Disclaimer: This post will be a bit deep, I will be very vulnerable, and I will be talking about domestic/intimate partner violence. Please only read this if you can handle it.
| Reality Check: It’s Not Okay |
I sat in the big, cold classroom annoyed. I had boxes on my cosmetology worksheet that needed to be signed off before the month’s end, but instead I was sitting in the classroom waiting for a presentation to begin. There was a representative from the Samaritan House preparing to speak to our night school classes about domestic violence. “This won’t apply to me,” I thought to myself as I huffed and puffed quietly. She began her presentation by asking a general question, “What is abuse?” As expected, a voice from a few rows behind me mentioned that it was unwanted physical touch, hitting, pushing, kicking, etc. The presenter agreed then asked, “What else?” Though I knew that abuse was so much more than being knocked around or yoked up, I didn’t want to raise my hand to discuss the types of abuse that you can’t see. I could see in my peripheral vision my classmates who became nervous and fidgety in their chairs; the conversation had already struck a nerve. Out of respect for those individuals, I’d stay awake, as it had become my norm to doze off when I was sitting too long or bored. I’d honor what they had endured, but the conversation didn’t pertain to me…or so I thought.
After receiving a few general answers, the presenter placed a slide on the screen that listed different forms of domestic/intimate partner violence: “physical assault, emotional and verbal abuse, financial abuse, sexual violence, abuse of children or pets, withholding essentials such as medication, isolation of a partner from friends or family, scare tactics, threats, stalking, and coercion, among other behaviors.” (This information can be found on the Samaritan House website.) Though my ears had perked a bit, I still felt that I was excluded from even possibility of abuse. “First of all, I am very strong-willed, so it would be almost impossible for some dude to weaken me to the point of controlling me. Second of all, there isn’t a man crazy enough to push me around with the three older brothers I have.” These were my arrogant thoughts as I fought the slight panic that started to rise within me. The next slide and the explanations that followed immediately made me sick. I wanted to run out of the class to cry because all of a sudden, I just knew…
Below are the “early warning signs of abuse” that the presenter shared with us:
- Moving a relationship to a serious and intimate level very quickly
- Showing extreme jealousy and possessiveness
- Having a controlling attitude, restricting another’s personal freedoms
- Needing to know a partner’s whereabaouts all the time and being uncomfortable with time apart
- Making someone feel the need to check in all the time
- Changing moods quickly, making a partner feel as if he or she is “walking on eggshells”
- Making someone feel self-conscious by making comments about personal appearance or behaviors
- Telling a partner what to wear or not to wear
- Insulting a partner or making fun of a partner
- Pressuring a partner sexually
- Exhibiting any physical roughness
- Abusing drugs or alcohol or engaging in criminal activity
(This information can be found on the Samaritan House website.)
Sitting in that classroom, reading those words, hearing her elaborate on examples of this behavior, I knew that I had been in an abusive relationship. But how? How could I, Christen Diane Rouson, end up in a situation like that? Immediately shame, embarrassment, and defeat silently cloaked me as I fought tears and struggled to keep a straight face. I found myself fidgeting in my seat like the classmates who surrounded me.
Sharing my Story. Changing a life. Don’t punk out now, Chris.
I have not had many serious relationships in my adult life considering that I got married at 19 years old and I am only 30 years old. Still, I have had a few situationships, and there have been guys that I dated consistently. The unfortunate part of the Christen of my twenties is that I invested too much into romantic relationships. Even guys who I merely dated had too much access to my sincere emotion; there wasn’t a strong enough guard at my heart. Of these situationships and dating scenarios, there were a few that I could genuinely see the potential of a relationship, so I opened myself up probably more than I should have. Such was the case with one particular guy. For the sake of this blog, I will call him, “Mr. Wonderful.”
For my friends and those who know me: if you are trying to figure out who I am referring to, don’t. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you won’t. Please leave well enough alone.
