This weekend I had yet another “coming out” experience. I spoke publicly for the first time about my experience with abuse. After my op-ed was published in the Washington Post, I was invited to speak at a women’s conference in Baltimore (of all places) and tell my story. I spoke for 15 minutes, clutching three sheets of paper, my body involuntarily shaking like a leaf. My two friends Jen and Leah came with me for support and I watched their faces as I spoke. Despite my shaking, inside I felt calm. I seemed to go to the place that had become my haven of survival during my relationship with Jason – my mind detached from my body, sitting up in the corner of the ceiling, looking down as my body went through the motions. I could hear that my voice reflected the requisite emotion so I must have felt it somewhere. For the moment, that emotion was nowhere inside of me. I watched as horrified looks panned across Leah and Jen’s faces and tears streamed down their cheeks. I looked out across the sea of other faces and read horror, sadness, reprehension and anger. I almost wondered why they were reacting that way. To me, I could have been talking about the weather rather than the worst 2 ½ years of my life.
After my 15 minutes were up, I thanked the audience and took my seat. They clapped and a few sought out my eyes. I busied myself with my phone, my bag, my water bottle. My mind was still sitting in the corner of the ceiling. I looked at Jen and Leah and mouthed to them “Let’s go.” All I wanted to do was get out of there. I wanted to feel anonymous and hidden and pulled together and normal. I didn’t want to be the victim of the moment, even though I knew that was what I had become and needed to be to ensure that my story stuck and that these women remembered it when they or someone they loved faced abuse. A few of them came up to me afterward and touched me and hugged me and thanked me. I smiled the requisite smile and murmured the requisite response and collected my things and ran as fast as I could without actually running to the exit. I wanted to be free, even though I had just spent 15 minutes telling these assembled women that I would never be free. I am a battered woman, I’d said. This is part of who I am, I’d declared. What I didn’t say, but was becoming increasingly apparent, was that I was still figuring out what that meant.