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When I Realized I Was an 'Invisible Victim' of Domestic Violence


Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

I was never physically or sexually abused as a child. For years, I told myself that my life could have been worse, that I did not have it “that bad.”

Throughout my four years in college studying social work, many of my classes discussed different, difficult topics, domestic violence being one of them. It was in those classes I learned that I was considered an “invisible victim” of domestic violence. I was never abused myself, but I witnessed the screaming, throwing things, pushing, hitting, all while I tried to get between my parents, yelling at them to stop.

The Childhood Domestic Violence Association estimates that five million children witness domestic violence every year in the United States and that 40 million adult Americans grew up living with domestic violence in their households. This is something so many people go through, yet I’ve never heard anyone else talk about or share their experiences. I could list statistics all day from the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, like how simply witnessing domestic violence causes short and long-term psychological problems, or how these invisible victims are six times more likely to die by suicide and 50 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. But, because I was a witness to domestic violence, I thought I could share an analogy of what it was like growing up.

Imagine you’re on a battlefield, a war ground. There are minefields everywhere. You have to watch every single step you take and make sure you’re always treading lightly. And, you don’t know how you got this job, but it’s your duty to watch everyone else, to make sure they’re treading lightly, to make sure they don’t step in the wrong place. If you see one person stepping too close to an explosive, you must go to them and tell them to just step away, remind them they need to tread lightly. If you see another person stepping too close to an explosive, you must go to them and distract them while attempting to slowly pull them away from the bomb they’re about to set off.

You must constantly analyze sounds and tones of voices. You must know the difference between normal sounds and sounds that indicate a bomb is about to go off. You must know when a cupboard is shut too hard or when a glass is set down too forcefully. If you hear a door shut even just a little too hard, you must go intervene, see what’s going on, see what you’re dealing with. You must intervene before a bomb goes off.

But, you can’t always be present on the battlefield. So, when you come back after being away, you must always be prepared for what you will walk into. However, the thing is, no matter how hard you try to prepare, you are never fully prepared; a bomb can go off in a matter of minutes.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop every single bomb from going off. When a bomb does go off, it’s not just one; one bomb triggers several others. They keep exploding in different areas for hours, but it feels like an eternity. You’re right there in the middle. In the middle of thrown dishes. In the middle of thrown punches. In the middle of the yelling. In the middle, while you’re pleading, screaming for the war to just end.

And the war does end… for the night. But you cannot sleep until you know everyone else has gone to bed. You must stay awake to make sure everyone else stays asleep. To make sure no other bomb goes off in the night.

So, imagine doing this for years, but then you manage to get out of the battlefield. You leave the other people behind; you’re still in contact with them, though. You feel guilty, because what will happen when you’re not there? When there’s no one to stop the bombs from going off?

Slowly, you gain some distance between the people. You don’t talk to them as often. You don’t hear about any bombs that have gone off, and you’re too afraid to ask.

Time goes by, and your adrenaline is wearing off. You start to feel a pain and you don’t know where it’s coming from so you examine yourself; you look at yourself in the mirror. You find several huge wounds, and they’re all bleeding uncontrollably. You look at yourself and you’re terrified of what’s happened to you and angry you didn’t realize the wounds earlier. And you realize you never noticed it before because you were so busy trying to keep yourself and those around you alive. You didn’t have the time to look at yourself or examine your wounds; you were just trying to survive until you could get out of the battlefield.

You don’t even know where to start with the wounds. You’re in shock. You’re in pain. You’re scared. You bandage your wounds yourself. You hide them. You try killing the pain, maybe with pills or a couple of glasses of alcohol. And this works for a little while. You try not to look at the injuries. But time goes by, and they’re not healing, no matter what you do.

Finally, a day comes (not for everyone, unfortunately), where you realize you need help. You realize you can’t do this by yourself anymore. Your wounds need more than a bandage. You need stitches. You need a professional to help you. But, where do you even start? They have services for women and men who have been abused by a partner and we hear about those services a lot. But is there help for you? You weren’t technically abused. You weren’t neglected. Where do you turn? Who do you talk to? Will anyone understand your wounds when you don’t even really understand them yourself?

There is help for you. You are not alone in your experiences.

Getty Images photo via Daisy-Daisy