Domestic Violence: A Personal View 10

OCTOBER is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Last October, I wrote about domestic violence and offered some journaling and memoir writing prompts to help confront the subject head on. But I wrote as someone on the outside looking in. Someone looking on with concern and compassion. Someone who had not personally experienced its impact.

This year, domestic violence came home to me. I was not the victim, but a close loved one was, and in attempting to help her get away from her abuser and rebuild her life, I have shared in some of the cruelty, the blame-the-victim attitudes of police and courts, and subsequent feelings of helplessness and depression. Without a single blow to me personally, I have felt and seen the impact of domestic violence — not as ripples after a rock is thrown into calm water, but as a momentous displacement, a deluge hurled into the sky when a piece of a mountain cracks loose and crashes down into water, followed by huge, rocking waves that seem to never, ever end.

For me, domestic violence is no longer a concerning set of facts and charts. It’s personal.

It’s important to acknowledge here that not all domestic violence victims are women; it happens to men, too. But since the victims I know personally, especially my loved one, have been women, I write from the feminine perspective.

Warning: the following contains explicit language.

Those of us who have not been targets of abuse often wonder why victims stay in their relationships as long as they do, why they continue on after they know they should leave.We think we would not put up with being threatened or hit and have a difficult time understanding — even when we have compassion. It’s just beyond our comprehension.

But I know better now. It’s not as if one day everything is peachy and in the next there is full-blown violence. It’s more insidious, creeping up on you from behind. And by the time you understand fully what it is, you are already in chains.

The violence begins in small ways, with put-downs (You look ugly in that dress.) and with controlling behaviors that masquerade as caring (I don’t want you to drink coffee; it’s not good for you.). The violence stalks you, moves gradually from put-downs to full on emotional abuse — name calling (Stupid bitch! cunt!) and more words designed to hurt and erode your confidence (No one else could love you; You won’t find anyone else who would put up with you like I do.). Jealousy disguised as love (I don’t want other men looking at you.) and more control over relationships (I don’t want you to see Insert-Friend’s-Name-Here; she’s a bad influence) and money (You can’t handle money; from now on I’ll handle all the bills; don’t worry your pretty little head about it.).

Over time he manages to isolate you from friends and family, insists that he’ll take care of you, insists that you stay home when he goes out with friends. Grows more demanding about how he wants you to do things, what clothes and makeup you wear. The name calling and put-downs increase in frequency. When you question him, ask him why he’s being so mean to you, he tells you everything is normal. You’re crazy. You’re the problem, if there is one. After a while, you’re not sure which end is up. Is he right? Are you crazy? You see a counselor, hoping that she can give you the key to becoming a better person and improving your relationship. You mention, obliquely, that he’s mean to you sometimes, but you don’t give her specifics.

Then comes the day where he pinches you hard enough to leave a bruise. Ow! you say. Why did you do that? Can’t you take a joke? he says. Don’t be a baby. Another day, he shoves you. You were in his way. Or he puts his hand on your neck, squeezes and says lightly that he could snap your neck if he wanted to. He chokes you “just a little” and gets angry when you cry. Day by day, the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse escalates.

You start thinking about leaving, but where would you go? Besides, it’s not always bad. You think back to the beginning, when he was so good to you and you were over the moon in love. You’re still in love, you think. And sometimes he’s still loving and kind to you. We can work through this. If only I don’t make him mad, you think. You do your best to stay in line, to not offend. But something always triggers him —  the yelling, the name calling, the insults, and then the pushing, shoving, hitting, and kicking.

You don’t have any friends left, and shame burns inside you. If you’ve had the bad luck or judgement to have a child with his person, you feel even more trapped. How will you live? How will you take care of your child? You have no income, no place to stay. And the organizations designed to help women like you are overwhelmed with requests. Everything they offer is short term.

But one day, he goes too far, and it’s as though a lightbulb goes off in your head. You realize that if you don’t leave, you could end up dead. You leave behind everything in your life — your belongings, your job (if you have one), your school (if you are going to one). You take your child and hide with someone who has offered to help.

