by Sarah Gallardo, Sarah Speaks Up
My mind is wandering, feeling concern for those people who will be holed up with their abuser, forced to stay home by this global pandemic. COVID-19 is causing physical isolation from most of the world as we try to control its spread.
During this time, I fear for Domestic Violence and abuse victims.
I am thinking of how my ex would have used this against me. I can see him going out and returning home telling me he wasn’t careful about germs, wasn’t careful about human contact, didn’t care if he contracted the virus or if he gave it to me.
I can imagine him yelling as I tried to sanitise the house, making a mess so as to provoke my fear or anger, giving me more housework which would keep me tired and defeated.
Living with an abuser:
I remember the constant anxiety of living with my abusive ex-husband, in the pit in my stomach that never went away. Even as I look back, my chest tightens, airflow becoming restricted. Sometimes I have to force a yawn, in order to take a full breath. In those days, I existed in an invisible bubble. There was always a tether, pulling me closer to him like a retractable leash. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it every day. He used his words, he used his facial expressions, he used money and he used his fists. I was treated like an indentured servant, but the figure I ‘owed’, to buy my freedom, grew perpetually; leaving me to believe I would never break free.
Psychological warfare might seem like too strong a term for what I was living, but I don’t know what else to call it. He preyed on all the vulnerable places in my mind and in my heart. This mental conditioning, brainwashing, made me easier for him to control. Of course, being raised by a covert narcissist father made me a sitting duck for future abusers. The seeds of self- doubt, self-loathing, approval seeking, people pleasing and care taking had already been planted. I was ripe fruit by the time my ex-husband found me.
Arriving home was always so scary because I never knew which version of my ex was on the other side of the door I inevitably had to open. Was it the drunken version? Was it the angry version? Was it the lazy version? Sloppy? Belligerent? Sad? Wounded? Was he inside playing poker with his buddies, blowing our money on bets and alcohol? Was he kind, as he once in a while would be, just enough to keep the hope alive that I could help him be a better man, if only I tried harder?
I entered my own home with fear, walking on eggshells as I tried not to rock the boat. If I could only keep the peace, do it all; cook, clean, work, pay bills, maintain… If only I could give all the right answers to impossible questions. This is hard work. Living life in such a state is exhausting. But that’s what abusers want. They want their victims scared and tired so they’re less likely to fight back.
Sleep deprivation was often used to keep me just afraid enough. As I was the one with a steady job, I’d go to sleep at a decent hour. He’d arrive home from god knows where, at god knows what time, and he’d hit me while I was asleep in my bed. As far as I knew, I hadn’t done anything ‘wrong’, not that it could warrant such treatment. After this happened a few times, entirely shaken, defenceless, I began to sleep with a pillow on top of my head and one arm draped over to hold it there. ..
Abusers tend to have a short fuse for anger, especially behind closed doors, towards their partner and children. Victims do their best to keep things as even keel as possible, talking on eggshells, keeping things tidy, caring for homebound children, but this will be so much harder now. Factors such as job loss, schedule/routine interruption, less social contact, inability to exercise or visit with friends, essentially live the life to which they had been accustomed will make abusers more irritable, to say the least.
These are scary times for all of us, yes, but these are terrifying times for those forced into isolation with the ones they fear the most.
Existing in that reality has changed me forever. I’m grateful it’s not happening to me during a lockdown, quarantine or “shelter in place”. Unfortunately, this is not the the case for countless other women who are living in this nightmare right now.
About Sarah Speaks Up
Sarah Speaks Up advocates domestic violence awareness in every way possible, inspiring positive changes in people’s lives. Sarah’s story goes beyond being a survivor. Her message is about overcoming adversity, defying the odds, and staying positive when the world feels like it’s crashing down around you. Sarah Speaks Up supports women, children, men, and families living free of every kind of abuse. In a society where discussions of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and spousal abuse are not supposed to be openly reviewed, Sarah Speaks Up. sarahspeaksup.org