Why She Stayed: Abuse, Loss, and Surviving Domestic Violence

Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Mom Stories/Opinion

Domestic violence has been a hot-button topic in recent months. On television we watched Ray Rice beat his girlfriend unconscious, and listened to uninformed  mouthpieces attack her and other victims of similar crimes (read more here in Ray Rice, Victim Blaming and Why Women Stay). Some commentators went so far as to suggest that we should avoid elevators. (Instead of watching Fox and Friends commentators, do me a favor and check out the books listed at the bottom of this post instead. Your brain will thank you later.)

This is not a new issue, nor does it only affect women who choose to use elevators for their floor-changing needs. Domestic violence is something we must talk about so that those in these relationships know they are not alone, which is one reason I included this issue in my first novel, Famished (get it here). Nothing illuminates the struggle better than a story--and even better than fiction are real stories from real women. Because while it feels like a personal problem, domestic violence is an issue that affects us all, and will continue to affect future generations if we cannot address it openly. No one should suffer in silence.

By: Tonia Starr

I remember the first time my fiancé ever put his hands on me in a less-than-loving way. I had miscarried my fifth child—his first—into the palm of my hand the day before, and we were on our way to bury this tiny eight-week-old fetus, now wrapped in a towel on the dashboard. I don't recall what I said in the moment but I do recall my pride hurting more than my ass when this usually gentle man shoved me to the ground in front of my children and the neighbors. I sat a moment, shocked. And then I heard an apology and a hand was thrust out to tug me to my feet. 

Over the next two years, I heard that half-assed apology more than I care to admit. But the number of times he didn’t offer a hand or an apology was far higher. 

When I look back, I am amazed and appalled by how quickly he could go from trusted beloved to terrifying monster and back again. From trusted back rubber to someone who choked me on the floor of our bedroom until I passed out. From hand holder to someone who told me it would be worth going to prison to have the pleasure of killing me. That night he punched me in the head repeatedly and when I curled into a ball he started kicking. He threatened to kill me often, but those were the two times he tried to follow through. Thank God he never had a gun or I would be dead right now.

Why didn't I leave? What made me stay? And when he left, what made me beg him back or take him back every single time? What sort of idiot swallows poison, vomits until her insides are ripped to shreds and then wipes the blood from her mouth and takes another swig? What leads someone to allow this much torment? Where was that tough fourteen-year-old girl I once was? She would have stood, feet planted wide with hands on hips, and sworn with great bravado, ”If  a man ever hits me I will just kick him in his balls!" 

No, sweet, naive girl, you most certainly will not. You will blame yourself and make excuses. You will apologize for him and forgive. And forgive and forgive.  You will love him so hard and so deep that you will look into the eyes of his darkest demon and dare it to dance with you instead. It will whirl you around the room and straight into a plate glass window. It will leave you sobbing, body curled around itself to protect broken ribs from kicking boots. It will make you feel the pop of skin breaking before his teeth break through. It will find you in the shower, washing your hair and wincing as your fingertips find that bump under your hair from when he punched you.  It will break you down, this awful pit of despair and hopelessness. 

Abuse is never as black and white as we think it is. I never fit the stereotypical model of “the abused woman”. I had no experience with violence as a child. I wasn’t spanked. My step dad was a drunk, but it took exactly one time for him to come home and try to knock my mother around before she packed us up and left. So when it started in my marriage I had no idea what to do with it, how to react. I was so surprised that someone I trusted could hurt me, that it was easy to think that it must have been my fault.

To be physically hurt by a person we trust chips away at our innocence and faith. But what is worse is how our psyche becomes so battered and dragged through muck and mire. It is a small voice telling us how unworthy we are of being loved at all. So how dare we point out another’s flaws and faults when clearly their mess ups and mishaps only took place because of how terrible we were. If only we could make that person happy enough, if only we were fun enough. Sexy enough. Interesting enough. Smart enough. Everything enough. 

And then, when we are 100% convinced of how much of a nothing we truly are, the real fun begins. That is when our partner can blame our family and friends for the problems in the relationship. We begin to snip threads one by one, trying desperately to prove we really are good enough. 

If only I could...then he would not have to hit....or yell…..

We cut out social events and people. We shut doors. We quit jobs. We become dependent fully on this person. Snip. Snip. Snip. This is a battered woman, body and soul unrecognizable to herself. That tough, independent teenage girl is gone and in her place is this woman on her knees begging. He is telling her she will die and that it will be worth going to prison for. His hands are on her throat. His voice is hot in her ear and his spit is on her face and she is captured in a web. 

Why do we stay? Why did I stay? 

  • I stayed because I had six children and no money. No place to go. No safe haven. If I went I would be homeless and CPS would have taken my kids. 
  • I stayed because I was a good Christian woman and good Christian women do not divorce. They stand by their man. They pray  for him. They treat him better because if they were a better wife they would not be getting hit. They do not leave.
  • I stayed because I used to be 100 pounds and fun and now I was 125 pounds of stressed and depressed and not fun. 
  • I stayed because if I quit being such a bitch he would quit having to be so angry and would not hurt me anymore. 
  • I stayed because he loved me and needed me. No one else understood. I saw him cry. Saw him beg. Saw the way he loved his baby. Saw his eyes on our wedding day. I could help him. I could soothe the beast inside his soul.
  • I stayed because I didn't deserve anything more than what I was getting. Other people had happiness and love. If they only knew what a terrible person I truly was they would stop telling me to leave him. A good woman would not be treated this way. It was my fault. 
  • I stayed because I believed the lies. 
  • I stayed because I thought if I gave up it would be a failure. I believed I could fix this somehow.  

