The following story was written by a domestic violence survivor. Please note potential triggers in this piece.
I met my abuser when we were high school, we instantly became best friends, he was my protector, the one person that would never, ever hurt me. I felt safe with him, safer than I did with anyone else. When I was upset, I would run to him. I would have never believed that one day I would run from him, or instead of feeling safe by his side, I would grow to fear him.
I didn’t just miss the signs of a potentially abusive relationship… I literally missed the sign he was holding. I knew all of these things about him, the people he had hurt in prior relationships, the intense view of women being inferior to men, and how quickly he could lose his temper. But, in my mind, I was the exception- I could talk him down from being mad, believed that his girlfriends just weren’t right for him, or that even if he saw women in a negative way, it was only because he had been hurt by them. I made excuses for his actions the entire time I knew him, including after the relationship turned abusive, where I would blame the drugs, drinking, stress, past relationships, and myself for the things he did to me. I honestly believed I was the different, when in fact I was only another victim.
From early on, I was convinced that we were meant to be, he said I was the one thing he wanted his whole life, to me, he was my happily ever after.
I thought we would be together forever. But last year, we parted ways, him in a police car, and me in an ambulance.
The details of the past several years are blurry to say the least, partly because I don’t want to remember, and partly because I had learned to disassociate so I didn’t have to remember. I would close my eyes when he had his hands around my neck so I wouldn’t have to see the intense hatred and anger that were in his. I knew he was really mad, when his eyes would change, he would become almost unrecognizable. Each incident was relatively similar, to the point that I would know what to expect. the details were often different, but the events were almost always the same.
He would always go for my neck, sometimes holding on to it quickly while yelling that he would kill me, other times holding me down, and holding it with both hands till I was sure that this was the time he would hold it too long. So much would go through my mind when he was strangling me, sometimes I worried about him, and what would happen after I died- would he have meant to? Or was it just to prove that he could control every breath I took? I would often think about the kids, and how they would lose both of us- if I were to die. And…when I think I was closest to passing out, I thought about just letting go, stop fighting- but I didn’t want to die, and it was my natural reaction to fight for my life- yelling even though no sound came out, and wasting breath that I desperately needed. This often went on for hours.
He would take my keys, the credit card he gave me, and my phone so I couldn’t call for help- and that was all in case I was able to get out of the house, which he almost always was successful of making sure I couldn’t do. He had me convinced that if I called the police that I would end up in jail, that my kids would be taken away and that if I did manage to send him to jail he would only come out angrier. He would tell me that I couldn’t make it on my own.
I eventually believed him that it was my fault, that I was crazy, and deserved it- because after all -I never seemed to do anything, right? So, even though during those times, I wanted to escape- I was terrified to, and I was convinced that no one was going to help me, I had nowhere to go, and no way to get there…this was my life, and I had to just accept it. It even became natural for me to hide bruises on my arms, telling the kids I was cold in the middle of summer, that I once again clumsily hit my eye on one thing or another, or that my throat was hoarse because of allergies.
So, why did I stay? So many people ask me that, and until they are in that situation there is nothing I can say that would help them understand. After the abuse, we would be happier, and he loved me, and I loved him- it was as if it had never happened. We would spend more time together as a family, cuddle more, play games…when things were good, they were so good. During those times, I had renewed hope that we could do it, we could be that happily ever after that I so desperately thought we would have. I let myself believe that this time it would change, the abuse would stop- and we could be the family we were “meant” to be. Domestic violence is a vicious, cycle, and I would fall right back into it every single time.
On the day we parted ways, the police arrived, it was chaos- I was convinced I was going to jail, and I wouldn’t see my kids again. I was terrified, because I knew just how mad he was going to be when he got out. I was examined by the paramedics, and then asked if I had “wet”- my pants, embarrassed I let them know that I had. It was then that I found out just how close to death I had been- that day and so many times within the last several years. Urinating meant I was losing control of my organs, and dangerously near death. They convinced me I needed to go to the hospital.
In the ambulance, I did what I hadn’t been able to do for a very long time, I reached out to my family, whom I had lost contact with for nearly the entire duration of my relationship. They were amazing, they came to the hospital and sat with me while I talked with victim advocates, police detectives, and eventually the trauma surgeon. I was admitted into the hospital for an injury to my neck, that required observation and the long-term use of blood thinners to reduce the risk of a stroke.
Since that day, my life has been focused on providing some sort of normalcy for my children, and myself. The kids and I are on a protective order and visitations are supervised. However, the slow, and sometimes stagnant pace of the justice system has made it difficult to move forward in a system that requires me to relive every moment of the events in my past, the ones I have tried so hard to forget. The expectations, lack of communication, and surprising power that my ex-abuser still has over so many decisions baffles me.
Many life-altering events have taken place since last year, turning a life that I had settled on accepting abuse, to one that I have chosen to help others escape and recover from theirs, mainly through my writing. I have learned I am not the only one on this roller coaster. I can take an experience that has broken me down, and use it to help bring others in the same situations up. Some days are harder than others, some nights bring little to no sleep, and some days leave me mourning the loss of a relationship- that even I don’t understand. But, every day is a new day, through the support of others, learning how to take back the control that was taken from me, and realizing that I can make a difference.
Because I am a survivor and my story matters.