CYCLES OF ABUSE
Trigger Warning: This piece deals with domestic violence, trauma, and the abuse of women at the hands of machismo.
Cycles of Abuse
He never drew blood. And yet he managed to draw me from myself hundreds of times.
Like my mother, and my mother before her, I was abused by someone I loved, a person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with despite the disdain he demonstrated towards my body, mind, and soul on a daily basis over the course of eight years. I mention the ones that came before me to say that this story is not singular; this single narrative is familiar, is everything but unique, and it multiplies. It expands through time.
What is Domestic Violence?
He keeps you from your friends or socializing. Any time you express interest in socializing, you’re a bird, a hoe, anything but yourself. He tells you, you must want attention from other men. If you do go out without his blessing, he punishes you by restricting any access to him.
He gets you a job you could’ve gotten yourself. You take it, and he hangs it over your head. You work your ass off and become the number one salesperson at your location. He becomes aware of this. And so every time you are paid, he needs something. If you are on one of his restriction modes, he agrees to put it in the past if you pay something off for him or get him something he wants. If y’all are on good terms, he borrows money from you.. amounting to thousands of dollars over time.
Verbal, emotional, psychological abuse
You tell him about your eating disorder, and he puts it in his pocket. He calls you a glutton any time he doesn’t get what he wants. Glutton becomes his favorite word for you. He believes you want all things in excesses except for the one thing you seek. If your feet hurt after a number of hours with heels on, it’s because you’re fat and can’t hold your weight. He graduates to smothering the food you eat on your face when his self-esteem is depleted.
If you share any details of the relationship with family or friends, he tells you you’re a liar and can’t be trusted. You start believing it’s true; It’s all in your head, things are fine. He smuches your face, “Fucking big mouth. You just want pity.”
You start keeping things to yourself even when they hurt.
If you’re at a family party, and he wants to dance, but you don’t, he’ll leave without saying goodbye to a soul because he didn’t get his way, because you’ve embarrassed him publicly. It gets so bad that every time you bring him around, your family members wait patiently for something to cause him to depart early.
He cheats on you like clockwork. He claims it’s because you don’t stay up late, because you’re always at school studying. Then claims it’s you he wants to be with because you’re a morena, but you have good hair. He tells you he’s just being young as if you’re supposed to know this is the way Dominican men grow. He tells you you’re growing too, fitting into the mold of a good woman more and more when you learn how to cook.
It starts with smushing. He smushes your face away. One day you look in another direction, and when you look back at him, your cheek meets his hand, right there under the train for everyone to see. You think of your mother.
He levels up and adds in the hurling of objects at your body. His objects of choice contain glass. You get so good at ducking, at feeling the glass crumbling down your back as you get back up, at the mini celebration you have with yourself for causing him to miss. All of this because you’re trying to communicate, because you keep begging for a conversation he doesn’t want to have.
He takes your long hair and wraps it around his knuckles like the wrap-ups for his boxing practices. He pulls and yanks, and your body half follows, half drags from his room to the front door. His mother sees this one time, and she continues watching the novelas as if she hadn’t seen a thing. You think about your father.
The last time he hits you is after a break up. The first you have chosen in a course of seven years. He tricks you into coming to his room to pick up your iPad. He forces you to unlock it to see you with another man during the last time you broke up because he chose it to be so. He corners you, convokes up large balls of phlegm from his throat and blows them into your face. He calls you damaged goods, a whore, a waste. He punches you one time and you fall back onto a couch. You remember him saying that his hands are considered lethal weapons due to his training, and you hope that will stop him, but it doesn’t. You try to cover your head, so he punches your face in multiple times. Takes jabs at your body. Pulls you by the hair once he’s tired. You don’t scream through any of this. You think about the statistic you’re becoming.
