'You never forget a man hitting you': Why scars of domestic violence never fade

The author Eden Strong, center, with older photos from when she needed surgery for her broken nose. (Photo: Courtesy of Eden Strong)
The author Eden Strong, center, with older photos from when she needed surgery for her broken nose. (Photo: Courtesy of Eden Strong)

It was one of those fights that started simply because we had both had a long day and had each arrived home in a bad mood. I was rolling my eyes while clutching the TV remote and nestled into the couch, and my husband was sitting at the other end, raising his voice just slightly. It was clear that our bickering was starting to go in a circle of ridiculousness, so when I sighed and said, “I’m done arguing with you,” he stood up. Probably just to get a drink from the kitchen or grab the nachos that were in the oven, but it didn’t matter. He had stood up.

In a flash, I was running to my room and locking the door. I was panicked, and wild, and holding it shut with my hands.

I was waiting, for whatever would come next.

And what came next was a voice on the other side of the door, sounding concerned and asking if I was OK. But I couldn’t hear it over the loudness of my heart pounding out of my chest, as the memories overtook all of my rational thinking.

You never forget a man hitting you, and unfortunately for my current husband, I will never forget my ex-husband nearly killing me.

For eight years I was married to my ex, and for eight years I tried to escape. Eight years of his abuse, sexual assault, lies, infidelity, and then, in a final act of desecration, his abandonment, when he walked out the front door of our home, and disappeared.

It’s been six years since that day, and in those six years, I’ve done a lot. I’ve written about my journey in countless places online, and I started a nonprofit to make sure that other women never have to go through what I went through. I’m happily remarried, and just recently began public speaking on domestic violence and sexual assault. But there’s one thing I haven’t done in the six years since I’ve felt the sting of abuse upon my skin: forget.

I will never forget what it feels like to be at the mercy of another human being and realize that they have no mercy on you.

There aren’t enough support groups in the world to make you forget.

Photo: Courtesy of Eden Strong
Photo: Courtesy of Eden Strong

I have scars that I see when I look in the mirror, and I have a reflection that often haunts my soul; a face that I’ve seen crying, bruised, and surgically repaired isn’t one that you forget you’ve ever laid eyes on.

It hurts to know it’s mine, just like it hurts to lose your soul.

The number of abuses doesn’t matter as much as you’d think it does, because it only took once to change my life forever. One day I was someone I thought I knew, and the next day I was someone I never thought I’d be.

It’s a hard leap to make — from knowing yourself to losing yourself to finding yourself again. So when I watch the news and I see women stepping forward, claiming that Brett Kavanaugh or Bill Cosby hurt them, and it’s met with a public outcry wondering why they waited so long to say something, I want to scream.

That’s because it took a long time for me to find my voice again, just like I’m sure it took a long time for them to find theirs, and to use it to speak up. It doesn’t matter how much time has gone by, because time cannot erase what happened.

Two children survived my first marriage with me, so that’s two more people still trying heal. My daughter is 10 and is still in counseling. I marched with her earlier this month, through the streets, holding a sign, and chanting “take back the night!” with several hundred other people. I want something good to come out of this for her, even if I’m still trying to figure out what that might be.

My son is 7, and he wants to know why someone hit his mommy. He’s too young to remember that he was hit too.

But I remember. I remember it all, and it’s why I can’t sleep without the TV on. I don’t like the quiet, because in the quiet, I can still hear myself crying, hiding, begging to be OK. I love my new husband, but I don’t like him to stand over me, ever. And it’s not that I don’t trust him, it’s that I don’t trust anyone, because I know that sometimes, people hurt you.

So the next time you wonder why someone took so long to speak up, remember that they’ve simply been busy, trying to heal.

It takes a long time for your wounds to become scars, and once they do, they never leave you. Imprinted on your soul forever, you may learn to live with them, but you will never forget how you got them.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you are in danger, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1­-800-799-7233 or TTY 1­-800-787-3224.

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