The many masks we wear: domestic violence awareness

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Kylie McKibbin
CONTRIBUTOR

“It took me some time to find my voice afterward, since it was silenced for over a year. But the moment I found the courage to do so, it was amplified by dozens of other survivors echoing the same stories.” Graphic by Erin Chance.

March 24, 2017 was the last time he put his hands on me.

We had just gotten home from a night out with friends. The friendly and charming demeanor he possessed earlier in the night quickly dissipated the moment his door shut behind me. After flipping me off the mattress and two couches, I started to scramble to find my phone in an effort to call my mom for help. He managed to find it before me and threw it against the wall, shattering it, and my heart, in a moment. He then grabbed my car keys and successfully made me his prisoner, beholden at his mercy. I only had one option left: fighting back.

It was not always like that. Our relationship started off seemingly blissful, as this person was a very close friend of two years before we got together. He was funny, charming and charismatic. However, it did not take long for the mask to melt away once we got behind closed doors. He was, and still is, a severe alcoholic, much more severe than I realized as just his friend. When I realized, I was already in the thick of it. He would lash out at me on countless occasions, in drunken rampages over practically nothing. One of the first things he did not like was the way I talked to my friends. I tend to use pet names such as honey, baby, love, etc. It is unconscious verbiage and how I’ve always addressed those I care about. He did not want me to do that anymore because it did not make him feel “special.”

It soon escalated to several blow out fights over irrational and petty things. I spent too much time with a guy friend I ran into at a bar while we were all out. Or, he did not like my friends, so I would get yelled at for that. He would kick me out in the early hours of the morning because he got inside his head about something I did that was wrong. It then escalated to name calling and belittling. “Whore,” “No one would ever put up with or love a woman like you,” “You’re a shitty person.” He would get drunk, break things, throw things and punch things. Over time, I learned to try to keep calm during these outbursts and not scream back as my usual self would do, that would only make him more insane and the fights more irrational.

He forced me to cut off contact with important people in my life because of his own jealousy and insecurities. He mocked me for being a feminist and caring about politics and social issues. He would control me by using my possessions, taunting me by saying he was scattering them all over the city. But, in reality, he was sending me on a wild goose chase for his enjoyment. Embarrassingly, he even took photos of me one time when I was unconscious–yes, it is exactly what you are thinking. Toward the end, I started to get thrown into panic attacks when he would start screaming at me, and I will never forget the way he pretended to shake as he mocked me saying, “Stop it, I’m so scared.”

After each incident, I would leave him only to come back almost immediately each time. He would cry, beg, plead and apologize. He would tell me how in love he was with me, and I bought it every single time. I wanted to believe so badly that he would truly change. He would grow up, get his drinking under control, maybe get a real job someday that could make for a family life. The highs were so incredibly high that I let them trump the insanely bad lows, which were the majority. It truly felt like a type of addiction that I could not get sober from.

And so, I finally fought back that night. With all the strength I could muster, I punched him in a last-ditch effort to make an escape. I quickly realized what a bad move that was because within a moment’s notice, he had opened his door, threw me to the ground and locked me out. I was now screaming in the hallway in nothing but my underwear and a tank top, holding my newly broken arm to my chest. A neighbor heard me screaming and called the cops. He was arrested and I was taken to the ER. He bailed himself out four days later. Afterall, he “wasn’t trying to hurt me.”

He was charged with disturbing the peace, criminal mischief, and third-degree domestic assault, a misdemeanor. All charges were dropped except the domestic assault. He got off with a plea deal that lowered the charge to a measly ‘disorderly conduct’ with nine months of probation. He does not even have to carry the title of being an abuser on his record. The prosecutor did everything she could, but our system is gravely flawed and always in favor of the offender.

Three years later, he was arrested again for hurting another woman.

This is what domestic violence looks like. It is not simply a punch to the face. It is degradation, humiliation, isolation and intimidation. I never thought I would be the type of woman that found herself in an abusive relationship. But, what I’ve learned is there is no type. One in four women are the victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. These master manipulators genuinely believe the utter nonsense that falls out of their mouths, and they will make you believe it too. I promise that.

It took me some time to find my voice afterward, since it was silenced for over a year. But the moment I found the courage to do so, it was amplified by dozens of other survivors echoing the same stories. Their voices helped me through the backlash of victim-blaming that I had to endure and the ensuing bullying that took place at our joint place of work that forced me to quit.

It takes a domestic violence victim an average of 7 times to leave their abuser for good, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Two years of weekly therapy, endless daily panic attacks and a medical chart that labeled me as a ‘Domestic Violence Victim’ were all I had to show for it in the end–along with depression, anxiety and PTSD diagnoses.

I do not need sympathy, nor do I want it. I am not embarrassed or ashamed. I simply want to put a real face to domestic violence and shed the mask that we are forced to wear as victims, and the ones these perpetrators present to the outside world. I wholeheartedly believe that education is the number one way to combat domestic violence.

You absolutely have the right to demand to be treated with love and respect, always. Never lose hope because there is light and love after abuse.

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