I Know What Abuse Is; I Have Lived Through It

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Do you ask your patients if they feel safe at home? Do you ask them when you are alone with them? Are you prepared for a negative answer?

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

Let's Not Forget About Domestic Abuse Awareness

I Know What Abuse Is; I Have Lived Through It

I'm sure almost everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. But did you know it is also Domestic Abuse Awareness month?  Yes, October has passed, however, we must be aware of both of these throughout the year.  I’ve had breast cancer, and it is not the worst thing I’ve ever been through.  There’s no ambiguity -- either that biopsy was positive or it was not.  If it was positive, you go see a surgeon and encounter a whole network of support systems.  There’s no confusion about what you do next -- a nurse navigator will tell you when to be at which specialist’s office, scan, test or treatment.  People tell you how brave you are and offer you “anything you need.”  Domestic abuse isn’t nearly as clear-cut, nor do you have the support.

When you’re going through domestic abuse, no one tells you how brave you are;  and you know deep down they’re not even thinking it.  They’re thinking what a sap you must be to put up with it, and how they would never put up with something like THAT.  But before you even get to the telling someone stage, you first have to identify the abuse.  Maybe you’re thinking that he’s just under stress, he’ll go back to the loving, charming man he was as soon as his boss gets replaced/tax season is over/the pandemic is over/his mother is discharged from the hospital.   Maybe you’re thinking you’re just imagining things or being “too dramatic”  (because he tells you that you’re crazy, too sensitive or overly dramatic).  Maybe you’re thinking that the behavior is your fault and if you weren’t so lazy/stupid/fat/immature/judgmental/rude he wouldn’t act like that.  Maybe you’ve fallen for the lie that only hitting is abuse, and he would NEVER hit you.  Maybe you know you dislike the behavior, but don’t believe it is truly abusive.  Besides, you’re strong.  You can take it.

In 1988, my then-husband strangled me into unconsciousness and dumped me on the highway.  I’ve told that story on Allnurses.com more than once.  I think we can all agree that even though there was no hitting involved, that was abusive behavior.  It started off gradually, with yelling and insults and advanced through the emotional abuse where he claimed he never loved me, and threatened to “go out and (bad word that rhymes with duck) someone” or “beat you to death so that no one would ever suspect me,” to throwing things at me, to throwing ME down the stairs or into a wall to the day he consciously tried to murder me.  It took three and a half years.  At first, I had no idea it was abuse.  When I did catch on, the prevalent opinion was that counseling could “fix him.”  I hung my hopes and my dreams on that idea but in the end, I left with the clothes on my back and my dog.

In 1999, I remarried, this time to a man I had known for nine years, dated for five years and was certain was a good, honorable man.  For seven years, we were happy.  And then I injured my back at work and spent six months on medical leave, many of those months unable to walk.  The devaluation started then, but I excused it as “fatigue . . . because caregiving is such a difficult role.”  I stayed married for another decade, certain that although I was profoundly unhappy in my marriage, he was “just stressed from the caregiving” as I went through breast cancer, two total knee replacements, and the illness and deaths of both of my parents.

When he screamed at me and called me names, I knew it was unpleasant, but it wasn’t abuse.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.

When he was rage-driving through heavy traffic in a torrential downpour, screaming at me that I was fat and useless and brought him no joy, I knew it was both terrifying and hurtful, but it wasn’t abuse.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.

When he was “friending” women thirty years or more his junior on facebook and commenting on their “hot bodies,” and comparing them to my 50-something-year-old body, when he was openly leering at women on the street or flirting with female servers or flight attendants and my friends or the wives of his friends, I knew I didn’t like it, but I never dreamed it was abusive.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.

When he ripped the spiral-bound maps out of my hands, cutting open my palm I knew I was bleeding and in pain, but I didn’t think it was abuse.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.  When he then refused to apologize because “It’s not that bad; you’re just being a baby,” I knew it wasn’t abuse.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.

And then one day, when I was at the helm of our boat happily steering us between channel markers, enjoying the day, he body-slammed me to the deck and grabbed the wheel from my hands.  It took me nearly two weeks to recognize that as abuse.  I knew what abuse was; I had lived through it.  But I had been groomed to accept the abuse, slowly desensitized to escalating abuse.  He had never hit me.   

