I was a victim of domestic abuse for approximately 18 years. Hearing the stories of Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, the former wives of Rob Porter, was like hearing my own story.
As the #metoo movement has begun to unfold I've struggled with how to address my own experiences with rape, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse. When I turn on the news every day I am presented with one more abuse story, one more rape, one more assault; it's time to write and tell my own story. Writing has helped me survive many incidents in my life, most publicly evidenced in my blog here in which I have chronicled my work as an education activist who has fought tooth and nail, unsuccessfully, to help save a mainly female profession and our public schools.
And now, when a wife beater, Rob Porter, resigns from a White House position, our president, wishes him well. I can stay silent no longer. So let me get on with my story.
I was taught never to air dirty laundry. I was taught that men control and rule the world. I was taught to present a perfect picture to the world. I was taught all of this simply by observing every day life. It was a man's world.
During the eighteen years of my abuse I never called the police. This might seem strange to many, but I have to be honest and say that this simply was not an option. I had been taught to put on the best face; and deep down, somehow, I was taught that I deserved this abuse because women, simply, were not worthy. I watched how men controlled reality and how women jumped to help them and ignored their own needs and desires. I watched women get treated poorly, and I saw that in this world, that it was the norm - it was acceptable. So no, I never called the police. It never entered my head.
I was physically hit by my abuser. I would brush off comments when people noticed a mark on my eye and on one occasion we went to a motel for the night to avoid family members seeing my busted lip. I received bruises in places no one could see too many times to count. I once was dragged down a wooden staircase by my hair; my neck has never been the same. On one occasion I tried to remove myself from a fight by jumping in my car, only to be stopped by a fist smashing the front windshield. He broke both doors on my car due to slamming them during fights. I barricaded myself numerous times in rooms - my heart pounding as I waited to see if I would be allowed to rest or simply just breathe. Door frames were destroyed in our house. Walls had dents or holes. On one occasion a cabinet door in the kitchen was smashed and destroyed. In my world, there was the constant hiding of physical marks on my body, the need to fix damaged property - these things were all secrets, dark secrets, that strategically and quietly had to be handled.
On long road trips where arguments would often arise he would accelerate the speed of the car in order to terrify me and cause me to agree with whatever he was saying. On long trips if I fell asleep he would smack my leg hard to wake me up; this was considered funny. I wasn't allowed to take a bathroom break on long trips until I was in absolute dire pain.
If I ever attempted to retaliate during a fight, the punishment would only be more severe. I had a childhood teddy bear that made me feel safe. He ripped it up and burned it on the barbecue grill. He burned my high school photo albums. While I was pregnant he knocked me off a cot and on to the floor. He continually used his strength to forcefully grab me, hold me, or refuse to let me pass by, or leave a room.
I was deprived of sleep if I refused to agree with him. He would rip the sheets and bedspread off the bed. He would come in to the bedroom and berate me and wake me up again and again until I apologized or said whatever was necessary to end the fight. By the end of fights, I no longer knew what I believed or what I had said because he was masterful at twisting words and leaving me to believe I was crazy, or stupid, or simply worthless.
When we no longer slept in the same room it was the greatest reprieve of my life. After I barricaded the door every night, I found myself enraptured in painting. I painted pictures every night for months; I believe it saved my life, and helped me build my strength.
We attempted to save our marriage by moving to a new town. It didn't work. It was in this new town that my child first observed the anger and physical aggression of my abuser. My child screamed and cried. And I knew, I had to get out. I don't think I can ever relay to another human being the absolute gut wrenching fear that comes from attempting to escape an abuser. It is terrifying because the abuser's anger heightens to levels you cannot imagine. Fear encompasses your every second of the day.
I am white. I have privilege. And with the help of my family, monetarily, and emotionally, I escaped my abuser. I got a restraining order. I was lucky to have a judge who listened and heard me, and helped me. I am one of the lucky ones.
No one talks about what it is like after you escape the abuser. It is beautiful, but it also is haunted. I immediately purchased a pink bedspread with flowers because I was never allowed to have anything bright or pretty in the house; everything was brown. I bought 100 watt light bulbs, because I had been living in the dark for 18 years with 35 watt bulbs. I listened to music I loved. I laughed. I made real friends. I went on dates - I had never dated, and I had never had anyone treat me well. Dates were beautiful but filled with immense social anxiety that took years to overcome. At night I cried in the dark, because while I was free, I was haunted. I still to this day suffer what feels like post traumatic stress disorder. I have triggers, and they can cause me to hyperventilate, cry, or shudder. I have nightmares. I wake in the night and catch my breath to look around and see if I am back in the life with my abuser. When I realize I am safe, I want to cry with relief.
The abuser's ultimate goal is to control you and destroy you so that you are simply there to serve him; at least that's how it was for me. Yet, everyone loved my abuser. He was the life of the party. He was smart. He was creative. I no longer know the girl who once lived with that abuser. I am no longer her, but she haunts me. I look at the paintings she created and I want to paint again, but I fear it will cause me to remember too much about her. I am a survivor and I have become strong; I can no longer be broken. And now, I have a beautiful family and an amazing husband; life is good.
That is my story.
But I have one last thing to say. I have a message for the Rob Porters of this world. You don't get a pass; no longer will abusers get a pass. We are coming for you. We will call you out and we will call out those who praise you.