[Disclaimer: My story is graphic. I discuss my abusive relationship IN LENGTHY DETAIL. This absolutely is a Trigger Warning for those who are a previous or current victim. I am NOT a psychiatrist or a Domestic Violence counselor, nor am I attempting to be. I am just a DV survivor with a story to tell.]
Who was I at the time?
I was 18, a college freshman. I had just come home to Pensacola from Troy for Christmas break. I had the time of my life that first semester; I began to discover who I was, what my passions were, and who I wanted to be in life. I was certainly the last person I would ever think to be in an abusive relationship. Domestic violence was NO WHERE on my radar (mainly because I had no idea what DV looked like). I was surrounded by loving relationships growing up, so I thought it would be simple to detect if someone was an abuser because I assumed it would be glaringly obvious in their actions and words, and drastically different from the good relationships I had seen (oh, how much easier it would be if that were true).
How did our relationship begin?
“Hi, my name is AssHat, and I will abuse you for the next year. I will be your worst nightmare, I will isolate you from your friends and family, and I will convince you that I am the only one who will deal with your annoying, weak, and pitiful self.
So, will you be my girlfriend?”
Despite some people thinking that abusive relationships start out that way:
THIS. DID. NOT. HAPPEN.
Nor does it ever.
We met on December 26th, 2009 through mutual friends at the pool hall in my hometown (this was probably the first sign this wouldn’t be a good turnout). He was charming, very social, fun, and he let me drive his really big expensive truck (probably the next biggest sign… #overcompensation). For the first month or two of our relationship, we were totally caught up in the cupcake stage. He had already met my parents and most of my friends. And he met my dog, who HATED him. (Newsflash: if your dog doesn’t like your S.O., TRUST YOUR DOG). Besides the dog debacle, everything was golden… So…
You know when you first put on a watch or a bracelet, you notice the change in weight of your wrist, the limited movements, etc. But by the end of the day, you have forgotten it was even on your wrist? It’s just kinda normalized, because you’re so used to it?
That is exactly how the abuse began: small, subtle, repetitive manipulations. AssHat created this illusion that he loved my strength, that I was in control of the relationship, that I was the best thing to ever happen to him because of how powerful I was and not because of how powerless he could make me. I honestly don’t remember the first time things became physical, because the mental and emotional abuse had become so normal in our relationship that the physical abuse at the beginning wasn’t much of an escalation.
I thought I was in love, when really,
I was in a psychological trap disguised as love.
I was insulted and blamed for things completely out of my control on a daily basis, but I was immediately comforted by him or given gifts/presents/forced physical “rewards” (which is how he learned what he could get away with and what would make me stay). One time, he dropped a bowl of ramen in the kitchen while I was in a completely different room of his apartment. Whose fault was this? Mine, because my absence distracted him (reinforcing that I had to be in his presence at all times). I learned very early in this relationship that literally everything wrong in the world could be attributed to my stupidity and that I should apologize for it. And I did. I apologized for EVERYTHING (This will play into my next long-term relationship). I was often silenced when trying to chime in on his conversations and I was berated for speaking up. He would always keep a hand on me somewhere (out of the view of others) so that he could grip, push, or pull me whenever he disagreed with whatever I was doing or saying without making it known to others.
Slowly but surely, he isolated me. When I would mention to him what I would like to do for the day or dinner or whatever, he would make me feel guilty for even thinking of doing things without him, for choosing to spend my time away from him and with people I enjoyed. Even when I was back at Troy for the next semester, and he was back in Pensacola, I would STILL choose to stay home because had I gone to any of the events I wanted to, he would blow my phone up and threaten to come up and “see me.” He accused me of lying and cheating ALL the time (hint: if someone accuses you of cheating with absolutely no evidence, it is because THEY are cheating. And he was.) I missed my best friend’s army send-off party, another friend’s graduation, and many other life events I should have enjoyed. I would never tell people “AssHat said I couldn’t go” because he had a gift of being able to make me feel like it was my decision to miss out on these things, that it was ME who had a conflict, that he was just “helping” me make tough calls.
You learn to make excuses for them and compare your abuse to other more severe stories you’ve heard as justification for staying.
