The Women on Medium Gave Me the Courage to Stand Up as a Male Survivor of Domestic Abuse
Clarity arrived when I stopped focusing on the differences between the experiences of males & females, and started embracing the similarities
It is not easy to come forward as a victim/survivor of abuse (in fact, when a person is quick to portray themselves as a victim without hesitation, I’ve learned to see that as a red flag). Who wants to be labeled as a victim, seen as weak or incapable, in a society that prizes independence & power? The societal & familial pressures that shape us are as powerful as they are subtle, and unless a person has confronted their ignorance & developed a more nuanced understanding of abuse — or endured it personally & broken free from its isolating, destructive grip — those common misconceptions are undeniably present, firmly entrenched beneath the surface of conscious thought and exerting an insidious influence. These unenlightened perceptions are often held by people with good intentions, but ultimately they are harmful & false and they must be called out. They are silencing the voices of the suffering, excusing the guilt of the one who chooses to be abusive and enabling abusive behavior by placing the spotlight upon the survivor rather than the perpetrator.
Survivors of abuse are not weak, cowardly, or lacking in character or intellect; abusers do not ensnare the unworthy. Many times, they are selected precisely for their selflessness, compassion, generosity, strength, bravery, and all they have to offer. They can be independent, well-educated, intelligent, successful, wealthy, admired, and confident. One of the smartest men in the world — Stephen Hawking — was deceived by an abusive woman and found himself trapped in an abusive relationship! It should not in any way be shameful to acknowledge being a survivor of abuse, but the reality is victim-blaming happens with disturbing regularity. People like to believe they would never tolerate abusive behavior, and project their vain illusions upon the lives & choices of others, perceiving weakness or defects in character upon those who have given, cared, loved, endured, & overcome more than most people could ever know. Why do people stay in abusive relationships? Survivors of abuse have a valid & justifiable concern that they will be perceived as weak & helpless and received not with compassion but with scorn. Our society still has a long way to go in terms of developing the collective emotional intelligence & maturity to identify & intervene effectively in most cases of abuse.
Through a combination of pride, ignorance, & denial, I persisted in maintaining an illusion of love & happiness in my marriage for 13 years — despite obvious indications of serious dysfunction, including chronic infidelity, alcoholism, & abuse. I wanted to be seen — both by myself & by others — as someone confident, secure, capable, & worthy. I wanted to be exceptional in my field, deserving of my parents’ esteem & my colleagues’ respect and adorned in the trappings of success. More than anything, I wanted to know that the woman I loved and believed to be my soulmate & closest friend in the world returned those feelings… that she loved me, trusted me, was honest with me, and loyal to me. I depended upon these beliefs to serve as the foundation for my professional career & my personal identity. When they were shattered by the discovery of my wife’s affair — just a few short years after our wedding day, after moving across the country with two young children, buying a house together, and beginning my graduate studies — the reality was too dreadful, immense, & terrifying for me to face. I denied the truth — that anyone who truly loved me would not have been able to deceive me & betray me for over a year — and fooled myself into thinking I could bargain & negotiate with the facts.
Naive and desperate not to lose the family I adored & the future I envisioned, I sacrificed one of my core values — loyalty — in a desperate, pathetic attempt to appease her vanity & insecurity. The value of that sacrifice was enormous — enough to buy me eight more years of fleeting pleasures & false confidence — but the cost upon my spirit & self-esteem was significant; and worse, it was a price I paid alone, for a part of me knew it was an unhealthy arrangement, that revelation would provoke disgust, derision, scorn, & condemnation, on top of the shame I already felt. Any potential confidante would surely exhort me to terminate the privileges I had granted her, and the inadequacy I perceived in my worth as a romantic & sexual partner had me convinced that there was no other way to mitigate the pain of not being enough for the woman I loved while avoiding any contemplation of divorce — the one thing I feared most of all. I threw myself into the achievement of professional success & material wealth, desperate to increase my worth as a life partner, and upgraded her wedding ring as if increasing its value could increase what our marriage meant to her. Over time, I hoped fervently, she would come to see the depth & sincerity of my love for her, that it would begin to erode the bastions of fear & insecurity that drove her to seek approval from as many sources as possible, and that those privileges would no longer be needed. Once again, I would attempt to bargain with reality, and once again, I would be reminded that reality is not swayed nor affected by the wishes or hopes of a fool in love.