Minimizing, denying, blaming
You go home. You step into your sister’s room so your parents won’t see the swelling of your face. Your phone begins to blow up with calls, texts, and email notifications. He says you called this upon yourself. Like everything else. All the things have been your fault from the start: his cheating, his downfalls, his actions. He denies failing you, he claims no matter what, that he respected you by making sure everyone knew you were number one. He calls you all the names you can think of.
Your soul feels weighed down by this word. It’s what your dad called your mother when you first learned about the way grown ups love each other.
You ask him to stop, he continues–leaving texts, voicemails, and emails about how worthless you are. You aren’t bleeding. Will they believe you? Should you call? There are no lesions. Desgraciada. You think of your mother, about the times you had to convince her she wasn’t unfortunate while rubbing menthol on her. You pick up the phone, you call 911. Call the cops for the only thing they do right.
I don’t remember the date.
I should remember the date when I was beat and it finally pushed me to call the police, but I don’t. It was my last fall semester as an undergraduate. I know that because after multiple absences, my professor threatened to bring my grade down, and I was forced to bring her the incident report. She was one of the two women of color that I had as a professor in my college career. As I handed her the incident report, she shook her head, took in a deep breath, and in her Turkish accent told me she still expected me to put in the work as if what occurred was something I could pull my weight from. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now; domestic violence is something that’s been going on for so long, that we are expected to rise from it swiftly and elegantly.
I wonder when the seed was planted for love to root up intertwined with abuse. For love to be the reason we allow our lovers to break us a million times just to see if they’d be willing to put us back together.
Domestic violence grows and sticks, becoming cycles through generations due to many things, but especially witnessing it live. According to UNICEF’s “Behind Closed Doors,“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence.”
Up until the age of 8, I watched as my parents attempted to create love out of torture, flowers, lies, apology dinners, control, and grit. A decent family day could easily convert our one bedroom apartment into a battle zone. The next day, the battle zone was a garden— wall to wall arrangements of flowers. In my childhood home, love never was without abuse, and therefore, I never saw it flourish naturally...or at all.
As a young adult, I logically understood that love didn’t coexist with abuse. My stepfather and mother have arguably the healthiest relationship my extended family has ever witnessed. And yet subconsciously, a relationship that mirrored my paternal parents was all I sought believing it to be the highest level of love.
I let him in when I was thirteen, and he spent 8 years taking my dignity from where only I knew it was. He found it only because I revealed it, and he buried it somewhere.
I am just finding my dignity today, six years after the last incident. I am just beginning to understand that I am someone worthy of respect as I remake and define love, and at the same time, rebuke abuse from others... but mostly from myself.
To women in the same predicament I found myself 6 years ago I want to encourage you to say the truth. YOUR TRUTH. Say it to yourself in the mirror. Say the truth out loud. The truth you see from your perspective. Narrate to yourself the reality you’re living in.
The truth that pains and shames you.
Being honest with yourself is the only thing that’ll save you--not just from the abuser but also from yourself. I had plenty of conversations with myself in the mirror after he beat me that last time, after I dropped the charges and forgave him. These talks with myself in the mirror helped me find my essence. Not immediately but eventually.
The healing hasn’t been linear. To be frank, I didn’t intentionally work for it every day. I entered intimate relationships too soon thinking that it was him, and I would find the love I deserved elsewhere. That only led to getting me to see that a big chunk of the conflict was that I had been conditioned to have a taste for abuse. I exited those relationships, and entered others that bought into view the fact that abuse is sneaky and maniacal and will often drown itself in the taste of other fruits to trick you into cycles. I chose to exit those relationships too. It’s trial and error until the correct formula is found.
For the past two years, I’ve been sitting with myself, building a relationship potent and vigorous enough to withstand all levels of turmoil and harmony. Teaching myself how I choose to be loved. I’m not in a rush. Unlearning formulas and cycles is no easy task. But, I sleep better when I remember I won’t be passing this down.
If you’re in an unhealthy relationship and don’t know who to speak to, please reach out to the DVH here. You are not alone!