I posted this picture on facebook in November, 2008. I think I look pretty cute in it! It was part of a photo shoot I participated in for JD Westbrook photography. I was even featured on a flyer to promote his business. It was different and fun to do. As I write this, I’m not even sure if Mr. Westbrook is still in the photography business. I will have to check, so I can thank him for capturing this moment for me for a reason that neither of us considered when it was taken. This picture was taken approximately four months after I left my abusive marriage for good. Knowing what I now know about abuse, I understand that abuse doesn’t ‘look’ the way many of us perceive it to be.

Physical abuse is probably the easiest to recognize because, well, it’s visible. You see the black eyes and broken teeth. You see the bruises and dislocated arms. The various news outlets show us the physical side of abuse on a daily basis. But, what you don’t see nearly as often is the other types of abuse. Abuse can be emotional, sexual, financial, ritual, religious and psychological. It knows no race, color, religion, sexual orientation, educational background or social status.

Now, when I took this picture, I still hadn’t really considered the fact that what I had been experiencing was abuse. In my mind, I still only considered physical abuse to be the only ‘real’ abuse. We didn’t have physical altercations. I left because I was tired of me and my children being in an unhealthy and unstable environment. It wasn’t until I was encouraged to go to counseling that I realized that I had been abused in ways that have taken me years to come to terms with. The picture you see is a reflection of a college educated woman with a county job and involved in her community. It also represents a woman who was holistically broken and unsure of herself.

What I hope the picture does is show you there is no ‘look’ to a person dealing with or overcoming domestic abuse. The physical scars are what you notice first. But, if you look and listen a bit more closely, you’ll discover more individuals have been or currently going through abuse and may not even know it. And, as it was revealed to me in my own life, you may further discover that the one having gone through or going through the abuse is you! When I saw the picture and noticed the date, I almost cried. It is a true example of what it means to not look like what you’ve been through.