Domestic Violence: Rebuilding

  1. October is Breast Cancer month; it is also domestic violence awareness month. As it turns out, breast cancer is not the worst thing to ever happen to me. Here's a part of my story about rebuilding after the worst thing. Sometimes the only way to GET through the hard parts is to GO through it.

    Domestic Violence:  Rebuilding

    Years ago - decades, actually - I found myself at the side of a road, neck bruised from my then-husband's attempts to strangle me and with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and my dog. I was lucky - Alice, a new friend drove 300 miles to pick me up. She helped me find a new place to live, move out of my house and was my very first post-abuse relationship. I have no idea what I would have done without her. Forty eight hours after being stranded at the side of the road, I was in my new apartment with the boxes unpacked, sitting in my one chair and staring at an empty wall, wondering what came next.

    I thought I had kept my situation private; that no one knew. If no one knew for sure, plenty of people sure suspected. Most of them were kind. Some of them, it seems, had been or were currently in similar situations to the one I'd left. I lost friendships - all of OUR friends, and many of mine. I wasn't expecting that people would just drop out of my life, but what was worse was the abuse I suffered all over again when those who knew my husband told me over and over again what a nice guy he was. They knew he didn't "mean anything by it", that he would never hurt anyone. I must be lying or stupidly mistaken; he'd never do anything like what I described. Even my own family didn't get it. "I don't know why you'd put up with that," my mother said. "You never saw anything like that at home." (This from the mother who used to hit me until she couldn't lift her arm anymore.) Dad made a "joke" about how "you used to be able to beat your wife as long as you didn't use a stick bigger around than your thumb." It wasn't funny. I never completely trusted them again.

    At first, it was very very difficult to get through each day. Until the military transferred my husband 1500 miles away, I worried that he would find me and kill me. One day he dropped by my work "to talk." He was sorry, he'd never do it again, he didn't know what came over him. When I went out to my car after that shift, I found my second dog. He had taken her with him when he left me and the male at the side of the road; now it seemed she was "too much trouble". It scared me spitless that he knew where I parked and could get into my car. As soon as I had the money, I bought a different one so he wouldn't be able to find my car or get into it. I had left in spring with the winter clothes in my closet and the summer ones in storage. Summer came and I had no summer clothes and no money to buy more. Cooking dinner was difficult because I remembered to take the cooking pots and pans when I packed my things, but forgot the measuring cups. I had the rolling pin but no cutting board. Until I saved enough to buy furniture, my apartment was sparsely furnished and there wasn't a comfortable place to watch the television that I didn't have anyway. My self esteem was trashed and I was shocked when I met someone new and it seemed as if they thought I was smart, funny or nice. But I did meet new people, and for that I am grateful.

    At least I had my job. He couldn't take that away from me. I knew I was competent. I had an income, health insurance and colleagues. I could support myself. Not everyone who leaves is so fortunate as to start with as much as I had. Even now, I feel guilty complaining about what I didn't have, because I had so much more than many.

    It wasn't until six months later that the full enormity of my situation struck me. I'd been living alone for six months, working and going to school. I slowly made new friends, some of them from work who knew of my situation and some from school who knew me only as the person who worked so hard on the group study projects. I bought a new lamp and nightstand from Goodwill and slowly refurnished my home. My dogs thrived, although my female was never the same after her weeks alone with my husband. Alice and I became close friends, bonding over our shared love of golden retrievers, the outdoors and work.

    I learned to scuba dive to keep myself busy and because Alice lost her dive partner when she left HER ex-boyfriend. She and I were on a camping and dive trip miles away from where we lived and close to the spot where my marriage ended. It was night time, and Alice and I were sitting around the campfire absently petting our dogs when a noise startled my female retriever. "It's OK," Alice told her. "We're safe here."

    That's when it hit me, and I started to shake uncontrollably. I was safe. I never realized how much fear I lived with, day in and day out until that night when I knew I was safe. Six months after leaving, I finally felt safe for the very first time. I remember hanging out in convenience stores just outside the Air Force base at midnight because I was too afraid to go home to my husband. I felt safer in a sketchy place in a bad neighborhood than going home. And now, sitting in front of a campfire in the woods with bear-like noises in the dark beyond our fire, I felt safer than I had for years. That's when I began to recover.

    Recovery is a long road, and not everyone makes it. I left my abuser in 1987. I still startle easily and jump out of my skin if someone sneaks up behind me. I freaked out one time when my now-husband innocently grabbed my neck to demonstrate a martial arts move he was learning. It took YEARS before I trusted men or my own judgement enough to begin to date, and when I did begin to date I chose men I knew I would never be tempted to marry. I was sure I'd make a horrible mistake again; my judgment was flawed. I met them at restaurants for the first several dates because I was afraid to get into the car with a man I didn't know well. Some guys saw that as me being independent. Others saw it as freaky.

