Domestic Violence Has Many Faces
by Linda Fugate, Ed.D.,CVRT, VisionAware Peer Advisor
Domestic violence has many faces, many victims, and many stories. This is just one of them, but it is mine.
First a little background. I was raised in the 1950s by a single mother, and there were no older male relatives in my life. Also, I was diagnosed with a visual impairment at 15 from a rare disorder. My reaction to being told that my dreams would never be possible was the birth of my daughter a year later.
I married in the 1970s and settled down to raise a family. The story is typical at its beginning; my sheltered childhood did not prepare me to discern typical from abusive behaviors. I also was unaware of the effects of alcohol as no one in my family ever drank.
First, there was the breaking down of my self-esteem; he would ask me to read something he knew I couldn’t see or find fault with the house and then comment about my abilities or rather lack of them. This also helped to increase the isolation from others, especially in a new location where I did not recognize voices. And finally the beginning of violent outbursts. The first time this happened, I left. He begged, promising it would never happen again, and I returned.
My Vision Used Against Me
As the violence escalated, I realized that my vision was being used against me. He would approach trying for my blind spot. As it increased, I quickly learned to hide this from him. But the fear was always there.
He learned that turning the lights on or off made it difficult for me to see and used that to gain an advantage and increase the fear. He would find me before my eyes adjusted to the change.
As my vision loss made daily life more complicated, the fear and abuse made it overwhelming. This was before abuse was acknowledged and support groups were formed. With no male relative to protect me, family members looked the other way; friends became busy. This was still the era when the common idea was that an abused wife was somehow at fault, and in my case, my vision loss was to blame. And I believed it. I tried to change, to overcome the vision loss. It is probably an important fact that at this point I had no training related to my vision loss.
Turning Point—Abuse Aimed at My Child
The turning point came when the abuse was aimed at one of my children. That was not to be tolerated. Although I had felt unable to help myself, protecting my child gave me the courage to take a stand.
Avoiding Potentially Dangerous Situations
Even after I left, the fear was still there. And for good reason. One night when I was returning home, he stepped out of the shadows, grabbed me, and broke my arm. I never saw him until it was too late. I did not file a report for a couple of reasons. First, at that time he would have been back on the street before I was out of the ER. Second, no one could know that I did not see him; that was far more dangerous.
He had taught me to trust no one, and so I was afraid to allow the extent of the vision loss be known by anyone. I struggled to avoid situations I found dangerous, and that could include something as simple as someone standing in the wrong spot.
It has been over 30 years, and I am still more comfortable with a wall to my left. My children are grown, but even though some of them were still quite young at the end of that long dark night, each has told me stories of the fear and panic they felt.
The Importance of Learning Self-Protection and Vision Rehabilitation Skills
After that, I did learn to protect myself. I learned about my vision and how to use it more efficiently. This restored my confidence. It helped me to see that I was still a capable person, someone who had value. That is something often lost to abuse.
The Way Out May Seem Invisible but Resources Are Available to Help
Times have changed. Now we have an awareness of domestic violence and abuse. Now we have support groups and shelters. Now we have advocates; we have classes to teach us to protect ourselves. And we still have domestic violence and abuse. As someone who has been there, been in the depths of fear, of pain, and of isolation, I know when you are there the way out is often invisible even if you can see.