The Bravest Thing I've Ever Done

  1. October is Breast Cancer month. It is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. I've been through both, and breast cancer is not the hardest thing I've ever done.

    The Bravest Thing I've Ever Done

    In 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. From the moment I was diagnosed, I was never in doubt about the next step. The first step was to call a surgeon, and here are some recommendations. At the surgeon's office, I was presented with a plan (and two back-up plans in case the first one was too awful to contemplate) and a Nurse Coordinator to help me follow the steps and negotiate the health care system. I'm a nurse; I can negotiate a health care system -- but when you're blindsided with a potentially terminal diagnosis, your critical thinking and organizational skills go right down the rabbit hole.

    There were steps -- breast cancer these days has distinct treatment plans for this type of tumor and one for that type of tumor and another for this stage or that stage. Once you enter the system in the Breast Center, you follow the "recipe" -- one step after another. There's rarely any doubt about what to do next, and if there is, the Nurse Coordinator steps up to help you out.

    Domestic Violence isn't like that. There's no "cookbook" approach: if he does this, then you do that. There's no coordinator to help you navigate the system unless you are fortunate enough to have either a good domestic violence program or shelter near you, or unless you have wealth enough to hire an attorney. And the attorney won't help you deal with the emotional fallout.

    In 1985, I married after two years of dating "Tom". We had fun together, were able to problem-solve and to negotiate and compromise when the rare problem surfaced. We had (or so I believed) similar values, hopes and dreams for the future and styles of dealing with finances. I could not have been more wrong. The day after our marriage, he announced "Now that we're married, I don't have to be on my best behavior any more." And he wasn't. Turns out the similar values, financial style and dreams for the future were all an act, a mask if you will. The mask dropped the day after we married, and things were never the same again.

    It took me nine or ten months to recognize a pattern. First he started getting angry more often, and over things that wouldn't have bothered him in the past. Then he started shouting at me, swearing at me and calling me names. He started throwing things when he got angry -- an empty or nearly empty Kleenex box, the oven mitts, a dish towel. Then he started throwing things in my direction and by the summer after our autumn wedding, he was throwing things AT me. The things got bigger -- a full Kleenex box, a coffee cup, the calendar. And, by autumn, he threw ME. At that point, I could no longer dismiss his behavior as "a bad temper" or "not knowing how to argue constructively," but I hesitated to label it abuse. After all, our relationship had been so wonderful at first -- he was charming and funny and seemed so evolved. We talked about everything, and he seemed to understand my point of view. He LOVED me, he thought I was wonderful. When a colleague of ours came to the emergency room after a beating from her boyfriend, Tom spoke out against domestic violence and men who would do such a thing. This man couldn't be an abuser!

    But he was. He threw me down the cement stairs of our front stoop, he slammed me up against a wall so hard I went through it. He locked me in a bedroom to prevent me from leaving the house and, while we were on vacation to celebrate the fact that there hadn't been an "incidents" for a year and that the marriage counselors believed our marriage had been saved, he nearly strangled me to death.

    There is no recipe for dealing with domestic violence.

    There is no ambiguity in whether or not you have cancer. Either the biopsy is malignant or it is benign. You have cancer or you don't. There are so many shades of domestic violence, so many levels as it ramps up, that it can be ambiguous. If we have an argument and he curses at me and calls me names, is that abusive? Or is it only abusive if he does it more than once, or if I'm CERTAIN that I haven't provoked him in any way? If he's screaming at me every evening because I haven't cleaned the kitchen "properly" is that abusive, or is it that I need to take more care in cleaning the kitchen? If he throws the calendar at me because we've created a scheduling conflict between two equally important events, is that mere frustration with the situation, or is that abusive? When he punches you, slams you through a wall or even locks you in a room, that's pretty unambiguous, but most of the time, it has taken so many steps, so many little escalations, that you're well practiced in discounting or making excuses for the behavior. "He's just frustrated," or "He's just had an awful week at work," or "He's just got a bad temper."

    A good friend recently told me that any time I have to say "he's just . . . " or "she's just . . ." the behavior is a problem. Or maybe the person is.

    When you have cancer, and you're putting one foot in front of the other, following the prescribed steps to get the cancer OUT of you, people are constantly calling you "brave." Following the treatment plan isn't all that brave, comparatively. It's just what you do when you have cancer. There really aren't many decisions to be made. You do what the doctors tell you.

    When you leave your abusive partner, or when you're staying long enough in the situation to get your ducks lined up in a row and your safety plan ready to be implemented, that's brave. Stepping off into the unknown without a safety net -- that's incredibly courageous. But no one tells you you're brave. They tell you you're stupid to have gotten involved with him in the first place, or you're just "creating a lot of drama" over something that is "really no big deal." People tell you that you should have left sooner, or if you're staying to ensure that you can get your children or pets safely out of the situation, they tell you that you should "just leave." And no one who hasn't been through it seems to understand how very difficult it is to "just leave." That is truly the look of bravery.

    Fighting cancer isn't the bravest thing I've ever done. Leaving my abusive partner was -- it was both the most difficult and the most courageous thing I've ever done. It's been over thirty years now, and it was the bravest thing I've ever done until last year, when I had to do it again. But that is a different story for another time.
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  2. Visit Ruby Vee profile page

    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

    Joined: Jun '02; Posts: 14,246; Likes: 59,734

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    26 Comments

  3. by   ruby_jane
    Ruby, thank you for sharing your story. Your words will be a blessing to someone who is struggling.
  4. by   OldDude
    Very brave indeed!! Excellent article. As ruby_jane mentioned. This could save someone else in a similar situation a lot of grief. It could be the catalyst to compel them into being brave too. God bless you.
  5. by   Here.I.Stand
    Thank you for sharing your story... you've posted about your situation in here before, and while my situation can't compare as most of my abuse was verbal, I can honestly say that your previous posts were an encouragement as I decided to get out.