Mr. Wonderful met quite a few check points on my Must Have/Preferences list. He seemingly had his ish together, he had a relationship with God and understood how my culture embraces church, and he made me laugh, among other things. I won’t list much because I want to keep his identity private. What started as “just kicking it” turned serious so fast that it made my head spin. He seemed to be affectionate and attentive in his own way, and there was barely any break in our conversation throughout the day except for bedtime. We would talk on the phone several times a day, send text messages almost non stop, and exchange Marco Polo messages when we wanted to see each other’s faces. Before long, I found myself heading straight to his house after work and leaving for work from his house the next morning. He knew where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with at almost all times. There wasn’t a title, but we were in a pseudo relationship. Mr. Wonderful was just that…until sometimes he wasn’t. I noticed that he could be really controlling and demanding. I wrote it off as him being one of those “I like what I like” type of guys, so I obliged. He promised that if I conceded to what he liked, he would take care of me: make sure there was gas in my car, fix little things on my car, help me with a bill if I needed it, etc. That seemed reasonable though there were times when he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. He often talked about how I was so independent and how it was probably a defense mechanism because I always had to be. He encouraged me to stop being a superhero and take off my cape; he would protect me. Little by little, I let my guard down and laid down my defenses. He loved me. I was safe. Then controlling and demanding conjoined with manipulative. Mr. Wonderful would find a way to have his way, and often times if left me feeling frustrated and crazy. He’d promise me things, talk of it all day long, and when it was time to deliver he would say that he couldn’t for one reason or another. It was that way with sex too. He knew what would entice me, and he’d play those strings like an orchestral selection. Then when an intimate moment would arise, he’d tease me just to push me away. “He didn’t want to compromise his relationship with God,” he said. But when he wanted it, he’d get what he wanted. And when I questioned the affect on his relationship with God in those instances, he’d say I tempted him and made him give in. It was my fault. I still didn’t think much of what was happening, and I would quickly ignore any red flags that arose. Stories didn’t add up, and I knew he was lying to me, but I tuned out the lies. I spent so much time with him that I was barely home and hardly spent time with my friends. If I had plan or obligations, he’d coerce me to cancel them to be with him. My word was so flaky to others, but it was a risk I was willing to take. It felt so good to be wanted…until I wasn’t. Out of the blue, his time wasn’t as free for me to just come over or see him at will. He’d let me know when he was available, and when he was, I needed to be. Our playful banter changed a bit too. He was a little rough. I knew this to be true when I, on at least two occasions, had bruises on my body. If I mentioned that his playful physical gesture hurt, he’d respond, “I didn’t feel anything.” It was a joke to him. I still didn’t push away. Instead, I started digging into his childhood, the behaviors he saw from his father growing up, and I thought if I could just understand him, I could change him. I was so wrong. We had an interesting relationship. Mr. Wonderful seemed to love me hard, and he complimented me for my beauty, intelligence, and independence (the same independence that was a problem before). He compared me to other girls, and he swore I was the best thing that happened to him. His words only swooned me more, made me want to love him past his faults. I had faults too so I couldn’t judge him. He was still Mr. Wonderful to me, he just had issues. And every now and then his controlling voice was louder than the one that whispered sweet nothings to me. In a bizarre twist, he wanted more control. He wanted to know what I was wearing to work each day, he wanted me to ask his permission to do things – even ones that I did instinctively, and he wanted to “help me out” with my budget, so it was his idea that I give him my money for him to pay my bills, and he’d give me allowances for the things I wanted. (That was a STRONG “NO” from me…I don’t play about my money.) I’ll never forget the day that I fearfully asked him outright, “Are you about to start hitting me?” Still, I dismissed all of this. I had flaws just like him. And we loved each other. That was enough.
There’s more to the story. It took all I had to type this. I can’t anymore.
Sitting in that classroom, reading those words, hearing her elaborate on examples of this behavior, I knew that I had been in an abusive relationship.
What I need you to understand is that even as I type this blog, I am down playing this entire scenario. I’m Christen Diane Rouson. I don’t get abused. Yeah, I’ve been played before and heartbroken before, but surely I am too strong to endure any kinds oppression. I’ll admit that I am on a tightrope between acceptance and denial. Even in this very moment, I want to say that this thirty-something year old man didn’t mean to mistreat me in any way, and I am reading more of the story than what is written on the pages of my life. I want to say that maybe I was too giving, compromising, soft, forgiving, and maybe I condoned the small things which welcomed the big ones. What you allow continues, right? To this very second I want to act like none of this is a big deal.
