by Patty Hite
The day we got married, Bill greeted me in our kitchen with a slap across the face that was so hard it knocked me to the floor. He grabbed my hair and dragged me into the bedroom where he raped me. Afterward, he told me that now I belonged to him and I would do what he said, when he said it, and how he said it.
When he finished, he told me to get a washcloth and wipe the blood off of him. My blood. He then told me to clean myself up, cover up my bruise and to stop crying. Like a robot, I did what he said. It wasn’t until I looked in the bathroom mirror that I could actually believe what he just did. The man I married, the man I loved, just raped me and beat the crap out of me.
I wish I could tell you that I fought him while he was raping me. But I didn’t. I often had fantasies of fighting back and he was the one on the floor with me standing over him and kicking the hell out of him. But that was only a fantasy. The truth is, I became totally helpless, submissive in fear. Instead of trying to figure out how to escape this torment, I convinced myself I needed to be a better wife.
I’ve often asked myself why I submitted to that abuse? Why didn’t I fight back? Why didn’t I walk away or go to the police? Physical and emotional abuse was the norm in my childhood home. My dad ruled the roost. Although I never saw him physically abuse my mother, he verbally and emotionally abused her. And she submitted. He would go to the bar, mess around with other women, and then come home and accuse my mom of having affairs. I heard him yelling at her in the middle of the night. The next morning, she would make him breakfast and he would treat her like a queen. My parents groomed me to submit.
I believed that a woman stands by her man, no matter what. My dad repeatedly raped my sister and I witnessed it. My mom stood by my dad and sent my sister away. I believed that family business—adultery, incest, and abuse—remain in the home. Cover up the bruises and put on a happy face and pretend that life is good and wonderful. I believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness and that crying, complaining and getting angry was not allowed. I knew that if I did any of those things, more punishment would follow.
By the time I became an adult, I knew my place in the world. I was to be the submissive wife and I would do anything and everything in order to please my husband.
This became the norm with Bill. At night, when the kids were asleep, he abused me in the most sadistic ways. He always found a reason to hurt me—if the mailman said “Hi” to me, if a button was missing on his shirt, if my mascara was smeared—any reason to let me know that I was a failure and I needed to be punished. I would make him breakfast the next morning wearing a smiling face for my kids. Bill would greet me with a morning kiss and tell the kids what a wonderful mother and woman I was—a copycat of my childhood. It was so familiar and I knew what to do and how to act.
I used to believe that there were no warnings that Bill was Satan in disguise. During the six months we dated, he seemed to be everything I could possibly want in a man. But the truth is, there were warning signs from the very beginning. The signs were everywhere, but at the time, I didn’t see them for what they were since they were familiar and normal.
I mistook attention, jealousy and possessiveness as signs of love. I had a distorted belief of what a husband, marriage and love should be. I was so caught up in the abusive world and the false beliefs that come from that world, that when abuse was going on around me, I ignored the signals that were as loud as a fog horn or as bright as a neon sign.
Before we ever started to date, Bill was grooming me. We worked together, (that is where we met) and in the lunchroom he would point out the failures of my friends—people I had grown up with and now worked with. As soon as they were out of earshot, he would tell me about their weaknesses. In front of them, he was charming. They were users or they were bad parents or they would always take advantage of me. I never saw these bad points in my friends, but after a while I was convinced. Bill was the only good, honest person in that whole company and I shouldn’t waste my time on such riff raff. He separated me from my friends.
It was the same with my family. They were too good for me. My brother had too much and flaunted it. My sister had too little and was trash. My mother was too close and wouldn’t let me grow up.
And then there was the jealousy. Every man I talked to was flirting with me and every woman I spent time with was trying to convince me to stay away from him. He told me that it hurt him when I talked to other men or when I went shopping with my girlfriends. It was wasted time that should be spent with him. He loved me so much and couldn’t stand one second away from me. We should be spending every moment of every day together. That is what relationships were. We became one. Actually, we became “him.”
