What I Learned From My Bruises and Scars

Two years ago I woke up and saw this when I looked in the mirror.

Not with this eye, obviously, which was still swollen shut after puffing up grotesquely. But with the other eye I could see what I looked like — a reject from the Jerry Springer Show.

I had spent the night in a dive, but I was grateful for it: a dirty Motel 6 where the local domestic violence organization was kind enough to put me up. Sure, the cashier was protected behind iron bars while I felt vulnerable and alone, with only my 2-year-old son to watch over me… but at least I was as close to safe as I was going to be.

And before that I had spent several hours at the hospital emergency room, getting six stitches in my face, while my amazing little boy sat completely still on my hospital bed like a perfect little angel.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor had said after stitching me up as carefully as could to minimize scarring. I was out of tears by then, but the doc blinked back his own, unable to fathom why a man would do this to his wife.

And before the hospital I sat with my son on my lap, hugging him against me as my face dripped blood on his head and clothes, which the cops would later photograph. “Oh, that’s my blood, not his,” I told them, in case they thought he had been hit too. But the way they looked at me, I knew it was just as bad either way. It’s not good for a kid to see his dad hit his mom, and then to have his mom’s blood dripping on him.

This wasn’t the first time my husband had hit me… somebody I had thought was my soul mate. And maybe on some level he was, if a soul mate is someone who helps you learn, grow and develop.

It wasn’t the first hit by a long shot, but it turned out to be the last. Unless you count the time 14 months later when the State finally let us see each other again and he smashed his wine glass into mine, shattering it into my face. That night I looked like Carrie after being doused with a bucket of pig’s blood, except I was covered with red wine, tiny shards of broken glass, and streaks of blood from the small cuts on my face. Hey, trust me, I know… it could have been worse. I felt the sting of alcohol in my eyes, and it could easily have been accompanied by broken glass.

Now, if you’ve never been in a violent relationship before, I already know what question is in your mind. “Why did you stay?” Or maybe, “Why didn’t you leave?” And that’s exactly what I would have asked 10 to 20 years ago. And I would have shaken my head and wondered what the heck was wrong with her.

But now I know how true it is that you can’t judge another until you walk a mile in her shoes… and I walked 100 miles in that woman’s shoes so I will never, ever judge her again.

Here’s the deal: nobody starts off violent. Hitting a woman on the first date is great way to ensure there’s no second. They wait until both people are comfortable and secure in the relationship. For me, it didn’t happen until after we were already married.

Also, there’s a systematic chipping away of self-esteem that generally occurs. After years of digs and criticisms and name-calling and being told that I was clearly the problem, I thought that if I could only be a better person he’d stop. And we could go back to being a happy family like I had always envisioned.

And I thought, like most women in that situation probably do, that their man can be one of the few who really does change… who realizes how ridiculous it is to hit someone you love, the mother of your child, someone you call your best friend.

And then, well… I had been public about our romance and the amazingly high ups in our relationship, so how could I possibly admit how seriously low the downs were?

The benefit I had over others in these circumstances is that I was a journalist, and I had a natural tendency to dig and ask questions and investigate. I dove deep into the topic trying to figure out how I got there, and how to fix it, and finally realized that I couldn’t… only he could. And he would only change if it was for him… not because I wanted it and not to win me back and not to make a good show of it just to manipulate me into thinking that he had, so I would be trapped again.

However, having said all that, I knew in my heart that it was over after this night. In fact, I knew it was over the year before when he hammer-fisted me multiple times in the side of the head, leaving me with a bloody grapefruit-sized goose egg. I thought I was going to die that night when he left me on the floor and walked out, but the paramedic that looked at my head said I’d be fine if I kept it iced. The biggest problem was I couldn’t wash my hair because of the open wounds, so I spent the whole next day with my hair matted with blood and hidden under a baseball cap. And then a black eye showed up — the other eye that time — that lasted a month.

So here’s another reason I stayed: I was living in the middle of nowhere with no support system and afraid that I couldn’t make it on my own.

