The cycle of abuse stops with me

Date: January 1, 1970
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I am the child of an abuser. There, I?ve said it. And now that it?s finally out in the open, I feel relieved.

I am the child of an abuser.

There, I’ve said it.

And now that it’s finally out in the open, I feel relieved.

I am a 26 year old gender activist. Single, with no children. Like many people, I’d love to get married… one day. I love children passionately – although there was a time when I prayed God would make me infertile because I didn’t want to inflict the kind of pain I’d experienced on my children. But I don’t want children outside of marriage – unless I get a sperm donor.

That’s sometimes a better option. Too often us women think we’ve met a father for our children only to have him deposit his sperm and disappear without a trace, leaving responsibility of parenting with us. I would love a man who knows that women are equal to men, that we too are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect, honour, love and appreciation. And if I don’t meet that man, then God obviously did not have it in His plans for me. And what will be… will be.

As I write I am aware that my family may not possibly approve. But this is not about them. It’s about me and the fact that I need to exorcise the demons that haunt me. Every minute of every day I am plagued by questions I constantly ask myself – questions I’m still trying to find answers to.

Why do I do this kind of work? Did I choose psychology because I myself was hurting? Was ensuring that people around me didn’t have to go what I did a way of dealing with my own pain?

Is my aversion to alcohol linked to something in my psyche which says that it results in rowdy and unruly behaviour? Do I choose not to indulge in penetrative sexual intercourse because I believe that men will inevitably cheat and it’s better not to subject myself to that kind of trauma? Am I harsh, cold and heartless because I sometimes pray that God gives me the strength to shoot my man’s balls off if I ever find him cheating or in bed with another woman?

Do I hate men? Trying to remember that they are not all the same is a constant battle. Jaaka le rona basadi re sa tshwane (just like women are not the same).

The questions plague me even now as I remember my mothers’ pain. I remember how I would shake uncontrollably when my father so much as raised his voice. I remember my mothers’ tears when she found evidence that my father was having an affair. I recall the relief I felt when a girl in boarding school shared her story with me and I realised then that I wasn’t the only one carrying pain around.

I also remember when I told an adult about the violence in my life. I’d been having blackouts which my doctor could not figure a medical reason for and was referred to a psychiatrist. He asked about home. I was honest, and said what I felt.

What did that get me? Being made to feel guilty by Papa in one of his drunken stupors – how could I say he makes me unhappy and is the cause of my illness? The psychiatrist had called him and my mother in and gave them feedback about our sessions. And my honesty was thrown right back in my face.

As I sit here and remember, I know the hardest part for me has always been and still is trying to reconcile the two images I had of my father: the quiet, reserved and hard working man who wanted the best for his family during the week; and the monster who would spew vulgarities over the weekend. An upstanding community man and lay preacher in the local church who existed in the same body as the man who was sometimes a terror to his family.

I do not blame my mother for what she did. In her head, she was doing it for us – her four children. I know though that I personally could never celebrate a woman who endures abuse for the sake of her children; who puts herself last in the queue of those who deserve happiness.

For a long time, I believed the lie that said this is what represents a woman’s strength – that takes more to leave than to stay. And that the leaving doesn’t have to be a physical separation.

But it’s only when you consciously challenge your situation and actively do something to change your circumstances – like seeking counselling, inviting him for joint sessions, applying for a protection order, going to a shelter or even just speaking out against the abuse. It’s about stamping your authority over your own life as a woman. Setting boundaries on what you will and will not accept. For me, staying in an abusive relationship at the expense of one’s dignity and self-respect is not strength. Constantly sacrificing the self to preserve the family does not signify power.

The world tells me I’m naive when I say that when I finally do get married, I will not want to get divorced. I try to explain how I’ve asked God not to let me marry unless it’s for keeps. I explain that they shouldn’t interpret this to mean I’m going to stay in an unhappy, abusive relationship merely to preserve a certain image. I talk about how there are certain things I would not stand for and they tell me “ke buisiwa ke bongwana” (I’m being childish).

And I ask myself, where were these very people when Papa shoved me roughly aside because I used myself as a shield to try and protect my mother from his fists? Did they hear the horrible words that I heard being hurled at my mother? Do they know what it feels like?

I have made choices and am willing to live with them. If there’s one lesson I’ll never forget from a fellow activist it is that “you teach people how to treat you.” So, you hit me, I’m gone. You cheat, I’m out the door. You abuse me in any way, and I’ll never look back.

My heart tells me that these actions are not a reflection of love. They are signs of disrespect for me as a person. And staying where I’m disrespected is not an option for me. The cycle of abuse stops with me…

*Not her real name

This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information. 

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