I remember crawling into my soft bed, fan blowing softly but enough that I tucked my hair behind my ear to keep it from tickling my nose. The covers were heavy, cool with a hint of Downy April Fresh; my pillow cradled my head in a mother’s embrace. I fell asleep happy with the day, quietly looking forward to his return late in the night.
The house was spotless and smelled fresh. The children were quiet in their own beds for a change. Not one sound in the whole house that shouldn’t be there. I drifted to sleep so slowly I consciously noticed the change in my breath as I fell deeper and deeper into dreams. I let myself go.
BANG! I moved so fast my brain didn’t know I was sitting.
BANG! “What?! What is it?” I said, my heart pounding in the darkness.
A shadow crossed in front of the window headed toward the other dresser. It was him. I read his body language in the split second it took for him to pass through the moonlight. He was pissed.
BANG! BANG! BANG! Three more drawers opened and slammed. “Where are my f@c&i*g socks, KELLIE?” he yelled.Instinctively I knew the man in my bedroom was my husband, but his actions seemed so foreign to the setting that he seemed more like a demon hiding in the shadows only to appear suddenly right in front of me, forearms straddling my hips.
A demon looking for socks?
Terrorism in Abuse
Terrorism is the systematic use of a person’s state of intense fear especially as a means of coercion (combined definitions of terrorism and terror from Merriam-Webster online). Abusers fabricate states of intense fear in their victims in order to more easily control the victim in the absence of fear.
My demon wasn’t looking for socks. He knew they were in the top right drawer of the low dresser. He was looking to intensify his control over me.
Slamming drawers in the middle of the night is not the same as a punch in the eye, but it serves the same purpose. When our bodies or minds feel terrified, adrenaline kicks in and we do whatever we need to do to rid ourselves of the fear.
That night I could have ran. I could have cowered, frozen in the bed. I could have instinctively punched him in his eye. But my motions fit the situation: I squeezed from beneath his forearms, jumped out of bed and handed him a pair of f@c&i*g socks.
The next morning, you better believe I remembered his unpredictable rage! I woke when he did, fixed him breakfast, and sent him off to work with a kiss. The whole time my heart was pounding and I was hoping he was unable to find another reason to rage. I smiled and waved from the window until he drove out of sight, then spun around, sat on the floor, and sobbed.
The Devil You Know
That wasn’t the first instance of terrorism in my marriage and it was far from the last. He banged coffee cups on the table, fists on the counter top, and used his voice as a long wail to break the stillness. He had a big voice all of the time, but even when he was happy and loud, my insides cringed in fear.
He used threatening behavior (in private) often enough for it to always be fresh on my mind. The physical violence I pushed into the deep recesses of my memory, far enough to pretend it didn’t exist. But his violently loud and unpredictable sounds hit on those memories, reminding me of how bad it could be, forcing thoughts of gratefulness for the sounds not being my head hitting the wall.
I was grateful when I handed him his socks because it calmed the demon.
The Devil You Don’t
So many of us who live with a verbally abusive and threatening person give more power to the demon we know (the spouse) than to the demon we don’t know (what may be outside the relationship). We forget that “the rest of the world” is not as scary as the one with whom we live.
We forget because in between his small acts of terrorism, he tells us (in word and action) we are incapable of thinking for ourselves. Our ideas don’t work. Our plans will fail. Our behavior is bi-polar, erratic, or worse and “How could you possibly do this without me?!” becomes the underlying theme.
We wouldn’t be so willing to accept the nonsense as truth if he did not use terrorism as a way to keep us weakened and afraid.
I want you to know one thing: The “rest of the world”, the one you could choose to live in, is a kind and peaceful place. When left to your own devices to find solutions to financial troubles or difficulties with your children, you will feel stronger without the devil you know.
And guess what? Your solutions will work, one step at a time.
Our devils aren’t as huge as we imagine. Most demons are nothing more than hot air balloons, ready to pop with a single pin-prick. Begin imagining your abuser as this:
He’s nothing more than a little kid trying to scare you. You will laugh instead of fear, you will run instead of cower, and you will find out how good the rest of the world can be.