If only you knew the guilt that I have even sharing this story. This is dumb.
My family moved from one city to another at the tail end of my tenth grade school year. For most of the first semester of my eleventh grade year, my brother and I crossed a bridge from Portsmouth into Chesapeake to attend our old high school. At some point, my mother, who was best friends with Jesus, couldn’t stand lying anymore. She withdrew us from our beloved Oscar Smith High School and enrolled us at Churchland High School. I can barely remember anything from my days at Churchland High. It seems I only repeat the same memories over and over while others seem to be repressed. It’s like there is a black hole that swallowed me whole sometime between the end of my junior year and graduation. One day while sitting in a restaurant with friends, I brought this fact up. In that moment I forced myself to try to remember whatever it was that my psyche was making me forget. I pushed and pulled and forced and talked until finally it hit me like a Mack truck. There was one day when a high school boyfriend sexually assaulted me. I won’t go into details. I can’t. I vividly remember the things he said to me in that moment, and I remember saying, “No” and “Stop.” I dismissed what happened after third block that day because he was my boyfriend. We were sexually active anyway. He loved me. He didn’t mean anything by it, he was just upset. I didn’t tell anyone because what was there to tell? Eventually my silence became repression, that is until I forced myself to remember that day.
How did I, Christen Diane Rouson, fall trap to these scenarios. I am so strong! I wish you could hear me screaming that to the top of my lungs with tears (literally) filling my eyes. The truth is even with as strong as I was, I wasn’t. Too many times I’ve allowed myself to remain in situations and relationships because I didn’t think I could have any better. I didn’t think enough of myself. Does that warrant being hurt or abused in anyway? Of course not. Yet it did soften and impair my judgement.
Though the stories I shared above are vastly different, I believe there are similarities between the two.
- In both cases, I didn’t feel the “sting” of what it was until was over. At that point, I didn’t feel that I had a right to be in pain. I am trying to accept that some things hurt worse much later…kind of like the effects of a car accident.
- I have downplayed what it was because of the circumstances. I was involved in a relationship of sorts, so clearly it wasn’t as bad as it seemed…that’s what I’ve told myself.
- If I could pretend that it never happened, I would. My pride hurts to think that I wasn’t smart enough to not be in relationships or situations like this.
Regardless of the similarities or differences, one thing is certain: It’s not okay.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
I know what I want to say, and I’m going to say it. I promise I am going to encourage you the right way and tell you who you can talk to if you need help. Oblige me for just a second.
Y’all, I’m having a really hard time processing these thoughts. One of the biggest insecurities that I struggle with from time to time is that there isn’t validity to my stories because of outside perspectives. Basically, if someone argues that what happened to me didn’t really happen that way, I will diminish what I am saying. The same is true if someone thinks I am sensationalizing my story. I shared this with one of my brothers a while back, and he encouraged me to continue sharing my story. He said our stories are unique and custom to us, and no one can change that. I’m really trying to apply that philosophy to this blog. I’ve shared very little of this with only a few (if that many), and still I feel like somebody wouldn’t believe me…like I’m making too much of whatever happened. Is it weird that I, at all costs, want to protect the identity of these guys?
Okay here goes…
Ladies and gentlemen alike, if it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. I understand how you may be questioning what is happening or what you feel, I know too well. Again, if it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. If something happened or is happening to you, it is not okay. I denied and repressed what was (and I still am as you can see by how back and forth I’ve been), and I didn’t talk to anyone at those times. You aren’t alone. There is help available. As listed at the top of this post, there are so many forms of domestic/intimate partner violence. Some are very obvious as they are physical while others are silent as they are psychological and emotional. Whatever type of oppression you are experiencing, you can be free if you want to. I am completely sensitive to the fact that some situations are much more severe than others.
I feel like I’m not doing a good job today.
I’ll share with you the things that I have repeatedly told myself:
It’s not your fault. You didn’t deserve it. You aren’t worth any less because it happened. Healing is available.
If you or someone you know is in trouble, please reach out for help:
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline:
This was broken. I’m sorry here were no jokes or clever colloquialisms. I hope I didn’t overshare…I do that sometimes.
I hope this helps.