During the course of my adult life, I have spent much of it as a professional journalist who has covered many different types of stories.
I’ve covered the 1980s Lebanon hostage crisis at the State Department; the awarding of a Nobel Prize; the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and how poorly those first patients were treated. I’ve covered plane crashes and bank robberies, school board meetings and elections.
And I’ve covered all sorts of crime and trials, and a fair number of domestic assaults. I remember well standing in front of a bank of TVs with dozens of reporters and editors in the newsroom of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel the day that OJ Simpson was found not-guilty of killing his wife and then bursting into action to get the special edition out with the rest of the editors.
I am college-educated, and was raised in a middle-class environment by a strong family with strong family values. You might even say that I am “worldly” or at least “well-read.”
So, it seems a bit odd that despite all of this life experience, I never saw myself as a “domestic abuse victim” the entire time my husband was beating me throughout our 15-year union.
Denial kept me a victim
Not when he strangled me. Not when he threw me against a wall. Not when he spit in my face. Not when he tackled me. Not when he slapped me. Not when he stomped on me. Not when he had me curled up in a fetal position as he beat me. Not during countless other times that he assaulted, verbally tormented me, and emotionally control me did I identify with that term.
Even after he attended anger management class and a batterers intervention program, did I ever think of myself that way.
In my mind, a domestic abuser was a drunk, dirty, unemployed man in a white T-shirt slapping around an uneducated, stupid, poor, weak, helpless woman because she didn’t make dinner on time. That was not us.
In my traumatized mind, my husband was a broken man with problems who needed my help because of his hard up-bringing. I was just the capable woman who could help him.
Wow, when I read that, it still shocks me at how naive I was.
During the course of our marriage, we sat on many a therapists’ sofa looking for answers, or at least I was. We danced around the abuse. Only in the latter years, did we ever confess it to the therapists. However, nothing stopped the abuse.
Even after I divorced him, I didn’t frame his treatment of me as “domestic violence,” though I was beginning to as I stopped listening to him and started listening to people who cared about me.
Seeing myself through my sister’s eyes
My best friend, my sister (That’s her on the left and me on the right!) was the first person outside of therapy I told of the abuse. She was protective and shocked.
She offered me the support I needed. She was the first who told me things that shook me out of the fog of self-blame and responsibility and made me rethink everything.
I told her that I was a handful, too demanding and would argue with him. I told her that I couldn’t figure out the right formula to stop the abuse. I told her I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to leave, despite ruining my children’s lives by splitting up their family. I told her that I had given up on the marriage and felt like I had failed. And I told her, shamefully, that I caused the violence, in a way, because when we were arguing, I called him names.
“Julie,” she said. “That doesn’t mean he has the right to hit you. I have called my boyfriend names a time or two and I never feared for one second that he would hit me,” she said not hiding her shock. “Julie, you didn’t cause this. This is not your fault.”
She said that to me almost a decade ago and it still rings in my head. Finally, by letting her into my humiliation, did she have the opportunity to show me what real love looks like.
My husband, though apologized often, never correct my self-blaming. He let me take responsibility anytime I did.
My eyes are open now
Her words to me that day caused me to change what I thought about abuse. I began the journey of accepting the truth. I was a victim of domestic abuse and feeling ashamed because of it.
That shame kept me silent, responsible, emotionally wounded, in PTSD, and disabled. Especially, when my ex-husband began to sling legal and emailed arrows my way after divorce, I continued to engage in efforts to “fix it.”
But, my sister had created a spark of truth and healing that took hold and became a raging blaze of awareness. I am and will always be a survivor of the domestic abuse. I was victimized by my intimate partner who was suppose to care for me and didn’t. I am not the reason, the cause or to blame for his actions. He is.
Suffering from trauma, I’ve learned, looks about the same despite the trauma. Whether you have been hit by a loved one or hit by a car, the trauma creates a cognitive path of emotional anxiety that causes you to believe it will happen again. Living with that without treatment is difficult.
Today, I am completely open about who I am. That description of me at the top of this article is the same, but add to it domestic violence survivor. And I’m proud that I have survived. I could have been killed. I could have been broken. So many women have been, it’s too hard to count and too tragic to bare. I’m not the one who should be ashamed.
For all the women who are in this unfortunately journey, I speak out and I add my real name to the imaginary wall of victims. My silence is gone for good. It is what it is. There are those who will always whisper and gossip about domestic abuse. I accept that and I have no plans to change them.
But, silence perpetuates shame and shame perpetuates silence and they both allow abusers to abuse. Because trust me, abusers are really not bullies, but are insecure, small, scared and indeed broken, but they are not my problem.
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
She can be contacted at [email protected]