I reasoned that I never had any broken bones and never needed a trip to the ER like those women I saw in TV dramas. Common wisdom is the bruises heal quickly and it's over. The women who are more severely injured, with broken bones, severe concussion and so on, those are the women who get the wake up call early on that they'd better leave before they are killed. Those are the women we expect to have lasting physical effects. Those of us who don't see evidence of severe trauma keep on trying to fix our broken marriage. I left the first time only because I perceived a danger to my unborn child. I wasn't worried about my own safety.
What I didn't realize is that I should have had a few trips to the ER. There was damage. I had the symptoms but I discounted them at the time. I didn't know how serious they were.
Now as I read about neck trauma I realize I had all of the symptoms of someone with a whiplash injury affecting not only soft tissue but, in my case, the vertebrae. If I had been treated right away my neck could have been immobilized in a collar and prevented further damage. Perhaps that would have also prevented beatings for a short while, allowing me to recover. It might have been sobering for my first husband to see signs of a serious effect like that. (He was capable of stopping for over a year, so I think that's possible.) I myself might have taken the abuse more seriously if I knew it could do serious damage--a good talk from a doctor might have helped.
Then there was the time he actually hit the back of my neck directly, so hard it took my breath away. Compression, anyone?
Let's not forget the scars on the surface of my brain and my growing cognitive problems. I once had a headache for three days after he knocked my head into the wall really hard. (Harder than usual, anyway.)
Most beatings include head trauma. We're now seeing that the cumulative head trauma in sports figures can cause serious cognitive problems later in life.
A study has shown an increased likelihood of Alzheimer's Disease in former battered women.
I also know from my cardiac rehabilitation classes that stress constricts coronary arteries and the damaged surface attracts the plaque that clogs our arteries. Stress contributes to many health problems and who is more stressed than someone who is frequently beaten? Stress also can affect a developing infant in the womb, we are now learning. Stress has long been known to depress the immune system.
I think there needs to be a lot more attention given to long term effects of battering. I suspect women who are in abusive relationships would be more likely to leave sooner rather than later if they knew the abuse could lead to long term, serious consequences. I think some men might also be more inclined to get help for themselves if they knew that they were causing long term damage to their wives. Contrary to popular belief, abusive men do feel love for their wives and they, too, have been taught to downplay injuries that don't seem permanent or serious. It's quite sobering to learn that your spouse may develop Alzheimer's because you hit her in the head so many times. We have to stop assuming these men are never reachable.
I discounted the damage my beatings were doing, but we don't have to allow young women to make their choices in ignorance of the risks.
*Disclaimer: in any abusive relationship, leaving brings its own risks of severe injury or death. In addition to a network of shelters, we need better ways to help women with particularly lethal spouses to move and change identities if necessary. While many batterers are reachable, there are the sociopaths (those with antisocial personality disorder) and other mental illnesses which make them especially dangerous and intractable.