When I returned to Los Angeles from Ireland, I came back with the realization that I wouldn't be able to stay in California. To this day, even with my sickeningly sweet life, this decision still haunts me and hurts me. In building up to my escape, I had the budding career of my dreams, I had found people who believed my value, and I had found a support network.
I was going to have to leave all of that behind and start from scratch. Harder than leaving all of that behind, I was going to have to leave behind the people I had grown to love so, so much - my friends.
One would think that while I was enduring domestic violence, that I was friendless and alone, but that's the farthest from the truth. I had the sweetest, most creative, closest friends, and they have been victims in this, as well.
Because even while I was telling the police, pastors, the university counselor (she gave me Paxil and sent me home), I never told my friends. Even friends who lived just down the street.
"Why didn't you tell me?" they still ask, and I wish I could give a clear cut answer. Even now I can't fully understand it myself, but here's what I've learned over the last 12 years.
There are a few reasons I couldn't bring you into this world. The danger was real, and you were already too close to it. The idea that you could have gotten hurt is unbearable.
But the biggest reason I didn't tell you was Battered Woman Syndrome.
Battered Woman Syndrome is the most powerful chain that an abuser has to keep his victim from leaving.
After prolonged abuse, a survivor does what's needed to survive, and this comes at the cost of isolation, blaming oneself for the abuse, and fearing that your abuser is omnipresent.
In other words, the victim believes herself to be unloveable and dangerous to others.
I want to take this time to write about feeling unlovable. It's not that the people who feel unlovable end up in abusive relationships. Abusive relationships impose the feelings of being unlovable. It's one of the most common consequences of domestic violence and one of the most difficult symptoms to overcome.
Becoming unlovable is a victim's psychological, physical and chemical coping mechanism for survival. If the victim can become unlovable, and she believes the blame is on her, then she may have the power to effect change. If she can just find a way to be lovable and change herself, she won't get hurt anymore. The chaotic world she's in regains a semblance of order, though founded on a lie.
The alternative - that she is legally and physically bound to a uncontrollable psychopath - is too unbearable for a mind to accept.
This is reinforced by the abuser telling her repeatedly that she is at fault for his actions.
This is why Battered Woman Syndrome can find itself across all socioeconomic levels. It's why C.E.O.s and attorneys will stay in violent relationships just the same as a woman without a high school education. The C.E.O. will generally have more resources to escape, but even so it's so hard to break through the perceptions she has that makes her feel like she deserves to be abused.
And so, my friends, I feared that if you found out about this secret, and you found out how deeply flawed I was, that I would be rejected. That's not a fault of our friendship, that's the fault of the person who was inflicting the violence.
I'll talk in later posts about how I've worked to overcome some of this, though truly it's a life long issue that will still appear quite often. Even long after a survivor has left her abuser, she needs resources and support in counteracting the deep-seated conditioning that she's inherently damaged.
I couldn't let you help me at the time, but ever since I've left you have helped me to feel whole and heal more than any other therapy.
You've been patient when I couldn't leave the house. You've kept me adventurous, traveling with me to foreign lands. You've inspired my creative work and have believed in me when I couldn't see value in myself. You've given me reason to belly ache laugh. You've shown me unending beauty in this world. You've shown me that at any moment if I showed up at your doorstep needing respite, you would let me in. And even more, you've shown me that even when I'm at my worst, I'm still enough.
You've made me realize that I was lovable all along.