As part of the divorce process in Connecticut you are required to attend a court appointed parenting class if there are children involved. It is a day long event in which a room is filled with emotional people … some who are heart broken…. some who are furious… all who do not want to be there. A counselor runs the group.
The counselor running our class… Carmen… started the class by playing what I could only classify as “break up songs” on her iPad while she walked around the room collecting money for the class. It set a very strange tone in the room. Not one person had a smile on their faces. Not even Carmen. I could already tell it was going to be a long day.
I listened as Carmen spoke about different types of personalities and asked us to determine if we are passive, passive aggressive or aggressive in arguments. I watched the sad videos of little children listening to their parents fight and equating the noises they heard to monsters. Carmen laid the guilt on as thickly as she could.
But then she started talking about the cycle of abuse. She spoke about how the abuser starts off sweet and kind and loving. And then how they turn so quickly, attacking verbally or physically. How the abused person usually withdraws after that and thinks of leaving, but then how the abuser becomes apologetic and promises change. She spoke about how they generally are able to change for a short time… just long enough for the abused person to think the change is permanent and to get hooked again…. and then the cycle continues. She drew a circle on the board and said, “In general it takes women 7 cycles to finally get out… if they even do”.
I was listening to my life. I was living that cycle. I looked around the room and realized that people were staring at me. What the heck? How did they know? And then I felt the wetness on my face. Tears had leaked out while I listened and sat glistening on my cheeks. I quickly wiped them away, embarrassed, and tried to fade back into the background.
“What do you think of this?” Carmen asked me. “You seemed to have a reaction”.
“It just feels a little familiar. That’s all.” I whispered.
Soon a few other women and men in the room started to speak up. They were getting out of similar relationships. They too had known abuse. We started to share stories. When I shared the story of John cornering me in the house… the time that he chased me out of the house pregnant… the time that he punched a wall for almost 5 minutes so he wouldn’t punch me… Carmen looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you call the police?” Why would I have called them? What would they have done? He wasn’t beating me. He never hospitalized me. I know there are women out there who have had worse done to them.
That is when I found out the police would have done something. It doesn’t take a man beating you to finally get help from the authorities. His threatening, his bullying and using his body to intimidate me… all of those things were arrest-able offenses. At the very least it would have documented what he was doing to me. It would have provided a paper trail of evidence. I could have called the police. I should have called them. I could have gotten help. I wish I known that years ago. I hope that whoever is reading this now hears this. If you feel unsafe for any reasons…. call.
I promised myself that day that if John ever repeated these behaviors, I would not hesitate to call the police. And, as you could probably predict, I had to make that call before we reached the end of the divorce. But that is a story for another day.