Today I am going to post about a topic that is not specifically to do with eating disorders. I wrote this article over a year and a half ago, but it is an extremely important subject matter for me, and in general, so I wanted to share it here. Although it isn’t directly to do with eating disorders, there are those who may have had an eating disorder triggered by domestic abuse. I want to state that that was not the case for me, but that some of you that may have unfortunately been the trigger.
Obviously this article comes with a trigger warning for the discussion of domestic abuse.
The Truth About Domestic Abuse
When you hear the words “domestic abuse”, and visualise the abuser, what probably comes to mind is a man. Most likely a man who is working class: a man who has tattoos, bad teeth, sunken eyes, and a haggard face. That, or something similar, anyway. It is this sort of stereotyping that leads us, as a society, to believe that domestic violence only happens amongst certain types of people. This is most certainly not the case, and the issue of domestic violence amongst different races, ages, sexual orientations, religions, and genders needs to be openly addressed so that people are more aware that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
My abuser was a skinny, sixteen-year-old boy from a privileged background. Unfortunately for me, he was the first boy I ever loved.
His abuse came in many forms. It started almost straight away: the first incident that I can remember happened three months into our relationship, and progressed from emotional and verbal abuse to physical abuse within three months. It started off with intense jealousy and possessiveness: he would accuse me of cheating, and attempt to monitor what I wore, especially when it came to posting photos to my Bebo account. If I uploaded a photograph and my skirt was too short he would phone me in a fury, calling me a slut and demanding that I took the images down. For some reason, I had given him my password to my account, and one of the times that he flew into a rage, he deleted my entire account. He frequently called me a bitch, a liar, and a whore, and did not want me to hang out with any male friends. He constantly wanted to know where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. He expected me to report back to him on my day and the details of it, especially if it concerned another boy. I also strongly recall a situation where he humiliated me in front of a number of people: we were at college, and there was a day where everyone could take a free chlamydia test. Before me, he had not been sexually active, whereas I had, but we both took a test anyway. After a group of us had taken the test, we were sitting in the corridor writing our details down, and he told everyone that if he had something, it was from me. I was utterly shocked that he had decided to even mention it, let alone in front of a group of people. He also broke my personal belongings, especially those of significant emotional value, when I upset or angered him, and used threats of suicide or self-harm against me.
After six months, the abuse became physical. Over the next two years I experienced being thrown into walls or onto the ground, being pinned to the floor, having objects thrown at me, being spat at in the face, being squeezed until I could not breath, being choked, grabbed, and pushed, and all the while I thought it wasn’t serious enough because he never actually hit me. Half of me fought that ridiculous notion, but it was echoed in the actions of others, especially that of his family, who were of the opinion that it was my fault because I wound him up. At one point I was even told by his step-dad to “get over it” because my refusal to speak to my abuser was “making the atmosphere in the house horrible”.
On one occasion, he was hanging off a multi-storey carpark, after running off with my bag, pushing me, throwing my bag into a wall with valuables inside, and tearing a necklace off of me, causing bright red scratches down my throat. I also wish to add that there were people walking past us who witnessed his assault, and did nothing about it. Another time, he accused me of being unfaithful when I did not rip out the male centrefolds in my Cosmpolitan magazine, which resulted in my being on the floor, him on top of me, with his hands around my neck, screaming that I was a bitch and a whore, and ended with him running out of the house threatening to ride his moped into the middle of the road without putting on the brakes. I previously attempted to stop him leaving, sobbing, and grabbing onto his clothes, begging him not to kill himself. He pushed me onto the floor, and later claimed that this was my fault because I would not let go of him (which may have been annoying, yes, but I’m sure in that situation it was perfectly understandable, as I naively believed he really would end his own life). Another argument concluded in the entire bedroom being destroyed: all my possessions had been swiped onto the floor, the speaker stand was through our coffee table, and there was paint all over the carpet. I had been physically thrown out of the room but had returned to continue the argument (and therefore, obviously, making it all my fault – please note the sarcasm there) and was forcefully carried to the bed and then briefly choked. My worst memory, though, took place in a hotel. I cannot remember it in detail, although I am not sure if that is because my mind blocked it out or whether there were just so many incidents that that particular one has faded from my memory. What I do recall though was my bag being flung into the pool, being forcefully carried to the elevator and then to our room, my phone being dangled above the toilet in one of his hands, and being held away with the other, and the grin on his face as he let it drop. I also remember being pinned down on the bed with him sat on my stomach; his knees pressing into my forearms so that I could not move, except for my uselessly flailing legs. I’m not sure what happened subsequently to that (not anything horrifically brutal though, I can assure you of that much), but after the whole ordeal was over, I was left with a severe burn-like mark on my arm and a couple of other bruises elsewhere. To this day if anyone, even in jest, tries to restrict me in that position, I panic.