    The most physical my husband got was barred me from leaving the bedroom; I was trying to leave my house with my kids... well he couldn't let me because I was being a crazy woman and was a danger on the road. In trying to get out I bumped into the dresser and got a bruise on my flank area (granted it was very painful -- part of the bruise was more a hematoma) And he shoved me twice -- I stayed on my feet.

    Again while it's not the same as endangering my life, I get what you say about there being no recipe.

    My parents initially tried to encourage counseling... they told me I owed it to my kids to do everything I could... and he told my dad he was willing."

    They said he was under so much stress at work. Well yes... he's the CFO of a hedge fund group. It's not an excuse to treat your wife like feces.

    They said it was cultural... well he's lived in the US most of his adult life... and anyway his dad is NOTHING like he was as a husband. If he treated me how his dad treats his mom, I wouldn't be typing this reply.

    My mom said I do need to keep house better... I bit my tongue SO hard. My mom leaves plenty of clutter. Not like hoarding or dirt... but clutter. Always has... and probably still would if my retired dad didn't take over housework.

    Later after I gave them more details, my mom said "We knew you could never do anything right [in his eyes], but we had no idea how bad it was."

    I remember thinking at the time though... WHY are they making excuses for him? Let's take life-threatening behavior out of the situation... if he were slapping me or other non-lethal physical abuse, would it be reasonable to blame stress or culture, or tell me I had a part in it?

    Anyway, I appreciate everything you've shared today and previously. You helped me more than you know, and I believe your story will continue to encourage others.
  6. by   Meow278
    I left someone who would have probably been physically abusive. All the signs were there. He was emotionally abusive, would break things, and even hurt himself one time. (I honestly think he wanted to hurt me but hurt himself instead). I constantly made excuses for his behavior. "Oh that's just him." "He has anger problems, I mean we all have emotional problems to some degree, right?" I'm so much better as a person since he's gone. Honestly, he was the one who broke up with me, but it was probably the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. You did something I couldn't, when I should have. You are very brave!
  7. by   TriciaJ
    I'm blown away. I've always believed people couldn't go six months without their true colours emerging. To be the perfect partner for two whole years and then drop the mask like a rock...that is incredibly calculating. It would be impossible for prospective partners to see red flags when someone is that skilled of a liar.

    Ruby, I'm so glad you got out. Thanks for sharing this powerful story.
  8. by   Medic/Nurse
    Tragically, I think domestic violence is very common.

    However, Ruby Vee is extraordinary. I am so grateful you were brave and are with us to share this testimony.

    Thank you, Our Treasured Ruby Vee for sharing your story that is both heartbreaking - and inspiring.

    I know for certain that leaving an unsafe situation takes strength beyond measure and remodels you. You come out different on the other side. A health crisis that threatens your life changes you.

    Courage does not mean you are not afraid. It just means you ACT when you have to do the scary things.

    Life is short, even in its longest days. Choose safe. Choose peace. Choose joy.

  9. by   Katillac
    Thank you a thousand times for sharing your story. Your story is a caution and an inspiration, and you are brave to have done what you needed to do to survive and brave to tell the story.
  10. by   Farawyn
    Ruby
  11. by   sallyrnrrt
    ruby you have always been a hero to me.........you handled the domestic violence much better than me, there would be a funeral, and not mine....... I know that is anything but class.... but I got a little too much John Wayne in me..... I admire you so, and look forward to learning more from you... best wishes you are truly a survivor, Sally
  12. by   Daisy4RN
    Thank you for sharing your story. I had a similar situation circa 1970's. I fell head over heals in love, dated for 1.5 years and got married. No signs before the marriage, but 1 month after the wedding the abuse started, escalating just like you described. I was embarrassed I so didn't tell anyone. My family and friends suspected, but when they asked me I would lie about how I got the black eyes, bruises etc. I called the police twice, the first time there were no visible signs (because he had beat my head on the floor and kicked my abdomen) so the police didn't do anything. The second time I called I was obviously beaten, bruised and bloody, I thought they would have to do something this time, nope, even though there I sat, shaken, battered and bloodied they still didn't do anything, just said something like, this is between a husband and wife. I stayed for 10 months until I figured out that the abuse (although it was rarely called abuse back then) would not change, it was an extremely difficult decision on many levels, but one I never regretted.
    While I don't blame any individual police (because that is just how is was back then, sadly) I am glad that things have changed over the years. We now have much more education and support services available, and the police have changed policies. I hope that anyone who finds themselves in a situation of abuse will realize that abusers rarely (if ever) change, and find/have the inner strength to do what is necessary to be safe (both physically and emotionally). Tell the people in your life that you trust and let them help you!
    And Ruby, thanks again for sharing, I hope others will be empowered by these stories, and I wish you well (hope the cancer is gone!).
  13. by   LikeTheDeadSea
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    While leaving my ex, I wish I had heard more stories like yours. The reaction of "I won't judge you if you stay." "Maybe you'll work through this." "It's hard to leave and restart your life, it may be easier to stay." that I got from people when I would tell them about the years of emotional/physical abuse was shocking. I almost felt like people didn't want me to get out of it. You're right - no one tells you that you're being brave unless they have been in the same situation and know the struggle. Putting it on a public platform will hopefully reach someone that needs to see this. Thank you again
  14. by   OldDude
    Since I read this I can't get one of my favorite Dixie Chick songs out of my mind...sallyrnrrt

    Dixie Chicks - Goodbye Earl - YouTube

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