Why didn’t I just walk away?
The violence of being hit isn’t about the pain or the damage caused. She used to hit me when she was angry – normally an overarm thump with the bottom of her fist – and she kicked me in the shins, bent my fingers back, dug in her fingernails, threw things at my head and whipped me with belts. It hurt, but not very much. In a physical confrontation, I would’ve dominated her. But that wasn’t the point.
Hitting someone debases them. It takes away their dignity and self-respect. When she threw drinks over me, or poured water on my side of the bed and then went to sleep, it made me something less than human. When she cut off my beard, I became chattel. I had nothing left.
People ask why I didn’t walk away the first time she hit me. The answer’s simple – I made excuses for it. I downplayed it. I pretended it wasn’t a big deal.
She seemed just as surprised as I was when it happened. She hit me and then burst into tears and went in for a hug. Part of me knew I should have left, but the bigger part thought, ‘Well, it was just a little tap, it didn’t really hurt that much and it probably won’t even leave a bruise. Just tell her it’s not acceptable moving forward and all’s good.’
The second time it happened, I thought long and hard about physical violence, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth throwing away a whole relationship because in a split second, her hand had moved at speed from one position to another and made contact with my chest. I couldn’t reduce the complexity of a human being to something that lasted less than a second, could I?
That’s how I talked myself into staying with an abuser.
It didn’t help that after she attacked me, she’d ‘forget’ it ever happened. If I brought it up, she’d deny it. If she did admit it, because there were bruises, witnesses, evidence, she’d say it was my fault. If I’d just done what she said, she wouldn’t have had to hit me. If my behaviour had been different, hers would have been too. Couldn’t I see that it wasn’t her fault?
She was so convincing, I’d doubt myself. I’d start to believe her.
Even when she followed me back to my flat when I walked away from an argument, forced her way in and assaulted me, I thought that if I’d just stayed and had the argument, then she wouldn’t have had to follow me. I’d provoked her by walking away. It was therefore my fault for leaving, and not hers for following me and attacking me.
It’s that kind of double-think that keeps you chained to an abuser. It was that kind of thinking that meant she could slap me across the side of the head while I was driving; that she could hit me with coat-hangers; that she could cut off my beard with kitchen scissors, and instead of walking out, I simply endured it.
This is what people fail to understand about domination. I might have been bigger than her, stronger than her, able to fight back. But I couldn’t. You need pride and self-respect to stand up for yourself. By hitting me, she’d taken all of that away. She convinced me I deserved it.
And besides, when I told people she hit me, they found it funny.
If it had been the other way around, and I had been hitting her, can you imagine anyone laughing?