Recently, Brittny Gastineau hit the news because she showed up in public with a black eye and a gash on her cheek following an argument with Marquis Lewis in a West Hollywood hotel room. There was clearly a nasty fight, as evidenced in the bloody hotel room pictures and the fact that her face was still pretty gruesome three weeks later. Now, reports are coming out that they have reconciled their differences. I doubt that, but I don't blame their press agents for trying.
Every once in awhile something like this happens in the celebrity world, and it catches the public's attention. A celeb shows up with a black eye or bruises that cannot be covered up, so the truth comes out — or it starts to come out and then quickly gets covered back up. The reality is, women are abused by domestic partners every day, celebrities or not, and sometimes there are no bruises, no broken bones and therefore no attention paid. Yes, I know, this begs the question, why would she stay? Why doesn't she tell someone?
It's complicated. To this day, my ex husband would not say he abused me. I believe he really thinks that the way he treated me was fine, if not better than fine. That when he did get angry and go off the deep end, it was because I provoked him and I deserved it.
He wasn't all that physical over the years. The times he did get physical — pushing or pinching or putting a pillow over my face — it was easy for me to scream and push back. I knew this was wrong. This was abuse and I should do something about it. But I hesitated because I didn't have black eyes and broken bones to show anybody. He was too smart for that, in fact he took care not to leave marks on my face.
Each time he got physical, he would be incredibly apologetic and tender afterwards, and I would tell myself if it ever happened again I would do something about it then. It wouldn't happen again for weeks or even months, and by the time it did, I had been lulled back into the day to day of our marriage. But eventually he would get violent again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
He abused me on a daily basis in insidious and quiet, sneaky ways. Stealing my self-esteem and my memory and my sanity. I came to dread the arrival of the phone bill each month because it was always so stressful. He would make me sit there while he quizzed me about the calls, one by one. "Whose number is xxx-xxxx? Is that your new boyfriend?" If I went out with girlfriends, he wanted to know where was I "really" and demanded to know whom I had spoken to all night. If I put a knife in the dishwasher with the blade pointed down I was "retarded," and if I didn't keep the house clean enough I was "a useless ----" (fill in the blank). He would look through my purse and take my cash and credit cards on regular basis and openly criticize what I was wearing or how I looked. Little by little I became timid and fearful and unsure. I didn't even know it was happening until it was too late.
How do you know if you are being abused? Ask yourself some questions and answer them honestly.
Do feel often like you are walking on eggshells?
Does your partner accuse you of having affairs when he can’t account for 100% of your time? Does he tell you jealousy is a sign of love?
Is your partner quite pleasant in between bouts of anger?
Do you feel like you can't do anything right?
If you answered "yes" to any of these or similar questions, you are living in an abusive situation. Please trust me, it will not get better; it will only get worse.
What can you do about it? First, understand that it is abuse. It's hard to admit you've been "allowing yourself" to be abused. It's embarrassing. It's painful. But if you recognize that it is not okay for your abuser to treat you this way anymore, you can start to do something about it. Second, you have to do something to stop the abuse. This could be any number of things depending on your situation. If it is safe to leave and you have a place to go, make a plan for moving out and cut off ties with your abuser. If you fear for your safety and/or there are children to consider, plan your exit carefully and do it in small steps. Getting an order of protection may be necessary. Ask a friend or professional to help you develop an exit plan that includes safety precautions. Finally, you have to create a plan for going forward. That may mean finding a new place to live, opening your own bank account, helping your kids transition, going back to work, thinking about getting a divorce or all of the above. Most importantly, you'll need to find yourself again. It will take time, but eventually you will feel whole and strong again.
For me, things had to get really ugly before I finally understood that I was in an abusive and potentially dangerous situation and that I needed to get out of there. I wish, however, that I had recognized the signs much earlier. If you recognize the signs in your own life now, take action and make a plan for getting out, before it has a chance to escalate. Leaving an abuser is scary, but I am here to tell you that it's worth it in the end.
I am a Co-Founder of SAS for Women, a private comprehensive education and support resource for women navigating relationship and divorce issues. If you would like more information about SAS, please visit our website at www.sasforwomen.com. Learn tips, strategies and steps to educate you on your options as you learn to survive and thrive again.