Why did you stay with him? you might ask. The truth, which I am ashamed to admit, is because I did not think it was bad enough to leave. I rationally knew that what I was experiencing was domestic abuse, but I kept thinking that I was a perpetrator too; that I was partly to blame, and because I did not fear him, I believed that I was not a victim. The abuse was emotionally destructive, horribly distressing, and extremely hurtful, but apart from the first few times that the physical violence occurred, I was never really afraid of him, and that, to me, made my experiences invalid. This, obviously, is completely untrue. I know this, and still even now I sometimes downplay what happened to me for fear that someone may accuse me of making a big deal out of nothing. I can assure you, though, that it wasn’t nothing. In fact it was something that had a huge impact on me, and unfortunately I am sure still does, even when I am not really aware of it.
I also naively believed that he would stop. On most occasions, afterwards, he would cry and tell me to leave him, or promise that it would never happen again, but of course it did. It always does.
My abuse was a long time ago but it left scars. I flinch sometimes around people, I get tense in certain situations, I panic if someone has me in one particular position, and I jump at loud or sudden noises. I even find men who look like my abuser uncomfortable to look at.
The thing is, a huge amount of people seem to believe that abuse is just physical, when it is not. There also seems to be people that believe that if you have never had your partner’s fist in your face then it doesn’t count. “But he never actually hit you, did he?” was genuinely something that I have had said to me, after opening up about my abuse. I cannot stress enough that any kind of physical violence is domestic abuse. Verbal abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and sexual abuse are all forms of domestic abuse, in addition to physical violence. The US Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a “pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner”. (Wikipedia, 2013). People need to be aware that this is about control, not about violence, and does not necessarily include getting physical. People also need to be aware that whilst 85% of domestic abuse victims are women, 15% are men.
Domestic abuse is never okay. Ever.
Do not allow yourself to be treated without the respect that you deserve.
Do not let anyone tell you that what you deserve is an abusive partner.
Do not let your partner convince you that this is the last time, because it is not.
Do not let domestic abuse make you live in fear, misery, or silence.
Do not let domestic abuse endanger your life.
Do get out of your abusive relationship. There is much, much more awaiting you in life.
Please read below if you think you may be in an abusive relationship.
You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if your partner:
- Calls you names, insults you or continually criticizes you.
- Does not trust you and acts jealous or possessive.
- Tries to isolate you from family or friends.
- Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with.
- Does not want you to work.
- Controls finances or refuses to share money.
- Punishes you by withholding affection.
- Expects you to ask permission.
- Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets.
- Humiliates you in any way.
You may be in a physically abusive relationship if your partner has ever:
- Damaged property when angry (thrown objects, punched walls, kicked doors, etc.).
- Pushed, slapped, bitten, kicked or choked you.
- Abandoned you in a dangerous or unfamiliar place.
- Scared you by driving recklessly.
- Used a weapon to threaten or hurt you.
- Forced you to leave your home.
- Trapped you in your home or kept you from leaving.
- Prevented you from calling police or seeking medical attention.
- Hurt your children.
- Used physical force in sexual situations.
You may be in a sexually abusive relationship if your partner:
- Views women as objects and believes in rigid gender roles.
- Accuses you of cheating or is often jealous of your outside relationships.
- Wants you to dress in a sexual way.
- Insults you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names.
- Has ever forced or manipulated you into to having sex or performing sexual acts.
- Held you down during sex (without your consent).
- Demanded sex when you were sick, tired or after beating you.
- Hurt you with weapons or objects during sex (without your consent).
- Ignored your feelings regarding sex.
- Involved other people in sexual activities with you (without your consent).
If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions you may be in an abusive relationship; please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or your local domestic violence center to talk with someone about it.