I know I’ve told this story before, but my abusive ex refused to let me take birth control. I was on the pill until he found them in my purse.
I went to the Student Health Center—they were completely unhelpful, choosing to lecture me about the importance of safe sex (recommending condoms) instead of actually listening to my problem.
Then I went to Planned Parenthood. The Nurse Practitioner took one look at my fading bruises and stopped the exam. She called in the doctor. The doctor came in and simply asked me: “Are you ready to leave him?” When I denied that I was being abused, she didn’t argue with me. She just asked me what I needed. I said I need a birth control method that my boyfriend couldn’t detect. She recommended a few options and we decided on Depo.
When I told her that my boyfriend read my emails and listened to my phone messages and was known to follow me, she suggested to do the Depo injections at off hours when the clinic was normally closed. She made a note in my chart and instructed the front desk never to leave messages for me—instead, she programmed her personal cell phone number into my phone under the name “Nora”. She told me she would call me to schedule my appointments; she wouldn’t leave a message, but I should call her back when I was able to.
And that was it. No judgment. No lecture. She walked me to the door and told me to call her day or night if I needed anything. That she lived 5 blocks from campus and would come get me. That I wasn’t alone. That she just wanted me to be safe.
I never called her to come to my rescue. But I have no doubt that she would have come if I had called. She kept me on Depo for a year, giving me those monthly injections in secret, helping me prevent a desperately unwanted pregnancy.
I cannot thank Planned Parenthood enough for the work they do.
When [an abusive man] tells me that he became abusive because he lost control of himself, I ask him why he didn’t do something even worse. For example, I might say, “You called her a fucking whore, you grabbed the phone out of her hand and whipped it across the room, and then you gave her a shove and she fell down. There she was at your feet where it would have been easy to kick her in the head. Now, you have just finished telling me that you were ‘totally out of control’ at that time, but you didn’t kick her. What stopped you?” And the client can always give me a reason. Here are some common explanations:
"I wouldn’t want to cause her a serious injury."
“I realized one of the children was watching.”
“I was afraid someone would call the police.”
“I could kill her if I did that.”
“The fight was getting loud, and I was afraid the neighbors would hear.”
And the most frequent response of all:
"Jesus, I wouldn’t do that. I would never do something like that to her.”
The response that I almost never heard — I remember hearing it twice in the fifteen years — was: “I don’t know.”
These ready answers strip the cover off of my clients’ loss of control excuse. While a man is on an abusive rampage, verbally or physically, his mind maintains awareness of a number of questions: “Am I doing something that other people could find out about, so it could make me look bad? Am I doing anything that could get me in legal trouble? Could I get hurt myself? Am I doing anything that I myself consider too cruel, gross, or violent?”
A critical insight seeped into me from working with my first few dozen clients: An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside. I can’t remember a client ever having said to me: “There’s no way I can defend what I did. It was just totally wrong.” He invariably has a reason that he considers good enough. In short, an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong.
I sometimes ask my clients the following question: “How many of you have ever felt angry enough at youer mother to get the urge to call her a bitch?” Typically half or more of the group members raise their hands. Then I ask, “How many of you have ever acted on that urge?” All the hands fly down, and the men cast appalled gazes on me, as if I had just asked whether they sell drugs outside elementary schools. So then I ask, “Well, why haven’t you?” The same answer shoots out from the men each time I do this exercise: “But you can’t treat your mother like that, no matter how angry you are! You just don’t do that!”
The unspoken remainder of this statement, which we can fill in for my clients, is: “But you can treat your wife or girlfriend like that, as long as you have a good enough reason. That’s different.” In other words, the abuser’s problem lies above all in his belief that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable….
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Unrequited love does not die; it’s only beaten down to a secret place where it hides, curled and wounded. For some unfortunates, it turns bitter and mean, and those who come after pay the price for the hurt done by the one who came before.