    Thirteen years after leaving, I finally had the courage to remarry. This was a man I had known as a friend for years; someone I trusted to get into a car with. I was afraid to marry him, not trusting myself to make that kind of decision. He persevered, and I learned to trust him. My parents initially refused to come to the wedding because they were so sure I was making another mistake. Many men wouldn't have, but he continued to spend time with and do things for my parents. At the end of their lives, they had accepted him as family. We've been married for 16 years, and I feel safe at home.

    Such a little statement, but such a big deal. I DO feel safe at home. I'm so lucky. When I ask my patients if they feel safe at home, I am aware at just how enormous that question really is and how big a can of worms it opens if the answer is negative. And I understand why a woman who is clearly NOT safe at home answers that she is. Domestic violence, not breast cancer, is the worst thing that ever happened to me. But I'm safe now.

    For other articles in this series about Domestic Violence, please read:

    Domestic Violence: The Elephant in the Room

    Domestic Violence: What Leaving Feels Like
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 16, '18
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  2. Visit Ruby Vee profile page

    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

    Ruby Vee has survived domestic violence, thrived and rebuilt her life and her friendships. She's also a breast cancer survivor, and that was the easy one.

    Joined: Jun '02; Posts: 14,179; Likes: 59,377

    Read My Articles

    19 Comments

  3. by   JustBeachyNurse
    This is the reality people need to hear. Not just pack up your stuff and walk away once a hand is raised or go walk to a shelter that may be worse than you're walking away from.
  4. by   Whispera
    Wow, Ruby! Big, gentle hugs to you!
  5. by   Farawyn
    (((Ruby)))

    This line:

    "We’ve been married for 16 years, and I feel safe at home."

    If you don't feel safe at home, you don't have a home.
    I'm so happy you are home.
  6. by   Ruby Vee
    Quote from JustBeachyNurse
    This is the reality people need to hear. Not just pack up your stuff and walk away once a hand is raised or go walk to a shelter that may be worse than you're walking away from.
    Most people, never having been in the situation, don't get it. Maybe reading these articles will give some of them the slightest clue.
  7. by   NurseGirl525
    Thank you Ruby for writing these articles to shed some light on Domestic Violence. Showing all of the steps. I think many times that people assume that DV only goes to a certain socioeconomic status. It happens in all walks of life. I think you showing that it even happens to nurses will hopefully change a few minds.

    Rebuilding was hard in the beginning. But now that I am getting there, it is the most wonderful feeling. My family is starting to visit more, my friends are back in my life and I have made some very special new ones, I get to graduate in May and start my life with the love of my life.

    Even though I have been divorced for almost 2 years, he still tries to control my life. I'm moving next year after graduation and he put it that if I did move it was because he allowed it. I was like no way. I immediately went to a lawyer and nailed down my rights. So he could spend the money and try and fight it, but he's going to lose according to my lawyer because I have great reason for moving and I have already submitted the paperwork far in advance.

    He no longer controls me.

    Life is good!!
  8. by   Farawyn
    Here is a question: when you finally tell someone you are abused, and they cite examples of strong women that... Throw a potato in someone's face for being rude and "that guy never did THAT again!"
    ... What do you do if your abuser is more than "rude" and you do nothing?
    How do you (we) rectify this?
    Also.
    Why do the abused defend the abuser?
  9. by   annabanana2
    Quote from Farawyn
    Why do the abused defend the abuser?
    I have not lived through anything even 1% as harrowing as the story described - I've never had a partner physically hurt me and I've never feared for my life as a result of my partner's violence. I have, though, been in a fairly lengthy relationship rife with emotional abuse, manipulation and gaslighting, and my friends could see it, my roommates could see it, but at the time, I couldn't. I couldn't because his behaviour was MY fault. Right? I declined to have sex with him once because I had just had a surgical abortion that day and so him losing it and screaming and crying at me was my fault. It was my fault that I had gotten pregnant in the first place. I owed him. He drove me home after the abortion and never let me forget it. He was an expert at making me certain that I was the one that was wrong.
  10. by   pecas
    Quote from Farawyn
    Why do the abused defend the abuser?
    After being told for so long that everything is your fault, you start to believe it. Your judgement skewed. Everything you do turns to crap because nothing you do is good enough. They've isolated you until there's no one left on your side. You look for the good in the abuser, because if you see them for who they truly are, you have to accept the fact that you have completely ruined your life in a futile attempt to make them happy. I was also afraid of saying anything bad about him, or agreeing with anyone else because, if it got back to him, there'd be hell to pay. It was easier to defend him to other people than to defend myself against him. They didn't have to go home with me. Also, if I confirmed what a horrible person he was, the next question, without fail, was "Why don't you just leave?" Even after I left, it took two more years and moving to another state to truly be free of him.

    I'll actually never be truly free. My close friends know not to hug me without warning me first. My husband knows that, no matter how angry he might be, "stupid" is a word that will forever be off limits. Everyone that knows me well knows that I have to be in control, because for so long, I controlled absolutely nothing. The controlling part bothers me, because I don't ever want to become like him.
  11. by   KThurmond
    I can't imagine how painful it must be to write these articles. Your making an impact I'm sure. By telling victims of abuse what they can expect after taking steps to leave the situation I'm sure makes them feel better because they know what to expect. I'm glad you have a "home" and a loving husband. Once again a beautifully written article.
  12. by   vintagemother
    Thank you for sharing your story, Ruby Vee. ((Hugs)) to you! You made it out and now live a happier, healthier, safer life!!

