Personal Stories: The Unexpected Enemy
Editor’s note: Some time ago the CFIDS Association received this personal story from an Association member who wanted to alert others with CFS about the danger of domestic abuse. Says the author, “As a result of my experience [of abuse], I’ve become educated about domestic violence and what a societal epidemic it is. I also recognize how some of my limitations (due to CFS) made me more vulnerable than I’d realized. By sharing my story I hope to spare someone the anguish I experienced.”
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’ve chosen to share this member’s story in October. Links to community resources appear at the end of the article.
The Unexpected Enemy
It came at me in slow motion . . . a clenched fist that was aimed to hit the center of my face. I turned at the last second and closed my eyes. Then came the crunching pressure as the fist made contact with the corner of my eye and right cheek. I spun, crashed into the kitchen cabinets and crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. In that split second, my life changed forever, just as it had ten years before when I was diagnosed with CFS.
As I lay there, I could see nothing but sparkles, not stars . . . just sparkles. Remarkably, I felt no pain, just numbness throughout my body. The physical pain wouldn’t appear until the next day and would last months. Yet, this was no stranger that had gotten into my home and attacked me. The attacker was my husband.
Stunned and unable to get up, I still had enough mental clarity to realize something was terribly wrong. Instead of rushing to apologize, he tried to pull me up, but I didn’t budge. He calmly and methodically busied himself with cleaning and rebending my glasses that had been knocked on the floor. Then he put them back on my face.
He tried again to get me up off the floor. After I was pulled up, my brain went on auto-pilot. I grabbed my purse in the kitchen and searched for my car keys. I wanted to leave.
In hindsight, my calmness handling the situation surprises me. I went upstairs to the bedroom still looking for my car keys. A few minutes later he followed. There was still no emotion, no remorse, no apology . . . just a brief, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
I wanted to make sense of how someone who supposedly loved me could totally lose control. But in the conversation that followed, I realized my husband’s actions weren’t due to stress, job pressure, my behavior or poor anger management. It was much deeper than that. I came to the shocking realization that I couldn’t make excuses for his behavior, and I couldn’t help him.
He needed serious professional help, and I needed to get away.
We had met three years before. What endeared me to him was the sense of security and stability I felt when I was with him. He was polite, hard-working and attentive. Most of all, he seemed so caring and empathetic. He assured me he loved me and that my CFS wasn’t an issue for him. He assured me that he’d always take care of me, and I believed him.
After so many years of fighting CFS alone, of meeting men who walked away because I was ill, I finally met someone who saw beyond my limitations and still wanted me. I felt like Cinderella who won the lottery! After the marriage and as the months slipped by, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was a complete novice when it came to the subject of domestic abuse. I imagined abusive men as alcoholics or drug abusers who had to act macho to salve their fragile egos. I figured that the abused partners had no self-esteem or they would have walked away long ago. I was wrong on all accounts. I didn’t know the truth until after I became a domestic abuse recipient.
An abuser’s world revolves around power and control. Physical force is not necessarily their first or only weapon of choice. An abuser can use all kinds of emotional and psychological ploys and techniques to maintain the status quo as he needs it. What I wouldn’t understand until much later was the role my CFS played in making me an unwitting target for an abusive person like my husband.
Abusers are often drawn to people they feel will be easier to control. They utilize any weakness as a tool to attack and undermine their partner in order to maintain the power and control they require in their relationship. That was certainly the case in my situation. For example, because of my constant fatigue and brain fog, I welcomed my husband managing our budget and overseeing every practical aspect of our lives. Because I wasn’t able to entertain company, we didn’t have many people in our house or friends around in general. We were isolated. Before I knew it, he was in near total control of my world.
My CFS isn’t to blame for the abuse. He is. But my limitations played right into his need for power and control over our relationship. It’s something I wish I’d seen more clearly at the time.
Didn’t I notice before that attack that something was wrong? Yes! But I didn’t have a label for it or understand what I was really dealing with. The signs were subtle and too sporadic for me to put the pieces together and say, “Aha, he is a domestic abuser.” I wasn’t sure what caused his periodic moodiness and outbursts, his need to always win an argument, his rejection of me, his emotional distancing followed by outbursts of generosity. His episodes of confusing behavior seemed to pop up unexpectedly after periods of marital tranquility or emotional closeness. The pattern wasn’t clear enough then for me to accept the possibility that my husband was truly abusive.
During the first three weeks that my black eye was visible, fourteen women—both strangers and co-workers—walked up to me and shared their domestic abuse story. I was floored. I had never realized the problem was so widespread. More importantly, the stories they shared gave me the courage to keep moving forward, despite my anguish and pain.
Each woman I spoke with had her own unique story. Without expectation, all of them gave me the same advice: “Don’t ever go back!” and “Your life will get better.” In those first dark months I needed so much to hear those words of encouragement and hope. When you’re already overwhelmed by CFS, you wonder how you can cope with something as devastating as domestic abuse. I needed to hear and believe that my life would indeed get better over time.
I share my story with you for two reasons. If you have CFS and are in a relationship that doesn’t feel quite right, trust and follow your instincts. Listen to the inner voice. You may save yourself the heartache and trauma I experienced. If you already find yourself in a situation like mine, contact a domestic abuse hotline and seek help. It won’t be an easy or pain-free process. But being alone with CFS is infinitely better than the false security of living with an abusive person.
Understand that you do have inner strength to overcome this challenge and to leave. Each of the women I spoke with experienced abuse; some even surviving horrific physical beatings. Yet, all of them went on to lead happy, productive lives. Now, I am in the process of doing the same.
Domestic Violence Resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224
Advocates are available around the clock to provide crisis intervention, safety planning and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Assistance is available in English and Spanish with access to more than 140 languages through interpreter services.
This site offers articles about warning signs, intervention and treatment. It also includes numerous links to other resources.
The Feminist Majority
This organization has a dedicated section of its website that provides a clearing house of information and resources about domestic violence.