This article contains accounts of abuse and domestic violence. Please be advised before reading.

Do you know what it’s like to hide in fear in a dark room, hoping that the person who claims to love you more than anyone else in this world will calm down and not hurt you?

I fear too many of us do. 

Domestic violence is a scourge on society in general, but the military seems to pack an additional propensity for this. It’s hard enough to leave someone you love even though you know they hurt you. It’s even scarier when they taunt you with the knowledge they have of how to effectively kill someone because you know that it’s true. 
 
In the news recently was an assault by a former special forces commander, now chief of staff, on his wife in front of his small children. It was met with these questions:
 
“Why didn’t the spouse just leave sooner?” 
“Well, it’s probably PTSD, if you really love them you’ll help them through it. “

It’s really not so simple.

woman with "love shouldn't hurt" on back
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

It starts out small. At least, it did for me.

It was controlling access to friends for my own good. Or buying me clothes in smaller sizes because he was going to help me lose weight so I could be as pretty as I “deserved” to be. When I started to find the behavior worrying, it switched to showering me with compliments on how I was the only person who understood him, the light that got him through special forces training, and the only person who could calm him down when he felt like everything was going wrong. 
 
But eventually the anger somehow only ever became my fault. I wasn’t smart enough to get a good job, I wasn’t good enough to make friends without him, and I was really so fat that no other guy could ever want me. “Oh but don’t worry,” he’d say. “I love you and that’s all you’ll need.”

I knew it wasn’t all I needed, as anyone in this situation does deep, deep down. 

Untangling from a situation like this is scary and complicated. If you’ve been here, you know there’s no just walking away.
 
I decided to leave after I spent New Year’s Eve dodging a martini glass he kicked at my head in a bar entranceway, after which I drove him back to his parents’ house. He blacked out in the car, and I had to leave him there to sleep it off while I went inside. I woke up to find him punching what he thought was me but turned out to be our sweet dog I somehow escaped the room to hide in another room across the hall, locked in, while his dad tried to wrestle him from the door. 

Locked in a dark room, hiding from the person who claims to love you, is not how you want to spend your life. 

He tried to fix everything by proposing that same day, hours later in a quiet secluded area, far from anyone. What do you do when someone who you know can be violent, who has bragged about the training he has to silently disable or kill others, and who just tried to harm you that very day asks you a very emotionally loaded question in the middle of nowhere?
 
As will surprise nobody, I said yes with a plan to break it off as soon as I could. My initial will to end my engagement as soon as I was safe was weakened by sparkling diamonds and the excitement of everyone who didn’t know the full story. For a while, things improved as we quickly started planning a wedding within the year.
 
But as the newness wore off, the anger seeped back in with a new vengeance. I didn’t hold the colander exactly as instructed, so boiling water was purposefully poured over my hands. The only skin not turned bright red was where my engagement ring sat. I was locked out of my house for the day because he was mad about something; I don’t even remember what anymore. 
 
“Please leave him. I will help you pack your things, and you can stay with me until you can get home,” my friend told me as she helped me find a locksmith that day. With her help and the support of my family who welcomed me back home and helped rebuild my self-worth, I did leave.
 
And when I did say “I do” the person, I married could not be more different than the one I was engaged to. Aside from also being in the military, I cannot think of one thing they have in common, and I’ve never again felt worried that the person I loved would hurt me, ever. 
woman laying on hands in black and white
Photo by M. on Unsplash

But as I read that horrific news story last week, thoughts floated in my mind:

  • What if I didn’t scrape together just enough strength to leave before we walked down the aisle those 14 years ago?
  • What if we had quickly started a family as he had wanted, and I had given up my job to stay home with them as military spouses often do, forcing financial dependency?
  • If I had been isolated from my family by the emotional abuse of my partner in combination with the distance due to military moves, would I have been able to see enough light to leave?
I don’t know the answer, and thankfully I will never need to know. But for every me that has found true safety and love, there are many that never do. 
 
Whether this is a symptom of PTSD or whether they are simply an abuser, people need to hear that it’s not their responsibility to “fix” someone who is hurting them. I think that in the military, this needs to be emphasized even more. 
 
I sincerely hope the military treats this most recent high profile domestic violence as seriously as it needs to be treated. Commanders are supposed to lead by example, and likewise, an example should be made. Let everyone hear and see that this is not okay. And if you are facing abuse as a partner, no matter what training the military member has, you have the support to leave safely.    

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please reach out for help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a confidential resource for support. For more information, click here.