It was November 2008. I was a freshman at Grand Valley State University majoring in Criminal Justice. I volunteered my time to various causes and had multiple jobs to support my living expenses at the time. I was also in a relationship – my first ever relationship to be exact. I was on track to complete my education in 3 years, apply to law school and if everything went smoothly I’d be engaged by the time I graduated. This was the plan; a plan rooted in perceptions I had around a path that I perceived to be required to be successful. And this plan was nothing more than a lie that required other lies to exist for it to be feasible. The lies at the time were required though, because who would respect a young girl being beaten by her boyfriend? More importantly, How could this 18 year old gain respect, and by extension power, in spaces where people who looked like her did not exist if the truth around her existence was exposed?
You see at the time I had a misplaced understanding of the spaces I was occupying. I hid myself, and my pain, from people because I was ashamed. I was embarrassed that I allowed myself to be disrespected by another person. I was hurt that no one could see my despair. I hated that I was so good at maintaining the lie, but in my mind the lie was a means to an end. To be clear, the end that I thought was expected of me not the end that my heart desired. In fairness, at 18, I had no idea what my heart desired and with that being my first relationship I had no idea what my heart deserved.
The other piece to this equation was this: I didn’t understand the situation I found myself in. I was not personally aware of other women who were abused by intimate partners. What I knew to be true, at the time, was that “this shouldn’t have happened to me.” This was not me saying that there are people this should happen to, as much as it was me associating certain things with certain understandings. I didn’t come out of a home where domestic violence was displayed. I had never seen a man put his hands on a woman, outside of a movie that is. The experience of domestic violence was not relatable. By all accounts, this smart do-gooder practicing christian virgin girl should have been protected by this bubble of sacredness – I’m talking about me. At the time that was me. I experienced a lot of things in this situation that I was not familiar with and it allowed for things to happen that shouldn’t have. What saved me, was the very thing that allowed for the situation to last as long as it did, the lie. The lie, of coarse, being that I was this smart black girl who could do it all and had all of her shit together. No problems. No limitations. No kryptonite.
It took that one person noticing that something was off for me to change directions. Her genuine interest in my well being saw right through the lie. She had no idea what she was saving me from, but her observation of the person I was being and the person she knew I was, undoubtedly saved my life. While the abuse escalated before it ended, that single recognition caused me to construct my exit plan. It also subsequently caused me to go into deep reflection about my own personal desires while reconstructing my expectations of people and life.
My first time truly sharing the depth of the abuse I encountered was a few years ago. I realized that facing my experience and sharing it might help others in similar situations understand they are not alone while forcing loved ones of folks in similar circumstances to pay attention and ask more questions. The idea that domestic violence looks a certain way or has a specific victim is a concept that leads to the demise of far too many women. I told my story in hopes that my face would assist in chipping away at that misconception. I also wanted to provide hope to those whose pain seems insurmountable. Working through the trauma is a daunting task but ultimately the only way to find peace is to face the monsters of one’s past.
I tell my story so perhaps a girl that follows will not have to write a chapter about trauma. I tell my story so perhaps the woman that has been traumatized can begin to process it. I tell my story so that survivor knows there’s hope.
The power of storytelling is why we do (re)defining Feminism. Not every story is about abuse. Not every story is painful. Some of the stories are about happiness. Some of the stories are about love. However, all the stories are inspiring and all of them will have you rethinking (and hopefully broadening) your perception of what it means to be a woman. At women reVamped we believe every woman has a story to tell and capturing those stories are important. Every woman has a lesson to teach through their story and we hope that this second year of the project furthers that cause. Last year, the stories of empowerment were incredible and this year we look forward to sharing the stories of thirty more women.
If you identify as a woman consider sharing your story – there’s a girl out there who needs to hear your voice. Find out more about making a submission for (re)defining Feminism 2015 here.
Join us in elevating the voices of women this November and follow (re)defining Feminism 2015!
Founder, women reVamped