We’re only as sick as our secrets.
By Carole Townsend
I have thought long and hard about writing this column, about sharing in a very public arena what is typically considered a very private matter. I want to address the topic of domestic abuse. In fact, let’s get this column off on the right foot.
Domestic abuse is not a topic; it’s a sickness, an oppressive cycle that affects not only the two adults involved, but also children, in-laws and friends. It festers and grows in the dark, and it thrives on silence.
Please continue reading. I know that this is not fun or entertaining material, but I assure you, it could very well change someone’s life. How do I know that? At one time, I was in an abusive marriage; the abuse was both physical and emotional. And I know that the abuse continued for years, because I was ashamed to tell anyone. I felt that, if I maintained a “normal” appearance to friends and family, things would change. And in a twisted manner of thinking, I believed that I was somehow helping my children by pretending that our family was normal, that we were OK.
I was wrong.
I finally mustered the nerve to leave when I saw that the abuse did, in fact, affect my children. Profoundly. And there you have it. While I did not have the confidence to leave the marriage for myself, I did not hesitate to leave when I understood that the disease was harming my children.
Why is that? Years ago, I pondered that question an awful lot. Oh, I know that a mother will do anything to save her children. It wasn’t that part about which I wondered. I asked myself a thousand times after I left, why did I wait so long? Why didn’t I leave the first time it happened? Why didn’t I have the nerve to leave just for me?
Therapists make quite a handsome living guiding people through these few questions, and I do not for a minute pretend to be a counselor or qualified therapist. I can tell you, however, that I know why the cycle goes ‘round and ‘round, and I know why women stay in it. Quite simply, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
An abuser is a coward, a bully and a liar. He (or she, because the abuser can be a woman) thrives in the dark. He is very good at showing one face to the public and quite another at home. He is an isolator, and he will do his best to separate his main target (I do not like the word “victim”) from her support system of friends and family. He will even go as far as to try to separate a mother from her children, to influence and pit innocents against their mother.
When he is “outed,” or when someone gets a glimpse behind that heavy curtain that separates his public life from his private one, his first reaction is to laugh and pretend that the abused is crazy, or dramatic – anything but the truth.
But there are as many stories as there are abusers and their targets. As cruel as this may sound, the specifics are not all that important. The bottom line is the same, however. When an abuser is dragged out into the light of day, he’s no longer terrifying and in control. In fact, in the light of day, he is exposed for being exactly what he is – a puny, weak, manipulating bully. An exposed secret, which shrivels in the sunlight.
And that is why I encourage anyone who is caught up in the cycle of abuse to stop the merry-go-round and get off. Tell someone. If you still have close friends, tell one of them. If not, tell a family member. If the abuse and isolation have gone on long enough, you may not even have a family member to tell. If that’s the case, tell the authorities. It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do up to that point in your life, but you’ll never do anything that’s more important.
A warning though, some in law enforcement, and some in the court system, tend to look the other way when it comes to domestic violence cases. At least twenty years ago, that was my experience. Never mind. Keep telling someone until someone listens.
I know that there are financial considerations, there is fear of your abuser, and there is a desire to keep your children in the same home as their father. But trust me, if that matters to him, he’ll take the steps that he needs to take to earn the privilege of staying in that home.
The whole point of writing this column is to accomplish one thing, and that’s to encourage even one victim of abuse to tell someone. Keep talking until someone listens. For years, before I found myself in an abusive marriage, I would look down my nose at women who were in a similar situation, and stayed. I would think to myself, “How could any self-respecting woman put up with that?” I am ashamed of having those thoughts now, because I know exactly how it happens.
I hope that most of you read this column today from start to finish. Again, this was not fun, or funny, or silly subject matter. But it is important, because we are only as sick as the secrets we keep.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.