Wednesday, 25 November 2015

White Ribbon Day

For me, 25th November will always be a bitter sweet day. A day in which most, silent bystanders to a war no one really wants to see, remember to say that Domestic Violence is wrong. For me, it is a day when I remember things I want to forget. Simple things really. The way I have been stripped by my humanity layer by layer until the only thing left were bare, raw nerve endings resonating with a pain so deep, so all consuming that if my brain would have still be functioning I would have lost my minds. And I don't want to remember that. I don't want to remember the fact that I was just a shadow living in so much constant terror and self doubt that I did not even know who I was anymore, much less being able to think straight. 

I used to be ashamed. And why not be ashamed? I was smart, educated, from a good family with good morals. I was not meant to be a victim and I could not find the words to explain how day after day, drop after drop, constant emotional abuse has eroded everything I was. Instead of my abuser being ashamed of his actions, I was ashamed of them and their effect on me. It took me years of counselling to accept that it has not been my fault, to stop being ashamed of the terror I had lived in. I can't change the past, and yet, sometimes, late at night, when the scars bleed unseen and unheard, I still wonder... If I had loved less... If I would have been less kind, less generous, less of who I am... would have I still walked the burning hell I had? 

I am not scared of hell because I had lived in hell day after day, never knowing when a war will erupt without notice, never knowing what will happen in the next second and slowly forgetting who I was. 

I remember the tears... Burning my face raw when I could see no escape... But worse then my tears, I remember my children's tears... Those did not burn my face... Those burned my heart to ashes... Because of them, for them, I had found the courage to say ENOUGH and walk away... Alone, in a country I did not know, without money or friends... I look at photos of refugees in the media and I have to close my eyes because I see us, as we were... 

I often hear the question why did you stay? It is a good question. Why did I stay? At the beginning out of love. Because I took vows to love at better or worse, even though no one told me that worse will be the most hideous hell I could ever imagine. Love and being told by my beloved that it was all my fault. If only I could be more mindful, more loving, more pretty, more whatever... he would not scream... he would not break things and mash groceries into the walls I had to later wash... So I worked on being better... I could have been a saint... the result would have been the same... A lot of people say that mental and emotional abuse is not as bad. That words can't hurt as much as broken bones. Maybe. I never had a broken bone, so I can't really compare. Maybe if the words are said once in careless anger, maybe they don't leave bleeding scars, maybe they can be brushed off. When words are said time and time again by someone that is meant to love and support, when words are said with the thought and intent of hurting, then the words do hurt. You brush them off once and twice, and three times, but every time after that another thin layer of defence sheds away leaving your soul stripped bare, every nerve ending exposed and painful in a never ending torture that leaves no visible marks. Because the bleeding cuts are on the inside, in your heart, your mind, your soul, adding and adding until you can't remember who you are or who have you ever been, until there is no flicker of hope or help left, and you are forever stuck in a torture chamber that would make the Inquisition look like Disneyland.

Physical abuse is bad. I am not contesting that for a second. But a fist in the face can never be anything but a fist in the face. Emotional abuse is different. Is not your body that is attacked. Is your mind and your very soul. You are being told poison time and time again, wrapped in a glittery package that is a travesty of love, and it is always you the one that does not love enough, is not good enough... You are the one inflicting the pain, you are the one at fault... But more then anything, it is never ending.

And in between the terrorising episodes that were all my fault, my beloved was sweet and romantic and apologetic... Maybe it did not help that he took extreme care to make sure I was alone. No friends, no family, no one to shine a mirror in my face. I look back and I have to bitterly laugh at how easy it had been to isolate me. All it took was love and the travesty of love. "I feel ignored when you talk to your parents... I feel unloved, left out..." So I spoke less, until I did not speak at all. Why did I stay? Because after love and guilt at not being good enough, there was fear... I have been told often enough that if I walk away I will never see my children again... that he will kill himself because of the atrocities I was committing... Later still, after love, guilt and fear, there was doubt. I had been told so many times I was crazy, by him, by his family... that I did not know anymore if I was sane or not, if all that pain was just a fragment of my sick imagination... That's why I stayed... Until the day my four year old begged me to end it and for a brief moment I regained enough sanity to look around me and understand what I was doing to my children... It took my four year old and the realisation that if I remained my children won't have a mother... And for once, the fear of staying became greater then the fear of getting away...

Like a Phoenix Bird, I had to rebuild myself out of ashes. I never found all the pieces I had lost, but I had regained enough out of them to somehow resemble the girl I once was. And I built new pieces for the holes left behind. But the fear remained a constant shadow. I had learnt to mask it, mostly. I had learnt to laugh again and to plan for tomorrow. I have made a new life, or trying to, with new friends... But the fear is still there... It doesn't take much to make my heart stop even now... A raised male voice... Anger... A private ID on my cell phone... I had learnt to take a deep breath and tell myself I can handle it... And I can. Mostly.

People that know me tell me I am strong. And I laugh because it is too hard to explain that when you have nothing left to lose, it is no strength but desperation that makes you put one step in front of the other, that makes you stand tall for the next minute... And if you can make it one minute, you can manage the next and the next... It is no strength when you have to do what has to be done because your children need you... It is love. 

It is White Ribbon Day and I smile. I am not fully free. Not yet. But I smile because against all the odds I had survived, and I had survived retaining those parts of myself that define me. A part of me smiles happy for that. And another smiles with bitterness because we actually need a day to remind us that Domestic Violence is wrong. That we need to be told that abusing another being is wrong. And maybe a third part of me smiles with hope that maybe one day, it will stop. That maybe one day Domestic Violence will be nothing more but just another dusty page of barbarian history. 

But if I had learnt one thing, is that as long as we humans continue to believe we are entitled, as long as we continue to believe we have the right to control another human being, as long as we continue to believe that humans can be possessions, something that belongs, domestic violence will continue. Because it stems from control, entitlement and possession. And that is what has to change before anything else.