I remember the first shelter.
An attentive woman picked me and my daughter up and took us to a safe house. I was exhausted and scared, but knew we were protected. There was an intake process that shook me. It was the point when I truly understood the extent of the abuse I had endured, and how I had normalized it.
The shelter worker wanted to know: did my X hit, pinch, pull hair, rape, arm-twist, strangle, burn, stab, push, punch, slap, shove, beat, kick, choke, or bite us? Although I admitted to three types of physical abuse, they seemed minor, like we’d gotten off easy. Almost like it didn’t count.
When she mentioned sexual violence, I was relieved to say no.
But then there was the emotional and psychological violence. Did my X name call, blame me, use silent treatment, or not allow me to have contact with friends and family? Was he jealous? Did he humiliate or make fun of me? Did he intimidate to gain control? Was he verbally aggressive? Did he harass me? Did he socially isolate me, not allow me to use a vehicle, or not allow me to make my own decisions? Did he control my activities and or treat me like a child or servant? Did he pressure me to: sign legal documents, not seek legal assistance, or move out?
I was stunned to learn that these things were considered abusive. I said yes to all of them. I couldn’t believe I’d been so duped. It was like I’d been indoctrinated into a cult.
Then there was the verbal and financial abuse. Did he express distrust, threaten violence, yell, lie, name call, insult, swear, withhold information, or tell me that I was worthless? Did he refuse to let me work outside of the home? Did he control my money? Did he not allow access to bank accounts? Did he give me an allowance and require justification for all money spent?
Again, it was all yeses. I was embarrassed that I’d loved someone so troubled. Had given him so many chances to change.
When asked if my X had abused both me and my daughter, I almost couldn’t bare to say yes. Because saying yes meant I had not protected her. It didn’t matter that I’d left immediately after the incident and never went back. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the abuser. I was her mother and I failed to protect her. The guilt was real.
To all the women and children across this planet who are being abused or leaving abuse or have left, I wish for you love and healing and comfort and care. You are not alone. You are not to blame.