Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s lawsuit exposed just how toxic their marriage was, but there may be a disturbing reason why they stayed together.
It was a trying ordeal to witness and now, thankfully, it is over.
Reading the testimony from the Depp-Heard trial has brought out an ugly color in society – especially the online community.
The six weeks preceding the jury’s conclusion that Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband Johnny Depp in an opinion piece set the internet — in fact, the world — on fire.
Tales of fecal matter in bed, bottle-feeding sexual assault, physical violence, threats, the list goes on. Many watched with grotesque interest this parallel spectacle of humiliation, degradation and rage.
Many have questioned the psychological state of both parties involved; wondering why they stayed together, how did they get there?
Reports that this lawsuit would deter domestic violence victims to speak out circulated, after Heard’s testimony was dragged, microscopiced and questioned with every statement.
Social media trends, hashtags, threats. Heard was called a liar for his testimony – the mockery of this trial, this verdict makes me physically sick. But it also raises an all-too-familiar question: how did we get here, why did they stay together, who are these people?
But let me tell you, domestic violence can bring out the ugly colors of despair for the victims.
Many years ago I was embroiled in a violent and controlling relationship with a man who was largely unhinged. I wanted a way out but felt like I had nowhere to go.
I had a loving family, many close friends, I even saw a psychologist regularly at the time. Some of this made it all the more difficult to break free (he threatened my loved ones), but I count myself among the lucky ones because I managed to physically move away from his vicious strangulation.
He spent months going through the classic phases of isolating me from my friends, becoming increasingly defensive of me, putting my job at risk, trying to make me more dependent on him. I didn’t even know this was happening, as I had no experience or understanding of it.
The violence began with a small stampede. He apologized at the time, I thought nothing of it. I was a little miffed but we continued.
Then it slowly escalated. Taking his rage on his surroundings slowly migrated to me being the subject of the rage. “You make me so angry,” was a daily affirmation.
Our relationship evoked terrifying reactions in him, but also in me – I didn’t even recognize myself. You see, when your survival is threatened, you become an animal; fidgeting, desperate to escape the situation.
He was pushing me against the wall by my neck – I was spitting in his face trying to free myself from his stranglehold.
He jostled me, I tried to push him away to maintain some semblance of control.
He was stalking me in his car, following me down the street – I was driving erratically trying to get away.
I was unbalanced, desperate and trying to get out of danger. I parked in front of the police station to try to dissuade him. He would just be waiting for me when I got home.
He showed up at my work, at my friends’ house – he even managed to install an app on my phone to track my movements without my knowledge.
I was mortified, humbled to have come to this – how did I come to this?
I wasn’t one of those battered poster women with a black eye. I was strong, confident, had a support network and was well educated…right?
But every time I tried to end it, he either made me emotionally sing, “please, I’ve got no one else, nowhere to go, I love you so much – I don’t. didn’t think”, appealing to my humanity or threatening, becoming violently angry publicly and in those moments I wanted to diffuse the situation as best I could, so I tried to appease him – to tone down my needs to end it. Try to blur the relationship rather than a clean break.
In the end, I had to move – internationally – to break the tie. Fortunately, my mother lived abroad so that I could uproot myself without too much difficulty. And for that, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky. She didn’t even know the full extent of the violence and aggression, but she knew enough that I had to get the hell out of the country to escape her.
But the thing is that at that time I didn’t recognize myself or how I got to this ugly and scary place. I doubt Heard or Depp recognized themselves in this situation. Tell these ugly anecdotes, relive these degrading encounters.
Had something like what happens to Amber Heard was happening in the media when I was trying to leave my relationship, I would have been afraid of being called a liar, being called a bitch, a manipulator, my motives being questioned for sharing this information.
I’m always. I’m afraid of the backlash of speaking about my experience now. But I feel like there’s too much dialogue, and not enough survivors, so I’m setting it up, hoping that we frame it differently. Do not make fun of these devastating encounters.
It was a terrible, toxic relationship, and there are probably many more out there — and making it a sideshow just damages the changes of those who speak up.
Caitlyn Davey is a freelance writer.
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