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Commentary: Domestic violence comes in many forms

  • Published
(Editor's note: The author of the following story wishes to only be known as Cindi K.)

Domestic violence comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes it is so subtle that it may take years for someone to finally recognize it.

My experience with domestic violence began as a child and continued for most of my adult life. I'm now 43, and I still occasionally battle the demons of my past.

I have no memories of my father ever holding me, telling me he loved me, or being an active part of my life other than providing food on the table and a roof over my head. There was no anger in our house, but also no laughter. The first time I remember him telling me he loved me, I was 28 and had told him first. In spite of this emotional distance, I spent much of my life trying to gain his approval and acceptance. Nothing I did was ever good enough - my schoolwork, my job or my choice of husbands.

I asked him once why he raised us that way - unemotional, distant - simply as a provider and nothing more. He said that he was raising us the same way his father raised him. It was then that I saw for the first time that some people can't give what they've never had.

I lived with my mother and stepfather for two years after my parents divorced. Where my father had been unemotional, my stepfather was the extreme opposite. He was an alcoholic whose main emotions were anger and distrust.

As the oldest, it was my responsibility to ensure the proper behavior of my brother and stepsister, so I often found myself grounded for weeks on end when one of them had left a bedroom closet door open or did not wash dinner dishes to his satisfaction. I was told that I was fat, ugly, stupid and not worth the air I breathed. I was told that my mother should have aborted me. My mother's lack of defense or denial only confirmed to me that what he said was true.

I was 16 and wanted to die.

I stood up to him once, New Year's Day 1979, after I realized I could decide whether I lived or died, and whether by his hand or my own. He had been making threats, so I told him I hated him and wished someone would kill him. I recognized that his power over me was my fear of him, so I made that effort to take back the power.

While he hit me that afternoon, I promised myself that I would not cry, run or fight back. I stared in his eyes with the unspoken challenge that I would never be afraid of him again. My "Amazon" came out of the closet and gave me the strength to believe my family had lied.

It was a long time before I could see that my mother was just as afraid of him as I had been, but did not have the same strength. She stayed with him for 17 years and dealt with lies, affairs, beatings and rapes until he was jailed for the death of a 16-year-old boy after his involvement in a drunk-driving accident. My half-sister also confessed to my mother that she was abused by him.

When I returned to my father's house, I still struggled for his approval but I managed to finish high school and move on to college. Because he barely acknowledged me, I started cutting classes and going to bars, seeking attention elsewhere. He never asked where I was, why I never called or what was I doing. I simply existed in the same house.

Then I moved in with my first husband, who I was dating at the time, and together we moved to California. I didn't want to get married. I didn't love him, and didn't like the life of drugs, parties and alcohol that he and his friends lived. But, my father told me I couldn't come home. I wasn't welcome.

I had no where else to live but with my first husband. I had no job, no friends and no family. After trying the marriage for one year, I asked for a divorce.

While my marriage was ending, I met my second husband. "J" swept me off my feet - a knight with a tool belt in a beige truck. He filled my refrigerator and cabinets with food, cooked fancy meals for me, and paid my electric bill in the 110-degree summer when my fish were boiling in their tank because I couldn't afford to run the air conditioner.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I see now that what I thought were generous gestures, were actually ways to make me indebted to him so that I would feel obligated to stay with him. The red flags were there, but I shut the door on the Amazon and wouldn't see the signs.

By the time I took off the rose colored glasses and saw "J" for who he was, we were married for 11 years. He had a personal history of drug and alcohol abuse. He would lose his temper, yell at me, threaten me and throw furniture at me. Worst of all, just like all the other abuse I received, I was told it was my fault.

Again, I was told I was fat and ugly. However, I would wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with him taking advantage of me.

When I walked with him in public, he would walk ahead of me. It felt like it was another way of putting me in a submissive position. The only friends I had were his, and those he censored. At the time that I left him, we lived 48 miles away from the largest town, in a small community of less than 2,000 people. He told me what to wear, how to vote, and what music to listen to.

"J" thought I would never need anyone else. But I learned that I didn't need him. I woke up one morning and realized life was too short to spend it wishing I was dead, so I left him. For six months after that, I slept with a handgun under my pillow, because I was so afraid he would come after me, even when I moved to another state.

It took four years for me to feel like I finally faced my fears and have control of my own life. There are days when I still struggle with self-doubts by questioning whether or not I am smart, fat, ugly or a good wife. So, I still occasionally pay the price for the emotional scars from my past, but my current husband and I are learning how to get through it together.

My story isn't any worse than anyone else's, or any better. Change the names and gender, a few specifics here and there, and it could be anyone's story.

To report domestic abuse, people should contact their family advocacy office during normal duty hours. After duty hours, people should call 911 or the local security forces squadron.