It was the worst and hardest thing I ever went through. And telling this story in some ways is a torturous reliving of it all, but I want and need something good to come out of it.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. But for a year and eight months I was a victim of it.
Now I have the opportunity to tell my story and to share my experiences. I’ve gained a new perspective on life and a better understanding of the warning signs of an abuser. Through this experience, I’ve developed a better sense of compassion for people because I understand now that sometimes things happen to people that they aren’t proud of and have little control over.
Let me start at the beginning. I was raised with a great example of what a loving relationship looked like with my parents. My mom was strong and independent; my dad had been in the Army which meant he was stern, but he was also kind and loving.
I never expected to find myself in an abusive relationship. I was too strong and intelligent to allow myself to fall victim, or so I thought.
What I have learned and what I hope you take away from this is that abuse can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, what kind of upbringing you had, your social status, race, income, education. None of that matters, and none of it has anything to do with whether or not you will become a victim of domestic violence.
It can happen to anyone!
For me, I was in a particularly emotionally vulnerable state when I met Steve (not really his name.) About six months before then I’d had a miscarriage, ended an unhealthy marriage and discovered my dad – who lived about four hours away – had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
We met online and went on a few unconventional dates and discovered we were from the same hometown. It seemed like kismet since we were both living about four hours away. It didn’t take long before he drew me in. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t ready to be in a healthy relationship yet. But his intelligence and eccentric behavior was so exciting and like no else I had ever met. I was hooked.
From the very beginning though, the relationship was filled with highs and lows. I know now that was part of his game plan – he would draw me in and then push me away. I didn’t recognize this as being harmful; I already felt very connected and allowed the cycle to continue.
I realize now though that the abuse really started from the very beginning. It wasn’t yet physical but abuse all the same. That’s one thing many don’t understand about domestic violence, it doesn’t have to be physical; it is about stripping power away from the other person. He practiced psychological warfare on me; and he was good at it.
Within five months we were living together in my house, and his behavior became more erratic; he started implementing more abusive tactics – isolation and confinement were the big ones. As long as I did as he said and didn’t try to leave him, things were fine. The moment though that I expressed my opinions, thoughts or concerns about his behaviors or our relationship, things turned bad for me.
Consequences for speaking up included possessions taken from me and threats to destroy my home or possessions, ruin me financially or the worst, to
hurt my family. These threats were enough to scare me to not try to get away and to keep taking the abuse – emotional, verbal and mental at this time.
During these episodes of abuse I was forced to beg for forgiveness and promise to “be cool,” then he would apologize telling me it was my fault he behaved the way he did and tell me I wasn’t allowed to leave someone with abandonment issues.
Then, for a short time, things would level off and become somewhat normal. Steve would tell me how much he loved me, how he wanted to be a better man, how bad his childhood was and that he needed me like the air he breathed. I’d never experienced anything like his level of intensity. And, even with all of the abuse, that intensity and love made me feel different; it was intoxicating. But it was also short lived.
Over time, the level of aggression, control and abuse continue to escalate until it became physical. These incidents of physical violence were the norm now. The police were called; I had injuries; the cycle continued.
Here’s one example: We had been fighting, and I was trying to get away from him so I ran outside. He grabbed my leg and was dragging me into the house by my ankle as I gripped for the ground screaming. A neighbor saw this and called the police. They came and made him leave but he began that cycle of repentance again. He pleaded with me not to leave him, begged me not to abandon him like everyone else had and to please let him come back home.
I eventually conceded. This, of course, turned out very bad for me as my “punishment” soon ensued.
I didn’t feel safe from him anywhere. I was working and going to school full-time. I started keeping my school books at work to keep them from being destroyed and so I could do school work from work. I often slept with my key, driver’s license and a credit card in my bra just in case I had the opportunity to get away when he wasn’t looking. But he was always looking. It was like he never slept.
And even if given the chance to escape, I was afraid of what would happen if I left. He told grandiose stories of killing people, selling guns for money, being a part of gangs and how he’d mutilate me and feed me to pigs so there would be no remains left for anyone to find. Even to this day, years removed, I still wonder if this was a scare tactic or if there was some truth to any of it. The fear, the control and the isolation – it was all so very real and strong.
This is why I didn’t once confide in any friends or family about the abuse; he told me he would hurt or kill anyone that got in the way or tried to keep me from him. At one point, I did reach a breaking point and confided in a mutual friend of ours. She came to my house and demanded I leave and not return until I got a protection order. I did and stayed with her a day until he found me. He pulled into her driveway with a gun in his sweatshirt and demanded I get into the car with him.
I didn’t know what to do; I was frozen. My friend wouldn’t let me get into the car with him and instead she and I drove around for hours while I talked to an abuse hotline to figure out what I should do next. The consensus was for me to give up the 2,000 square-foot home I owned and go to a shelter for protection. I was there for one day and received more than 100 text messages and countless calls from him and his family members.
I eventually left the shelter and went back to my home only to discover it had been destroyed and the locks changed. He’d given my belongings away. And as retribution to that friend, he slashed her tires several times over the next month. He forced me to call her and tell her I couldn’t ever speak to her again. Steve also made me write a letter to the shelter saying I was a “whore” for using their services when I didn’t really need them.