One specific night I remember involved going bowling with my cousin. Everything was fine at the bowling alley and driving home. AssHat and my cousin had been drinking and I was not going to let her drive herself home. I told him I would just drop him off and then switch to my vehicle and take her home. We got to his place and I followed him up the stairs to tell him goodnight while my cousin stayed downstairs in my car. After arguing about me leaving to take her home, he grabbed me, threw me away from the door, and slammed the door shut so hard that the doorframe splintered into the door and the deadbolt busted, sealing the door shut. This was obviously my fault, so I had to be punished for “making him break his door and cost him money.” So, he grabbed what was next to him and began throwing them at me: the tools from his tool belt. He essentially played darts with my head as the target. Because of his drunkenness, most flew past me and into the wall behind me. At one point, he grabbed his shot gun and pointed it at me, and himself, claiming to shoot us both and put himself out of the misery I cause him. I don’t remember much else of that night except that a mutual friend of ours had to come kick in the door to let us out of the apartment so I could take my cousin home (who eventually fell asleep in the car outside). I also remember that the next day on the way home from a fancy dinner (as the make-up for the previous night), he got angry again and slammed his head against his truck’s windshield WHILE DRIVING that cracked the inside of the windshield. His insurance paid for it because “a rock hit it” (yep, one reaalllllly big one).
How did the relationship end?
The progression of abuse is done in a way that makes it seem impossible to leave these situations. They convince you that you are so worthless that no one wants to be around you, and after all, you’ve been isolating yourself so much that there really isn’t any one left to be around. They also make it very clear that if you think of leaving, or attempt to, there will be even more hell to pay than what you are already experiencing. He often made threats against my own family, vowed to kill me or my friends in Troy, and would “expose me” for the horrible person that I obviously was. In a sense, you feel obligated to stay with your abuser, because when you’re with them, then the only abuse is towards you. But if you leave, it will get put onto your loved ones.
So you muster up this false sense of courage to stay, thinking it is your only path to save others at the sacrifice of yourself.
The last instance of physical abuse happened on July 31st, 2010. We went to a Vanilla Ice concert at a bar on the beach with my brother and his wife. The concert was great, but I felt awful. He kept right on me the entire night, held his beer bottle in his hand like he was about to bust it over someone’s head if they looked at me funny, and threatened to leave the concert early if I acted inappropriately (which apparently was just breathing too hard). But I was the DD for everyone, so I had to grin and bear it or it would put everyone else in a dangerous situation. After dropping everyone off at my brother’s house, it was time to head back to AssHat’s place. Now that we were alone, and because I was driving his truck, I thought it would be a safe moment to voice my displeasure with his actions earlier in the night. It escalated to the point of me telling him that I was going to drive to my home, he could drop me off there, and I would just get my car from his place in the morning. He grabbed the back of my head and twisted my hair around his wrist and said,
“If you make this turn [towards my parent’s house], you will regret it.”
I took a deep breath in, closed my eyes, pleaded to God to be with me, gripped the steering wheel, and made the turn about 1 mile from home.
It was the longest mile of my life. From this point on, it felt like an out-of-body-experience, like I was watching the life being beaten out of me from above. He punched me, shoved my head into the steering wheel and the door, pulled me over the center console, twisted my arms, yanked the steering wheel away from me so that I couldn’t drive, and beat my legs so that I couldn’t press the gas pedal to get me home. The abuse didn’t stop once in my own front yard. He held a knife to my throat, threw me out of the truck, slammed the door onto me, and repeatedly pushed me into the dirt. I screamed. I screamed as loud as I possibly could. Nothing came out. I was silent. I had been silenced this entire relationship and when I finally had the chance to scream what was happening, I couldn’t. My voice was gone. I somehow scrambled to the door and got inside the house and straight into my room. He left and went home, repeatedly calling my phone saying that I obviously don’t care about his life because I am making him drive home drunk (oh the irony). When he got home, he called me, holding his loaded shotgun in his mouth and threatening to pull the trigger. I told him “DO IT.” Hung up the phone and turned it off. I drank a large amount of hydrocodone left over from a recent surgery and passed out (this would be the segway to the alcohol/substance abuse.)
The next day, I was a mess. But, because I was ashamed of what had happened, I didn’t leave him. He came over. We went to dinner. We resumed normal life. 2 days after, I left back for my sophomore Fall semester at Troy. On the way there, I came up with a story about a bar fight I had been in at the concert to cover for my obvious bruises and cuts. It was a convincing story. It worked for most people. Some knew me enough to know I do not fight, so I was obviously hiding something but they hadn’t the slightest clue. My mom, my best friend Becca, and a close friend in Troy knew exactly what happened without me even telling them. These people were vital to my recovery and I can’t thank them enough.
Well, what came of him?
