When Strong Is Not Strong Enough

Mary Ero
Posted March 1, 2018 from Nigeria

I am famous- and notorious- in a few small circles for publicly sharing parts of my life that others would not even dare whisper to their families. I have gone on television shows to speak about being diagnosed and living with HIV. I have written about and discussed the childhood sexual abuse that derailed me for many decades, about my financial struggles and about depression. However, there is one thing I have never shared; something that threatened to decimate all the strength and courage that I had garnered sharing my life story. It did not happen many years ago, it occurred very recently.

In March of 2017, two months after returning from my one-year hiatus in India I was still trying to rebuild my life. I would shuttle between two cities. The one where I intended to settle down - Lagos- and another where my parents and my daughter lived. At my parents’, I spent all of my time working on my computer, creating the social venture for which I had spent almost a year in India. It was on one of such days that the incident happened. It is difficult even now to write about it.

For some reason my younger brother had also moved in with my parents and was making a huge nuisance of himself. Anyway, on this day, my father had told him to turn on the generator as there was an electricity power outage. To everyone’s surprise he refused asking why he should be the one to put it on when ‘this one was sitting down punching her computer’. He was referring to me, and very rudely too. I was upset. “What is my business with you?”, I asked. I had not spoken to him. I never spoke to him because he was rude, irrational and unpredictable. So, what was this? He then came up to me and poured water on my face, my body and my laptop. I stood up to confront him and he began to beat me. He hit me with his fists on every part of my body, tore my dress, hit my head against the floor, the wall, etc. Even at some point trying to choke me to death. But that was not what hurt me. I was hurt by two things. The first was my mother’s reaction to the incident: she came out of the kitchen SINGING. At some point, she even laughed. The second thing was that my daughter stood watching the whole thing in shock and fright.

When it was all over, I remember distinctly feeling alone and outnumbered. I grabbed my daughter and left. I intended just to cool off for a few hours, but I could not bear the thought of going back to stay in that house, so I went to a hotel. I stayed there with my daughter for 12 days until I ran out of money.

 

NAKED

Growing up, the people that I could never reveal myself to were my family. I never felt safe or comfortable sharing my feelings around them because that was just not how we were raised. My family was just a fragmented unit of people conjoined by heritage. I did not feel they were my friends. As a result, I did not tell anyone in my home when I had been sexually abused by my uncle. I did not talk about the upbringing that saw the boys pampered and I, the only girl, being judged much harder and treated more sternly, especially by my mother. The only feeling I felt comfortable sharing was anger. Lots and lots of it.

In retrospect it was also difficult for my mum to share as well. She bottled up the hurt and betrayal she felt over her husband, my father, a serial philanderer who had a child outside of his marriage. She bottled up the pain she felt from the customary aggression and misbehaviour of her in-laws. Instead she lashed out in fear at her children, me especially, probably so I would not end up like her. She was more judgemental of me, more spiteful to me, even when I tried to please her. She favoured the boys more, especially her first son who, it turned out, let it all act as a crutch that never enabled him walk into his own. I do not pretend to understand what battles she was fighting but I know that introspection did not seem to be in her vocabulary…

After I came back from India, I had had enough with what I saw as the hypocrisy. Her worship of my elder brother to the point of serving him choice parts of the meal even when he contributed nothing to the table. Her excusing everything the boys did. And I was ready to stand in the gap and ensure the emotional recklessness did not continue with y daughter. And this was the problem.

 

MIND OVER MATTER

Staying in the hotel gave me a window to parse the emotions I was experiencing and more importantly, to make a plan. I experienced a range of feelings; I was terribly hurt -physically and emotionally – and I was also angry, and disappointed. But one strong emotion I could not shake off was shame. I was ashamed for all the reasons that I should not have been. I was ashamed that I had been beaten up at my age, that I was disrespected, that people saw it happen. I was so ashamed I could not talk about the incident. This feeling of shame was further compounded by the reaction of people. Another brother of mine called me selfish and inconsiderate because I left the house with my child, one friend asked me what I had done that made my brother beat me, while another friend told me I had to learn to forgive. It did not matter that this was not the first time I was being beaten up by a brother, or that the last time I had to have stitches on my shaved head, and my nose. I finally understood why it was so difficult for victims of domestic violence to leave the situation and/or find support.

 

Happily Ever After

The money I had been spending at the hotel was funds I had gathered for setting up my social venture, and, as it began to run out I realised that I was losing in more than one way. I may have been running away from a dangerous situation, but I was also seeing any hopes of setting up my dream venture slowly filtering away, one hotel room deposit after the other. I developed a plan to come to Lagos, to work hard at making things ready, and then bring my daughter over within 3 months. A friend agreed to allow me stay in a room in her place in Lagos, and so I left to a very uncertain future.

I describe the three-and-a-half months that followed as the most difficult time in my life. I scrimped and scrounged to survive, going some days without food, I was made to feel unwelcome in the small space I occupied in that house, and, because of the rancour in my home, I was unable to keep in touch with my daughter. So many nights I would cry myself to sleep and continue when I woke up. Yet these challenges -and two of mycousins who stood by me -gave me the fuel I needed to soldier on.

