I have two kids with a man who abused, raped, belittled, and destroyed me, before walking out of my life and leaving me and our children in poverty. I spent the next several years reeling from the abuse which for a long time, I didn’t even know was abuse.
I had no idea that I was a victim.
I thought that I was a bad wife. I thought I wasn’t sexual enough, and didn’t cook enough nice meals. I thought that I didn’t clean very well, or do enough grocery shopping. I thought that I was picky, and demanded much more than I deserved, and when my husband told me that all of those things were the reason why he treated me the way that he did, I believed him, because he drove my insecurities home.
And because I saw so many faults in myself, I didn’t know that I was being abused. For a long time, I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t seek out shelters, and I didn’t call any hotlines. It didn’t matter how many resources were available to me, because I didn’t know that I needed them.
Then when he hit me, and I hit him back. I figured that if there was anything wrong with him, that it was wrong with me too, and suddenly my biggest fear about our relationship, was that someone would find out what went on behind closed doors.
Just as Nicole Kidman’s character Celeste said in the HBO mini-series Big Little Lies, “all marriages are complicated.” I just thought that maybe mine was just a bit more complicated, because I wasn’t the very best wife.
So when Kidman won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series Sunday night, and acknowledged in her acceptance speech that domestic violence is a “complicated, insidious disease, that exists far more than we allow ourselves to know, and is filled with shame and secrecy,” it hit me right in the heart.
Until Big Little Lies aired, I’d never seen domestic violence so accurately portrayed on TV. Five years out of the abuse, I have since founded a nonprofit that provides legal representation to domestic violence victims in a shelter. And although those women are temporarily safe, I can’t help but cry that in a country dedicated to being progressive, we haven’t made much progress in the area of understanding domestic violence victims; which means that the victims are often left not understanding their situations.
“We both become violent sometimes, I take my share of the blame,” says Kidman’s character in one of the show’s most evocative scenes. “I’m not a victim here.”
And that statement right there is something that I hear echoed every day, through the many women who are sent to me for help; they know that their relationship is dysfunctional, but what they can’t seem to do is to understand that they are not the problem.
Let that sink in for a minute — women in domestic violence shelters are blaming themselves for being there.
They do not understand that what happened to them wasn’t their fault. And in a society where domestic violence victims are regularly portrayed as the women who are broken, bleeding, hiding in closets, and having never raised their own voices or a hand in defense, we haven’t been showing them what a victim truly looks like.
Big Little Lies is the first show that I’ve ever seen that gives viewers an honest portrayal of true domestic violence; the push and pull relationship that goes on between Celeste — a strong, intelligent, outgoing, woman who desperately desires to fix a marriage that she feels responsible for damaging — and her husband Perry’s manipulation, as he swings between abuser and adoring husband, who’s desperately insecure about his wife’s love for him. Two people who shun the weak and timid label that we often associate with the word “victim,” as well as the heartless, deranged label that we often associate with “abuser.”
Real domestic violence is not as black-and-white as we’d all like to believe, and because of that, we often don’t see it happening; or realize that perhaps we are caught in its web ourselves.
As Kidman took to the stage Sunday night and held her trophy up in the air, she acknowledged that sometimes you get the chance to bring a bigger message to the world, and that this show was her way of shining a light on domestic abuse in a way that might help others. And I know that anyone who has ever suffered abuse, or who works with abuse victims, was cheering right along with the crowd last night, because it is about damn time we get the story straight.
Real domestic violence is not just women hiding in closets, in fear of their husbands. It’s a mixture of shame, confusion, insecurities, betrayal, longing, and apologies. It’s bad times, and it’s often very, very good times that just make everything more difficult to decipher. It’s just as complicated and heart-wrenching as Big Little Lies portrays it to be, and we have needed someone just as powerful and commanding as Kidman to finally break the stereotype we’ve all been buying into.
Because she’s right — there are times when people have the opportunity to bring a bigger message to the world, and on behalf of one victim who now represents many, I can’t thank her enough for not wasting this opportunity.
In its own powerful way, Big Little Lies has shown the world what us victims need to understand, and helped shatter the myth of what a victim and an abuser truly look like.