Surviving Domestic Violence: I Found My Way Out
Content Warning: The information found below has the potential to hurt or retraumatize others. Please prepare to read about the difficult topic of domestic violence.
I am Cheryl Fields, one of six dynamic and diverse women that are the National Federation of the Blind Survivor Task Force.
The pathway of healing and peace is the journey of a lifetime. There’s that “ah ha” moment of awareness, then, the question, “now what?”
What is domestic violence? the United Nations definition uses this language. “Domestic abuse, also called "domestic violence" or "intimate partner violence," can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. It is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.
I was seventeen the first time my boyfriend hit me. Our tears mingled together as he graphically detailed how I was responsible for his actions and what would be necessary to prevent him from assaulting me again. I believed him. We tearfully apologized to each other, and I got a treat, the first of many dozens of beautiful long stem red roses and an afternoon of make-up sex. One of my aunts is a survivor of intimate partner abuse, and she was not fooled by my boyfriend. She warned me that the “love of my life” was not a good dude and to get out while I could. Of course, I didn’t listen to Auntie’s warning. Her words couldn’t compete with my teenage libido. Eventually, I married that boyfriend, and we started a family. The violence escalated, and the gifts were elevated, but the exquisite roses remained the same, with sharper thorns, gouging deep wounds that I thought would never heal.
The burning question on the lips of observers is, “Why? Why did you stay for so long?” It’s difficult to express the amount of shame, guilt, and fear associated with intimate partner abuse. When a victim is terrorized by their abuser who consistently reinforces how unappealing and inadequate the victim is, the stripping away of her/his self-esteem/self-worth can cause the victim to believe the abuser. In spite of his/her many flaws, the perpetrator manipulates the victim into believing he/she is the only person who is able to love the victim. The fact that my family warned me, and I didn’t listen, contributed to the guilt I felt and magnified my inability to make good choices. Instead, I chose to stay and work harder to be a better mother, wife, and lover while pretending to be happy.
That strategy did not work. Variations of the assault repeated themselves for many years. Then I had another “ah ha” moment and didn’t know what to do or where to go; I became blind in 1983. At the time, my daughter was two years old and my son was five. Not long after I became blind, I attended the funeral of a classmate I’d known since childhood. Her name was Sharon. I learned that, as her young son and brother watched in horror, she was murdered by her soon-to-be ex-husband. Feeling the grief that day uncovered and exposed the truth. My own life was out of control, and that made me fearful of the future for me and my children. Within a few short months, I filed for divorce and fled the city with my children. I wasn’t healthy, happy, or safe and didn’t know what to do so again, I faked it until I figured it out. Some years later, while sitting in a support group, “Ah ha!” happened again. I learned about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This knowledge made me feel really good. My problem was identified at last, but I did nothing about it. I was just happy to know I was not the only one.
PTSD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a “mental condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.” For many years, I was unaware of this condition, and I was a contradiction of emotions and actions, constantly angry and depressed while being an overachiever, the rescue squad for others when I was barely hanging on by a thread.
Merriam Webster defines healing as “A. to make free from injury or disease; B. to make sound or whole.” I eventually became intentional and determined to live a whole life free of injury, hurt, and trauma. Is it easy? No, but it is worth the journey. Am I better? Absolutely. After years of believing that being a victim defined me, I put the work into affirming and reaffirming who I am and how I choose to live my life, believing I have the right to live the life I want!
I have the right to experience hope, joy, love, and peace with every new sunrise!
If you or someone you know is a victim of relationship abuse, there is hope. Contact your local domestic violence center, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), or the NFB Survivor Taskforce for support or additional resources and don’t give up!
— Cheryl Fields
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673), visit the online hotline at hotline.rainn.org