When I was asked to join Penile Code Avenger, and its sister-site, More Than Surviving, Thriving, I was excited to begin. I even wrote about it at my personal blog. But when it came time to actually participate...
I felt like I was on stage, on the exam table, feet in the stirrups, speculum in place, under a spotlight -- with the whole show up on the JumboTron for those folks in the cheap seats.
Actually, talking about domestic violence feels even more invasive.
Because, as a woman in her 40s who has had children, more people have seen my "privates" than know the details of my private hell.
This is partly due to the efforts of my abuser. Like most abusers, he did his best to alienate, discredit and isolate me from family and friends, so when the worst things happened -- and even after I got my divorce, I was left with few to confide in.
And the isolation post-divorce continues because people don't want to accept the realities that we are most in danger from those we are closest to; it's easier to believe that violence comes from random evil strangers. This belief system prevents those of us who have suffered and survived abuse from talking to others -- because we don't just fear the discomfort and disbelief, we know it happens and suffer from that further abuse as well.
Naturally abuse survivors have trust issues. And these trust issues are compounded by the dynamic of immature head-in-the-sand safety thinking that discredits survivors, dismisses their stories, and forces us to prove our realities rather than be able to enjoy the comforts we as women once had in confiding and sharing.
There's a (bitter) joke about divorce, that couples have to divide-up their friends, just as they do their books, furniture and their children. Many of my divorced friends lament the loss of one friend or another, the "custody" of which her ex-husband received because the former friend was married to the ex-husband's cousin or some-such. They miss trusted friends and confidants at a time when they could use them the most.
But when you manage to survive the divorce from an abusive spouse, you find yourself far more alone than that.
During your marriage he sabotaged friendships, alienated you from your own family, and in general limited your ability to have contact with others, let alone form friendships. Once you're free from this abusive relationship it's not like your old friends return. And you're so shaken from your apparently misplaced trust; not to mention the physical healing, the crisis management tasks, your parenting duties, paying rent, etc.; that you're in no place to make new friends -- especially when you are met with distrust of your "stories."
How can you try to explain to someone that what they call "stories" was an actual reality -- your reality. Or how it hurts to once again experience such dismissive behaviors which echo the treatment of your abuser?
So you don't share.
(Which is exactly why the abusive isolate and discredit their victims in the first place; keeping you silent and not believed assists them in their control. But now you are forced to do this to try to protect yourself and your children. Sick and twisted business, really.)
You keep people at arm's length.
You keep your private experiences to yourself.
You remain alone in your thoughts, your memories. You do your best to maintain a facade of "normal" not only for your kids, but for the rest of the world, so they will not spot something... Something which could "out" you as One Of Those. Something which puts that harsh spotlight of suspicion upon you.
You'd rather choke back, choke on, all that you feel than open yourself up to that suspicion, that dismissal, that judgment and scorn. It's a terribly painful silence to maintain.
If you're smart, you join an official support group. Or you can be stupid but lucky, as I have, and stumble your way into meeting fellow survivors online. Then you can begin to share the details of your private hells with others who do not discount them. Or dismiss you, either.
It's only because of them, my Sisters Of Misfortune, that I can even try to share anything here.