I’ve promised to write this post for a long time, and I honestly thought it would be easier to do. However, the past couple of times I’ve tried to sit down and write this, I’ve ended up gravitating away from my computer in a kind of act of self-preservation. You’d think, having just finished and published an entire novel about abusive relationships, I wouldn’t have this kind of aversion to it. It just goes to show, it never gets easier.
For those of you who have read or heard about my first novel, ‘Till the Last Petal Falls, you might know that it uses the classic fairytale, Beauty & the Beast, as a lens through which to analyze an abusive relationship. Through this, I show a couple of my own theories regarding societal views of abuse, and attempt to accurately portray the real-time feelings of an abused woman.
Now, I wish I could say that that experience was entirely fabricated. To be honest, however, I probably wouldn’t have written the novel if it had been. As it is, I remember reading about abusive relationships when I was younger and in the midst of abuse, and not really caring. Abuse didn’t happen to people like me- middle class, blonde-hair-light-eyes white girls with decent families and good grades. It wouldn’t really be until I got into college, and began talking to other survivors of abusive relationships that I realized that that is what I had been in- several abusive relationships, one after the other, in a vicious cycle that lasted years.
My mother has admitted her own fear that her practice of corporeal punishment on me as a small child might have predisposed me to seeing physical punishment as being more normal for ‘deviant’ behavior, but I knew the difference between a spanking, and what was being done to me. I didn’t ‘float away’, or mentally shut down as it was happening. I was entirely present- but I still didn’t believe that what was happening was abuse. I will not go into gross detail as to what happened, or how, or how long. As it is, it is enough to admit that some of the things that happen in my novel happened to me- whether they got downplayed or had details changed in transit to a fictional narrative.
I never planned on writing about my experiences. And why would I? The memories made me feel physically ill. I wasn’t a huge fan of talking about it- mostly because I didn’t want to admit that it had happened, whether it was admitting it to myself, or to others. I opened up to my friends first, and years later would finally admit what had happened to my mother. She cried, a lot. Like me, she couldn’t imagine that something like this would happen to someone like me.
It’s that kind of mentality that I wanted to address first, when writing this novel. The idea that abuse only happens to certain kinds of people. First of all, no one deserves abuse. Saying that ‘someone like me’ couldn’t be hurt is on the same coin as ‘someone not like me’ is more likely, or more deserving, of this kind of treatment. So my protagonist was to come from a good family, be a good, smart girl, and good-looking. I also wanted to address the idea that there is only ‘one kind’ of abuse. There are at least four abuse victims, of both genders, in ‘Till the Last Petal Falls. If you’ve read it, did you recognize them all?
When I read stories about abusive relationships in high school, it seemed like the abuse was either always happening to small children, troublemaking teens, or older, married women. Not straight-A teenagers in a higher end neighborhood, like me. The victim always knew what was happening to them, recognized it as abuse, but kept on going because they ‘loved’ the abuser enough, or trusted them. While I know that this can be the experience of some victims, I knew that part of the problem with me recognizing that what had happened to me was abuse was that I had never seen abuse framed in the way it happened to me before. I just kept taking the advice of my similarly young and naïve friends: love him more, and he will change. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to ask for help, and no one knew how to ask me if anything was wrong.
In my experience, hundreds of victims are silenced and kept from speaking out about their abuse due to several factors. One, the stigma of being a victim. There is still a lingering idea in society that abuse victims, and rape victims, deserve the violence they get. Why complain when the rest of the world is telling you that you got what you deserved? Two, the stereotype of a victim. I was stuck in the mentality that abuse ‘couldn’t happen to me’. I can’t tell you how many more people I’ve encountered who never spoke up because of the same idea- female on female abusive relationships, one-sided love abuse, female on male abuse, male on male abuse, child on parent abuse… the list goes on. Three, the horror of abuse tends to lead support systems to try to find any other reason for the abuser’s behavior that doesn’t point to abuse. Case in point, I had been trying to get advice, and help, only several months into the abuse. Every time, my friends and adult confidants tried to explain away the behavior of my attackers. They didn’t want to face the horror of abuse themselves, and so put it back on me- the bringer of ‘bad news’- and successfully, for many years, convinced me that the beatings I had been enduring were not, in fact, abuse.
So I endeavored to write a story that would share some of the things that I’ve learned about myself in the most accessible way that I knew how- by manipulating the stories that we know and love, to let them be a comfort for the reader as they delve in some of the darker aspects of their own reality, in order to bring up new questions surrounding what many people mistakenly believe to be a ‘dead subject’. I know that my experience is not ‘the’ experience for abuse victims. Every victim reacts, protects themselves, and heals in different ways. It is my hope, however, that by adding my voice to the crowd that I would be able to foster more discussion about how to prevent abuse, how to detect abuse, and how to live on after being a victim. The novel itself was created to raise awareness, while the donated royalties will serve to support organizations locally who are using their own unique gifts and resources to ensure that not one more man, woman or child is allowed to be abused in our society without justice being found. My hope is that by sharing this story, even if it is fiction, we can continue this conversation about abusive relationships without shame or stigma.
In wrapping up this post, I would simply leave with a polite request that my readers not ask me to delve into specifics about my own experience with abuse. What I have put in my novel is what I am comfortable with sharing. If I wish to tell more at any time, it is my decision to do so. I only ask that you respect my decision, both in sharing as much as I have about my history of abuse and my refusal to share more, from here on out.