Survivor Story: As a Nurse Who Often Helped Victims of Domestic Violence, I Hid the Experienced at Home

Submitted by: *Zoey, Survivor

People often wrongly assume that anyone whose work is to help victims and survivors of domestic violence cannot become victims of abuse themselves. However, this is far from true. While learning about the signs of abuse can help us avoid dangerous relationships, this knowledge does not automatically mean that we are fully immune to being abused – whether it is once or several times.

Those who work in the fields of domestic violence or medicine may feel further isolated and ashamed and do their best to hide the abuse they experience in their private lives. When they face abuse, they may feel as though they should have known better, fear the judgment of others if they were to find out, and sometimes see themselves as hypocritical. Suffering in silence that way can be incredibly overwhelming.

Zoey works as an ER nurse and often helps treat victims of domestic violence. As she advised them on how to get help, she felt guilt and shame for not taking her own advice to leave her abusive husband. She shares with us how carrying the pain of abuse alone affected her and how she was finally able to leave.

Sharing my story of domestic violence is part of my journey to owning it. At times, I cringe when I think too much about the events that led me to finally get out and move on without my husband. I kept most of the abuse hidden behind a front of superficial calm.

I am an emergency room nurse, after all. I should know better. I should have practiced what I preached to my patients almost daily. This made my situation even worse, as I felt guilty for being such a hypocrite.

We had an intense kind of love that was powerful and passionate, deeply intimate. The closer we became, the easier it was for him to get away with his behavior. Some of these behaviors included throwing various items and breaking others, screaming, taking my cell phone, repeatedly calling me every day at work, pushing me around, and grabbing me. This is how the abuse originally started.

I never imagined that he was capable of choking or kicking me, picking me up and throwing me down on the ground, pulling my hair, or slapping me. It seemed like the more I allowed him in my life, these behaviors, too, became my reality. When I fought back, I became the “crazy, abusive” one. Yet I stayed to protect myself from a hollow emptiness that took over when he would leave. “I love you” was our favorite expression. Those words kept us connected.

How did I find the courage to finally get out? It was certainly not other people making me feel bad for staying, as many people in your life will do. I understand that it comes from caring, but it created a cycle of wanting to fix my situation instead of getting out to prove everyone wrong. Yes, I was prideful. I stopped reacting and started to just merely be a witness to his behavior.

The more I stepped back and tried to look at everything objectively, the more I was able to compare my story to all the other stories and see myself caught in the same patterns. It was an interesting turn of events that, when I stepped back and stopped reacting, he pulled away from me and assumed the role of the victim. Our conversations then became mainly about how I hurt him and how, if I had just supported and loved him more and been kinder to him, nothing he did would have happened. In his mind, he had convinced himself that it was all my fault.

They move on to find another partner to abuse, control, and manipulate. I took the blame for the abuse and carried shame for years until I stopped letting his words dominate my thoughts. Instead, I let the ER nurse in me finally do what I had been helping others do all along. I decided to take care of myself.

*Name(s) have been changed – and in some cases omitted – to protect the identity of the survivor and others affected by the abuse.

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page. For crisis services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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