I was raised in a very large family, with many cousins of many generations. Most got to know my ex, who consistently presented the best of himself when he was around my clan.
My ex was also a nationally known NFL sportswriter who mingled with famous players, owners and coaches. You can imagine how the football fans in my family enjoyed the proximity to this man.
In the 15 years that we were together, what my family didn’t know, was that he was also a violent abuser. I was silent about the abuse for all the reasons you’ve heard before. My family didn’t learn until after the divorce that my ex had tried to strangle me while pregnant, had beaten me dozens of times, moved out on our family hundreds of times, and had lied thousands of times.
And yet, many family and friends struggled with getting their head around these two very different truths. On one hand, they knew a man who seemed friendly, respectful, interesting and a devoted family man. On the other, they heard from me that he was abusive, violent and narcissist. How could this be?
For those of you who live with an abuser, you know the answer. Abusers often hide well their abuse to the outside world and pretend to be the perfect husbands. Victims, out of shame, often hide the abuse and present their abuser as an excellent spouse. It is not easy to come out as an abuse victim.
Fantasy driven by hope
I was no different. Also, I loved the moments of good times when we pretended to the world that we were happy in our otherwise volatile union. It gave me hope.
My family, friends and myself were all invested in the fantasy rather than the reality. I was one of the first to break my fog of denial and accept my ex for who is was, rather than who I wanted him to be. It took more than 15 years to come out of that fog. Is it any wonder that my family and friends had a long journey, too?
My ex maintained his fake persona among our friends and my family, while I had abandoned that perfect union story. That only added to the confusion. My family and many of my friends eventually came out of the fog of denial and saw my ex’s authentic self.
Before that fog lifted, some loved ones peppered me with tough questions as they tried to get to the truth. Others avoided both me and my ex since our relationships were no longer fun and light. Still others fought with me in disbelief or coached me to “rise above” and “let go of the past.” Of course, many of my family were immediately behind me and supported me with every step.
It was hard not to take personally much of their reactions. Often I did and it was painful.
Trauma Treatment Therapy
I am thankful for excellent trauma treatment therapy by an excellent social worker, who gave me the place to work through my hurt. Through validation, I learned that domestic abuse reeks havoc for the entire family and has long-lasting consequences. As I healed, I was able to understand the dynamic and no longer blamed myself or the rest of the family.
As I healed, I was able to understand that my family and friends were coming out of denial, too. I was able to give them time. Our society works on us all to believe that there are simple answers to complicated problems and that it takes two to create a bad relationship. Unfortunately, that is not true in most cases.
It does take two to make a excellent or even good relationship. It only takes one person to make a bad one.
Domestic abusers truly abuse more folks than just their spouses. They manipulate all people they know. However, not always to a hurtful degree. To expect anything less, is to not understand that abusers show their character by the act of abuse. Period.
I now understand why it has taken my family and true friends longer to come to terms with the truth of the relationship. There is no person in my life who believes it was OK for my ex to have strangled me while I was nine months pregnant. And I honestly believe that no one in my circle ever believed the opposite. They may have wondered whether I was telling the truth. I understand why. It is hard to believe that the man they knew would wrap his hands around my neck and squeeze tight. Who would do such a thing?
But one by one, those who truly love me, have come out of the fog and support me and my healing. Domestic abuse is ugly and hard to look at, just like any horrendous and dirty secret. There is nothing easy about it. I am now honored for those in my life who have worked to see this truth in my life. I am honored by those who have spoken out against his abuse and come to my aide time and time again.
I know it wasn’t easy to let go of the fantasy. It was a good one. I wished it were true, too.
About the author
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. She is the author of “How to Co-Parent with An Abusive Ex and Keep Your Sanity” available on Amazon.
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.
Surviving domestic violence wasn’t easy or the PTSD that followed, but Julie has found a path through the trauma and now encourages all women that they can too. Julie leads YANA support, speaks to church groups, community groups and women made homeless by abuse. She can be contacted at [email protected]