“The safest place — and the most dangerous place — was in his arms.”
Patti Greely spent most of her life married to a man who once tried to push her out of a moving vehicle while her sons were in the back seat. Now, free from the physical abuse, she reflects on the insidious nature of the violence and control, and how NoSilence NoViolence has played a pivotal role in her healing journey.
Who are you, where are you from and how did you come to No Silence No Violence?
My name is Patti Greely and I’m 63 years old. I was born at Scott Airforce Base in Illinois and raised in Lompoc, California, a small town outside of Vandenberg Air Force Base. I’m a military brat. I came down to San Diego at age 18 to go to college at UCSD, where I met my husband. I later transferred to USD, where I majored in Accounting.
After graduation, I was hired by Touche Ross, one of the big 8 CPA firms at the time. I later moved to EF Hutton, which was a large insurance company in La Jolla. That was around the time when I began seeing that my husband did not want me to progress in my career. He had not been able to complete his Engineering degree the first time, and I think there was a competitive thing there as my career took off and he had to go back to school. Any time that I had a substantial career opportunity, I was discouraged from taking it. My career became secondary to his.
I originally separated from my husband in 2006 when he assaulted me after I had been rear-ended in a car accident. I was seriously injured and sought counseling at a local women’s center, but my husband’s family members (which include a law professor) persuaded me to drop the assault charges against my husband and reconcile. Twelve years later, in 2018, I left for the second time and filed for divorce.
The counselor that I was seeing recommended I try out NoSilence NoViolence’s support groups. They were a small group of women in a safe environment who encouraged me to talk openly, to share and to grow. They offered a listening ear with no judgement and with reassurance that what happened to me was not isolated.
As someone who had left a volatile situation and then went back, the humiliation of not sticking with the decision to get out the first time was crushing. The women in the support group did not judge me; they offered me kindness and compassion. That gave me the strength to fight every day. After being in a relationship so void of those things, to come into a group of strangers and have them give you that is priceless. It keeps you from the edge of darkness.
What aspect of domestic violence do you wish more people understood?
People don’t see the insidious part of it and that it’s a power situation. The television show Big Little Lies is the closest thing I’ve seen to actually capturing the day-to-day life of it. Nicole Kidman’s character is an attorney and she wanted to maintain the stability of the family structure for her kids, but didn’t know how to process the shift from happiness-as-a-family one minute to getting-the-crap-kicked-out-of-you the next. That was my life.
The safest place — and the most dangerous place — was in his arms. Those early years together, he protected me. He was the person that I leaned on, my best friend, we planned for the future. You just never expect that someone you love could one day look at you with dead shark eyes, spit on you and hurt you.
You are so traumatized by the fact that someone that you love and trust so intimately and so deeply has violated you, that you disassociate. You go into this robotic state. For me, I look back on the fact that I would wake up the next day with black eyes and make breakfast for my sons and act like there was nothing wrong, like it was no big deal. My husband would say he was sorry and tell me and the boys, “if anyone asks, you hit mom with the basketball.”
I think about that now, and I think, how could I have just stood there? And yet, at the same time, I wasn’t really there. Another time, he tried to push me out of a moving car while my sons were sitting in the back seat. You just completely detach from the reality, because I think accepting the reality of the situation is just too much. And then it happens again. And again. Once you’re in it and they’ve cracked you, you lose your self confidence, your self esteem and you don’t know where to go.
I had no memories for years. It’s only been recently after being separated — as well as from some of the medical treatments I need for the neurological issues I now have from having my head banged on the tile floor or against a wall so many times — that I’m starting to get back some of my long-term memories.
What is something you want people to know about domestic violence survivors?
That we’re strong, smart, professional women. Sometimes people look at us like what’s wrong with you that you allowed this to occur? Or they think that it has to do with drugs or alcohol, or they want to talk about whether it’s the victim that’s the problem. I’ve had a female police officer ask me what I did to make my husband mad. My husband even lied to the police once in order to have me falsely arrested for abusing him and to “keep me under control.”
We need to be saying what’s wrong with the perpetrator? What’s wrong with a system that makes it easy for an abuser to continue abusing their victim even after they’ve left?
The legal system is not set up to quickly adjudicate. I filed for divorce in October 2018 and I’m nowhere close to being done. He’s avoided being served, filed continuances, changed jobs, etc. They continue the manipulation and psychological warfare by taking advantage of the legal system. They can represent themselves and drag the process on for years because they know you don’t have the resources to fight back.
That’s why NoSilence NoViolence is so important. When you think about a woman who has lost her voice, lost her way and lost her will, even after she is brave enough to leave, she faces so many hurdles and barriers to freedom. A compassionate ear, a smile, the ability to lend a hand can give her just enough of a lift to keep going. We’re like roses growing in concrete.