He never hit me, but he screamed at me and called me names.  He blamed me for everything that was wrong in his life.  He openly leered at other women, flirted with them and texted “jokes” and pictures back and forth.  He belittled me at every chance, even in front of my family,  friends, and co-workers.  He stopped by my work to tell me he wasn’t going to be home until “late” and refused to tell me where he was going to be or with whom and when he might be home.  He withdrew money from his 401k and spent it, leaving me to find out when the IRS wanted their share (and to scramble to come up with  the money to pay them because he didn’t think HE should have to pay.)  He spent the money meant for the homeowner’s insurance, the down payment on the next car, my airfare to fly across several states to take care of my aging and ill parents.  Every one of my Winter coats and jackets “got paint on them” while he was painting the hall, and some of my sentimental items “accidentally got mixed in” with a load he was taking to the dump.  One time, when I was dressed up for a job interview, I came downstairs to find him in the kitchen, smashing every one of my collection of coffee mugs.  “You have too many mugs,” he said, as he smashed the pottery mug my aunt had made for my birthday.  I bombed the interview and didn’t get the job.

Even if you know what abuse is, you might be wrong.  The light began to dawn for me when a long-time poster on Allnurses.com posted about Patricia Evans’ books on verbal abuse.  From there, I went to Lundy Bancroft and his work with abusive men.  As I lay awake at night, my husband asleep beside me, I knew what abuse was.  I was living through it.

I left one October morning four years ago with what I could carry and my dog.  I am now happily divorced and living in my very own condo.  I’m slowly furnishing it, acquiring the pots and pans, mixing bowls and baking sheets, the chairs and rugs to replace what I left behind.  I am happy and at peace.

I know what abuse is.  I’ve lived through it.  How does this relate to nursing at all?

Ask your patients if they feel safe at home, ask them when you are alone with them and not in front of the handsome, charming man who brought them to your ER or your office.  Even if that man is someone you know, someone you work with, someone you like and trust.  Both of those men I married were nurses, men I had worked with, men I liked and trusted before I began to date them.  Both of those nurses were abusers.

Ruby Vee knows far too much about abuse from personal experience.

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10 Comment(s)

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 29 years experience.

Ruby - you have endured the unimaginable. Your spirit, fortitude and guts shine through in this article. I am so very happy for you that, though life has thrown you some curve balls, you've come out on top. Here's to the rest of your life!! 

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 29 years experience.

I'm glad that you made it through and are now at peace.  Thanks for sharing.

 

Hoosier_RN, MSN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 28 years experience.

From a sister who's been there, I understand. I still cringe when people touch me. In general, I'm a recluse, and don't miss socializing a whole lot. I've had therapy, and although remarried, I don't think I'll ever totally be over my experience (it took 14 years to remarry). 

SmilingBluEyes

Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis. Has 24 years experience.

From another sister who has been there, congratulations! You EARNED your freedom and the right to peace. I am married to a wonderful man now, and am so lucky. I know exactly how it feels to be trapped. I am glad you made it.

spotangel, DNP, RN, NP

Specializes in ED,Tele,Med surg, ADN,outpatient,homecare,LTC,Peds. Has 32 years experience.

Hugs Ruby! Wish I could have been there for you. No one should go through that ever.

LikeTheDeadSea, BSN, RN

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 6 years experience.

Your posts on this are always so powerful; thank you again for sharing. Such a poignant reminder.

TheMoonisMyLantern, ADN, LPN, RN

Specializes in Mental health, substance abuse, geriatrics, PCU. Has 14 years experience.

Ruby, I imagine it's not easy to write in such detail what you experienced. Over the years every time you have posted about the hell you experienced I have found it to be incredibly moving, informative, and effective. Keep telling your story, abuse is so so common sadly, but it is empowering to hear that abuse can indeed be survived. 

 

 

toomuchbaloney

Has 43 years experience.

I'd like to send you a coffee mug from Alaska.

hppygr8ful, ASN, RN, EMT-I

Specializes in Psych, Addictions, SOL (Student of Life). Has 19 years experience.

Ruby, Thank you for sharing your story 

Ruby Vee, BSN

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

11 hours ago, toomuchbaloney said:

I'd like to send you a coffee mug from Alaska.

And I'd like to have a new collection of coffee mugs . . . but I have a new home, some furniture, a car and a job.  I'm getting there!