I know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I see pink ribbons tied on posts everywhere, pink themed advertisements, and pink buildings. My great grandmother fought breast cancer and won, and other relatives have also fought breast cancer. This awareness is wonderful because it saves lives.
Yet while women and men are feeling up their boobies and chests for masses or growths, there are many other people suffering another cancer--the cancer of society. That is, domestic violence. Yet it is almost a taboo topic, perhaps because it's so painful to think about. It's much easier to pretend families are all hunky-dory and that domestic violence is limited to the poor neighborhoods and to minorities. It's a way of closing it out of our minds, by mentally segregating the problem with the words, "It can't happen here!"
It's also easy to think about domestic violence as physical violence alone. Parents hitting children with tree branches. Girlfriends killing their boyfriends. Husbands beating their wives. When we see their wounds, we become outraged. How can someone claim to love the person and yet physically injure them?
I would like to ask you all--would you be outraged even if you couldn't see the wounds? Would you be outraged by invisible violence such as psychological and verbal abuse? I imagine that most of you would say, "Yes, I'm outraged about that, too!" Unfortunately, many people express doubt when it comes to invisible abuse. Fellow ChicagoNow blogger, Swim Tri Sail Chicago, wrote about her abusive ex-husband and received some insensitive comments from readers. One person said, "There are two sides to every story," essentially implying that perhaps STS deserved the abuse. Another commenter was insensitive too, also casting doubt as to whether her ex-husband actually was abusive.
It is precisely this sort of attitude on part of society that makes psychological and verbal abuse even more of a cancer.
There have been some excellent blog posts about verbal abuse in the form of peer-to-peer bullying. Yet, who will speak up about domestic bullying? Psychological abuse, also referred to as mental or emotional abuse, is quite insidious, particularly gaslighting. Yet it's difficult to describe. One incident may not necessarily be abusive. We have yelled obscenities at taxi drivers who try to run us over in crosswalks (verbal abuse.) We may, once in a while, ignore a loved one when we're mad at them.
It is a pattern that makes verbal and psychological abuse, abusive. It is the pattern that made my dad's behavior particularly terrorizing. It is the pattern that ropes people in and binds them, because of the hope that they will change. They may promise change, and then they do it again. And again. And again. They may threaten to throw you out into the streets, and then the next day buy you expensive things that guilt you into staying. Or they may never apologize and constantly deny that what they did was abusive.
It ALL is abuse.
My father was abusive. Or rather, is abusive. He's still alive, and my littlest siblings still live at home, so I must use the present tense. I will be sharing my story very soon--I'm just trying to get up the courage to share it. I can talk about it easily in clinical terms, but when I must remember the past in order to write about it, it is very difficult. Sometimes it triggers PTSD symptoms. Sometimes writing about my memories eases the PTSD that lingers.
I will also be sharing other ChicagoNow bloggers' stories, as they are willing to share. Some, I will link to, like Swim Tri Sail. Some will be guest posts on my blog. Some will write about their own past, and some will write about what it was like to witness their friends being abused.
Then perhaps we can make more people aware of domestic violence. Perhaps, some day, there will be equal numbers of pink and purple buildings in Chicago, equally honoring two cancers. One, the cancer of the body. Another, the cancer of society. Or, as STS is petitioning of Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago--could we have at least ONE week of purple buildings?