But back to the night of the stitches. It was the last time I would live with my now ex-husband, who wasn’t allowed to come back. And the first few months I felt immense freedom, but it was interspersed with other feelings.

I took the stitches out myself five days later — I’ve always been a DIY kinda gal. But before I did, it was downright depressing to see my face sewn up like that, along with my trailer park black eye. I hated looking at myself so much that I gave myself a shorter haircut, trying to create a different identity… to maybe look just a little bit classy.

And ever since that day, I’ve still had to see the scar every time I look in the mirror. Depending on the lighting and whether I’m wearing makeup, it’s not that noticeable to other people anymore. But I see it, and when I get upset or cry it turns an angry red.

It’s become symbolic on several levels.

I spent months going back and forth between feeling disempowered and weak when I saw it — like a loser who let herself be abused — to feeling strong, like a true warrior.

But now it’s pretty much only a symbol of power. It represents the struggle I went through and the strength I achieved as a result. It reminds me that I’ll never let that happen again. It tells me that it can happen to anyone, just like any tragedy… and while we can’t control outside circumstances, we can always control our reactions to them.

It gives me proof that I’m often stronger and more powerful than I give myself credit for, that if I can make it through that I can make it through anything, and that the real reason I stayed is because I had lessons to learn… and maybe lessons to pass on. I had to get to the point where I could start loving myself first. I had to learn to set healthy boundaries, and to actually stick to them when I did. I had to understand that it’s my choice whether to give away my power or keep it, and that I can do either in any instance, depending which is a bigger benefit in that moment.

And make no mistake, sometimes the more powerful decision is to make sacrifices in the short term to allow for a bigger payoff in the long run.

I think I’ve become a better person through all this, which is what I strove for all along. I’m now more open, more honest, more authentic, more vulnerable, more centered and more confident. More peaceful and more loving. People are regularly calling me a free spirit for the first time in my life. But this time I changed for myself, not to appease somebody else and not to avoid something I didn’t want.

And since what you resist persists, doing it for myself on my own time proved to be the only way to truly overcome the challenges. That and appreciating the challenges for what value they brought me — the silver linings in the cloud — because that’s the only way to transcend them.

After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

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13 Comments

on “What I Learned From My Bruises and Scars
13 Comments on “What I Learned From My Bruises and Scars
  1. The woman behind these words is not the woman I met several years ago. I can hear the strength and wisdom that now emanate from your words. Your journey is a path that many women walk, yet few make it to the top of the mountain. Congratulations Heather! May your words give others strength to reach freedom! Honored to know ya!

  2. Heather,
    thank you. I’ve often wondered why do women stay in abusive relationships. I talked to some. Read about some. Never understood it.
    I don’t know if I understand it know, but I feel like I do. At least a lot more than I did before.
    You touched my heart in a totally unexpected place. Inspired me to be stronger and better.
    I’m not even sure how and why.
    Something I once read of Henry Miller came to mind, and I googled the quote (ah, the times we live in):

    “If any man dared to translate all that is in his heart, to put down what is really his experience, what is truly his truth, I think then the world would go to smash, that it would be blown to smithereens and no god, no accident, no will could ever again assemble the pieces, the atoms, the indestructible elements that have gone to make up the world.”

    I think you did that, in some beautiful way.

  3. YES! What doesn’t kill you Makes you Stronger!!!!

    Good for YOU Heather for getting stronger — and for RUNNING away from anything that doesn’t serve you, support you, or make your Heart SING ;) You Deserve ONLY The Best.

    Thank you for sharing your story for all the women out there who may not have visible scars, but feel them in their heart from the gradual beat down by boys who are insecure and small and only know how to lash out the angst they feel in their own weak souls.

    it’s NEVER about the woman who gets hit/hurt — it’s always about the man who causes the pain — either physical or emotional.

    Why we think WE are to Blame? I dunno… you did a great job describing why.

  4. Heather,

    Thank you. I don’t know if this makes me happy, because you wrote this; angry, because this happens; sad, because while I was never hit, I knew my marriage was over 3 days in and didn’t leave for 4 years, or what.

