So here I am writing about this topic….yet again. This is a topic that is frequently brought in my courses, particularly in my deviance class. We talk about violence against women and violence against children or how violence affects both groups. I appreciate the way the professor brings these topics up in class. She brings in guest lecturers and also provides stories about the work she has done with women who experience violence. I remember my first year sitting in some of her classes and talking about the same issues.
Without hesitation, I had to leave class several times because of the anxiety of the recollection that her guest lecturers or the stories she shared had re-ignited in my own self. I experienced an abusive relationship. It was a struggle for me to face the reality of what really happened to me. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought it meant I was stupid because I didn’t know what was happening. I learned after a great deal of counseling, it wasn’t my fault and that it wasn’t because I was “stupid.”
Most recently, the last time I had to leave class, to go cry in the bathroom, was when my professor talked about how the abuse begins in subtle ways. My professor mentioned that the abusive partner may try to control the physical appearance or the behaviour of the abused. That means it doesn’t always start as physical abuse. In fact, some individuals can experience an abusive relationship without experiencing physical abuse at all. They could experience emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual abuse, or worse, a relationship encompassing all these types of abuse.
As I sat there in class, the professor began to share a story that it may begin with the abuser saying to the abused, “Oh, I like you much better with natural nails. Why don’t you take off your nail polish?” Sounds innocent right? No? Maybe. With my relationship, I remember I wanted to cut and dye my hair. I used to have long hair right down to my waist. It was virgin hair which meant it had never been dyed. To me at the time, I distinctively remembered I told the guy at the time I wanted to cut my hair and that I wanted to dye it a different color. He looked at me, started to play with my hair and said “No, I like your hair long and natural. It looks and feels so pretty. It makes you look pretty.” When I was sitting in class that particular day, it made me kind of upset again. Upset with myself for not knowing better. Eventually when the abuse started to happen, the one thing that was always there ready for a quick easy grab to pull me around was my long, beautiful, natural hair. If he couldn’t grab my clothing or couldn’t grab my arm or my neck, he could at least grab my hair or pull my hair down, grabbing it by the fistful. As soon as the relationship ended, I went and cut my hair to a shoulder length. I eventually started to dye it different colors too. Blonde. Red. Black. Whatever wasn’t my natural hair color. My mother called it “grieving.” I was grieving all right. Grieving the lost of my old self into a brand new self.
Within the years that followed, I sometimes told myself that I was stupid for not being smart enough, for not realizing sooner and for the better, what was happening to me. The relationship went on like that for about a year and half. Off and on.
Today, I try to tell myself, “Look how far you come… you are smart…you are beautiful.” However, my smarts isn’t about book smarts or streets smarts. It’s about knowing what is best for me and only me. It is looking out for my own best interests. My beauty isn’t about looking great every time I step outside. It is about realizing that I have come this far and I am a stronger person because of it all. That is what being smart and being beautiful is for me. It’s not always about being top-of-the-class or wearing the best clothes and make up but it is about realizing how far I have come and how much stronger I am because of everything, both positive and negative, I learned and experienced.