Speaking Up, Speaking Out...
Against Domestic Violence

An awareness and visibility project around issues of domestic violence in various communities.

5.02.2006

"I was helpless and ashamed of being helpless."

This story comes from a heterosexual, white, working class woman residing in urban southern California.

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My first husband was abusive although he never hit me.

I have often wondered if he had, would I have left sooner or would I have felt so beaten down that I would still be there?

He was hostile and sarcastic and insulting, and it took a mental health counselor (a male Viet Nam veteran, I might add) who told me that my husband was abusive. Until then, I was in so much denial I could hardly feel.

What is insidious about emotional abuse is that you can't point to physical injuries that clearly show that someone is hurting you- all you have is a deeper and deeper pain that you cannot connect with the abuser and you can't figure out why. You wonder why you can't communicate clearly (because he misinterprets everything you say), that you aren't nice enough (because a nice woman would not mind a little teasing) or a good enough wife, because surely he would be kinder if you were. To make sense of it, you try to find an explanation, and for me, it was that he had an unhappy childhood, or that no one understood him, or that underneath all the rage was a sensitive soul who just couldn't handle his pain. Although these things were factual, they do not excuse the way he treated me. And it has taken me years to realize that nothing I did justified his abuse. I have not shared my story with people because I am still ashamed- that I married him in the first place and that I stayed with him for almost 10 years.

After I left him and well into my second marriage, I began to remember incidents of things he said or did that now shocked me. We had been married about a week when I asked him to take the trash out and he refused- although he was on his way to his car right past the dumpster . He refused to let me drive his car so I had to walk to the grocery store and carry food back in a knapsack. He never picked up after himself, never cooked or cleaned or did yard work and he cashed most of his paycheck so all he put into our account was the bare minimum to pay the rent and buy food. We were both working swing shift. He would drop me off at work but would not pick me up. If I couldn't find a ride home, I would walk home at midnight. If I was sick, I would go to the free clinic. I bought my clothes at the thrift store while he had new hobbies every year which required the finest equipment. He had cameras and guns and fishing equipment and bicycles and a fancy stereo. Because I was a neglected child, this did not seem as outrageous as it does now. I felt ashamed that I did not have my own car or a better job and I pretended things were better than they were. I told no one that it was like this. I always had a good reason why my husband would not lift a finger for me. I do not mean to denigrate women who are battered by their husbands- my life was not as hellish as that. I was helpless and ashamed of being helpless so I put a good face on it and tried to accept it. When I started remembering these incidents, I finally cried the tears I could not shed at the time.

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