Shabnam Nadiya: October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I am a Domestic Violence survivor.
I stayed in an abusive relationship for many, many years for a multitude of complicated, complex reasons. Until one day I looked at my life straight on and realized that the only way for me to survive with any sense of self and any sense of dignity was to leave. I needed to save myself; I needed to save my child.
If my life had been difficult before, it became horrifying once I made the choice to leave.
Later, I would find out that for women in abusive relationships, one of the most dangerous times is when they try to leave. I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time.
This is still extremely difficult for me to write about. But sometimes I try. Take each day as it comes: this cliché of clichés is truer than anything I know right now.
Abuse leaves a dark mark inside you. It used to be that there were some okay days in a welter of not-okay ones. Through the years that has changed. Now the good days grow in number and strength. But although it fades, the ugliness remains.
Domestic violence is terrible for many reasons. A large part of the horror stems from the utter intimacy of the relationship in question. Which is also why it can take so many forms. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Once violence happens, it’s not a constantly violent situation and can alternate with ‘good’ moments. The intimacy of the relationship also means that others in your intimate sphere—friends and/or family—cannot shrug it off as something ugly happening to ‘others’. But people very rarely want to confront what it means that judgment is mostly directed at the victim/survivor.
This is another reason it’s so hard to leave. That when your self-esteem has taken such a beating—so many people further underline that you’re not worthy or deserving of their support.
All of this scars each one of us differently.
What I’ve learned since I’ve moved away, and moved on, is that I cannot move far enough. That the hardest hurt has come from people who I thought/think I can trust. By the time I escaped I expected my abuser would betray me; I didn’t expect that from anyone else.
That is the hardest toll this has taken: diminishing my ability to trust. Every time I begin to think it’s behind me, I can let go, I can breathe easy—something or someone happens. A well-meaning old friend discovers college photos and hits send without thinking what it might mean to me, and there, in my inbox is a gut punch at dawn. A friend demands gratitude because she didn’t throw me away during my separation and divorce; as if I wasn’t a person, as if I was a piece of garbage she could easily have disposed of. Another old friend reconnects and we rebuild until the moment she says, I’m trained to believe victims, but I don’t believe he’s a perpetrator. Her question leaves an ugly stench: You’re the same size as him, so how did he hit you?
This is what I’ve learned: some people, even those who claim to love you, will want your abuse to fulfill some specific criteria in their heads before they are willing to accept. Sometimes you’ve just not been hit hard enough, or enough times, or in enough ways to ‘qualify’.
This is what I’ve learned: No matter what they claim to believe in—equality, feminism, justice—their convictions are only true if they’re strong enough to hold their own people accountable when the time comes. If they cannot understand that their brother, their friend, their son can be a perpetrator, then they’re useless to you, the abused. Cleaning one’s own house first should be imperative, but it’s a rare person who does that.
This is what I’ve learned: I have a limited amount of emotional energy and I cannot spend it on trying to access their empathy. That is their responsibility, not mine. So I’ve learnt to say no, not anymore, not again, when a friend hides and lies and hurts. I’ve learned to cut my losses and run.
The damage varies. Sometimes I’ll face a lie and laugh and move on. Sometimes I’ll be devastated.
I am a domestic violence survivor. Some days that means I sit in the sun or in the cold and at the end of the day I need to be hugged extra tight and sometimes even that doesn’t work. Some days that means I can muster the strength to tell another woman, It hurts to tell; but look at my life, what it was and what it is; now look at yours; you can make it by yourself; you do not need him; this is the only life we get; and you need to get out, now.
Some days it means I can go days without thinking about my past. Some days it means my past razes me. Some days it means I can see love and strength—my own and others’—for what they are.
I am a domestic violence survivor. Today and every day.