’ve healed?
In my experience, it means you’ve accepted what happened. You may or may not necessarily be in a better place, but you don’t keep expecting the past to change. It’s never going to. I realize this isn’t what society thinks of healing. They think this means we’re new people and we’re all better. Well, I’m not one to believe that anyone can be entirely normal after traumatic experiences like that. As long as you’ve lived through it, moving on with your life is as close as you’ll get. Expecting to be as perfect as someone who never went through it is impossible. I know that society expects me to be able to say I love my family, now; otherwise, I must not be “healed.” Well, no, I don’t love them because they never loved me—Not for a single day.
Society and Parents
Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many times I have been told or heard someone say, “We’re supposed to love our families, unconditionally.” As someone who grew up and lived around constant toxicity, I call bullshit. It’s a dangerous concept that stems from Abrahamic religions. Along with the unhealthy power put upon parents as divine beings we never chose, there is the obvious binary effect. Even if just one parent is abusive, society feels that the underlying issue is not having two parents.
That was certainly how the judge felt when handling my parents’ divorce. He told my mom that even if one is abusive, children fair better when both are part of their kids’ lives. Again, I call bullshit. The only thing that my father ever gave me was financial support, and even that was against his will. I could have lived without the extra stress, anger, and depression throughout my life had he never been there to play mind-games and make himself look like he hadn’t been abusing me since I was a toddler. Imagine how much happier a kid I could have been without that.
Being a domestic violence survivor taught me about life, early on.
Most adults I’ve known don’t accept the real world. They want and expect their chosen family life to be the one part that’s not going to be complicated, like it’s owed to them. They expect that the wedding and marriage will be equally as uncomplicated. They tell themselves that if they say “I’m never getting divorced” they won’t want or need to, someday. A marriage becomes a life goal rather than to be self-sufficient—which, by the way, can save anyone going through a divorce or unforeseen tragedy, really.
Advice doesn’t work.
I don’t know what I’m going to do if after telling another person how I’m a domestic abuse survivor is met with the response, “You should wait until you’ve known someone for longer because most people are uncomfortable with that.” Do they honestly believe that I haven’t known this? Do they honestly believe that they’re the first to suggest this?
I have some news: I knew before the first person ever advised this when I was probably a pre-teen. I’ve been open about it for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never been ashamed or felt a need to wait to share. It’s my life. It may not be pretty, but it’s what I know. Experience of abuse is rarely short-lived. For me, it lasted most of my life. For many, it’s eighteen because they’re waiting to be able to legally move out.
The Advice We Don’t Receive
Taking this into consideration, how are we supposed to talk about ourselves? Are we supposed to tell the pleasant stories, leaving out the abusive parts like they never happened? Then, when some time passes and we wonder if a friend will accept us for being survivors, casually mention, “Oh, by the way, all of those nice stories actually came with lies, manipulation, and/or physical violence.”
Is that how we’re supposed to express ourselves to “make others comfortable” hearing about the abusive pasts that we never chose to live?
A Surprising Reaction
One day, in High School, I had a particularly bad experience that had to do with my dad. He had said some ridiculous things to a teacher during a parent-teacher meeting which set me off. When I returned to class, I was furious. I vented about what had happened and how I felt. Once I had calmed down, I was a bit ashamed of myself for being so angry, but to my surprise one of the assistant teachers complimented me on how I spoke! She told me how much she admired my ability to express myself so easily. She told me how she had a difficult childhood as well with her parents, but it took many years of therapy to learn to speak frankly like I just had. I still remember that moment, over ten years later.
If that’s not confirmation that I’m on the right path, I don’t know what is.
Safe Haven: No Emotion is Wrong
From a young age, others have always confided in me because I allow them to talk about topics that are considered “taboo” to society. My past has made it possible to feel the pain of others and tell them how wrong it is that they were treated badly, usually with an angry tone directed at those doing harm, rather than a “poor you” one.
I want to signal that survivors have a voice against their abusers, whether they know it or not. Anger is always seen as a wrong emotion, even when it’s understandable. Personally, I think it’s healthier for someone to let out whatever emotion they’re feeling; especially, as someone with years of experience being silenced for her own honesty.