Nigella Lawson, the Epidemic of Violence Against Women and Me. **Trigger Warning for Survivors

One in three women worldwide is victim of violence, says the World Health Organization today.

Recently, we learned that Nigella Lawson was choked publically by her husband. It triggered some memories for me that I’ve worked very hard to make sense of…and I tweeted about it. The response from folks on Twitter was nothing less than lovely. It gave me the courage to write this.

In 1999, I was with a violent man for almost two years. It is such an old story now that it seems like a cliché…but, he was so charming in the beginning. I knew he was “damaged,” but had no idea how damaged. I also didn’t know (because I didn’t try to find out) that he had Domestic Violence convictions in his past. He was also an alcoholic and suffered from what I believe was a Personality disorder. Because I was a counselor and had worked with mental illness and substance abuse for years, I believed that I understood the perils of these diagnoses. I had worked as a therapist with Sex Offenders and was a survivor for Christ’s sake! I was tough as nails. As a lifelong Feminist, I also was sure I would never be a victim. I was unaware of how deeply codependent I was.

It started with public humiliation. I stayed and attributed his emotional abuse to his fragile recovery. It escalated fairly quickly to throwing things and punching walls. I “made him mad.” He was extremely manipulative and each time I managed to put some distance between us, I was back in a blink of an eye. I really believed that my love for him would change the dynamics of our relationship. It took me years to realize that love played no part in our relationship. Love doesn’t hurt.

One night, hours into a terrible fight, he punched me. Because I grew up being physically abused by my father and refused to let him “win”, my instinct was to hit back. I threw my own punch. If he yelled, I yelled louder. If he called me names, I called him worse names. In this, I felt I was complicit in my own abuse. Many victims of violence equate their self-defense with a “well, I hit him too” reaction.

The isolation from friends and family deepened. I simply was too proud to admit I’d made such a series of horrifically dumb choices. I made elaborate excuses to myself and everyone around me. I hid as much of my private life as I could. When he was sober, the abuse lessened. This made it very easy to blame the alcohol. And then, he would relapse and my nightmare would reignite.

About 20 months into our relationship, we went with a large group of my friends to a restaurant that was BYOB. I obsessively monitored him to make sure he did not drink. That night, he somehow managed to down a fifth of whiskey without me knowing. He bragged about it to my best friend sometime during dinner. My friend, Elijah got the word discreetly to me and I panicked. His behavior got worse and worse, embarrassing me and I asked him to come outside with me because people in the restaurant were giving us dirty looks.

Once we were in the parking lot, the argument escalated quickly. I moved us into my car to try and limit the disgrace. It was there that he reached over and began to choke me. I remember not being able to breathe and feeling like I was losing consciousness. Then, Elijah opened the car door and pulled him off of me. My neck and throat were bruised and I was hoarse for days. This was the final straw for me. I knew then, that he would eventually kill me.

Years earlier, I’d volunteered to help people acquire Orders of Protection against their abusers. I knew how the system worked. It took weeks after the choking, but I did get one. I also moved and hid in my own city. He tested the Order and the police quickly responded. But, he didn’t leave me alone. And I was afraid that if I ever talked to him, I’d take him back.

Around this same time, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had months to live. I went home on a Leave of Absence from my job managing the therapeutic services for addicts at a treatment center. Home was in Nashville, hours from Knoxville, where I was living at the time. My father died seven weeks from diagnosis (this is an entirely separate essay) and I took care of him (along with my mother and brother and other family) at his home until he died. It was incredibly difficult. But, as difficult as it was, it was a relief from the insanity of my relationship.

Once I returned to Knoxville, he continued to try and track me down. I was also crippled by my mother’s grief, anxiety and trying to figure out how to mourn someone whose death felt like a blessing to me. Prior to my father’s funeral, it became known to my mother the extent of my father’s cheating and abuse. She was broken. My father was a very well-respected Baptist minister. The dissonance between what I knew of him, what my mother had discovered and the praise from others was unbearable. I began therapy (again) and soon realized the depth and width of my suffering.

The clarity moved me to pack up my belongings, quit my job and move to Asheville, NC. I took a sabbatical from drama and left Knoxville, where I had been for over a decade. It was the beginning of real healing. I found a Sexual Assault Crisis center that offered Art Therapy. I was leery of more talk therapy and had also experienced sexual violence more than once. It was a blessing in a thousand ways, allowing me to express myself without words. I had made a mad bet on myself…believing that if I could just get enough distance and feel safe…that I could heal.

I did.

Two years later, I took a position as a co-facilitator of a court-ordered therapy group of male offenders. We talked a lot about the cycle of abuse and tried to move these men from their destructive patterns. I did this work with compassion for the better part of a year. And then, one night I looked around the room and realized I wanted all these men to just be gone. To disappear. Because I no longer believed a fundamental tenet of my (then) faith – that all people have a “divine spark” and are worthy of redemption. I quit the position and quit counseling all together. You cannot help those you loathe.

It’s been twelve years since I lived this.

My next career started as a teacher in Higher Ed. It seemed like a breeze compared to my former positions. But, soon I found that I always had students (a vast majority female) who confided their own abusive relationships to me. This has been true over the last ten years. Many, many women and men, gay and straight, have confided their shame to me. I’ve been able to help some to safety. One was murdered by her spouse.

