****Trigger Warning: This post contains depictions of violence against women.
I’m writing about a difficult and personal subject today. Domestic Violence is rampant in North America, and around the world and while I could write a full book on the subject, I want to address it in the context of my own personal story – that of a person who also lived with Chronic Pain.
I met Dallas on Christmas Day of 1979 when I was 17 and he was 34. I was instantly smitten with him and he was a charmer who got what he wanted when he wanted it. I was delighted his attentions fell on me because I was lonely and on my own – hitchhiking my way around the US and far from any family or friends.
At first, I didn’t realize that Dallas was also a pathological liar. His natural ability to talk to anyone about anything and sound so convincing, plus his good looks had instantly blinded me to anything that could knock him off the pedestal I had placed him on. Oh sure, some things didn’t really “click” with me and he often told the same stories to people that built him up, but I didn’t really think about it.
I learned very quickly that Dallas was also a jealous man and didn’t like other men paying attention to me – especially when they talked to me. We were both traveling the country now, with no set plans in place, and of course he didn’t have a job (a very common scenario as I would soon figure out), but he was good at getting things from people and so we traipsed around, talking about “settling down” and heading to whatever destination would be best for Dallas to come up with a plan. That involved talking to people – or rather, him talking and me trying to make myself invisible.
The first time he hit me was after we had been sitting in a bar on the ground floor of the truck stop we were staying at. He had gone back to our room for something and when he came back, I was chatting to a gentleman next to me, who had literally just asked: “so how are you tonight”? Dallas grabbed me by the arm, dragged me to our room and then started screaming at me about being unfaithful. He backhanded me so hard, I fell across the bed and onto the floor. He yanked me up by my hair and hit me again and I just took it, I was so shocked. It was the first time of many this happened.
But I stayed. I had been living with Chronic Pain for a couple of years at this point in my life and when he wasn’t in a jealous mood, Dallas was so loving and considerate of me. He kept promising to find us a place and get a job and every few months that would happen. We’d settle somewhere, he’d start working and then do something stupid like write some bad checks or shoplift (or outright steal things from people), and we’d have to pack up and leave town, like regular thieves in the night.
Somehow, over time, this pattern became my fault though. If I WASN’T always in pain, we could just travel around the country – that was his theory. He wanted to be a truck driver, but had lost his license so wasn’t able to drive. He resented me for “holding him back from his dreams,” though I’m not sure how he actually reconciled those thoughts. What was apparent was that everything that went wrong was somehow my fault.
One night, while he was in a rage about life not turning out to be fair, he locked me outside of the wee trailer we staying at, in the middle of the night, while I was naked. It was pouring rain, there were no neighbours nearby (we were living out of town) and it was cold. I pounded on the door, but he wouldn’t let me in, and I finally was forced to hide out in the shed on the property, wrapped in a mouldy blanket I found.
The next morning, he acted like nothing had happened. He never apologised, not in words, but sometimes, he would treat me with kid gloves. I never knew from day to day, or even hour to hour, which version of Dallas I was going to get.
I spent 3 years with this man. At one point, he left me for another woman we had met after he completed a 3-month prison stint for a Parole Violation. I returned home to Canada, worked to save up some money and went back to the US to find him. I was that in love and desperate to be with him. So sad when I think about it now. I even ended up pregnant, until a fight with him turned physical and he beat me badly enough that I lost the baby.
We made up, again…I got pregnant for the second time and ended up giving birth to a lovely little boy on Jan. 30th. This time, we were going to do things right! We found a place in Bellingham, Washington to live, and Dallas began working as a house painter. For 6 months, he actually managed to stay at the same job…I truly thought he’d turned a new leaf, with his son being the motivating factor. We still fought viciously, but he only hit me a couple of times, so I thought we could still work things out. Then I became pregnant again when our son was only 6 months old.
This time, it was different. One day, he told me he was going to Seattle for a quote on a huge painting job that could really put us in the money. He left on a Thursday, promising he’d be back on Sunday night.
He never came back.
I sat at the window of the small room we lived in, waiting all Sunday night, not wanting to admit the truth but by end of the day Monday, I had to admit he was really gone. He abandoned his son and child to be, and me, the woman who had stood by him faithfully through all the pain and beatings and lies.
It took a long time for me to recover. I moved back home to Canada, gave birth to my daughter alone and became a single mom to two wonderful kids. I dreamed about Dallas all the time – what could I have done differently to make him happy? How could I have been a better person for him, so he wouldn’t beat me? What did I do that caused him to hate me so much and how could I track him down again?
I didn’t try to find him again. I did see him twice after he left – he contacted me and came to where I was, first when the kids were 1 and 2 and then again when they were 5 and 6. That was the last time I laid eyes on Dallas, and though I grieved for so many things, I had grown some self-esteem by that point and realized how much better I was on my own. I vowed I would never again be abused in any way.