I had forgotten one immutable truth in life: what you allow will continue. Or — in the case of a boundary-violating narcissist — it will worsen. Despite (or perhaps because of) the privileges I granted her, she continued to betray my trust. Confronting her brought feelings of shame she could not accept, and so she would react by going on the offensive: initiating verbal and/or physical abuse, blaming me for her choices, and ultimately by flipping the truth on its head, making me out to be the abuser rather than the victim of her abuse. Over and over again, she made false accusations against me publicly on social media, to friends/family members, and to the police, repeating her lies until they began to be seen as the truth. Eventually, these accusations culminated in me being arrested when I showed up at the police station to defend myself against false accusations of drugging her & raping her (my whole life I have strived to be an ally to women in the fight against sexual violence, so she knew how emotionally triggering those charges would be to me, causing me to act impulsively and agree to be interviewed without a lawyer present), naively believing the gigabytes of evidence I had collected would be reviewed and that my words would be given equal weight as hers. I spent Christmas 2018 in jail, my sons in the care of a neighbor they barely knew, their mother not even bothering to call or text them after hearing I had been arrested, knowing her lies could cost our sons their home & their college educations yet completely unconcerned with the effect her slander & lies would have upon their lives. Although I was released without any charges, the statements I had made during my interview were misrepresented by the police officer in a report to the state licensing board, contributing to the loss of my professional license & career — a form of financial abuse to punish me for demanding from her the accountability I finally had to accept she would never provide, to reduce my value as a romantic partner to others, and to punish me for refusing to sweep her infidelities & abuse under the rug ever again.
With little else to do (other than care for our three sons, whom she discarded along with her former spouse), I spent months researching the topic of narcissism, domestic abuse, & intimate partner violence (IPV), and at times I confess it became challenging to read so many articles where men were portrayed as dangerous, cruel, & narcissistic. My ego was repeatedly triggered, forcing me to ask myself why this was such an issue for me. Finally, I realized I was feeling invalidated, and I was the only one who could provide myself with the validation I needed to move on. I accepted that what happened to me was no less real and no less or more traumatic than the experiences of others, and while it was true that women suffered from violence committed by men more frequently than men did from violence by women and that women were at a greater risk of physical harm & death, it was also true that psychological & financial abuse and false accusations committed by women against men can destroy lives, devastate careers, and cause serious, long-lasting harm. Acknowledging the facts that most victims of IPV are females, most perpetrators are males, and that false allegations of rape are rare did not invalidate my experience, nor the injustice I suffered or the pain & trauma I endured, and once I integrated that truth, I found myself absorbing & benefitting from the stories & truths of female victims of IPV, fully embracing them as a source of illumination, encouragement, & support rather than engaging in some weird competition over whose pain was more valid.
In the beginning, all I could see was the differences in how I was treated by the police, the courts, the counselors, the evaluators, the authorities, my neighbors, and my colleagues. On numerous occasions, reaching out for help to the exact services intended to protect people from abuse resulted in re-traumatization, frustration, and the emotional & spiritual death of invalidation. In my opinion, it took me much longer to recognize myself as an abuse survivor than it should have, as well as longer to heal, trust, and love, because of the stigma surrounding male abuse survivors. But the fact that it happened at all is in no small part due to the talented, powerful, & fearless female writers on Medium who had the courage to share their stories, and to them, I will be forever grateful.
I am not alone. I am not crazy or stupid or insignificant or weak. Others have endured, other souls have found redemption, and so shall I. My voice is worthy of being heard. My truth is worthy of acknowledgment. And who I truly am is not determined by nor dependent upon the opinions of others; I am my own light. I hold within me the keys to my own freedom. I cannot be diminished, my spirit cannot be broken, my life cannot be ruined, without my consent; and I hereby refuse the lies, I reject the insults & abuse projected upon me that I never deserved, and I reclaim the power they wanted me to believe had belonged to them.
Thank you to Colleen Sheehy Orme for being one of the first positive & encouraging voice I had heard after years of silence & insults; your kindness helped me to believe in myself again. Thank you to Rev. Sheri Heller for brilliantly connecting the physical, intellectual, emotional, & spiritual aspects of healing and inspiring in me the importance of addressing each one. Thank you to Suzanna Quintana for presenting the truths that are the most painful to hear but also the most essential to accept, and doing so with such incredible love, compassion, grace, and hope. Thank you to Kara Summers for your courageous questions & insightful viewpoints, presenting complex & often-paradoxical concepts with such clarity, humor, & logic that I often don’t even realize I’d let go of a belief I’d held onto my whole life until weeks after experiencing the positive results of doing so. Thank you to Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes for showing me we can acknowledge & honor the mystical and immeasurable forces that shape our world without in any way sacrificing or disregarding the scientific & intellectual aspects of our existence and inspiring in me a new love & appreciation for astrology & movement-based healing. Thank you to Carrie Wynn for illuminating aspects of life that are experienced by nearly all of us and yet shared by so few; you make the challenges of being vulnerable & authentic and creating emotional connections with readers seem effortless. Thank you to Prajinta Pesqueda for so eloquently & fearlessly capturing the real-life experiences — the dream, the life, the grandiosity, & the heaven, and the nightmare, the death, the minutiae, & the hell — of narcissistic abuse… your inimitable, terrifyingly beautiful stories resonated with the entombed parts of my soul, freeing it to feel & bleed & grieve with raw intensity, and brought peace, connection, & courage after long nights of fear, sleeplessness, loneliness, & pain.
To the countless others whose articles have been and will continue to be islands of inspiration in an ocean of apathy & despair, to all the survivors of abuse who defy the unkind silence and refuse to be complicit in the cycle, who dip their pens into their pain and alchemize suffering into inspiration: what you do is beautiful, wondrous, and meaningful. Your words make the world a better place. Your bravery frees others from fear. Thank you for your inspiration.