There is no simple reason here, but let me make this clear: no woman stays in this mess because they want to or like it or get off on it. They stay for a million different reasons and none of those reasons are invalid in their hearts and minds. Now I see my reasons for what they were: excuses. But it's hard to see outside of the storm when the wind is whipping in your face and the rain is pouring down on your head. It becomes hard to even recall what dry, calm weather feels like on your flesh. 

But you deserve a break from the storm. 

For those of you finding yourself in these words, seeing glimpses of a reality you have been accepting for far too long now, here is what you must do (and you probably already know it): 


I don't care how. Just do it. Pile all you can fit into your backseat next to your baby in his carseat and drive. Call your mom on your cell phone in the grocery store bathroom and ask her to wire you gas money to get home to Ohio. File a restraining order and kick his ass out of the home that has your name on the mortgage. Run out the damn door through the snow in nothing but your pajamas to knock-bang-pound on the neighbor’s door until they let you in to call the cops and get you a towel to stop the bleeding from your jaw. 

Domestic violence counselors do not recommend fighting your aggressor. They advise giving in, letting the abuse happen that one time and then making a plan and leaving. But if the only way for you to survive at all is to fight back, you stand the fuck up and fight. Do what you have to do to survive. To get out. To be free. 

Because, look, I really don't give a shit what you think you are. Let me tell you some truth for a change.

You are beautiful. Stunning. Marvelous. Amazing. Brilliant. He is shitting all over royalty. How fucking dare he? Remember who you were when you were nine? Thirteen? Seventeen? Go find that girl. She is still in you someplace deep. Let her out.

You are much more than anything you think you see in your mirror today. You deserve a man who touches you gently with soft  caresses, who kisses your lips with tenderness and looks into your eyes with longing. You deserve laughter until your eyes water, hand holding in a car on the freeway. Tickle fights in bed, late at night. Lovemaking. Feeling safe. Happiness. Security. Love. Let me tell you, you deserve more than anything this sorry excuse of a "man" has ever given you. 

You will find the courage to hold your head high and walk out that door (or run out that door or crawl out a window). And once you do, don’t look back. Not even once. Even if he begs. Especially if he begs. That’s him knowing he has lost control over you. 

You are a mother fucking queen. Maybe you don't believe me right now. But I swear it's true. As a woman who has been exactly where you are, there is so much more about life and love than what you see around you now. 

He does not have the power you think he has. You are not a victim. You are a survivor. It begins today. And if you fear you have no one at all you can trust, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. They’ll get you on track. There is always a way out. Always. 

For the rest of you reading this, the ones lucky enough to not be in a situation like this right now, do me a solid and understand before judging. Don’t assume it's simple, because it’s not. 

But some things are simple. 

You know those times you knew abuse was happening but you told yourself, "It's not really my business?”  MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS. 

Sometimes a woman gets wrapped up thinking she is truly all alone. Sometimes it only takes one person to offer help to show her she can be safe. Call the cops. You could save a life. 

Shortly after kicking my husband out for good, I heard a woman screaming for help. I flew out of bed, grabbed a bat and ran to the road where a man had a woman pinned down in the grass. I hollered, “Get the fuck off of her!” He did. I called the cops anyway. I had spent two years being the one screaming for help with no one to hear or answer. And in that moment I realized how good it felt to be strong enough to stand up for someone else. 

I cannot go back in time and have my life play out differently. But I can do my very best to ensure that it never happens to another woman on my watch. If I end up in a million different roads with a million different bats yelling at a million men I don't know, I'll do it. If I have to write three dozen blogs, if I have to rally and rant and be the voice of the voiceless I will. 

I will because every day four women in America are killed because of domestic violence1. I will because the leading cause of death in pregnant women is murder at the hands of their past or present partner2. I speak out because he tried to kill me and I am still here and I am so very lucky. I speak out because I can see now how much stronger I am than I thought I was. I speak out because of those who can’t.

I choose to be a voice for survival because I CAN. Join me.

Tonia Starr is a blogger, wine tester and chocolate hoarder by night, a homeschooling mother of seven by day who sometimes fantasizes about having spare time. Her passion is family, writing and spreading awareness of things that move her. You can find her on her blog, or ranting about her life as The Snarky Hippie on Facebook.


Related Posts:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826260/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449204/

Topic-Relevant Resources

You Can Be Free: An Easy-to-Read Handbook for Abused Women
Simple, yet effective, a handbook for getting out and staying out.

Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and Murder-Suicides (Social and Psychological Issues: Challenges and Solutions)
Great sociological perspective on domestic violence. This book also discusses traumatic bonding that occurs between abusers and their victims and outlines additional safety plans for those in trouble.

Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
A great read, this book seeks to answer the question women in abusive or controlling relationships ask often: WHY?

Getting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life (New Leaf)
Important tips for those in abusive relationships on taking back your life.

Famished: An Ash Park Novel
Everyone's hungry for something. Some are more famished than others.