TRIGGER WARNING: The following post contains language depicting various forms of mental, emotional, and physical domestic violence which may be triggering for those who have fallen victim to such forms of abuse in the past or are struggling currently.
Additionally, though this post focuses on the domestic violence inflicted on women, by men, it in no way seeks to diminish or reject the existence of females abusing males, males abusing males, females abusing females, etc. in (romantic) relationships.
Seven years ago, you abused me for the first time.
One time became two times—then three, then four—and then I lost count for the next two years.
You were possessive.
You insisted on approving (but more often disapproving) of my friends: knowing who I was with, where we were going, and what we were doing at all times.
You were manipulative.
You threw my makeup in the trash and policed how I dressed my body—asserting yourself as the ultimate decider of how I should present myself in order to avoid the gaze of other males.
You punished me.
You clenched my wrists, bruised my limbs, and wrenched me from hair until I apologized for “acting out of line.”
You smothered my voice.
I didn’t want to cut my hair, but you threatened to shave my head if I didn’t keep it short. Every day under your control was a waking nightmare—the kind where screams are inaudible and movements are leaden.
You ravaged me.
I struggled greatly to unlearn the warped, vindictive, malicious, sadistic blueprint for romantic relationships you created and coerced me into accepting as normal.
According to the United States’ national teen helpline, loveisrespect, “one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.”
If this statistic feels inapplicable to you, try this one on for size: “Nearly 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime” and “most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.”
One in three: this could be your neighbor, your teacher, your classmate, your best friend, your sister—it’s me.
Seven years ago, he abused me for the first time, but I’m okay now.
I have a healthy romantic relationship. I feel supported, and loved, unconditionally even. We have trust. We communicate. I am encouraged to speak and act freely. Visions of my ex-abuser no longer invite themselves into my consciousness, so why am I typing this?
Last week, I sat through my first appointment with a talk therapist and answered a series of preliminary questions which are asked to all new clients during their first assessment.
When she asked if I had ever experienced physical or sexual abuse, I averted my gaze and nodded my head. When she asked how old I was at the time of the abuse I felt my heartbeat quicken as I muttered, “fourteen.” When she asked if it happened more than once I pleaded with the hot tears welling in the corners of my eyes not to budge from where they sat and nodded in silence.
I was blindsided; this was my first time having someone else initiate the discussion confirming that the abuse actually occurred. As the conversation continued, I began to sob. I was floored.
He abused me for the first time, seven years ago.
Am I really okay? Well, now I wasn’t so sure.
Flash forward from Tuesday to this past Friday, I did something I never thought I would do; I had my hair cut, a whole 5+ inches shorter. I had been growing it out for the last seven years, originally in defiance of him and as a way of reclaiming control over my person.
However, cutting it was unrelated; I was not consciously considering how he fit into the equation. I felt my life was stagnant and I wanted a change.
I loved it. I felt free, weightless, confident, and beautiful.
And then, it dawned on me. My hair is short, and I’m okay. Hell, I’m not okay; I’m fantastic. Why am I so…calm?
I used to wake from night terrors—sweating, panic-stricken—thinking my hair had been butchered by an inexperienced hairdresser. Truthfully, these thoughts came when I was wide awake too. I spent four of those seven years with ragged split-ends refusing to let anyone trim them in the slightest.
But it wasn’t about the length of my hair; it was about control. In those years, cutting my hair would have meant executing my ex-abuser’s will, regardless of the fact that we had been separated for quite some time. He couldn’t possibly lay a hand on me again, but every part of me felt haunted..
That was just my life after him.
He was gone, but the abuse lingered. All of the hatred, insults, and torment he subjected me to was coded into my mind and I maintained it routinely, subconsciously.
“You can’t cut your hair with your body frame. You’ll look hideous, and fat.”
“Your bare face is disgusting. You can’t go out without covering your acne.”
“You should stop trying. You have no talents. Every thing you can do somewhat well means nothing; there are hundreds of thousands of people who can do them all better than you.”
“You are worthless. The people in your life are beyond what you deserve, and they all know it too.”
These thoughts, among others, played on an endless loop, daily—some days faintly in the background, other days screeching brashly into a megaphone. Whatever their volume, they had become a regular part of my day. They kept me in check, controlled.
Seven years ago, he abused me for two years and taught me how to abuse myself for a lifetime.
But I didn’t hear any of those thoughts on Friday, or Saturday, neither on Sunday nor today, Monday.
It was pretty quiet without them there, but I think I’ll manage.