Over the years, I would see him or speak to him from time to time. I thought about that night every time we interacted, but I acted as if nothing had ever happened. I wanted to convince myself that I had moved past it.
Last year I finally understood that I had not. His friends reached out to me because they were organizing a celebration for him. That’s when I had to admit to myself that I was not at peace over what happened. I actually became angry at the thought that he would even invite me. How dare he?!
That’s when I realized I was the victim of domestic violence. I didn’t initially define it that way because I felt that what happened to me didn’t compare to the severity of the abuse that women like Rihanna are subjected to in their relationships. But I was wrong.
“If someone is doing or does something to you that you don’t want them to do, it is considered abuse,” Barbara Gibson of Atlanta’s Women’s Research Center to End Domestic Violence told me. “We often minimize pushing, slapping or name-calling. It’s all abuse, and it takes something away from you when someone hurts you.”
So how, I asked Gibson, do I stop feeling angry about what happened? She advised that a big step is to forgive myself. “Stop thinking about all of the things you could or should have done that night or shortly after,” she said.
I was upset with myself for not pressing charges, getting the videotape from the lobby cameras or, on that day that he apologized, telling him about what he put me through physically and mentally and how humiliated I felt. Why didn’t I do something?
“You were shocked and you were humiliated,” she said. “Someone needs to make you understand that it’s not about you. He made a poor choice, and you were the victim of that choice.”
Gibson helped me focus on the good.
“He had the power to take you off course but not fundamentally change or destroy you,” she said. “You had the power to go back to the gym. You had the power to set boundaries and not go to his celebration.”
My conversation with Gibson helped me realize that I really need to deal with the emotional baggage of my encounter once and for all. She said that talking to a domestic violence expert can provide perspective that family and friends often can’t. Like many women who have experienced this sort of violence, I had mostly kept my experience to myself.
In Rolling Stone, Rihanna shared, “I didn’t want people to see me cry. I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, and I refused to let that be the image. I wanted them to see me as, ‘I’m fine, I’m tough.’ I put that up until it felt real.”
I mostly put that facade up for myself. That didn’t work for me. But Rihanna, I sincerely pray that it is working for you.