“You rescued me and I will stand and Sing… I am a child of God.” – No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. – Proverbs 31:8
I am just not a fighter. In the fight or flight scenario, I will choose flight every single time. To stay and fight terrifies me. And deep down, more times than not, I convince myself I am not capable of winning. So, flight it is. Later on, I will ridicule myself, reminding myself I am worth standing up for. But, rarely do I actually stand.
But, today, right this moment, I stand. I stand for me. I stand for my daughters, my mother, and my sisters. My friends and my coworkers. But, especially, I stand for the women who are too afraid to. I will stand tall. I will stand firm. While I may sway, I may tremble, I will stand.
My story is not an easy one. It is not one I will share today, or tomorrow, or maybe not even next week or next year. But, this is the thing… it is my story. Whether it is viewed as brave, tragic, beautiful, sad, disgusting or courageous, it is still my story. I will stand for it, because it is a story worth listening to. Just like yours. Just like hers.
When one has the courage, the bravery, the sheer insanity of sharing her story, pause before you react. Think. Be compassionate. Be considerate. Could you have shared her story if it was your story instead?
A brilliant woman by the name of Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” As a woman, I find it difficult to fit in, and even more difficult to share a part of whom I am. What will they think? Will they still like me? Will they even listen and care? But, still, this teeny part wants to share, wants to try.
This fear of acceptance and approval is normal. Everyone faces it, to some extent. But what about those who are required to remain silent? For years, I lived in an oppressive environment. I was forced to remain silent for the well-being of my children. For the safety of myself. For the comfort of my abuser.
When someone has the courage, the prevailing, triumphing courage, to share her story, understand it may not be easy to hear. It may not be pleasing to your ears. Or your heart. It may cause you pain. But, I promise, the words were even harder to say. It took this woman weeks, months or years to choose to speak out. Please, give her the respect to hear her, to just listen. When someone shares her story, she is illuminating the darkness in her world, so that she can be freed. Help her find freedom. Fighting for freedom isn’t a one person job, it takes an army.
For an abuse victim, especially those emotionally or verbally abused, the power of a person’s word is immeasurable. She has been forced to live in silence, conditioned to not question words, actions or intent. Taught to believe the words spoken to her or about her are truth. When a victim makes the decision to leave, it can take months or even years before she can gain the courage to say, “I was abused.” And when she does, listen. Though the actions of the abuser are disgusting, horrid, and incomprehensible, listen to her. Speaking those words provide healing, inclusion, and empower her to stay away from her abuser. She needs your support.
When I speak about the things that happened to me, I often relive them. It’s like I am back in that moment, hearing his voice, feeling his hand strike my skin, and/or fearing his next outburst. Those feelings of guilt, shame and fear are never too far beneath the surface. Very few will ever have a face to face conversation about the (almost) decade I spent with my abuser, because it is harder for me to say the words than it is for you to hear them. I will not only fear his retribution, I will fear you. Your thoughts, your concerns, your judgment, but most of all, I fear losing you as an important person in my world.
The question I have had to answer the most is, “If it was that bad, why did you stay for so long?” First, when I hear that, I hear disbelief. If it was that bad… Trust me, it was that bad, probably worse. Those things I recounted to you are only those things I feel least shame and guilt over. Don’t discredit me. I will shut down, for that is how he conditioned me. Second, I stay because speaking out is almost impossible. Our society is geared to protect the abuser, not the abused. When you call and report the abuse, the police can’t offer you protection from him immediately. He has more than likely threatened you or your children or your family if you leave, and in my case, even if I just told someone what he was doing.
So, you stay. And you stay quiet. People have a hard time understanding evil. A dear friend of mine told me she knew evil existed. She just didn’t know evil existed like that; that you see evil on the news that happens to other people. Just not to the people you know and love. And that part makes listening difficult. You don’t want to know, because it hurts. What you don’t understand is that by saying “It’s too hard to read, listen to, or understand because what he did was disgusting,” what the victim hears is that her story, her life, her reality disgusts you. You don’t see the person for who she is, you see the violent actions of the abuser. And for your comfort, for your peace of mind, you ask her to be quiet, because it is too hard to visualize her, that one you love, in that situation. You give the abuser power over her, because she cannot speak out. You feel that because you don’t see how you can make a difference, it would be easier to not hear about it. She knows the weight and impact painful words cause. So, she stays quiet. And you look away, pretending it never happened.
What society fails to realize is that when we empower victims to speak out, to stand up, to become independent from their abuser, we empower them to become survivors of abuse. I will say it slightly different. The more power we give these victims, the easier it is for them to recover. They will make the transition from victim of abuse to survivor of abuse so much easier. We educate these women. We empower them. We support and encourage them. And, when we do... They realize, many for the first time in their lives, they are worth something to someone. We will link arms with them. Support them. Protect them. But, sadly, this is not yet the case. We still turn our eyes away from their suffering, telling them silently that their story isn’t a story worth believing, their lives aren’t worth protecting and they are not valued enough to be a woman worth fighting for. Because it is just too hard to read. Too hard to listen. Too hard to imagine. It’s disgusting.
This is their reality. They are scared. They truly believe they aren’t worth fighting for, that no one cares. That no one will ever, under any circumstance, want them. These women think they will never be good enough. That their lives are just another life. When you look away uncomfortably, you confirm what they have been brainwashed to believe. They are just a number, another domestic violence statistic. Why is it that victims don’t get the courage to leave until after the 35th attack? Yes, you read that right. It takes the average victim 35 attacks from the one she loves and trusts before she will finally get the courage to leave. And, that’s if he doesn’t kill her first. No, that is not overdramatic. It is the truth.
I left my abuser, and went back to him. Why? Because I believed his words were true. No one heard me. No one empowered me. My story was taboo. No one wanted to think about a 21-year-old mom of a beautiful little girl being strangled in her closet, and most definitely not the power they just gave the abuser by telling her to go back. It was too painful for them to stomach that a person could actually do that. Instead of standing with the victim, they oppressed the victim, sentencing her back to hell.
But, really, what can you do? When she talks, listen. She won’t leave right away, but she needs to know you are an ally, not an enemy. Don’t tell her she’s crazy. He’s already convinced her of that. Maintain confidentiality. She needs people she can trust. And, should she ever tell you about anything that he did to her, do not look away. Do not pity her. Do not look at her with sad eyes. Instead, tell her you love her. That you are there for her, and will listen anytime she needs to talk. And then, mean it. She is a fighter. She is a warrior, in battle for her life and the lives of her children. Give her confidence. Tell her she is brave, that she is strong, and she can do this and that you support her no matter what. You see, she probably hasn’t heard those words in a long time. He keeps her weak, on edge, and defenseless against his attacks. He doesn’t fight fair, for he is a coward. Empower her. Encourage her. Help her plan. Pray with her. Be her strength when she doesn’t have any left.
But, please, remember the power your words have in her life. Use them wisely.