The threats and the abuse continued and worsened; I never had a moment of rest when he was around. I had been travelling back and forth to my hometown to see my dying father every weekend and finally decided I needed to move back in order to spend the remaining few months of his life closer to him. Steve allowed me to agreeing because his family lived there too.
I thought maybe this would help; he’d be happy to be close to family and not be so harsh on me. That wasn’t the case though. While moving I broke down and sobbed that I wanted, needed out. He chased me around the house confining me to various areas, pushing me down, choking me and finally slamming me against my marble shower.
By the time we had made it back to our hometown, I was covered in thumb-shaped bruises. My back had huge bruises. My response was what it always was to the injuries people would notice – I fell down the stairs.
It’s easy to look back and say, “I should have told someone about the abuse.” But unless you have ever been faced with this you have no idea what you would do, how you would handle it.
The fear of him harming my family was enough to keep me quiet. So the only way I felt like I could get out was through suicide. I tried to kill myself several times. The last time I had a gun to my head, and he told me, “If you kill yourself who will protect your family from me?”
That was enough to stop me.
He used to tell me in detail about how he would break into their homes and kill them. And I knew he was capable of doing it; I’d seen the things he’d done to me. So why would I not think he would follow through on those threats?
I see now that none of this is rational. But when you are in the middle of it, it is impossible to see clearly.
Even once we’d moved back to our hometown, the abuse continued. The police were called several times as neighbors would hear me screaming during the beatings. But I knew better than to say anything. And the cops never did anything. One particular incident there was clumps of my hair all over the floor when they arrived. They said they could do nothing unless I told them I was being abused. I couldn’t say anything.
The escalation continued until the last incident – October 2011. He beat me so badly that day that three years later I still have dents in my shins and on the back of my legs. The cops came again and this time I decided I couldn’t stay any longer. So I left and slept at the hospice center my dad was living in. I continued that knowing I would be safe and near my dad. I’d just go to work from there sleeping in the recliner. It was the most peaceful sleep I’d had in more than a year because I knew I was safe.
I continued this, staying away from Steve, until my father passed away three weeks later. I had always felt like once my dad passed away I would feel free to leave him. My greatest fear was having my dad die knowing what I was going through; I wanted him to pass away with peace.
After his death, I stayed with my mom to comfort her and to continue to be away from Steve and safe. I left him the day after Thanksgiving. I finally told my family what happened, but still haven’t told them all the details; they just don’t understand. They did feel a huge sense of guilt for not being able to help me.
They insisted I file for a protection order; I was scared to death to do this because of Steve’s threats to “walk right through it.” He said no one or nothing would keep him away from me. My family also wanted me to file charges against him; I was too scared to do that.
I found out a few months later that he’d started dating another woman and was doing the same thing to her. I still carry immense guilt for not being able to protect her or others from him.
As time has passed I’ve confided in a very select few about what I went through. Nearly all of them say they don’t understand and can’t believe something like this would happen to me because they thought I was so strong. My response is that I was extraordinarily strong. I say, “I am so strong because I lived through this and endured so much. My daily life was a struggle to survive. I lived through all that to protect those closest and most important to me.”
Now I live my life differently than others. I’m constantly aware of my surroundings. I don’t go to places I think he may be since we are still in the same community. I’m not comfortable walking alone in certain parts of town, and I still have triggers.
But, I’m making progress. It’s not easy, but I’m moving forward. I fought and will continue to fight to take my life back. I found a good therapist within a few months of the last incident and took the time needed to focus on myself and heal. After a lot of work and time, I was able to find myself in a healthy relationship.
I look back on the beginning of my relationship with Steve and the warning signs that were there. He tried to tell me exactly who he was; I just didn’t listen. I thought I could help him and take away his past hurts by loving him more than anyone else. This isn’t possible. You can’t fix a broken person; you can only support them.
When a person tries to isolate you from friends and family, control your actions or fixates on you please understand this is not love, this is the beginning of abuse and walk away and never look back. Seeking the protection of the law is the only way to protect yourself. Generally, the abusers don’t want a criminal record and don’t want anyone to find out, which is why the bruises aren’t on your face; they’re in places that can be covered or easily explained. They isolate you so you feel like you have no one else, and you’re made to fear them so you won’t tell anyone.
If you or anyone you know is in this situation, please tell those closest to you and law enforcement. Don’t ever feel ashamed of your situation. Please take your power back and protect yourself and maybe you’ll save the next woman.
Now, the simplest things mean so much. I can do what I want when I want. Of course I’m cautious and surround myself with people I know and trust. But things like the way I park – if the wheels weren’t straight when we were together he would throw me back in the car and make me move it so they were straight. Now I find myself purposefully parking so the tires aren’t straight, because I can.
Of course, I’m still dealing with it all. This will probably always be a part of me. I can’t handle a partner who raises their voice at me. Some of the fear, triggers and traumatic memories are gone; some are still there and some have gotten better. But still, trying to trust someone is always going to be difficult.
God got me through all of it. I was so broken and felt I could never make it, but with God’s love and my family’s love I made it.
I want to be married and have kids one of these days. I know I will too. I don’t think every man is going to be like Steve. I’m not jaded; he has just changed me forever.
If you are someone you know is a victim of domestic violence — physical, emotional or verbal — there is help out there. In the Tri-State area you can reach out to Albion Fellows Bacon Center at 1-800-339-7752. You can reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233.) For more information about local resources visit www.albionfellowsbacon.