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The Ugly Truth : 'I Pushed Them, I Bit Them, I Tore Their Clothes'

July 27, 1994|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

John, 48, is a cameraman and documentary filmmaker who says he has abused women for most of his adult life.

His feelings of rage, which he was unable to curb for many years, led him to commit acts of violence that doomed his relationships.

About 10 years ago, after a particularly violent episode, he joined Alternatives to Violence, a therapy group for men who abuse women. It was founded and is led by Alyce LaViolette, and has offices in Long Beach and West Los Angeles . Most members of the group are there by court order, because they have battered their mates. John attended by choice for three years, and still returns whenever he feels himself slipping back into old patterns. He is making a documentary film about the group.

In an interview with Times Staff Writer Bettijane Levine, he explains how it happened that the women he loved were the women he tried to hurt.

When did you first realize you were out of control?

It was at 2 a.m., about 10 years ago. My girlfriend and I were visiting New York. She was tired. I wanted us to have a drink at the hotel bar. I went down alone for a half-hour and came back hoping we'd make love, but she was already asleep. I got angry, started yelling and threw a clock at her. When she was up, I kept yelling, physically restrained her, pushed her around, hurt her.

You woke her up so you could fight?

Yeah, I was a jerk. That was my prevailing MO with women. I pushed them, I bit them, I tore their clothes, I held them down. I did everything short of actually knocking them out. . . . Until that night, it never dawned on me that this was uncontrollable violence.

When did you first notice something wrong in your relationships? What was that first clue?

Yelling was the first thing I noticed, probably in my early 20s. It kind of built up from there. In the beginning, I thought it was something I could control.

But it went from yelling to restraining someone and holding her down. And then . . . in the pushing, or the wanting to be heard, or the anger about whatever it was--some clothing would tear. Or I would throw things and break them.

I would get into this rage, this temper tantrum. Probably that came from when I was a kid, when it was my way of getting heard over my father, who was violent.

About 1980, I went to live in New York. My then-fiancee came to visit from Los Angeles. She wanted to go to the beach. She was used to getting in her car and driving to a beach in 15 minutes. I tried to explain it's more complicated than that in New York. . . . She wasn't understanding. I guess I was feeling inadequate that I couldn't just get her to the beach. We got into a fight.

I lifted up the two futon mattresses on which she was sitting and I threw her across the room in anger. I remember this was the first time I felt I was out of line. I had thrown her and hurt her. I realized there was nothing she'd done to offend me.

A lot of times you tell yourself, ". . . It's she who is doing something to me that's causing me to be violent. This time I began to think, "Wait a minute, she wasn't doing anything. She just wanted to go to the beach." And I felt like I was my father. It was the first time I felt like my father had taken over inside of me. I was in my early 30s.

I moved back to Los Angeles and I started looking for some way to deal with my anger and rage. I was at the point where I wanted to talk with other men who had this problem.

Now I know it's partly insecurity. And that sometimes manifests itself as jealousy. I don't know where it comes from. I know my father used to express it with my mother when they were fighting.

He was an alcoholic. He would be nice for weeks, then this tension would build up and he would lose it and blow his top and fight. He used to think my mother was having an affair. Now this was a tiny town in Connecticut where I grew up, and to this day I know my mother never had an affair with anyone.

But my father had this compelling insecurity that she was going to cheat on him. I frequently have that same feeling.

Were there relationships that didn't have a violent component?

Yes. but those were very short-lived. The women I pursue in relationships are the ones I have tumultuous feelings for. For a long time I confused love and passion with anger and violence and pain. I've stopped that now. I'm involved with somebody who won't tolerate any of that stuff. She's 27, an actress, and a very good person.

You don't seem to fit the stereotype of the man who batters. You're educated, soft-spoken, attractive, successful. You don't seem the kind of person who considers his woman to be his personal property.

You'd be surprised at who the batterers are. They are doctors, lawyers. The stereotype is wrong. My father was a pillar of the community. Successful, well-liked and attractive. He started the first Boy Scout troop and the first Little League team in our town. He taught Sunday school. He was well-respected. No one had any idea about the demons that lived in our house.

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