Five months after I moved to Lagos, I had secured a very high-paying contract job, moved into a home in a neighbourhood I always wanted to live in, and relocated my daughter.

 

I am a person who does not believe in coincidences; I believe we can forge meaning from everything that happens to us, no matter how grave. For me, the violence I suffered gave me the necessary push I needed to take control of my life. After I fell on hard times several years ago, I made the decision to leave my daughter in my parents’ care for a short while until I got myself together. She stayed there for 7 years. After the violence however, it took only 4 months for me to relocate her. Also, it gave me a different perspective on domestic violence survivors; an insight that was very essential in running my social venture.

Sometimes, as women, we conflate the idea of being strong with being long-suffering. We may think it is a sign of strength to bear pain that has been inflicted on us, or we may be encouraged to be quiet about it because it is more respectable not to speak. These conspiratorial shrouds of silence that we cultivate and promote in our communities can entrap everyone. Even those whom we consider ‘strong’ and ‘brave’. It is our duty to do our part in breaking that unhealthy culture and release ourselves - and each other- from a cycle of pain. That is the real strength.

This post was submitted in response to You Are a Silence Breaker..

Comments 25

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  • My dear sister 

    Your story has brought tears to my eyes. It is so sad that growing up you mother never had a voice and she kept her pain inside. It shows you that she also suffered trauma growing up which made her think that there was nothing to do. It is so sad that women like her are so many and have lost hope in life and they don't care anymore.  My dear sister you have done well for yourself and for your day and the sky is just the beginning for you. You have reached this far and there is no turning back.  We are always with you my dear sister. 

    Stay blessed

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 02
    Mar 02

    Thank you so much, Anita. Your kind words and prayers go a very long way.

  • Your welcome my dear sister.  

  • Your welcome Maryero.

    Stay blessed.  

  • jlanghus
    Mar 02
    Mar 02

    Hi Anita. Just to let you know that Mary won't know that you responded to her message unless you reply to her comment by selecting the comment bubbles and then responding. That way she gets an automated message into her inbox letting her know that someone responded to her comment. Hope this helps. Have a great day!

  • Thanks my dear. Getting used to this new platform. 

  • jlanghus
    Mar 03
    Mar 03

    You're welcome. Glad it was helpful, though:)

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 02
    Mar 02

    Thanks, Jill

  • jlanghus
    Mar 03
    Mar 03

    You're welcome:) How are you doing, hon? It was great to see you on the call last night!

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 02
    Mar 02

    Blessings, sister

  • Mar 02
    Mar 02

    This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
  • Davar Ardalan
    Mar 04
    Mar 04

    You have shown incredible strength sharing your story as I witness some of mine in yours — mostly the part about standing up to an unhealthy mindset and finding a way to lift yourself out of it. Thank you for sharing. 

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 04
    Mar 04

    Hi Davar

    I really appreciate your words particularly the part where you say you see some of your story in mine. I think that is the most powerful thing I have heard about any post I put up. It is also the reason I share as much as I can.

    Thank you

  • Olutosin
    Mar 05
    Mar 05

    Oh this made my cry.

    I'm happy that all is well with you now. You are such a strong sister. 

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 06
    Mar 06

    As are you, dear Tosin. But it's all in the past, we will always overcome do no need to cry. Thanks so much.

  • Sophie Ngassa
    Mar 05
    Mar 05

    My dear sister, Sorry for all what happened to you. However you are a silence breaker.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 06
    Mar 06

    Thank you, Sis.

  • Evelyn Fonkem
    Mar 06
    Mar 06

    My dear Mary.Sorry for what you went through.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 06
    Mar 06

    Thank you, Evelyn.

  • Valéria Barbosa
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Wow dear how strong you are!
    Gerreira, exquisite mother, strong, strong.
    Winner.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 11
    Mar 11

    Thanks Valeria. Thanks so much.

  • Real strength is releasing ourselves from the cycle of pain. Whoa! Powerful line, Mary.
    Thus, you are a very strong woman!

    I am not a stranger to domestic abuse ---verbal, emotional, physical and spiritual. It id a difficult story to tell. But I somehow feel your pain. It took me a while to release myself to the traumatic past. I battled with recurrent bouts of depression.

    Your story, your life and your resilience inspire. Thank you for sharing, Sister!

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 11
    Mar 11

    For you to say you understand is more powerful than anything else. Thank you very much.

  • MaNnenna
    Mar 14
    Mar 14

    Your story is so touching. I remember growing up, my mother treated the boys better than us(girls). My brothers didn't do the house chores while we did the work. I see the same behavior in every home. The boys are now lazy men who abuse their spouse. Thank God for your bravely and courage to stand tall even in difficult times. Thank GOD you are finally safe.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 16
    Mar 16

    Thank you Mannena. I am happy you can relate to my story. It means a lot to me. Thanks for dropping by.