October 2009 Column Winner

It became harder and harder to leave…
By Suzie Campbell, The Countywide & Sun
Oct. 29, 2009

Abusers use emotional, psychological and physical abuse followed by apologies, promises and affection to control their victims. The recipients of abuse often feel they are the cause. Their self-esteem and self-worth has been destroyed and they feel this is the best life they will ever have.

I know I did. I felt I was damaged goods and no one else would want me. I had to try harder to please him.

People who have never been in an abusive relationship often find it hard to understand why a person stays. They think the person must be weak. I was never a timid person. I was very outspoken, into sports and clubs. I wasn’t afraid of anything, because if I got in over my head, there was always my two older brothers or my parents to help me out.

I came from a very large, very close family. I grew up in an almost fairy-tale like atmosphere. The neighbors all looked out for each other and got together often for cookouts, volleyball, softball or horse back riding where everyone participated from the very young to the very old. My parents didn’t fight and if they argued, it was behind closed doors, so I truly expected the same in my marriage. What I got was something extremely different.

Within weeks of the marriage, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. We lived in the upstairs of his parents’ house while I finished school and he worked with his dad. I was determined to graduate and I wanted to go to college.

One afternoon we were in the garage while he worked on a car. Something went wrong and he went into temper fit, hitting the car and throwing things. His dad walked in as he picked up a tool and flung it out of the garage. The fight started.

This was not an argument; this was a brawl between father and son. I stood frozen. I had seen guys fight, but never with this much violence. It continued to escalate. His mother came in waving a pistol, ordering them to break it up. I was terrified, but the guys responded, each going a different direction.

I had defied my parents to marry this man but I was not prepared for this. Still, I wasn’t willing to admit my mistake. My parents had been married forever and I wasn’t going to be divorced at eighteen. My solution was to move into a place of our own, which we did just before I graduated.

I thought this would help, but it didn’t. I began to gain a little weight, which he hated. I wasn’t fat, but I had put on a little weight. His solution was to monitor and ration my food while demanding I run a mile or two every night.

Whether it is a man or woman being abused, domestic violence cases still go unreported due to the shame involved in the situation. No one wants to admit their significant other is a monster. I was no exception. I learned to hide the bruises and began to withdraw from family and friends. This is exactly what an abuser wants, to isolate you. I became more of a loner. When someone did ask, I would either lie or tell them to stay out of it. It would only make it worse.

What I should have done was tell someone — a trusted family member, close friend, the police. I should have documented dates and had photos of the bruises. No one deserves to be abused. Ever! The abuser will promise to change and they do. Over time it escalates, becomes more violent.

I had car windows broken out and dumped in my lap because I got caught at a red light and didn’t follow him. I had my head shoved through a plate glass window for disagreeing with him. I watched him kill a kitten by flinging it into a wall because he was mad at me.

Sometimes I would get lucky and get away to hide in the shadows of a barn, or lay in a field holding my breath, listening to him look for me until he gave up and left to meet friends. He would stay out ‘til early morning, taking the keys to all the vehicles so I couldn’t leave. I would pretend to be asleep when he got home to avoid more fights.

The longer I stayed, the harder it was to leave. I was not exactly a prisoner, but I wasn’t exactly free, either. If I went out with friends and was gone five minutes too long, he would come after me, making a huge scene. That was embarrassing, but it wasn’t the worst. When I got home he would hit me, push me, throw me into walls while telling me what a terrible person I was for making him do this.

I believed him. It had to be my fault that he flew into these fits of rage. No one really acts this way unless provoked, right?

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series. Next week, the story continues.)