Comedian Beth Stelling, known for her Comedy Central special Half Hour, took to Instagram Tuesday to share her personal history with domestic abuse and rape. The comedian posted a series of pictures depicting her two bruised legs and forearm along with a heartbreaking explanation of the story behind them. “I’ve had an amazing year, and you’ve seen the highlights here, so these photos are an uncommon thing to share but not an uncommon issue,” she wrote. Stelling then urged, “You may be weirded out, but do read on.”
Stelling explains that the decision to speak publicly about her experience was a difficult but vitally important one. “There are many reasons not to make an abusive relationship public, mostly fear. Scared of what people will think, scared it makes me look weak or unprofessional. When friends or comics ask why we broke up, it’s not easy or comfortable to reply; it doesn’t seem like the appropriate thing to say at a stand-up show, a party, or a wedding. It’s embarrassing. I feel stupid,” Stelling said. She goes on to explain that after they broke up, her ex asked her to avoid talking about their relationship in her stand-up, and she obliged. However, Stelling discovered that her silence came at a cost. “I don’t want revenge or to hurt him now, but it’s unhealthy to keep this inside because my stand-up is pulled directly from my life. It’s how I make my living. My personal is my professional. That is how I’ve always been; I make dark funny. So now I’m allowing this to be part of my story.”
Stelling’s experience sheds light on an unfortunate but undeniable reality of abuse—that getting out of an abusive relationship is far more complicated, difficult, and painful than any of us on the outside can imagine. In Stelling’s words, “There are no ‘best practices’ with this.” She continues, “When I broke up with my ex this summer, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him, it was because of this. And I absolutely relapsed and contacted him with things I shouldn’t have. . . . After being verbally [and] physically abused and raped, I dated him for two more months.”
Some people think that if a victim goes back to an abuser, that is somehow proof that there really was no abuse going on. We are tempted to think, “I would never do that, so it can’t possibly be true.” Such thinking misses the psychological component of abuse. As Stelling reminds us in her story, “It’s not simple.”
Though tragic, Stelling’s story is a powerful reminder of why we need to be careful about how we speak about domestic abuse. Questions and assertions such as, “Why don’t you just leave?” or, “If I were in this situation, I would do such and such,” are simply not helpful. As an anonymous author wrote for Verily earlier this year from personal experience: “Unless you have been knocked to the floor in the middle of an utterly mundane disagreement and strangled by the person who vowed before God, your family, and friends to protect you, you have no concept of what you would do in a domestic violence situation.”
Let’s respect victims of domestic abuse and stop pretending that we know more than we do. Instead, as the anonymous writer put it, “Listen. Empathize. . . . Offer support, and encourage them to get professional help from domestic violence resources. Reassure them that they do not deserve abuse under any circumstances.”
Brava to Stelling for sharing her story—it’s an important reminder that the psychological damage of abuse is real and deserving of our attention.
Photo Credit: Beth Stelling