October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Raising awareness about a serious issue that grows in the darkness behind closed doors is lifesaving. The first part of awareness might be understanding the mind and behavior of a victim. It isn't what you think it is.
I will never forget the day. It was a the kind of bright Autumn day that only happens in story books. My neighbor and I were enjoying a glass of wine on her deck when she spilled it. “Lisa, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
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My son had taken a road trip to see a football game with another neighbor the previous weekend. On that trip he told them the man we were living with was abusive to me. Diane had been nominated by the collective neighbor group to talk to me. I didn’t even take a breath before angrily denying it. Either the neighbors had misinterpreted what they’d heard and embellished to spread gossip or my son had lied flat out because he didn’t like my boyfriend.
I faked rage. On the inside I was dying from shame. I wasn’t that kind of woman, or at least I didn’t want to believe I was. At the time I was actually on the board of the local domestic violence agency working hard on fundraising to build a shelter. From the outside everything looked just fine. However, on the inside, and to people close to me, it was obvious looks were deceiving.
I’ve done some things in my life I’m not proud of. But one of the things I’m most ashamed of was going home that day and telling my 16 year old son never to talk to anyone about our business again. I forbid him from spending time with anyone in our neighborhood. I shamed him for speaking up.
Within a couple of weeks of meeting Scott I knew I was in a dangerous situation. Frankly, I was afraid someone would end up dead, however, my original concern was that Scott was suicidal. I can’t tell you why I continued to relationship when the early warning signs were more like hurricane warnings. I can tell you why I stayed in as time progressed though. I was afraid I wouldn’t get out alive.
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Scott was volatile. He was unpredictable. He was by all measures mentally unstable. That may have been part of the original draw. I thought he needed me. I thought I was the opposite of everything that was wrong with him. I thought I could help. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line everything I believed about myself changed.
Scott never once hit me. He was violent in many other ways. But he somehow magically knew that in my mind it wasn’t domestic violence if I wasn’t being struck. Violence wasn’t his biggest weapon anyway. It was fear and control. He threatened to kill both myself and my son. He threatened to destroy my friends. He threatened suicide countless times and I wished almost daily he would make good on that threat.