Saturday, 30 March 2013

Finding peace and healing

Helping Men Find Peace and Healing After Domestic Violence


Before we got married, I had not seen the aggressive nature of my partner. The time we spent together gave no indication of the violence I was to experience over the next 17 years. Without any warning – at the flick of an imaginary switch – my partner subjected me to vicious verbal tirades, threw hot drinks over me, smashed meal plates (with food still on) over my head. Why didn’t I leave or speak to someone? I couldn’t. I’m a man. There was nowhere for me to go. There was no one I could speak to. It seemed that plenty of charities were offering to help ‘women and children’ experiencing domestic abuse, but absolutely nothing existed for me.
At first, I tried to encourage my ex-wife to seek external help. When her anger had burnt itself out after a violent episode, I would address the issue only to be met with one of two responses:
  • denial that anything had occurred or
  • she’d say to me “You’re a man, you can handle it!”
I developed my own coping strategies. At first, I made excuses for her unreasonable behaviour. She’d recently experienced family bereavement, childbirth, more bereavement, etc. I tried to be more understanding. I felt like I was always walking on eggshells trying not to do or say anything that might trigger her abusive behaviour. When she attacked me, it was always my fault.
I noticed that she never behaved in an extreme fashion when other people were present and so I tried to invite friends and family around. However, people stopped coming. Only recently did I discover that they stopped visiting because she made them feel so uncomfortable. I was so relieved not being on the receiving end of abuse that I failed to notice the atmosphere.
My main coping strategy was focusing on the children. They were the reason I stayed. Their mother was never physically abusive towards them, but she was verbally. At least with me there I could nurture and protect them. I’d explain their mothers behaviour as “Your mum’s not well, only she doesn’t realise she’s ill, and we must do we can to help her.” Furthermore, as my feelings for my wife died, I dreamt of the day that my children were independent so I could also leave the abuse and start my life again.
I started keeping a journal of the abuse. This was a MAJOR part of me personally finding peace and healing. As I started recording the physical and verbal assaults on me, I also chronicled the historic attacks that I could remember. When I read these back I was horrified and would have been totally shocked if I was reading someone else’s story. And yet, it was my story. I woke up to the reality of my situation. I’d only written about the occasions I could remember, there were many more occurrences I’d forgotten about because they became ‘normal’ behaviour. Around the same time, my youngest child mirrored a violent action he saw his mother perform on me a few days before. He looked totally bemused when I admonished him. I woke up to the reality that I was not protecting my children.

Shortly after all these epiphany moments there was another violent assault and I chose not to return to the marital home. I knew that I could never return.
I shared my journal and spoke with my parents. It felt like the loosening of a tight bottle top finally releasing. Up until then, I had not been able to share with anyone the nature of the abuse I experienced over the previous 17 years. At the time, I thought that no one would understand or that some may minimize the seriousness of it because I am male. I did encounter those attitudes later as I told more people the truth about our joke of a marriage. I needed to offload all the hurt and pain that had built up. My parents knew things had been hard, but not as horrendous as the account they now learnt. If it wasn’t for their understanding, I don’t know what I would have done.
My experiences haven’t turned me into a misogynist and eventually I met a new partner who has helped me learn to love again. Being in a proper relationship, feeling loved and valued for the person you are, brings more healing than you can ever express.
Being able to talk and write about what had happened to me is important and is continually helping me find healing and peace. My journal writing has developed into a blog which is part biographical and part self-help and this has been extremely therapeutic for me.
As a young child, I learnt that life can be tough, and so it’s best to make the best of your particular situation. I thought that I was the only man experiencing domestic abuse. I have discovered that I am far from alone. This has given me a real passion to speak up for men in similar situations and to campaign to raise greater awareness around all areas of domestic violence.
I have been able to speak with and help other men. What I’m also learning is that those support workers available tend to be female and men would prefer to speak to other men that can identify with their experiences. I have also made contact with others similarly motivated. This is bringing me healing and peace: Knowing that I am not alone in my experiences and also addressing the imbalance that currently exists in support services for abuse victims.
Domestic violence awareness campaign on twitter: @SiVictim
Support group for men affected by domestic violence on Facebook: The Men’s Room

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