This column will mark the last in my series on domestic violence. How fitting that it comes at the start of a new year, a time when we have the highest hopes for our lives ahead. I made the decision to go public with my own personal story in the hope that it would inspire other abuse victims to take that first, frightening step out of their volatile situation.
While I don’t pretend to have the answers for everyone, as I know that every domestic violence story is different and every woman has her own reasons for staying or leaving, I wanted victims to know, from my own experience, that there is a better life waiting for them out there, as hard as that might be to imagine right now.
More than 15 years have passed since I had my ex arrested—the day that I was reborn. It would be the last day we ever lived under the same roof. The last time the police had made a house call, they told us, “Unless there’s an injury, it’s your word against his.”
That day, after all the passive-aggressive years of verbal abuse, throwing and breaking household items, cornering me in rooms, kicking in doors and trying to push me out of a moving car (twice), this 210-pound raging hulk hurled a 15-pound bag at me with tremendous force as I cowered on the floor, and injured me. It was the first—and last—time he ever attacked me physically. All my other wounds over the years had been emotional, which in the end can be even more devastating, in their way.
But with that redemptive bruise, it was no longer my word against his. I got the support I needed at the hospital, and later that day he was dragged out of our home to jail, and out of my life. I immediately filed for divorce and never looked back.
Readers who may find themselves at this juncture should know that with the right support, you can build a better life for yourself and your children. You are definitely not alone. According to the Avon Foundation for Women, nearly 54 million Americans report they’ve been a victim of domestic violence. That amounts to an astounding one-third of all the women in this country.
The problem is that not enough people are talking about this social malady. In that Avon study, 60 percent of Americans said that although they know a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, the majority—57 percent—have never discussed these issues with their friends.
“The data shows us that conversations about these issues simply are not happening. That silence leaves victims trapped by the shame, stigma and fear that these crimes carry,” said Carol Kurzig, former president of the Avon Foundation for Women. “If we can encourage more people to start talking, we can end that cycle and bring these issues to light in a new way.”
I admit to being part of “The Great Cover-Up.” Even as a writer, I stayed quiet about my experience for many years. I didn’t want it to define me—or my children—because we are so much more than that experience. In retrospect I wish that I had talked about it sooner, because the shame should have been my ex-husband’s burden, not mine. Moreover, doing so could help keep you safe.
Leslie Morgan Steiner, an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and author of Crazy Love (St. Martin’s Press, 2009), said she saved her own life by breaking her silence.
“I realized that the man who I loved so much was going to kill me if I let him,” Steiner said in a 2012 TED talk. “So I told everyone: the police, my neighbors, my friends and family, total strangers.”
After her book came out, other encouraging stories started pouring in.
“I have heard from hundreds of men and women who also got out, who learned an invaluable life lesson from what happened, and who rebuilt lives—joyous, happy lives—as employees, wives and mothers, lives completely free of violence, like me,” said Steiner.
My story ends happily, too. The divorce has been good for both of us. My ex-husband, like one of those weighted Bobo dolls that you punched as a kid, sprung right back to life. I had always admired that quality in him. He is now happily remarried and claims to have found his soul mate.
I too have bounced back. After the divorce, I enjoyed a successful run as a magazine editor; launched my own business, and continue to thrive as a writer.
My daughters are both in great places in their lives, too. My youngest will head off to college in September, and my eldest is excelling in nursing school. I feel truly blessed. I know that my angels continue to watch over me, as they did on that fateful day when I decided enough was enough.
Finally, I’m where I belong. I dust off that faded Mary-Tyler-Moore beret and toss it toward heaven.
It’s good to be me again.
Let’s keep the conversation going about domestic violence. We invite you to share your story of abuse with us on Twitter at #WhyThisNativeStayed and #WhyThisNativeLeft.
Lynn Armitage is a contributing writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.