My husband was my best friend. I loved him and he said that he loved me. We hung out all the time, did lots of fun things together, talked about our future plans, socialised as a package deal and shared a lot of laughter.
But something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I struggled with anxiety all the time. My doctor put me on medication and I read almost every self-help book in the library.
What was wrong with me? My life was easy. It shouldn’t have been a normal part of life to experience random panic attacks over minor things.
My family came to visit for a few weeks. Part of me was relieved because it meant that I had a buffer of people around me and I could relax a little.
Why did I need to relax?
During that family holiday I spent time with one of my brothers and my dad; important men in my life. Why did I tense up if one of them patted me on the shoulder?
The holiday was coming to a close and my family would be returning to their homes in only a day’s time. My anxiety was mounting at being alone with my husband once more, yet we had been together for years.
What was I dreading?
During a moment alone at my house it came to me; the thing causing so much distress.
When my husband came home before the rest of the family I broke down. I couldn’t just put up with it anymore because it was destroying me, so I cried and screamed. I called him an abusive criminal because he was. For so long I had refrained from using such strong language and for so long he just ignored everything I said.
It wasn’t enough to say; “Stop poking me in the vagina, I don’t like it.” Or; “Stop grabbing my boobs, I don’t like it.”
It hadn’t been enough to back away into a corner and cover myself in fear of being touched without my consent. It wasn’t enough to slap his hands away. It wasn’t enough to avoid being naked around him or to lock the bathroom door whenever I had to take a shower.
None of that was enough.
Instead, all he would say in the face of this was; “You don’t love me.”
So his abuse became my fault. I didn’t love him enough to let him use me. I didn’t love him enough to stop being a thinking, feeling individual with my own needs and wants.
I was “withholding” something which “belonged” to him; namely my body.
Now, it’s important to note that at no point during our relationship had he ever approached me with malicious intent. I don’t believe that he ever knew that what he was doing was hurtful, or that he shouldn’t be doing it.
And isn’t that the whole problem?
Why are so many people freaking out over the #MeToo movement? Mum’s are scared for their sons; men are complaining about how hard it is to date anymore; co-workers are expressing concern over being accused of something they haven’t done.
Is that because the movement is a witch-hunt, or because they’re suddenly looking at past interactions with fresh and horrified eyes? Is the concern raised based on the idea that women in their past might be doing the same?
How are we still a society which views sex as a right? I was under the impression that slavery had been abolished, but apparently sexual slavery is still alive and well in our collective minds.
Because not only did my husband not know that he was abusing me, but I didn’t either, and I had a lot of trouble reconciling the idea that I could simultaneously love and fear someone.
When we love someone who doesn’t identify us as a fellow human being, the emotions attached to that person become muddled. It doesn’t matter whether that person is a spouse or a parent or a friend, if we have bonded with them, it can be hard to undo that attachment even in the face of abuse.
Why do victims stay? Why don’t survivors tell?
Because they are ashamed of having loved their abuser and still hold out hope of that love being validated.
Giving our love to someone is an act of faith. We open our hearts to another person in a way which makes us completely vulnerable to them. They have the power to abuse us because we give it to them.
Victims will often feel culpable because of this. They take on guilt over having chosen poorly and placing their faith in someone who broke it. It’s like handing over the keys of your car to a friend and then finding out that they sent it to a chop-shop for fifty bucks so they could buy beer.
We feel like we should have known better. We feel like we’re stupid for trusting someone. We feel like it’s our fault. The shame can become overwhelming and cause us to close down or to stop coping with stress.
But does the blame really belong to the victim? If you consider what you would do with a friend’s car if you borrowed it, is it a safe assumption that you would willfully destroy it for a small profit? No? Of course not because that’s something only an asshole would do.
Then why do we take on guilt in relationships which doesn’t belong to us?
Because when you love in a way which is devoid of selfish intentions, you want to save the other person from shame. Their pain becomes your pain.
Love is supposed to be wholehearted, vulnerable, and based on a desire to see one another succeed and grow. But our culture has perverted love into a selfish, back-stabbing competition.
This is why I refuse to be ashamed of having loved my abuser. I am no longer married to him, since we have to enforce healthy boundaries and self-respect. But in the course of self-respect, it’s important to not apologise for loving, or placing faith in people who didn’t return it. That shame is on them for squandering the most precious gift another person can give to them.
Someone else choosing to disrespect and squander your love does not devalue it, even though we often feel as though we may not be good enough in the face of such treatment. No one “deserves” abuse, of any sort, for any reason. Ever. They might not deserve our love, but that’s a different matter entirely.
Whatever anyone else has said or done to undermine your value, do not subscribe to it. That isn’t your shame, it’s theirs.
It’s time to forgive yourself for being a wonderful, loving, caring human being who believed that another person was worthy of being treated as such. That doesn’t make you weak or foolish, that makes you amazing and brave.
Look upon your own inner light and marvel at it. I can guarantee that once you do, you’ll never waste it on anyone who doesn’t value it properly ever again.