    Regarding the topic of rebuilding, I recall wanting desperately to hold on to the "life" I had. Even my own mother told me to stay, lest I'd be walking away with nothing but the clothes on my back.

    And that wasn't fair, after all of the financial contributions I'd made to our married life.

    In the end. I lost it all. Material possessions, that is. Throughout that I had to realize and be grateful that I had my health, my kids had their health, and I had (have) God at my side.

    I lost so much....I could go on and on... My big house in the suburbs, Myself and my kids actually had to live in shelters and with friends. I lost my clothes, furniture, picture albums, etc.

    I say this all to remind women going through similar situations, that sometimes, you have to lose material possessions in order to gain safety. And it's worth it.

    I am rebuilding. And I'm happy. I'm content with my life. Actually I'm more than content. I'm excited about all of the wonderful things that happened since I finally got away from him.

    I can't say I left him. He left me. But wanted me to come back and tried to force me by holding shelter over my head as a bargaining chip. Thankfully, by that time, I could see the abuse for what it was.

    I now live in peace. Without fear. Without dread.
  13. by   Ruby Vee
    Quote from vintagemother
    Thank you for sharing your story, Ruby Vee. ((Hugs)) to you! You made it out and now live a happier, healthier, safer life!!

    Regarding the topic of rebuilding, I recall wanting desperately to hold on to the "life" I had. Even my own mother told me to stay, lest I'd be walking away with nothing but the clothes on my back.

    And that wasn't fair, after all of the financial contributions I'd made to our married life.

    In the end. I lost it all. Material possessions, that is. Throughout that I had to realize and be grateful that I had my health, my kids had their health, and I had (have) God at my side.

    I lost so much....I could go on and on... My big house in the suburbs, Myself and my kids actually had to live in shelters and with friends. I lost my clothes, furniture, picture albums, etc.

    I say this all to remind women going through similar situations, that sometimes, you have to lose material possessions in order to gain safety. And it's worth it.

    I am rebuilding. And I'm happy. I'm content with my life. Actually I'm more than content. I'm excited about all of the wonderful things that happened since I finally got away from him.

    I can't say I left him. He left me. But wanted me to come back and tried to force me by holding shelter over my head as a bargaining chip. Thankfully, by that time, I could see the abuse for what it was.

    I now live in peace. Without fear. Without dread.
    It sucks to lose the things, believe me I know. But it sucks worse to lose your health, your kids, your SELF. I'm glad you're better now.
  14. by   LadyFree28
    I found this article at a timely fashion.

    During the weekend I went to the market, and I told my fiancée it'll take five minutes, and to try to stay close-a hard feat on a Saturday, but wishful thinking on my part. When I got outside, I couldn't find the car, and he wasn't answering his phone; I called him 20 times and thought he either left me or was not answering the phone to "teach me a lesson"; his actions in the past have never been ever to leave me anywhere, however, in my mind I thought he left me and was angry. I found the car and it took all of me to not throw the cans of apple and peach pie filling through the windshield, because I was so mad, thinking that he was playing games with me. His phone was dead and I made sure it was dead; before that I cursed him out on voicemail and was about to call my family and state that he left me at the supermarket. I had plans to pack my bags and leave him-all because of thoughts and reliving traumatic events, the psychological abuse that my ex-abuser, six feet in the ground and god knows where, and just being left with an angry space that ratchets up from the fall to January.

    To be honest, my saving grace was there was a small price that knew he wouldn't do that to me; I was torn by this huge anger and trauma, reminding me that the other person that has done it to me, what makes him different?

    I haven't spoken to my therapist about it, but it will be a topic for the next session; I was doing very well, until this incident; I always believe that I will get better and then anxiety will cripple me (it has happened in the past during my first acute care position as an RN) and now I'm past anxiety and at a place of anger, however I think it's still from that same space.

    I always have this friendly contention within my therapist that I want to somehow remove the anger and doubting anxiety that occurs, I knowing I can't and in some ways those emotions are built In to try to protect me, and for someone who likes reasoning and rationale, erratic emotion is not something I enjoy, especially when I've endure such behaviors inflicted on me.

    I don't have a solution; the nursing/critical thinking and judgement part of me always have been about solutions and action plans and doing something about it, doing work to solve an issue or a problem. I've done everything to get myself to a point where I can cope; I just realized that there is no timeline to rebuilding and I am literally having an argument with myself because the rational side of me is like "it's been seven years..." and has put a timeline in place to compartmentalize, and being receptive to the positive aspects that I have been able to accomplish dispute living with trauma; I realize and understand and comprehend that I won't be able to compartmentalize everything and I have to accept that in order for me to continue to rebuild, and that's ok, that doesn't make me weak or incompetent or incomplete.

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