I had a favorite chair. It sat at a huge picture window facing the deck, overlooking the pool and the dock and the lake. I loved that chair and its view. It was blue and white kind of knobby fabric; big and square so I could snuggle in with a good book. A nice warm cup of tea easily rested on the wide, accommodating arms. In winter an eagle nested across the lake! In summer I watched parades of boats carrying fishermen and water skiers.
One November afternoon, as I sat in my favorite chair appreciating autumn leaves, watched the light, drizzly rain on the trees create bright reflections of orange and red on the calm lake surface, the wrath of domestic abuse rushed into my space.
I don’t recall the offence that enraged my abuser toward me.
As I felt his fingers bruise my biceps, the back of my head and neck again slam into the blue and white knobby fabric of my favorite chair’s frame, I knew it was time I took action: “the next time I’m bruised, I’m gone” I had promised myself, dozens of times. This was the final straw.
Finally, the decision was instantaneous.
All the love for this man suddenly dissipated as, at that very moment, I embraced the knowledge that it was my choice to stay or go. I finally accepted the truth: No matter how much I loved him, no matter how much I wished and prayed and pretended, the nice guy side of this man would never be my full-time husband. This guy who was raging, cussing, slamming me around, would always show up. I finally believed the promise: “the next time I’m bruised, I’m gone.”
At that moment, I was done.
That night I created a plan and put it into effect. 34 years were invested in that marriage. 34 years is a long time. I had been dedicated to the marriage, to the man. Within three months of the Final Incident, I moved out. I had moved out 3 times before. This one was different. This one was final. This time I was ready. This time I was keeping a promise to myself.
As hard as it was for me to make that decision, there was some other emotion nagging at my determination, my resolve. It was a foggy, unidentified, surprisingly disempowering feeling that “said” I should stay. It caused me to question whether I really was abused. Guilt for tearing apart our family sprang into my heart. Fear that when I left, others would figure out that he’s an abuser.
We owned a business. What if my leaving would expose the fact that he is an abuser and negatively affect customer’s opinion? Friends and neighbors, fellow business owners in our small town, people at the Club … what might they think if they Knew. He’d be embarrassed if anyone Really Knew who he is.
I was still protecting him!
It was a habit by then, I had protected our ugly reality for a long time. Not talking also spared me the embarrassment of admitting that I’d lived in abuse for all those years. There was a lot of guilt about exposing the charade, a lot of fear.
And, there was that something else. It was, and still is, pervasive. It was palpable, yet unexplainable. The feeling is a Universal Mindset, essentially un-named and certainly not discussed. It’s not talked about but it’s present. It’s a nasty, guilt producing Essence that keeps us quiet about our reality. It lets us know it’s not acceptable, it’s simply not OK, to talk about abuse, even after we escape.
This sense of it’s-not-OK-to-speak-your-truth needled into your consciousness when
- years ago, your roommate walked into the kitchen in the middle of “an incident”, but what she saw was never, ever, mentioned
- your neighbor showed up on your porch for an unannounced visit and quietly sneaked away when the angry yelling and violence was heard through your walls; they didn’t know you saw them and they never, ever, mentioned they had been there, what they heard
- your whole family witnessed an abusive outburst at the reunion, but no one intervened in your defense or ever even discussed the incident…until after you left the dangerous marriage
Every person living in abuse has learned, has been trained and conditioned to the fact: no body is going to get involved. No one even wants to know… not your friends and family and not society as a whole.
It’s ugly, but it’s True.
After years of thinking about and attempting to identify this phenomenon, a definition has presented itself. It IS real! IT has a name.
IT is Collective Collusion: Its essence establishes that we are not to talk about abuse. Outsiders will very rarely get involved, because Society wants no part of questioning Authority.
The Collective Collusion Rule is that Society will side with the perpetrator when abuse is brought forth. Because, society does not, can not, will not support questioning Authority.
In Society, all around the world, Men are the Authority figures.
Our friends, family, neighbors and strangers, consciously, sub-consciously or un-consciously, all know The Rule. That’s why they very rarely admit to us that they knew we were abused…until we escape. Then we are told, “Finally! We are so glad you left. We never did like how he treated you.”
Collective Collusion is why we are reluctant, fearful, absolutely uncomfortable telling our stories.
We’ve been conditioned to believe we have no right to question their power, to defend ourselves or to escape their wrath. Collective Collusion keeps us, and everyone else, quiet about domestic abuse.
It’s the reason that, even when we’ve experienced the final straw and decided to leave, we question our thought process, we don’t feel solid ground under our feet, our brains are foggy, distracted, unable to focus on our reality.
Reluctance to address the Truth of domestic abuse is nearly 100% consistent. So, we stay hidden in the shadows with our fear, our guilt and shame; we know the Rule.
As long as we don’t speak our Truth, we are still being abused. (Read that sentence again.)
It’s not an easy fact to digest, but it’s true.
For years I didn’t admit to myself that I was living in abuse. For more than a decade after leaving, I would not talk about domestic abuse on a personal level, except in very intimate conversations with people I trusted implicitly. I talked around it very well. Directly? NO WAY! What if my ex found out? What will people think of me? What if I’m condescendingly asked one more time “Why didn’t you just leave?” Collective Collusion at work.
Speaking our Truth is not necessarily a soap-box speech or a public announcement. Safety is more important than being public. Don’t do anything that puts you in a dangerous situation.
Speaking our Truth is telling someone you know who lives in abuse, or who recently escaped, that you understand. Survivors are able to listen to other survivors with a more sensitive ear. We hear more than is being said because we lived it, too.
Every time we speak about domestic abuse, even in private one-on-one conversation, we are eroding Collective Collusion.
As you are able, join the conversation: Abuse is real and we don’t have to live with it. A baby step you can take is to post #1in4domesticabuse. It does not mean you’ve lived domestic violence. It does mean you are helping bring this epidemic out of the closet and into the Light.