Trigger warning: contains descriptions of physical and emotional abuse. Please be advised before reading.
Intimate Partner Violence
No matter the name, abuse is an ugly thing that is way too common among military families. From 2015-2019, there were more than 40,000 incidents of abuse involving service members, spouses or intimate partners. 74% of those incidents included physical violence.
Experts estimate that around 50% of domestic violence goes unreported. The number is likely higher in the military because according to a recent report by government auditors, the military is not handling and reporting cases correctly.
Military victims have to deal with a system that is seen to promote and reward abusers while victims jump through hoops for reporting. When victims bring allegations of abuse, they are often met with the “good old boys club” that minimizes, defends, and explains away their actions.
When you do come across the leadership who truly cares and understands (yes, they are out there), the victims can still endure as much punishment at the offender: a reduction in rank, loss of pay and allowances, and even involuntary separation. The consequences of enforcing the UCMJ articles are antiquated and can hurt the victim as much, if not more than they can the offender.
There are many stories of how the military has failed victims of abuse. This is mine.
Many years ago, I was a newly divorced single mom of one when I met my white knight. He did everything right. He was amazing with my son and treated me like a queen. Everything was amazing. We only dated for about six months before we married. Then, things changed almost instantly.
This man who had been an absolute angel the entire time we were dating suddenly had a VERY short fuse. He would throw things, punch holes in walls, scream in my face, and even crossed the line into pushing and shoving. It wasn’t just me, either. He suddenly had zero patience for normal four year old behavior, and my poor kiddo was always in trouble.
I have never forgotten the day he screamed at me, “Yelling may not be the best way to handle things, but it’s normal!” Unfortunately, this was the truth for him. It was normal in the home he grew up in. Thinking he was just a victim himself and simply needed help to overcome his childhood, I stayed.
After one particularly nasty incident, I told him he needed to get help.
He went to the Family Advocacy Program on base and told them he wanted anger management counseling. They told him it would negatively impact his career and talked him out of it. A few months later, we were in court.
My ex-husband had filed a restraining order between my current husband and my son. My husband had spanked him so hard he left bruises once before, and this time he picked him up and left a bruise on his ribs. As many victims, especially empaths like myself, I saw the broken man who was trying to be better and fought hard against the restraining order.
I will also never forget the judge saying to my ex-husband, “I know it doesn’t make sense, but victims often stand up for their abuser instead of against them.” She then turned to me and added, “I hope someday you can get the help you need.” I felt like someone had poured cold water down my spine.
Wait WHAT?!?! I wasn’t abused.
Sure he wasn’t the perfect husband, but abuse? My brain refused to accept that reality. If it was abuse, I knew I had to leave. But I couldn’t leave. I’d already failed at this marriage thing once before, and I was pregnant. It was much easier to deny reality.
After the restraining order was put in place, he was court ordered to complete a parenting class and anger management class. He did both through the military. They put the checkmarks in the complete box and never checked in with him again. His command didn’t care, even though domestic violence is punishable under the UCMJ. In fact, they resented having to let him out of work to attend his classes.
Here was a moment of opportunity, yet we were failed by military leadership.
Want to know what he learned in those classes? How to tiptoe right up to the unacceptable line of physical abuse and never cross it. He never laid a hand on me again, but the emotional abuse got even worse. I have attended dozens of safety briefs in my time, even had to present them as I picked up rank as a service member, and not once did the military ever mention emotional abuse. The message they sent was that as long as it wasn’t physical, it wasn’t abuse.
Shortly after this, we both left the military and moved on to our civilian lives. It was at this time and after his first physical affair that I was first introduced to the book, “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. My husband saw me reading it, and yelled, “So you think I’m angry and controlling?” as he threw the book across the room. Rather than see the irony, I was swallowed up in shame and threw the book away.
It took me about six years from the time of that moment. Six years after the judge labeled my life as abuse, a second affair, and many many more incidents of insults, gaslighting, manipulation, and yelling before I finally accepted this statement:
I AM A VICTIM OF ABUSE
It may seem like a statement that strips away all dignity, but it was not. For me, it was a statement of power. I no longer needed to hide from the truth. I no longer needed to live my life around keeping him calm. I had choices.
I still stayed for about five more years. We were able to find the right help for both of us. We completed therapy, attended support groups, and read books (including the Lundy one I previously threw away). We did the work.
Things were going well for a while. Ultimately, he wanted control over cooperation, and we are now divorcing. I’m OK with that because I have taken back my power.
Yes, I am a victim of abuse, but I am not a victim of life. I choose to take my challenges and use them as building blocks to a new and better life. It isn’t easy. I still have my days where I just want to cry in bed with chocolate.
But I’m never giving up on ME again. I spent too many years sacrificing myself on the altar of our marriage and his healing and I am done.
This is MY life, and I choose to be the Shero of my own story.
I have educated myself extensively on betrayal trauma and abuse. I have done the work to heal the trauma I have due to his abuse. I loved the courses and coaches I worked with so much that I earn my own certification as a professional life coach and therapeutic art life coach. I am now taking steps to earn a MFA in Art Therapy.
Life has never been harder, but it has also never been better. I am here to tell you there is a way out. It isn’t easy and doesn’t always turn out how we expect, but it is there.
You do not need to endure abuse. If you need immediate help, please call 911 or contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.
If you would like to connect with women who are enduring or have endured abuse, please come join my private Facebook group. You can also come meet some absolutely AMAZING women in person at the annual Determined to Rise retreat happening this month. Lundy Bancroft, author of the amazing book I mentioned above, is the keynote speaker.
If you are ready to release the trauma abuse has caused in your life, come join me in an amazing 19 unit course that will guide you through the three steps of trauma healing.