I was sitting at the table in the bar, all alone. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t understand the language, and was thinking to myself, how the hell did I end up in this place? My date was standing not far from me, ignoring me and talking to some guy. How rude. In Israel, this would never happen (I thought). I’m his date, I’m a foreigner here, and he’s just left me to go speak to a guy without introducing me or asking if I need anything. As if I was… trash.
Fifteen minutes passed. My patience was officially running out. Five more minutes and I was out of there, I decided. Six minutes later, I was standing in the street, crying. I had no idea where to go and there were no English speakers anywhere. I had no phone, no money… I was being proud and stupid, letting my ego lead my actions, instead of the other way around. I decided to hitchhike.
A car stopped by me after a few minutes. “Vieni qui!” ordered the driver. It was my date. Fine, now he’d get what he deserved! I got into the car, looked at him, and slapped him with all my power on his cheek. “This is for not respecting me!” I said. He looked back at me. I wasn’t scared. I used to do this all the time in Israel; no one would ever respond. In Israel, a man who hits a woman is a man without honor.
All of a sudden, I felt my tooth swinging inside my mouth, the salty-bitter taste of blood, and my cheeks were wet with tears. I remember counting. Eight. Eight slaps, four on each cheek. I was so shocked I couldn’t process what was happening. It was only after it stopped that I realized what happened; I was being punished. Gianni was a gangster. There was no way he would let any woman lay a hand on him without paying the price.
He took me back to my hostel, where I was working and living. “Don’t you ever dare to disrespect me again!” he said. “I didn’t want to do what I did, you caused it. Don’t cause it, I won’t do it.”
I was quiet. All I felt was shame and guilt. Respect was always a big thing in my family. Gianni was right. I was in a foreign country. I’d slapped him, instead of trying to talk and explain how I felt. I could have just stopped dating him. For me, violence was a way to show my power, my superiority. And now, I’d paid the price.
Now, I would like to tell you that I learned my lesson that day. That I didn’t “provoke” anyone else, or accept violence in my life anymore. And that I stopped seeing Gianni. But unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Instead, I stayed up all that night, tossing and turning with my cheeks hurting like crazy, and the next morning I went running to clear my head and think. Strangely enough, I felt like I admired Gianni for his actions. When we met again, I asked him to forgive me for disrespecting him. I felt like I had deserved his punishment.
Strange and shocking, but much more common than you can imagine. You see, many women feel the way I felt back then: ashamed, guilty, and as though they deserve the violence they experience. Of course, this is wrong. But my professor used to say that women who are abused only leave when they feel they have “got enough of it”. As harsh as it sounds, I totally agree – not as an outsider, but as someone who has experienced abuse in more than one relationship.
The thing is, if you value yourself enough, you won’t accept violence in your life, and you won’t act violently towards others. Once again, we’re back to square one: self-love. And, naturally, this means only allowing the right people into your world. A man who respects himself will not raise his hand to a woman. He might restrain her, he might walk away from her, even call the police on her, but he won’t hit her. Because for a man, hitting a woman is hitting someone physically weaker than you, and that is always unfair.
Gianni and I were together for almost a year. He hit me another four times, without me ever slapping him again. “Disrespect” for him was, apparently, calling him one time too many, asking to see him, or even talking in the presence of his friends. One time, he hit my head against the wall, in front of his mother. She just watched, not even vaguely surprised. Her husband did the same – and much worse – to her. The reason he did it? I “dared” to ask him for a goodbye kiss in front of his friends. When I sobbed afterwards, his mother put her hand on my shoulder and told me, “There are just things you shouldn’t do.”
We separated because Gianni wanted to “try other women”. Losing my abusive boyfriend was one of the most painful moments of my life. I admired him so much that I felt like my whole world fell apart. More than that, without Gianni, I didn’t know if what I was doing was right or wrong. He had taken over my whole identity, and I had gladly let him.
But after a long mourning time, I started feeling better, and I began to take care of myself. I went through a beautiful, painful, deep process of self-healing and learning to love myself (see my previous blogs), and I started the process of becoming the person I am today. I still had my difficulties and another few bad episodes, but slowly and surely I managed to heal the wounds of self-hatred, anger, sabotage and guilt. I realized I was worthy of love. I became love itself.
My message for you is that if I went through this, so can you. Today, there is no violence in my life. I just don’t allow it. I “play” with violence when I teach about it, and I simulate it for my students, but that is it. I have learned to avoid conflicts, to cope with challenges, and to detach from them as much as possible in order to live a healthy, happy life. On top of all, I’m now raising my daughters so that they are able to do the same, without paying the price I had to pay.
Relevant article: Read “Fatal Attraction” HERE