Monday, September 8, 2014 was the date that our cadet meeting would fall within Australia’s National Child Protection week. Traditionally, we were expected to have our night center around personal protection – for example the Juniors were going over road safety for one topic… But for our Senior cadets, we leaders knew topics like that would be too basic and overused for most of the youth. After discussing, we decided to pick some topics considered major teen issues and go through those. We chose depression/suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, …and dating abuse.
We divvied up which leader would talk about which topic. I just knew that I needed to be the one to speak about dating abuse. At the time I made this decision, I felt confident in my ability to do this. I had felt a cathartic experience as I had first written about my own dating abuse experience the month before. In this instance, I had written it in my memoir manuscript, but at that point did not have the plan to actually publish it. It was only for me and eventually, many many years from now, for my kids to read. I had felt a cathartic release nonetheless.
I decided to talk about it to the cadets because I had felt this release. I had thought to myself “After 16 years of holding onto this, I am over it. I can do this.” I also figured that my experience might just help one of those cadets. Maybe there was one who needed to hear what I had to say.
It wasn’t very long before I realized maybe I couldn’t do this. I suddenly had realized I had never told anybody about my experience before. I suddenly realized that I had never said it out loud.
Shit. What did I get myself into?
I did my rewrites, I psyched myself up… I tried to psych myself up. I tried to keep my heart from palpitating as I thought over this lesson as the week led up to that day. I realized I’d have to tell my husband first and I found I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him this… so I printed out a copy of the story as I was going to tell the cadets and handed it to him as I left that night.
I’m not a complete spineless invertebrate.
I warned him about what he’d be reading at least.
Not looking in him in the eye, I said “Jason, did I ever tell you about my abusive ex?”
I could see I’d taken him off guard.
And then I ran out out of the door.
You don’t have to say it. I know. I felt like an idiot, a jerk, and like I had any number of personality disorders. I kicked myself as I got in the car, telling myself these same things. But this was one lasting effect that Wyatt had had on me. It was difficult for me to raise sensitive or possibly unpleasant topics with Jason. This wasn’t because of Jason. I had the same ingrained fear and palpitations with any of my exes in such situations. Any boldness I displayed had been a facade, something I would work myself up to when necessary. I didn’t have enough time to work myself up better prior to telling Jason that evening.
Soon enough the cadet meeting had started. I internalized as I worked on my confidence and the other leaders started. I had informed them all prior to the night basically what I would be doing. I stepped out to the bathroom to splash some water on my face just before it was my turn to get up in front of everyone.
When it was time for me to start, I asked them to be respectful as this was a difficult topic for me. Then I put a picture of myself on the screen. It was an old picture, a school picture from when I was dating Wyatt – so I was a good 14 years old. I wore a small smile and my hair was long, pulled back into a half ponytail. I was wearing the chain bracelet that Wyatt liked me to wear and a necklace he had given me. I asked the cadets a simple question. “If you saw this girl walking around at your school, would you think there was anything wrong with her?”
There was some head shaking. A couple “No’s.” One cadet girl said “Dang, Ms Rae – you were cuuute!”
I gave her a half smile. “What you can’t see when you look at this girl is what is going through her head. You can’t see what she’s thinking… and you can’t see the bruises on her arm…” I heard a gasp from somewhere to my left. They hadn’t expected that. “…or the bruises on her chest.”
“Tonight I’m going to be talking to you about dating abuse…” I had started. I’m really doing this. I am really saying this out loud.
I gave them an overview of what I wanted them to take from that night. I showed them a couple videos. I showed one I had debated about because it held triggers for me. But I decided it needed to be seen.
Finally, I started with my personal story. “I met Wyatt at youth group,” I started. “I don’t remember at this point how our first meeting went, or how it came to be that we were in a relationship. I was only almost fourteen at the time; Wyatt was an older boy – turning sixteen shortly after we started dating.”
I paced the floor, focusing on my paper, willing my hands not to shake.
“I remember my wrists being grabbed and the feeling of fear…” I told them everything that was appropriate to share.
The cadets were so respectful, asked meaningful questions and seemed genuinely interested. I was so grateful for that. I was also grateful I made it through the 30 minute presentation without crying or running out of the room.
I did it! I felt relieved at the end of the night. I felt a small spark of pride when one of the mums told me the next day that her daughter had gushed about how brave I was.
But saying it out loud was only part of the process. I allowed myself to actually talk to my husband about it and he was understanding about it all. So much of my previous behaviors and reactions became clear in that moment. The next few days saw me breaking down, crying every day. I had finally released the beast that I had kept held down inside and this beast was fighting and raging as he came out.
By September 12th, I was at a church women’s conference and I had found myself curled up on the floor – sobbing.