A few years ago, I was shocked to find out a friend of mine had been murdered. Stabbed to death by her boyfriend and left in her bed. Both of her dogs were stabbed to death as well.
I was stunned when I heard the news. Although I saw this woman nearly every week, I didn’t even know she had started seeing anyone. She was quiet and kind. She was a very smart and educated woman. She had a bubbly, easy laugh. She was beautiful and classy. She was successful and about to retire.
Many times, I have revisited this death in my mind. Although it is disturbing and uncomfortable, it holds potent wisdom and warning.
Some of the women I have known in the worst of situations and in the most danger are the BEST pretenders. They have learned how to put on the most perfect face, despite terrible trauma going on at home. They have become masters at detachment and dissociation from cruelty and pain. They have learned how to keep hidden what no one wants to see - abuse.
I, too, remember keeping the shadows of my life very private. I was embarrassed to share about my partner’s cruel or erratic behavior. It made people uncomfortable. It made ME uncomfortable and ashamed. When I kept my own personal life and public/professional life separate, I was able to successfully buy into my own illusion my life wasn’t that bad, because that is what everyone else thought. It was easier and more convenient to be private.
We have developed an image of what we think the typical abused woman looks like and what the typical abuser looks like. Both are wildly incorrect. Because we hold onto these judgments and assumptions, we often miss what’s right in front of our faces. Women in grave danger are not all helpless, isolated, uneducated, impoverished victims. Abusers are not all wild, unfriendly, out of control, unintelligent, scary monsters.
My friend died because no one knew she needed help. My friend died because everyone in her life missed the warning signs of violence. My friend died because she learned privacy was more accepted than honesty.
We all have something to learn from my friend’s death. We all get to get more comfortable about bringing abuse into the light. We get to have HONEST discussions at the expense of privacy. We get to create relationships where people feel safe to be vulnerable and share their pain. We get to let go of our inaccurate perceptions for more honest and accurate ones.
It is more comfortable to leave my friend’s death in the forgotten past. It is wiser to learn from it. What can you learn from your uncomfortable experiences with abuse and trauma? How can your choices today prevent the cycle from continuing?