I write what I call ‘Letters to the Universe’ in my journal when I am so emotional that I need to let it out, to articulate what I’m feeling in words so that I can release it and unburden myself. It is not written to a particular person, but rather to the collective “you,” a way to address the universe and feel heard. If you read my first ‘letters’ post on my struggle with anxiety you’ll know what I mean when I say these posts can be heavy, but I honestly think they’re important. Especially here on the internet everyone’s life can seem so perfect, all sunshine and happiness, when we all struggle and feel things so deeply. I want to let you know that I am a great place right now, so this is not a call for help, but rather a ‘I’ve been there, I see you, I hear you, and you are valid’ post. Also, this post is going to dive into an abusive relationship, so if this is something that you feel will allow trauma to resurface, please click away (and come back for tasty recipes later!)
It has been years, actually over a decade, since I was fully entrenched in an abusive relationship, but recently I was reminded of the experience because of the flippant accusations of a few bad internet eggs who were throwing insults and reveling in the emotional pain of a dear friend of mine who has been working through issues in her relationship. Online bullying in any capacity is deplorable, especially when the bullies involved personally know who they are hurting. I could go on for ages about how internet culture, specifically cancel culture, and the advent of ‘trolling’ and using someone’s pain as sport is problematic at the very least, but I digress.
Instead I’m going to focus on something that hit close to home. Regardless of circumstance, speculating the reason(s) for someone’s relationship issues is a no-go, period. Voicing these suspicions online in a public forum? Exponentially worse. No matter what the veracity of these statements were (in this case, completely unfounded and most definitely untrue) they are going to have a negative impact on all parties involved, including those just sitting on the sidelines, observing. One accusation that was thrown out was that this friend of mine was being beaten. This group of bullies went on to essentially chastise this friend for staying with the partner in question and how ridiculous it was for them to stay. When I heard this it took me back to sophomore and junior year in college, when 20 year old Kait was so lost and feeling so alone that if I saw this it would have broken me even more than I felt I already was. So aside from feeling furious at these bullying individuals, I took to my journal, and this is what came out:
It’s interesting, the shame she can hold around something that feels so completely out of her control, it’s not, of course, not always. But thoughts of stuck, of pride, of ‘what on earth will they think of me?’ ricochet loudly in her mind- they drown out the shoulds, the coulds, and any notion of self-preservation. So she’s stuck- feet firmly suctioned into the quagmire of self-doubt and societal stigma that holds her so tight that sometimes all she wants to to do is stop fighting and just let life happen to her.
Now, she knows, in her rational mind that she is strong and smart and beautiful, but when she looked down at herself and saw her hands cupping the blood of a broken face and a broken heart she felt unlovable and completely unable to reach out and ask for help. “Freak accident” she’d say, adding a giggle, putting on a show to cover up the emotional turmoil that comes from walking around campus with two black eyes and a broken nose. They didn’t see her crawl out the window in the middle of party she and he were throwing so she could cry and attempt to clean the deep red stains out of a white t-shirt. She’s convincing, and anyway, no one would believe her if she told them. They’re the golden couple- two athletes so completely in love, living in a paradise on the beach for the summer. He has his demons, they say, but he treats her so well. Plus, she’s too strong, too stubborn, too sure of herself for anything to happen. And that’s what she lets them believe, it is easier that way, for them and for her.
So she bottles it up. She internalizes the fear, the shame, the stigma, the snide comments about how ‘I could never be that girl’ or ‘that poor thing, she’s so naive,’ or ‘why won’t she grow a spine and leave.’ The ‘we can all see it, why can’t she’ is the worst. Because she can. She can feel in her bones, in her soul, in her shattering heart and each time she hears those words about another couple, about a celebrity, about a girl you once saw on the internet, her feet sink a little deeper into the muck and she’s incrementally more stuck.
Because that she is me, and she knows.
It is a decade later and I still have some images of that night burned into my brain, but I stayed with him. I was more concerned about how I would look admitting that I, Kait, somehow allowed myself to get into an abusive relationship. That I, Kait, the strong, independent, caring human that had absolutely everything going for her, fell for a man who thought it was okay to pick and pry and accuse and gaslight and finally draw blood and I stayed with him. I was so caught up in how I would be perceived as this poor, naive, helpless, and hapless victim that I stayed in a relationship because I thought it would be better than the societal ostracism that would inevitably follow me admitting what was happening.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I got out the easy way. I have never felt so relieved that someone cheated on me. I had a reason that society would accept to get out, to never have to admit what had happened. And I didn’t admit it. Even when asked I swore that nothing had been amiss. It took me the best part of two years to admit it, and it slipped out when I was drunk at a party and his name came up. The silence in that room was deafening. And that’s what I was afraid of. I will never forget the look of sheer terror in the eyes of the man, who knew him, I told.
So we circle back. Words matter. You never know what someone is going through, their struggle can be silent, they can be suntanned, outwardly happy, and being a sweet nanny to a handful of kids on a beach on a private island like I was and still feel stuck in a prison of what they think is their own making. So what to do instead? Be there. When you see the woman on a gossip website with the headline blaring ‘abuse’ don’t laugh. Instead be empathetic and wish that that tabloid is wrong, but note that if someone is going through that, that you hope that they have a support system who will lift that person up and allow them to flourish. Don’t speculate about someone else’s relationship issues. Be the person that you’d imagine you would want if you were in the place of someone stuck; and don’t just be that person when you’re around someone that you thinks needs to hear it. I looked like I was living a wonderful life with a brand new puppy, but you’d never know that that puppy was an ‘apology’ gift because my abusive ex threw a full tub of yogurt at my head. That’s when I needed support the most, and that’s how you can help those suffering in silence.
For my fellow humans who have been there or are there, getting out is better than staying. We may not be as vocal as the naysayers, but you have a support system of empowered humans that will hold your hand or call the cops if need be. Even ten years later it still stings when my ex is recommended to be my ‘friend’ on Facebook because we have thirty five friends in common, a handful of which are still close friends of mine. I still hate the number 23 because he loved it. But the dreams have faded, the songs that once made hold my breath and try not to cry don’t affect me, and he’s not on my mind anymore. And because I went through what I did I am a more empathetic person, I’m more patient, I reach out more, and I try as hard as I can to listen without judgement. Be kind. Both in person and on this crazy place we call the internet, because once again, you never know what’s behind closed doors.
I’m sharing my story because I can. I’m in a place where I feel safe, feel cared for, and feel loved. It is so important to bring light to situations like the abusive space I found myself in, because we need to talk about them. We need to show those humans that are stuck that it isn’t shameful, that we support them, that asking for help isn’t accepting a fate of victimhood. We sweep the hard parts of life under the rug because it’s easier that way, but it creates more pain. I saw a quote by Jasmine Kaur that speaks to the importance of just that- speaking. “Scream so that one day 100 years from now another sister will not have to dry her tears wondering where in history she lost her voice.” This is me screaming.
If you are dealing with domestic violence I have a linked a number of resources below.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Domestic Violence Website: https://www.thehotline.org/
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://ncadv.org/resources