Violence against women isn’t an “issue.” It is an epidemic. It steals joy, productivity, creativity and can create additional generations of abuse and self-abuse.  There are never enough good counselors, shelter spaces and safe spaces for those who want to leave. But, even if there were, people will always be asking, “why does she stay?” Most women stay because of fear, financial reasons, children, a warped sense of loyalty and many other reasons. One thing it took my years to figure out was how to take responsibility for the choices I’d made, without blaming myself for all the abuse.

I did not recover on my own. I had amazing support from friends and family, several wonderful therapists, and my own decision to engage creativity in order to heal. I made art. I made music. I created safe spaces for women. I served on boards for Sexual Assault centers. I wrote and cried and wrote some more. Healing from childhood abuse, sexual assault as an adult and domestic violence is ongoing. Sometimes, I have to be reminded that it is never really “the past,” that these experiences changed the way my brain works and that self-care is never optional for a person like myself.

I want to tell Nigella Lawson that I know from experience that it doesn’t matter how smart or accomplished you are – shame can make you believe you don’t deserve real love. I cried for Nigella this week. More than once. And when I saw this statistic this morning from the WHO, I cried again. Stopping abuse isn’t a pet issue. It is tied to politics, economics and theology. Rooting out violence is a lifelong struggle. We must keep up the fight.

Thanks for reading. If you want to help, give some time or money to your local Domestic Violence organizations or Sexual Assault Crisis centers. Check your own mind and heart for ways in which you may be contributing to damaging beliefs or feelings.

My husband doesn’t understand why I would share this kind of information with strangers. I tell him I share because it isn’t my shame, isn’t my fault and if I don’t speak out, I’m contributing to deadly silence. I won’t stop. Neither should you.

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About Kristen Chapman Gibbons

Loosely connected facts: Storyteller. Curator of a Better Internet. Lifelong Politico. Social Media Maven. Creativity and Empathy Evangelist. Performer. Creator of Content Worth Sharing. Digital Strategist. Former Social Worker. Decade teaching in Higher Ed. Master's Degree in Theology. Married to an Irishman. 3 darling kiddos. Preacher's kid. Appalachian. Music maker. Music devour-er. ENTP. Bohemian. Geeky. Obsessed with thrift stores and all things vintage. Lover of species.

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10 Comments on “Nigella Lawson, the Epidemic of Violence Against Women and Me. **Trigger Warning for Survivors”

  1. brighteyeddyer Says:

    Well done. And, hugs. Always hugs.

    Like

    Reply

  2. Michelle Says:

    Why are you focused on women? Violence is a problem for everyone. Women are no exception.

    You probably won’t publish this because feminism isn’t about freedom of speech.

    Like

    Reply

    • Kristen Chapman Gibbons Says:

      I focus on women, because statistically (as referenced in the essay) one in three women worldwide experience violence. I also focus on women because I am a woman and speak out of my own experience. And not for nothing, misogyny is still rampant in our religions, politics, economic systems, philosophies, pop culture, and I could go on and on…

      Like

      Reply

    • Teresa Olson (@CordyQ) Says:

      Holy passive-agressive comment batman…. did you mean to sound so whiny Michelle? Was there any place in this that she actually claimed that violence only happens to women? Cause I have read it numerous times and I have missed it every time. Has it really come to a place where a person can’t tell their story and write a piece about it without having to add the disclaimer that other people might have had different stories and that while they are focusing on this spectrum said things happen across the board.

      Comments like yours get so frustrating because yes of course it is OBVIOUS that violence happens to all genders …. so obvious that most people don’t feel the need to have to point it out in every discussion of violence. Violence towards women is a facet of that violence and to write something about that especially when the person has real life experience of it does not in any way negate the violence that takes place in other ways. All those kind of comments manage to do is try to shut the person telling their story down. Just let it be told without policing it.

      You probably won’t respond to this because trolls are too busy trolling to actually have a discussion. ;-P

      Like

      Reply

  3. broadsideblog Says:

    Thanks for being brave and honest enough to share this. I dated a con man in 1998 and it revealed a lot to me — much of it quite sad — about what I considered “attractive” (and he WAS a professional liar who had done jail time, I later discovered.) Sobering shit.

    One of the sad truths is that being educated or “smart” is no protection against making crappy or dangerous choices in men.

    Like

    Reply

  4. Gratitudenist Says:

    Thanks for writing about this so eloquently. I’m very sorry you experienced such abuse and hope that your coming forward with your story can help someone else in that situation. You’re right. Silence is deadly.

    Like

    Reply

  5. April Bradley Says:

    Kristen, it’s a delight to read your strong, fine words, especially after not seeing you for so long. Leanne linked me up to this essay. I think the violence is even more insidious: it’s endemic and pervasive. I look forward to reading more of your work. I’ve been deprived all this time! April Bradley

    Like

    Reply

  6. georgia roxanne ghearing Says:

    I sure do love you, kristen.

    Like

    Reply

  7. psychologistmimi Says:

    powerful and thanks for sharing this story and your story

    Like

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. You Cannot Help Those You Loathe | Fat Heffalump - January 3, 2014

    […] just had one of those lightbulb moments.  I was reading this excellent piece on domestic violence on Big Blue Dot Y’all and while talking about leaving counselling, the author used this […]

    Like

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