    But it does give me courage. It does make me want to talk even louder about abuse, both from others and the self abuse that can come after.

    You are strong. You are courageous. You are an inspiration. And if there is anything you need, please contact me.

    Big Hugs,
    MJ

  5. Heather, you are truly an inspiration for us all. Brought tears to my eyes. I admire your courage, strength, tenacity, faith and all the other amazing things about you.

    As you are well intimately aware, steel is forged by fire and while this has most definitely strengthened you, you also elevated your love, compassion and passion to new heights as well.

    As always, wishing you the highest and best. Love and light!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s incredibly heartbreaking and inspiring. I would have never known when I met you. You’re such a talented wonderful lady. I’m so glad you’ve gone through the fire and come out on the other end.

  7. I was there to listen to Heather as she went through this incredible hardship.
    She struggled daily with taking her son away from his father with the futile hope that “one day he would change”….
    For months, years after this incident she gave him every possible chance to change…

    At the same time I saw something remarkable, a woman who embraced a deeper self respect, who developed the self confidence to leave to become a single mom…. I am thankful for the amazing friendship we have developed through this challenging time in life…. I love you dear…
    JC

  8. Thank you for sharing your story of abuse, courage, recovery and self-love, Heather. I’m glad you moved on into a greater knowledge and experience of your true self. You are an inspiring example telling an important story.

  9. Are you f**king kidding me!? I’ve done my best to not judge people since I put a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger. I’ve been to the lowest point a human can get and luckily walked away from it. I 100% understand why people stay in situations like this and any other damn thing that is not serving to them. BUT… I Still get angry as all f**k when I see people doing shit like this continuously, ESPECIALLY people who have ANY kind of presence in the self help space. Everyone screws up, emotions get flared up and pain needs to exit the body. Shit happens BUT shit is only supposed to happen 1 or 2 times before the shit flinger realizes “Good Lord! I need to take a look at my own bullshit mentality that is somehow limited to the point I have to hurt others to escape my own pain”.

    I’m just grateful that you are a strong enough person to see and USE the contrast this situation provided you to become more instead of ending up just another forgotten abused woman doing her time in and out of the same relationship with men with different faces. You’re an amazing amazing amazing and beautiful person Heather and this experience, as twisted as this may sound to some, will enhance your life because of your massive courage, loving heart, and your giving soul. I have a tear rolling down my cheek right now as I write this and I just want to give you a big fat hug, no, I want to wrap my arms around you and embrace you with love and hold you until there is so much love in the bubble of our energy, we giggle because there are no other options. Passively, you have all of my love. Actively, we’re gonna do some very uplifting and very fulfilling things together that have a huge impact on the world very soon :-) Much respect for having the courage to be open about this. It’s the vulnerability that empowers the healing process and I for one and VERY happy to see that you are actively traveling the healing journey. Your friend, Mike… :-) <3

  10. I can’t tell you how many emotions I’ve gone through since you revealed all of this to me last year. This is the first time I’ve seen photos of the bruises and I had that same huge roller coaster of emotions go through me all over again.

    I can’t tell you how hard it is to be soooo far away … how much I want to hug you each day. How much I want to sit down face to face and tell you how gawd damned awesome you are.

    But I can tell you how much I damned well admire the strength it took to get the hell out and realize that you were not deserving of such terrible treatment and see how you are worthy of so much better. And I can tell you that at any hour you can call me, just how I’ve said before. And that I love you dearly my fabulous, brave, wonderful woman.

    Please always remember what you have learned along this rocky path and never doubt how precious you are and that you ALWAYS deserve the best that life has to offer – as does your son.

    Much love and many healing vibes to help you become even stronger along the path of life. oxoxo
    Georgette

  11. Ugh… I’m glad you made it out of that. Not sure how I even wandered here facebook I think but I am happy to hear you are safe and well.

  12. I have morphed the phrase from, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” to “What doesn’t kill you gives you the chance to become stronger.” Positive change isn’t just going through difficult times, it’s the hard work you do after the difficult time that makes for growth.

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