Forms of Abuse
Physical abuse is probably what we think of first when we hear the word ‘abuse.’ There were always incidents of yelling and screaming at me, hitting me, pulling my hair, punching me in places that the bruises wouldn’t show and little shoves etc, in front of others to keep me under control. I learned quickly not to start conversations with people and to speak only when I was spoken to, so he didn’t get physical with me.
Mental abuse is almost harder to take than physical abuse. The bruises heal, but the words said cut deeply into the soul and you start to believe the things being said about you. I was repeatedly told I was a burden, stupid and incapable of doing the most basic things. He called me names on a constant basis, told me I was worthless and that I was lucky he let me stay with him.
Because Dallas often refused to settle down and work a steady job, money was always tight and we often didn’t know where we would eat on any given day. If we were somewhere settled, it was usually better for a bit, but when we were hitchhiking around, we were dependent on Soup Kitchens and Missions and Shelters for a meal. Sometimes I would have to prostitute myself in order for us to have money. I’m not proud of that, but I did what I needed to do in order to survive.
Security abuse is rarely talked about, but it’s when you don’t have the stability of a secure place to be. We slept under overpasses and in the desert, at shelters and missions, at the homes of people Dallas would befriend in our travels…we just never knew where we would be at any given time.
It was especially difficult when I was pregnant the first two times. In addition to my Chronic Pain, I was dealing with morning sickness and cravings, and my body ached in ways it never had before. When you sleep on concrete under an overpass with just a mover’s blanket for covering, it does a number on your body.
So, what are the lessons I learned here?
First off, I learned that nothing I could have done would have changed Dallas. Change has to come from within and you have to want to change in order to make change happen. He didn’t see anything wrong with the way we were living except I was a constant burden to him with my chronic pain. When he wasn’t treating me with kid gloves, he was screaming and berating me.
Secondly, I learned that sometimes, people don’t show you exactly who they are right from the start. It took me a long time to accept that the real Dallas was the one who stole and lied and hit and screamed – not the one who could charm the pants off of you.
Thirdly, I learned that there are various forms of abuse and being beaten isn’t the only way that someone can hurt you. It’s especially hard to accept abuse in your life when you already live with chronic pain or illness of some type.
Fourthly, I learned that there are ways of getting out, but you have to find your own inner strength to do it. You have to stop believing the lies being told about you and realize you are worthy of better treatment. For a long time, I didn’t believe that, and I put up with the abuse because that was all I knew. When Dallas was actually loving me, he loved me so good that I could forget the nightmarish parts of our life.
It wasn’t until the next incident would happen that would put him over the edge before I’d be right back in the middle of the terror and despair and wonder why I was allowing this to happen. My self-esteem was being beaten out of me at every turn and it came to the point that I accepted I really was as stupid and worthless as he made me out to be.
Words of Advice
Does any of this sound familiar to you? You may be a victim of Domestic Violence without even realizing it, especially if your spouse isn’t physically abusing you. Financial abuse (withholding money from you), emotional abuse (berating you and calling you names) and mental abuse (separating you from family and friends, keeping you from working, etc.) are all ways that you can be abused without recognizing it at first.
If you realize that are in an abusive situation, you need a plan to get out. Don’t believe for an instant when the person says they’re going to change. They’re not and they never will. It took me 3 whole years to realize that, 3 years of being beaten and downtrodden. Even after I was finally on my own, it took time to accept that I was the innocent party in all of this.
I had a lot of guilt. You may be experiencing some guilt, as well. If only…if only I’d been a better partner. If only I’d kept my mouth shut. If only the house was cleaner or the kids were better behaved. If only I hadn’t asked for grocery money or needed tampons. The “if onlys” are so hard to deal with, but you need to accept that you are not the one who is at fault. The abuser chooses to abuse…it’s as simple as that. We all have a choice in how we handle situations and most of us choose not to hurt other people.
There are shelters and organizations that can help you if you are in an abusive situation and need to get out. It’s true that most shelters are overcrowded, but you still owe it to yourself to try them. Talk to people who run them to find out what all your options are. Start building a plan to get out, even if it can’t happen immediately. Start by calling the crisis lines in your area or any mental health organization. Here’s a list to help you get started: List of International Domestic Violence Hotlines and Advocacy Organizations
Document everything that’s going on including injuries and outward marks on your body. If you’re able to take pictures that you can safely keep (or send to someone and then delete), do so. If you can safely keep a journal, do so. If you can safely confide in one person…do so. All of this will become helpful if you decide to prosecute your abuser.
Above all, remember that there is always hope. Do what you can to minimize the violence in your situation while looking for ways to get out safely. It may not seem possible now, but don’t give up hope. Confide in someone, and be prepared to make a clean break, without going back to the abuser. You have a beautiful future ahead of you and you deserve every good thing in your life. Remember that.
Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com. She also writes for The Mighty, PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC. She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie.