OOP Survivor Blog

Four women and five children die every day in the U.S. due to domestic violence. Read President Barack Obama's Presidential Proclamation announcing his commitment to reducing the prevalence of domestic violence in our country.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear Abby Helps Emotional Abuse Survivor

It's kind of wild how there have been two women writing in to Dear Abby about verbal and emotional abuse in just a handful of days. And the columnist dishes out fairly sage advice. Here's what I read this morning in my paper, The Arizona Republic:

Dear Abby: I am an 18-year-old woman and have been with my fiance for 2 1/2 years. I love him and can't picture my life without him. However, over the past six months he has become emotionally abusive. He's never wrong, gets made if I disagree with him about anything, and he yells at me over every little thing.

He used to treat me great, and now this. I miss how it used to be, and I cry almost every day. In the past I always told myself I would never put up with something like this, but I have been - and it gets harder every day. I know it's not physical, but emotional abuse counts for something, right? Or am I overreacting? Please give me advice. I need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sad in Vegas

Dear Sad: You're not overreacting. What you are experiencing now is a preview of how the rest of your life will be if you stay with him. When a partner becomes controlling and emotionally abusive, in most cases it's only a matter of time until the physical abuse beings. If you're smart, you will put an end to this now. The "light at the end of the tunnel" is the sunshine you'll see once you exit this relationship and slam the door behind you.

Yes, Abby's got it right: SLAM that door behind you!! Then run. And fast. And never look back.

Of course, all this is sooo much easier said than done, but it sounds like "Sad in Vegas" may be on the right track because at least she's reaching out for advice. Once you're in an abusive relationship, your brain does this total warp trip where you get caught up and frozen in the cycle of abuse. And even when the abuse is absolutely horrific, you oddly feel more frightened to leave your abuser than you do to stay. Go figure. As crazy as it sounds, that part's absolutely true, whether you're beaten physically or emotionally. Beaten is beaten. After a while, the physical and emotional pain melds together and you don't know up from down. Or safe from danger. Or hope from terror.

But, at some point, whether it's 10 months into a relationship or 10 years, something snaps or clicks or hits you like an abrupt slap in the face, and you reach a place where you can actually turn away and leave. For me, it was my 8-year-old telling me that she wished that I would stop crying every day. And I had cried...every day...for nearly a year, but I didn't even realize it until her eyes, filled with fear, looked deep into mine. Then it hit me that I had cried every single day, sometimes more than once, for the entire 10 months of my marriage. Like "Sad in Vegas," I missed how it used to be. How he used to be. I missed the man who never really existed, who evaporated shortly after becoming my husband.

But even though I realized that I needed to end our relationship, it was still a process. And a part of me still held onto hope that things would change. That the man I missed so desperately would suddenly reappear and life would go back to normal. Until I finally had to seek help from the police. That's when hope evaporated.

The only part about the columnist's advice to "Sad in Vegas" that I'm not so sure I agree with is the part where she writes "If you're smart, you will put an end to this now." Abby's obviously never been abused. ;)

In reality, it doesn't matter whether you have a GED or a PhD from an Ivy League. Abuse insidiously infiltrates every level of society. And it's just as challenging psychologically and emotionally to break free from it whether you're a CEO of a major corporation or a waitress in a coffee shop.

The good news is that you can break free.

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