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09/09/2004 Archived Entry: "Regaining self-respect"
News Flash from the Swift Drink Veterans for Kerry: Bush served in Vietnam after all.
On a purely personal level...
A topic has been turning constantly over and over in my mind for about four weeks now -- and for much longer than that on a sporadic basis. Last night it competed with sleep, which means it is time for me to commit thoughts and impressions to paper...so to speak. I have flirted with the possibility of writing seriously on the topic of domestic violence and "victimhood" for years now but, ultimately, I have always shyed away because the topic is uncomfortably personal. Now circumstances have changed somewhat.
About twenty years ago, I was in a long-term and physically abusive relationship that left me legally blind in my right eye due to a hemorrhage and subsequent scarring in the center area of my vision, which cannot be corrected by laser surgery. The next day I confronted the man whose fist had broken half the capillaries in that eye. He listened attentively and then responded that I'd failed the test. If I'd really loved him, I wouldn't have brought up 'last night'. Silence on the subject became a habit for me, and one I haven't shaken off yet...for a lot of reasons -- embarrassment, fear of my own anger, shame, confusion. And, yet, I've not had been allowed the luxury of forgetting. In the almost two decades since I ended the relationship, the extreme slander and stalking by the fellow has kept my antenna up tho' I only once had to resort to an attorney and a cease and desist.
Now I hear that his current wife has accused him of domestic violence; accusations that he apparently claims are based on false memories planted by his in-laws. I have hashed over the development with another woman who was also in a long-term relationship with fellow - in fact, she had the bad fortune to replace me - and our conversation helped me sort through some of my reactions. (I'm lucky to have her in my life; we became friends a few years ago from a starting point of wanting to help each other get over the lingering damage of the abuse we'd both experienced.)
People say that if you don't speak out against a perpetrator of sexual or domestic violence that you bear responsibility for the victims who are harmed after you. But I've never bought the idea that I'm responsible for someone else's actions: the abuser's or the future victims'. Nor do I owe anyone access to who I am or how I feel -- especially about such a personal matter. Besides which, I have spoken of the abuse in vague and general terms as part of speaking about my own life, about why issues like domestic violence and gender politics exert real pull on me. Even then - even without names or identifying references -- some people who knew both of us during the relationship have said I have no right to talk about my blindness, about my own life. I wonder if they feel any responsibility for his other victims. Probably not.
The slander also seems to be stirring once more and it is usually a harbinger of worse harassment to come. I don't feel like taking it on the chin anymore. I don't feel like being silent. And, yet, I would be no good at responding in kind nor would such a response resolve any of my unsettled feelings. I know where those feelings come from: I allowed myself to be abused when I could have walked away and that decision made me lose respect for myself. I haven't regained what I lost: the sense that I will stand up for myself. I remember, when I finally told him to leave, he literally paused at the door and said, "This is the first time I've felt respect for you in years." I'd like to feel that respect again myself, and the only way I know how to do it is to finally stand up for myself.
But how do you stand up for yourself two decades after you let yourself down so badly? Maybe by refusing to be ashamed of what happened any longer. I think it is important for me to write on this topic. I also think it is important that the record be public, as in this blog, because nothing else really breaks the silence. Whether I like it or not, neither the topic nor the fellow's harassment is going away. And, so, it is time to deal with both on my own terms.
Best to all,