In truth, I became his property. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was not capable of making decisions about people and I couldn’t trust anyone but him. Not only did my body belong to him, but my mind and my soul had his name imprinted on them and I was nobody. I became no one. I no longer existed.
As I look back on those times, I could honestly say that his jealousy made me feel all warm inside. To me it meant that he loved me so much and was afraid to lose me. Separating me from my friends and family meant that he was watching out for me and wanted to spend every waking moment with me. I was his girl. I was special.
The rest of my marriage to him was abusive in every way. There were no more hidden signs. They were out in the open now. I knew I was going to be beaten before it even happened.
I started to have flashbacks of my childhood. I started to see the familiar patterns. The false beliefs that I learned so well started to reveal themselves. I knew inside that these lies were the beginning of finding the truth of what a normal, healthy life should be. The more I healed, the stronger I became. I started to realize that I did have a choice. I was able to decide what was right and what was wrong.
Hopelessness and helplessness was being replaced with hope and strength. I needed to get out of this hell. I was strong enough to make plans and I was strong enough to leave. It took me three years to plan my escape and it was my friends and family who helped me do it—the same ones I walked away from. They saw the signs from the beginning and were waiting for me to give them the sign. The sign that said, “It is time.” The sign that said, “Help Me!”
Now thirty years later, with healing from my abuse, I am able to discern the signs. The more I heal, the more signs I see:
1. Abusers are extremely possessive and jealous. Those are not emotions of love. They are efforts to control. An abuser will not share you with anyone. They have to own you.
2. Abusers separate you from family and friends. If they can keep you away from supportive people, then you won’t tell others. (Deep down I knew this was wrong. Walking away and hurting my family and friends, kept me in shame. This shame kept me from asking for help.)
3. Abusers have rigid expectations of relationships. There is no compromise. You will behave accordingly and agree to agree with him/her. (I dressed the way he wanted me to. I cooked the way he wanted me to. I spoke the way he wanted me to. I pretended my marriage was wonderful—the way HE wanted me to.)
4. Abusers blame the victim. “He wouldn’t get angry if only I would do what he wanted me to.” (I was convinced early on that I was to blame for his behavior. I would get him so angry, that he couldn’t control himself).
5. Abusers act like they have a double personality. They can be overly charming or exceptionally cruel, generous or selfish. (I never knew what personality he would be. I spend most of my time trying to see what “mood” he was in and then trying to change it. I knew before the abuse happened. It was like a fog was surrounding me. I would prepare myself emotionally for what would happen that night).
6. Abusers are con men or con women. In front of others, they are charming and convincing. Cool and collected. (This was so confusing for me, because he would be so happy while entertaining others, but the moment they left, I got blamed for their faults. If someone said something wrong, I heard about it all night. I wouldn’t dare make excuses for them or their behavior. I soon learned to try and not entertain. Stay away from other people all together.)
7. Abusers stop calling you by your name. By separating you from your name, you are no longer a person. You are a piece of property. (The last time he used my name was the day we were married. From that day on, I was addressed differently: “Get” (Get me something to drink.) “You” (You did this and You did that) “F*&^*ing” (F*&^*ing Whore, Bitch, Good for Nothing, Piece of Shit, Worthless Piece of Crap, etc)
When I separated myself from abuse, I had every right to not trust any man. But, throughout the years, I’ve learned that life isn’t about living in fear. My life started when I began to learn to trust myself. Now I trust myself to see the signs and to listen to their warning. I’m not afraid of being around people because I’m not afraid of being hurt. Now, I know I can walk away before the danger starts. Abuse isn’t love; love allows me to make choices and decide what is best for me and who is best for me. The more I heal, the more signs I see now and especially the ones that were there all along.
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As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to have found the meaning of true love, a respectful relationship, and support with her late husband, Lonnie. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.