“Do the things that scare you.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself over these last few months. And it has led to some pretty amazing experiences – I went to NCADV’s Take a stand event in Washington DC, where I met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met; I told my story to a random stranger on a rooftop bar, and to friends I’d been too scared tell for the last year; I met Joe Biden and gave him my pink business card; and I quit my neuroscience PhD program and told my mentors that I’m abandoning our projects to help domestic violence survivors.
Last week however, I did something that felt even scarier than any of those things combined. I confided in a friend about some of the most painful memories I have with my abuser, ones I hadn’t ever fully spoken about before. I had been silent about these for so long out of fear. When I did try to tell someone a while ago, I was shut down. She told me I should have stood up for myself when my abuser did certain things. That what he did was partly my fault.
It’s comments like these that make me want to scream. Not only do they feel like a knife going right through the heart, but they show just how ignorant some people are when it comes to abuse and domestic violence. She missed the point entirely. The fact was that I couldn’t speak up out of fear – fear he’d get angry, fear he’d leave me, fear of yet another bad night.
An abuser gains power by robbing you of your voice, of your ability to speak for you yourself. I did things I never thought I would do when I was dating my abuser. Not because I wanted to, but because I was terrified of what would happen if I refused.
I have spent the last year reclaiming my voice and my self-autonomy. I have learned how to speak up when I had been silenced for so long. I have learned not to deny what happened, or shove it down, but to own it and be proud that I survived. Because that’s just it. We are survivors. We lived through hell and came out the other side. And we most definitely do not deserve to be judged by someone, or to be told by others how we should have acted in certain situations. At the end of the day, they weren’t there. But we were.
We deserve to be able to tell our stories, to finally voice the secrets we’ve kept inside for so long. As I have learned, the more we hold on to those painful memories and keep them in, the more power they have over us. The first step of letting them go is to let them out. So last week, I tried once again to put those painful memories into words, and fortunately, this time I was met with true compassion and support from my friend.
Yes, maybe I didn’t speak up or defend myself when I was dating my abuser. But I am doing it now, no matter how hard or scary it may seem. I have found my voice. And I am never letting it go.