My iPhone vibrates. "Just got your call! Emergency or mistake?" I've never been more grateful to receive a text. It's 3 a.m., I'm shaking in the cold, and he's leaving menacing voicemails.
Twenty minutes ago, I was dragged out of bed. He'd come in the door drunk, yelling at me. It's terrifying fighting off someone 6 feet tall and twice my weight. For the first time, I need to flee my house. But my wallet and keys have been confiscated. He smirks, "So you can't leave me." Intoxication has slowed his reflexes, so I grab some possessions, lock myself in the bathroom, and dash out the first chance I can.
"He hurt me," I sputter into the phone. My friend Ella does a breathing meditation with me and makes me carbonara and hot chocolate at her house. As I settle back into my body, a dam inside me shatters. I tell her partner and her how confused I am about his increasing volatility. It hasn't yet dawned on me that it's abuse. I believe he cannot control it, and it's simply a result of his alcoholism.
The four of us are friends, so I'm stunned when they say, "We've got to call the police." I don't want to get him in trouble for his drunken mistake, and they respect my decision. In private, my friend looks at me kindly and says, "I've been watching out for you for a long time."
This is the first time I've told her what he's done to me. I never cry in front of my friends, but I burst into tears when she says this because I'm relieved. I've always believed that I'm crazy, too sensitive, or not understanding enough. Those are the words he drums into me—the words that have shaped my perception of myself.
Here's the deal. I'm lucky my friends believed me. But I know how many other women aren't believed. They're told they're lying, or excuses are made to absolve the abuser. I also know it's hard to respond when someone discloses abuse because it's awkward and throws off your belief in the world as a safe place. Then you kick yourself for saying something stupid. Here's what you can do instead: