For the last 48 hours I have felt like an open wound. TV, internet, radio, conversations on the bus….everywhere I turn I have heard people talking about Janay and Ray Rice. I don’t know them. I don’t purport to know their situation. I only know mine.
I grew up in a two parent home. My parents are married to this day. They are excellent parents. They love me. They gave me every opportunity and encouragement that good parents give to their children. My Daddy has brought me a valentine for every year that I have been on this Earth. We had Daddy/daughter times on the regular where he showed me how a man should treat a lady. I have never seen him raise his hand to my Mom or visa versa. My family is love. My extended family is chock full of loving marriages and long term relationships as well as strong women who left situations that did not work for them and taught me why.
I still found myself in abusive relationships. Yes. Me. I have spent my entire life wanting someone to love me. Not just any someone, a man someone. I wanted to be a part of a we all of my life. I made some really horrific decisions in the pursuit of this goal. In the face of a romantic partner I lost all of the strength and the intelligence and backbone that my parents taught me. See, I thought men didn’t like strong. I thought men wanted their woman to be a reflection of them. I twisted myself in to pretzel formations trying to be what I thought “they” wanted. And when I missed the mark punishment seemed almost appropriate to me. I mean, it was better than being left right? Now I had a chance to try again. Now I would remember not to do “that” thing again, right?
I worked my way up the abusive partner scale. I started with men who verbally abused and controlled. I graduated to men who beat me bloody. Along the way I lost any connection to the me I was born and raised to be. Along the way I had no clue who I was when I wasn’t part of a “we”. I was kryptonite to healthy, well adjusted and emotionally available men. They smelled my desperation a mile away. My collection of exes could keep a therapist in business for years.
The crazy part is I was an amazing friend. lol I had a life full of people who loved me and could not for the life of them understand why I dated the losers that I did. They begged me to leave. They threw up their hands in complete exasperation when I defended the men who hurt me mind, body and soul. They saw the train coming at me miles before I did. They lamented that someone so smart could be so stupid. So often when I found myself lying under the tracks of the train they told me was coming I hid. I was ashamed. I didn’t want them to be right. I blamed myself. If only I had listened to them. If only I didn’t wear that. If only, If only, If only….
I never saw myself as the victim. I always shouldered the blame. If only I could be better, smarter, prettier, sexier, more interesting…then he wouldn’t hit me.
damn it I’m crying.
I hear so many people blaming Janay. I hear so many people saying that the fact that she married him absolves Ray Rice of spitting on her, beating her like a man, dragging her unconscious body. They ask, “what did SHE do?” My soul weeps.
Domestic violence is a multilateral thing. Abuse can break you down to the point where you don’t even have an identity without your abuser. Enough blows to the head and body can leave you feeling culpable for your own abuse. But here is the thing…it is NEVER your fault. Do you know how I truly learned that lesson? I learned it from a REAL man. Not the facsimiles I had been dating all of my life. I learned it when I did something that made him so angry and so hurt that he wanted badly to hurt me back. And I expected him to. I steeled myself, closed my eyes and waited for the blows to come. When I opened my eyes he was gone.
He left to cool off. He left before he did something that he never would have forgiven himself for. He left because even though the thing I had done was pretty damn awful he would never have made it right by doing something equally awful. And as I sat there in HIS empty house I realized that nothing I had ever done before had made it okay for any of those other men to hurt me. Nothing. It was a complex moment. I was so sorry for what I had done. I was pretty angry at myself for hurting this man but at the same time I had this overwhelming ah-ha moment that changed my life and set me free.
I don’t know how different my life would have been without that moment. See, I believe on some level I was doing things to MAKE this man, this GOOD man hit me. On some level I was waiting for him to PROVE that he loved me by hurting me. Do you see how sick I was? Me. A person raised in a healthy and loving family. I was sick. My very mind was sick.
People who have never been in this place may never understand. They scream, “why didn’t she leave?” “Why did she marry him?” “If someone hit me I would……” They don’t understand. Their lack of understanding doesn’t stop their pontificating. Their lack of understanding doesn’t wound any less for those of us who DO understand.
There but for the Grace of God go I. There but for the Grace. I don’t know Janay but I understand a little of how her “love” works. I understand her Instagram post. I pray for her safety tonight. I pray that the same media that she condemns will keep the animal that she lives with from hurting her. I pray that they both get help so that their daughter doesn’t grow up in this sickness.