After moving back to Troy, I found out that AssHat actually was cheating on me the entire relationship and had gotten the other girl pregnant. I finally broke up with him after this information came to light. No, I never turned him in. Never called the cops. Never did anything. I stayed silent, as I was conditioned to do. It bothers me that he now has a child that could very well be subjected to his abuse because I have stayed silent. It bothers me that even when I saw the girl a few months later and told her “It is only a matter of time before he does to you what he did to me”, that she chose to STAY with him. I can see now that he was probably already manipulating her, and she felt just the way I did at the beginning of the relationship: like I could change him because I was different. I honestly hope she and her baby got out of there, and quick.
As people found out what he did, he was shunned from a lot of our regular places, a lot of people took out their anger on him, and he was forced to move.
(Or, at least, this is what people have told me, because I don’t keep tabs on him, nor have I seen him since).
What came of me?
Shortly after my relationship with AssHat was over, I started dating an absolutely lovely man from Troy (we’ll call him G). If it weren’t for G and going to therapy, I would have taken my life that semester (we’ll get into that relationship later). The healing process from an abusive relationship extends FAR BEYOND the normal timeframe for break-ups. I had nightmares where that last night would replay over and over and over again, but would end with my death. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and unable to breathe, because it felt like he was in the room or on top of me. (Thanks to G, though, all of that stopped during our relationship.)
It is 6 years later and I still habitually apologize for things that are far out of my control. I also tend to be over-amorous in my relationships because some small part of me believes that maybe if I had just shown my love for AssHat more, the abuse wouldn’t have happened (even though I know this is not true). On a very personal note, I flinched a lot around large, white, southern men (who resemble AssHat) and still don’t feel comfortable around them. I avoid them, and I attribute a lot of dating preferences now to the avoidance of that demographic associated with him. (We’ll get into that later, too). There are places in Pensacola that I avoided for a really long time because of the horrid memories at each of them. Over time though, my friends helped me re-assimilate into my hometown. Telling my parents of what had occurred didn’t happen until months later. It was difficult, and heart-breaking, but I know that I am closer to my parents and more open with them now because of disclosing to them what happened. Woven through all of this healing was me finding comfort in food, alcohol, and other behaviors. All of which have negatively contributed to my health (as expected).
I became a peer counselor in college to help other DV victims, and to help with my healing as well. Throughout my jobs in healthcare, I have been able to spot abuse in patients and help some of them get the help they need to survive. Through talking about my story, I have been able to help other women know they can survive their terror, too. As a future physician, I vow to step in, speak up, and be the advocate for my patients who are DV victims, who have lost the strength to speak up for themselves.
If you’re wondering, I have absolutely forgiven him.
Why? Because forgiveness is not for the other person, but for yourself and for your own healing. Harboring anger towards him only exacerbated my self-destructive behaviors. I am a stronger woman now that I have forgiven him. Strong enough that I can write this entire blog and talk about this relationship without shedding a single tear or lump in my throat.
He has no power over me anymore.
What can we do now?
This will NEVER happen to me again. I know the signs of Domestic Violence now because I lived through it. That’s right; I LIVED. Many victims, both men and women, don’t make it out alive. Even if you do, you are never the same. You have to figure out who you are again because everything you knew about yourself was ripped apart and demoralized. You cannot do it alone. I know that there are people out there, some may even be reading this blog right now, that could be victims. Or, you may know a victim, but aren’t aware that they are. Learn the signs. Be there for them. Do not give up on them. They NEED you.
To other victims: Please know that you are NOT ALONE. And that you CAN leave. It takes planning, and a hell of a lot of courage. More courage than it takes to stay in order to protect you, your friends, and your family. I know how hard it is. I lived through it, and you can live, too; live a BEAUTIFUL, happy, positive, and FREE life, away from your abuser. TELL SOMEONE. SPEAK UP. Please know that you have a voice, a POWERFUL voice, despite how powerless and silent you have been conditioned to be.
(Feel free to share this story to spread awareness and in hopes that it reaches someone who needs to know that they are not alone and that they are worth much more than their current situation.)
[EDIT AS OF AUG 24, 2017: This blog post has reached almost 40 countries!
I hope that I helped someone in each and every one!]
For more information on Domestic Violence and what you can do to #BreakTheSilence, here are a few helpful links:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org/learn-more/what-is-domestic-violence
National DV Hotline website: http://www.thehotline.org/
National DV Hotline Phone Number: 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
House of Ruth: http://houseofruthinc.org/home
TED Talks on DV: http://blog.ted.com/5-brave-personal-stories-of-domestic-abuse/