Why Did You Stay?
By Elin Stebbins Waldal on October 07, 2010
It has taken me years to get to the point where I could openly address the violence I endured as a late teen. Of course people within my inner circle learned after my life careened off the road like an out of control speeding car, my family, my friends they were my 911 call. They learned that for years I had been cloaked in a veil of silence. They learned that in reality I had been a victim of an out of control situation, and they learned that I had been powerless against the fast moving dynamic called the cycle of violence. That is what it is like, abuse, the never ending wreck; twisted metal, dented emotions, broken glass.
Have you ever been in a car accident? If you have and were fortunate enough to be conscious after or better yet-walk away, then you know what it is like standing on the side of the road like a doll propped in a display case for all the passerby’s to stare at? You see it on their faces as their own metal box with wheels drifts past…
“What happened?” Their expressions ask
“Was she speeding?” their hooded eyes question.
“Ew check out the upside down car…” their fingers point.
As the parade of on-lookers disappears you can almost hear the relief “thank goodness it wasn’t me.”
Yet there you are standing on the side of a road, a victim of an event where all control was lost feeling as if droplets of blame were showered on you by passersby.
A situation that in the beginning gave you a false sense of security, after all there you were in your cocoon of safety, but miles down the road later you are rendered trapped, helpless, seat-belted, hands on the wheel, no traction under your feet swerving from one side of the road to the other and within moments, in a flash…you are upside down suspended in a moment of paralyzing fear. But then you wonder-will the car explode if I remain here? Better get moving and somehow against all odds you manage to get free of the harness, then on hands and knees you navigate despite the trembling that takes over, unroll the window and crawl through to safety only to discover the contents of your very life, quite literally, scattered all over the parkway.
“How did I get here…” you hear yourself ask.
I am asked it over and over again like a broken record; “Why didn’t you just leave him? What made you stay? Seriously, the first time he laid a finger on you…why did you not just pick up your stuff and GO?”
Every time I am asked that question it resonates with blame, do you know that I am rarely asked why he beat me? What drove him to strangle me, swing an ax at me, come within inches of driving over me, attempt to stab me, beat me, rape me, and emotionally snuff me out…most people don’t ask “why did he do that to you.”
Of course it is important to understand why I did not leave the first time, the second time, the third, or the thousandth time, or what to me felt like the millionth time…so I will tell you: I was afraid. He told me he would kill me, kill himself, kill my family, and kill our dog. And I believed him.
I believed him until I really realized I was hanging upside down from that harness called a seatbelt and somehow I was lucky to be alive. That time I realized that if I didn’t try to crawl to safety I quite possibly would be killed. If I did not even try to push the button to release myself? I would never know. So I did, and I am eternally grateful that I started by crawling, lifted myself to walking, found the strength to run. And ultimately stopped running and faced my demons beginning with him. I will not let you do this to me ever again. I lived, women have died, girls have died…I know I am fortunate.
So the next time you meet a survivor of abuse try it—ask them; “Why did he beat you?” I can almost guarantee you that the person standing in front of you will for perhaps the first time ever, hear no blame in the question, no finger pointing at the victim. We need a shift in how we look at this syndrome called domestic violence and in my estimation that shift is to look at why a batterer is violent—and second, get them the help they so desperately need.
It took a great deal of support, therapy, love and healing but I have forgiven him, I have forgiven myself, and in that forgiveness the desire to make a difference was born.
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