27 November 2017

#16Days: Love should never hurt

We had been dating for a year and I, 28 years old, was convinced that he was the best thing that had ever happened to me. He was tall and handsome with bright blue eyes that reeled me in. He was an engineer by profession and I was a doctor, which led to us being us admired by our friends and family as something of a power couple. But for all the admiration and praise we received, nobody knew what l was going through.

There were suspicions, of course. My friends would notice something awry in what I said or how I acted, but l would brush off any questions with a fake smile and a happy face. He would change colors like a chameleon – one moment, soothing and yellow, then hateful and black – but despite all that he did, l still loved him. I forgave him.

I have been a victim of gender-based violence, and this is my story.

It started one evening when he came home early. He was hungry, tired, and annoyed because he had lost his job. He sat at the kitchen table and began to drink. I came home from my double-shift to find him drunk and angry. I’d asked innocently what he had cooked for dinner, only for him to start shouting. l was startled by his behavior and walked to the kitchen to prepare us both something to eat. His temper simmered, we ate, and I thought the storm-cloud had passed.

Until the next day came, and I was required to stay late at the hospital again.

He was red-faced and furious as he yelled. When I tried to reason with him, to state my case, he slapped me. l just stood there in awe. The next morning when l arrived at work, l was followed by a delivery: a bouquet of flowers, chocolates and an apology card.

I wanted to believe he was sorry. I needed to believe he was sorry. He was not sorry.

Days went by without any fights, and we reconnected emotionally. I tried to get home as early as possible, which seemed to make him happy. He was also excited as he had a couple of prospective job interviews lined up.

One Wednesday morning, he got the call from one of his interviewers: he had not gotten the job. For months I had been supporting him thanklessly, showering him with love and financially supporting us both. Little did l know that he felt inferior and emasculated by what I considered a selfless, caring act. In place of strength or self-esteem, he became vicious. The lines of decency and disgust blurred so quickly – an argument we’d have recovered from within minutes turned into blows and punches.

As much as the blows hurt, the betrayal within them hurt worse. I did not fight back. I simply waited until it ended, and cried myself to sleep. When my friends began to notice injuries, I told the common lie of catching corners of doors against myself .

Days, weeks and months passed, and the cycle continued. Each day he rained blows that he blamed on me – as if I controlled his arm and not he – and each morning he would apologize for what he believed I’d made him do.

I kept on forgiving him and blaming myself for doing the things that incited his anger. Before long, we were both convinced that his abuse was somehow my fault. I had come to believe that I deserved responsibility. I did not realize that I was losing touch with reality.

My friends tried to get me out of the relationship but l kept defending him and refused to see the monster he had become. Believe you me: if the truth has not yet become clear enough for you to make a conscious decision to leave, it does not matter what your family and friends say – it is difficult to leave an abusive relationship. The cycle of fighting and forgiving each other feels like confusion, like tornadoes, like passion.

I should have seen the warning signs, even before the first time he laid his hands on me. The first blow should never have happened, but because it did, it should then have been the last.

But I did not leave.

When he hospitalized me for two weeks, I realized that I was in undeniable danger. I was certain that he would soon take my life. This was the moment that I understood how much more I had to live for, and I did not want to live the only life I had in fear. It was then that l left him. Over the years of abuse and suffering, I would press charges against him and then, blinded by the intoxicant of abuse, drop them. There was nothing the police could do to protect me, or any other women. For so many years, he remained free to abuse me.

Today l tell my story to encourage women currently in the position I once was to leave before it is too late and to help others identify signs of abuse. The moment you start blaming yourself for being a victim, you are in too deep. It is not your fault that a partner abused (or continues to abuse) you. That scar is difficult to remove.

Never blame yourself for the violence of somebody else actions. The first time you wonder if he might hit you – even if he doesn’t – should be a warning sign. Just as a leopard will never lose its spots, a man who sees a woman as a punching bag will never stop raining blows on her. Gender-based violence in the home never stops once it begins, but it always escalates. I learned his lesson the hard way, and l hope that my story will help others walk away while they still can… because the alternative might be that she leaves him not with her head held high, but in a black bag.

Love should never hurt. If it hurts, then it is not love.

—By Mpho E Mpofu for Wellbeing for Women Africa

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