But children, you see, are possessions. The court agrees; it forces you to take your child back, because your abuser owns half of her. It forces you to make another decision — if you want to rebuild your life and to stay way from his control, away from his sphere of influence, away from his bullying, you have to stay where you are, stay in a safe place and fight for possession of your child. Because if you go back, if you get too close, he will use your child to control you again. Every day. He will threaten you. Eventually, he will hit you again. And so you fight using the tools of the court, which sees things in black and white and does not take humanity and abuse into consideration (even when it says it does). You fight to get a new job. You fight to get back into school. And you fight to rebuild your dignity and confidence and autonomy, one day at a time.

Writing Prompts

  1. Write what you know about domestic violence.
  2. Write a scene depicting verbal or physical abuse (either from life or imagination). How difficult was it to write that scene? What emotions did writing it bring up?
  3. Write about a character — man or woman — who is a domestic abuse survivor. What is he or she like now? What inspires you about this person?
  4. Write about what autonomy and confidence mean to you.
  5. Write about a society in which no verbal or physical violence exists. What would that society be like?


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10 thoughts on “Domestic Violence: A Personal View

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    Thanks, Amber, for handling a difficult topic in such a sensitive manner. Having been a victim of domestic violence I know how one’s life can unravel one thread at a time until you wake up one day and realize you are a victim and you allowed yourself to get there. The realization is both frightening and devastating. My courage was gone at that point, and I felt ashamed and quite helpless. Friends and family turned a blind eye only making matters worse. The steps to recovery are steep and seemingly endless at that time. But one step at a time. All this to say, I do believe writing was my savior giving me the strength and courage to face my reality and deal with it. So, I’ll be able to create characters who can reflect the deepest of human emotions, and for that I am grateful. Thanks again.

  • Barbara Toboni

    Thanks, Amber, for sharing your difficult story and encouraging others to understand an important issue. I am grateful I never had to live with this experience. When I do hear about domestic violence it’s too easy for me to push it to the back of my mind, but it’s a reality we should all be learning more about.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Barbara, when there are so many important issues and people who need help in the world, it’s difficult to NOT push much of it to the back of our minds. It’s overwhelming. It isn’t really until we’ve experienced something for ourselves that it becomes important to us. That’s part of what I’m saying … it’s human nature. Domestic violence is all around us, all the time, insidious. It’s good for all of us to become more aware.

  • patsy ann taylor

    Seeing someone we love suffer is almost as terrible as going through the experience ourselves. Thank you, Amber, for the reminder that we should all be aware of the abuses that go on around us. Silence is the greatest enabler.

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Amber, excellent post. Well-written and sensitive it lends credence to the impact domestic violence has on those on the fringes, the sidelines. What you have written details my first marriage from Day 1. As I started reading, I was tossed back to a time I thought I had forgotten but not so. And that’s where the writing has saved me. Turning to writing, whether journaling or some other method, has made all the difference in the world for me. That and finding someone who really cares for me. Thank you for stepping out and speaking about the abuses that often don’t see the light of day.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Thanks, Sherrey. It’s easier than people realize to get caught in an abusive relationship, and hard than we realize to get out! And yes, writing — especially journaling (for me) — is a life saver. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Kathleen Pooler

    Amber, you address the complex nature of abuse very eloquently, moving way from quick judgement and toward compassion and understanding. The last thing a person in an abusive relationship needs is to be blamed for staying and judged for not taking action. I appreciate all you are doing to spread this awareness and ,of course, I totally agree that writing and journaling are powerful tools for self-awareness and positive action. Thank you for an excellent, insightful post. I will be sharing this!

  • Maya

    Thank you for sharing so much of your story about domestic abuse. Yes, it is all around us and all the orders of protection from courts will not prevent or stop it. We need to throw out a lifeline to those who we see are in an abusive relationship, even if they are not ready to take it at that moment.