Vicki feels scars you can’t seePublished 8:30am Monday, October 26, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Vicki isn’t bruised or battered.
She has not been beaten, burned or threatened with weapons.
So why did the Dowagiac woman speak at the Oct. 1 domestic violence candlelight vigil in Pokagon?
Because she is scarred invisibly.
“There is a grave misconception that domestic violence is only physical,” the divorced mother of two said. “If I didn’t have bruises or broken bones, then how have I been abused? How then can I stand before you and speak for the millions of men, women and children who have been, and yet still call myself a survivor?”
Domestic violence is always emotional, even when it is not physical.
“It’s not always about getting beaten up,” she said Oct. 23 in an interview at the Daily News.
“There’s emotional and mental abuse and verbal abuse.”
She knows that in the blink of an eye such a situation could turn lethal.
Even today, as she studies at Southwestern Michigan College alongside her daughter to become a teacher, fear remains part of her make-up.
What many people do not understand, she says, is that “domestic violence does not have to be physical to be dangerous.
Domestic violence is about power and control.
It is more easily recognized if there are bruises and physical scars, but when it is happening emotionally and sometimes sexually, it is not as easy to prove or recognize even for the police, who need the burden of proof, or the judge who must sign the personal protection order (PPO).
“This also makes it harder to recognize yourself. You sometimes wonder what is going on. You feel worthless and sometimes scared and you don’t even know why. You begin to question, am I in danger?”
Vicki remembers repeated accusations that she was having affairs.
“None of them true,” she said.
“I was screamed at for coming home late from work or the store or for anytime he thought I should have been home sooner. He questioned who I talked to, where I had been and, no matter what I said, nothing was good enough.”
It exhausted her.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone for fear of the consequences,” she recalls. “I had few friends because he always found something wrong with anyone I considered a friend or anyone I came into contact with. I felt alone. Isolated. He made me feel like I was crazy, the one who couldn’t do anything right.”
When she did seek information, she learned that no one – at least not the police or the court – could do anything because he hadn’t hit her.
When he got in her face, screaming what a horrible person she was, “I wished he would just hit me. Then maybe someone would believe me.”
She began “submission games. Thinking that if I just did what he wanted me to do, it would be better.”
But things only got worse.
Her depression deepened.
“I began to feel trapped, caught in some kind of web where there was no way out,” she said. “I knew something had to happen when one stormy night, as I watched lightning spray across the sky, I prayed I would just be struck down, that it would finally end. Just like that, done. No more pain, no more yelling, just nothing.”
It was then Vicki remembered what a friend once told her:
“Would you ever let anyone treat your children the way he treats you?”
Of course, her answer was no.
“If I had such great expectations for my children, why, then, didn’t I deserve the same? Why should it be different for me?”
At this point she knew she had to leave.
Survival seemed a chance worth taking given the alternative of “dying a little each day.”
She asked her husband for a divorce – often the most dangerous point in abusive relationships.
“He at first felt vindicated, as he continued to accuse me of having someone else,” she said.
“He began to threaten me and those around me. His temper escalated beyond any I had experienced before. I became terrified when I knew he was going to be served with the divorce papers. I knew unless I was given exclusive occupancy of our home, he could come and go as he pleased.”
Even if she changed the locks, he could enter without consequence because, after all, it was his home, too.
He left notes and nasty messages on the answering machine, telling her what he would do if she didn’t let him return.
Although she felt scared, she finally had proof of what he might be capable of, so Vicki filed for a PPO.
“My new bedmate was a baseball bat.” She slept fitfully, the slightest sound sending her scurrying through the house checking windows and doors.
“Even those in authority do not understand that when a person is trying to control you, and what they have been doing fails to work anymore the situation then escalates,” she said.
“My fear was that he only used words and physical posturing without actually touching me – doing just what was outside the law to bully with no consequences. Now that he knew I was serious, his tactics would only escalate. I was terrified.”
Before, his words demeaned her, held her financially hostage even though she was the one working and whatever else he felt would keep her bound to him.
“That is what abusers do,” Vicki said. “They use money, sex, words to control you. Sometimes just a look will put you in your place. I was finally making a stand for myself for the first time and I knew he was like a potential time bomb.”
But she knew what she had to do for her own sanity and her children.
Even now there are those who question if it was so bad, why she stayed for 12 years.
A year before she left it was her kids who begged her to stay to keep the family together in their home.
“I also believed in the marriage contract,” she said. “I was a child from a divorced home and never wanted my kids to have to go through that. I had made a vow and felt I had to live with it. I think I always thought I could change him. If I just loved him enough, endured enough, he would see the error of his way.”
Vicki has been divorced for several years now. About a year ago her ex, who outweighs her by 100 pounds, came to the house when he had been drinking.
An argument erupted over her daughter.
His yelling, screaming and finger-pointing “brought back the past just in that instant.”
Police were called.
Later, she found out that their son, now 13, cowered in the closet upstairs in his room.
“To this day I have tried to help him. We have a child together, so part of me loves him for giving me a son. He was usually drinking when things happened. It wasn’t always bad.”
He could be generous.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back. You want to believe it’s never going to happen again. This is the person you committed yourself to.”
Vicki, who grew up in another town and finished high school in another state, remains leery of people she meets.
She continues to attend group counseling with Linda Price, Cass County client advocate for Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services (DASAS).
“Trust is a huge issue,” Vicki said. “I’m always afraid. You have to have your guard up.”