Here’s today’s post for 31 days of five minute free-writing:
I’m picking up the pieces, joining them back together slowly. Shattered bits of my professional life, my personal life, my inner, emotional, life. Picking them up as I find them again, trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle, a bit here, a bit there. Most of it still missing but the bigger picture becoming slightly clearer by the day. Regrets, fuelled by nostalgia, join with sadness, clouding my judgement, making me long for times gone by. But that’s a slippery path to fall down so I daren’t go there.
People always ask battered women why they stayed, and then look (or write) in horror when they receive an answer, which is never satisfactory for them. Thing is, it’s never satisfactory for the woman giving the answer, either. Why do battered women stay? Why don’t they leave? What I’ve learned is that everyone’s story is unique, especially the stories battered women have to tell.
Why did I stay? Why didn’t I leave? I still can’t answer those questions anywhere near satisfactorily.
Sheer terror. Blind, utter, terror. Limb trembling, teeth chattering, ‘unable to sleep because you heard a noise and it might be him coming to abuse you’ terror. If I had left, with them, and he’d found us, he would, I am sure, have killed me, if not all of us. Humiliation. Shame (that was a big one). The feelings of inadequacy it caused, when I thought about how I’d not been able to prevent it. Misplaced optimism, that it, he, would change and would, at some point, return to ‘normal’ (like it was akin to a common cold or flu or something he would get over). The main reasons were the terror and the shame. And disbelief: how could this have happened to me, me for god sake? Successful, positive, optimistic, smiling, friendly, beautiful me? Such high levels of disbelief, that it could be suspended at will, it seems, in futile attempts to make amends somehow, so that things could return to normal.
None of the reasons I can give are adequate, not even for myself. Why did I stay? Why didn’t I leave? The simple answer is that I don’t yet know. Now I’m out of it, I can see what I should have done. But you can’t, I’ve learnt, shoulda woulda coulda when you’re trying to stay alive, trying to cover bruises from all and sundry so he doesn’t get in trouble, because if you show and tell and he gets found out but manages to evade punishment, he’ll be back – of that you can be sure – with a vengeance, and it’s better the devil you know than the devil you know fuelled by wanting to satiate his thirst for vengeance. Any day.
It’s like with most things in life. Unless you’ve lived it, unless you’ve lived the specific situation of any specific woman in this situation, you cannot know. You cannot join together all you think you know about what she should have done to make any sort of judgement. Any relationship, behind closed doors, is unfathomable to anyone outside the relationship. A relationship based on terror, on battering: that’s one mighty fucked up thing that not even the people involved understand properly.
The first time, the punches will come so out of the blue, you’ll be so shocked, you’ll trick yourself in to believing its an aberration. The next few times, it’s still shocking, you’ll clutch to anything, any glimmer of hope, to believe it’s not true. When it becomes a routine, its normalised, for the status quo, for the children, a cross to be borne, something you try to understand however you can, to be able to minimise the onslaught, the damage. Because even just the thought of leaving is terrifying because you know, you just know, that if you leave and he finds you, that will be that. And your children need you. Need you to protect them from him.
So, it’s a pretty useless question, this ‘Why did you stay?’ Or, worse, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ It’s not that I didn’t want to leave. I would have done anything to leave. To be able to breathe and live freely, without being constantly vigilant, constantly scared, constantly in flight or fright mode. But I couldn’t. Because I feared for my life if I attempted to. [The most dangerous time for a battered woman, statistically, is as she attempts to leave, and a battered woman will withstand an average of 58 beatings before she even makes the decision to leave].
Perhaps the questions, instead, should be, ‘How could you have been helped to leave?’ Or ‘What would have helped you to not have to stay?’ Move the onus from the victim needing to be pro-active to society needing to be pro-active in helping to protect the victim and any children involved as she admits what’s been happening and, from there, takes the decisions she needs to take – calmly and without fear – to be able to move on with her life.
I believe we can, as a society, become much better at helping women who are in these situations.
I believe women standing up and telling their stories can lead to change.
I believe women joining together to tell their stories will lead to change much more rapidly.
We have to believe.
Believe that change is possible.
So women don’t have to be scared, don’t have to live in fear.
Wives, mothers: they’re the backbone of society. Those random, evil, men who try to belittle them and take away their worth? They are aberrations, evil wrapped in charm. They’re the ones that need to be punished, and severely, so that the punishment acts as a deterrent to men who know they should stop themselves but can’t because they probably wouldn’t get as far as Court anyway, because they – or the legal system – can intimidate their victims so, even if it goes to Court, they won’t receive sentences that reflect the evilness of their acts.
I’m willing to put myself out there, to tell my story, in the hope that others won’t, in future, have such stories to tell. Great change can be effected when one person stands up and points out that something’s not acceptable.
Do join in with anything that might further a debate on the subject: I’ll be interested to hear from you.