It was late January and I was headed off to a meeting, just a typical after-school professional development (PD) meeting for my teachers. As the principal of a junior high school I arrange a variety of PD activities for my staff. Some are required by state law, some are required by my district, and some are things that, as educators, we just need to learn more about and address with our students.
This PD was some combination of all of the above. The topic was “Healthy/Unhealthy Relationships: Teen Dating Violence Workshop.” I will admit that I was looking forward to this particular PD. Sometimes the topic just hits home and you know how important it is, for everyone.
The presenter had a personal connection to teen dating violence and she spoke with a passion and understanding that came from that connection. She lost her daughter to a controlling and abusive boyfriend who took his obsession too far and killed her. She was a health teacher and now she speaks to teachers throughout the state to help educate them about the warning signs of abusive relationships. And, hopefully, we can use this information to identify warning signs in the students we work with and help them to see the warning signs too.
But sometimes those warning signs are seen a little closer to home then we want to admit.
While I was sitting at the meeting listening to her talk about unhealthy and controlling relationships, I sat with my cell phone in my lap checking my messages because my husband at the time would often text me and if I didn’t respond within a few minutes, he would become angry and send more demanding and insistent texts. He would ask where I was, what I was doing, who I was with. Even though I was legitimately at work doing my job, I knew he would get mad if I didn’t respond to him.
While I listened to the simply stated cycle of abuse the presenter explained, I could no longer deny it. It all started to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I had lived in denial of the abuse for so long that I didn’t want to see it. I couldn’t see it, because if I did see it and recognize it, then I would have to admit the life that I was living and leave this lovely land of denial that I had become so comfortable in.
So I continued to hold it in and tried to make things calm and peaceful, like I had tried to do for so many years. I figured that if I didn’t rock the boat, then he wouldn’t get upset and then I wouldn’t be afraid of what would happen next. Then maybe I could continue to believe that the abuse wasn’t my reality, again.
But the abuse was bigger than me. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t control someone else’s behavior and reactions. I was finally beginning to realize that I couldn’t make it all better.
Listening to the presenter, the message had been heard and now I couldn’t un-hear it. I kept thinking about what she said and realized I had to do something. The abuse was emotional, but it was just as strong, just as controlling, and just a terrifying as physical abuse. Every time my phone would buzz and the text messages would start, I could hear the presenter’s voice in my head saying that the excessive texting was a way of controlling.
I knew it, I heard it, but I didn’t want to believe it.