From the outside, Beth Stelling seems to have had a remarkable year. The comedian released a hit standup record and just landed a special for Comedy Central, but her professional achievements are only part of her story.
As Stelling revealed in a powerful Instagram post on Monday, she has experienced intense physical, verbal and sexual abuse at the hands of her now-ex-boyfriend — but that's only part of her story as well.
Alongside a collage of several jarring images showing bruises along her legs and arms, as well as one photo of her smiling and performing on stage, Stelling explained that she broke up with her former partner, whom she did not name, after being "verbally, physically abused and raped." (Mic reached out to Stelling for comment, but she declined to be interviewed through her agent.)
The comedian added that she stayed in the relationship for two more months after the abuse, which reflects an uncomfortable reality of domestic violence: "It's not simple."
"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," Stelling wrote. "There are many reasons not to make an abusive relationship public, mostly fear ... 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."
"There are many reasons not to make an abusive relationship public, mostly fear."
The feelings of shame Stelling experienced, as well as the abuse itself, are indeed all too common: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in four women, or 22.3%, experiences extreme physical violence by an intimate partner, which studies have shown is often correlated with high levels of self-blame. Abused partners often experience post-traumatic stress disorder and other negative health effects, but they often keep silent about their pain.
That was true for Stelling, who claims she kept the abuse to herself at the request of her ex, who is also part of the Los Angeles comedy scene, out of fear of retribution or harassment. She decided to speak out, however, after realizing it was something she needed to do for herself.
"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," she wrote. "It's how I make my living. My personal is my professional." Stelling also added a critical reminder that her history of abuse is "not my only story, so please don't let it be."
And it seems people aren't. Within hours of posting, Stelling's photo went viral and elicited immense support on social media, with people praising her for sharing this one critical piece of her story.
You can read the full text of Stelling's post below:
Same girl in all of these photos (me). 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. You may be weirded out but do read on. I have a point. 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 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, but there are no "best practices" with this. 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. After being verbally, physically abused and raped, I dated him for two more months. It's not simple.
After I broke up with him he said, "You're very open and honest in your stand-up, and I just ask that you consider me when you talk about your ex because everyone knows who you're talking about." And I abided. I wrote vague jokes because we both live in L.A. and I didn't want to hurt him, start a war, press charges, be interrogated or harassed by him or his friends and family. I wanted to move on and forget because I didn't understand. 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. It's not my only story, so please don't let it be. If you live in L.A., you've already started to hear my jokes about this and I ask you to have the courage to listen and accept it because I'm trying. Already since talking about this onstage, many women have come to me after shows asking me to keep doing it. Men have shown their solidarity.
An ex-girlfriend of this ex-boyfriend came to me and shared that she experienced the same fate. Then there was another and another (men and women) who shared other injustices at his hand that..
shattered my belief that I was an exception. I am not alone; unfortunately I'm in a line of smart, funny women who experienced this from the same man in our L.A. comedy community. I couldn't stay in our relationship waiting for it to happen again and I won't keep it a secret any longer so that a future woman has a fair chance of avoiding it. I don't have all the answers. I'm doing my best to work through this. There are more stories out there from men and women and they don't all involve getting raped by a stranger in an alley. Many are crapes (the coziest kind) in the comfort of your own bed.
Dec. 29, 2015, 11:10 a.m.: This story has been updated.