On October 10, 2015, I wrote this in my journal:
“He’s going to hit me. Not today, not tomorrow, probably not even any time soon. But one day in our lifetime, he’s going to get angry enough and he’s going to hate me enough in that moment that he just loses it and hits me.
All the signs are there. He said every man in his family has [but he promised to never be like them]. He showed such horrible signs of irrational rage the other night. He hated me so much that he kicked my car hard enough to dent it. And in those moments, I was nothing but kind and sweet and patient. I was trying to HELP him. But, he still blamed me for things not going his way. He was so angry. He acted as if he hated me so much. He tried to hurt me.
Then why the fuck do I stay? What am I doing? Do all the good things and the way I feel when things are good outweigh all of this?”
I stayed in the relationship for over a year after this. And he did, in fact, hit me. Over the course of the next 14 months, we had a total of at least 20 fights that ended with him either damaging my/our personal property and/or with him physically abusing me.
So, why did I stay?
At the time I wrote the journal entry, we had only been together for half a year. But I left my husband to be with him. Our relationship had to work. I gave up so much to be with him — my husband, his family, our nephews, friends who judged me for the decision.
I bet everything on him.
Of course, the “him” that I was betting on didn’t exist any longer. The charming, kind, caring (and incredibly sexy) man I fell in love with wasn’t even real. It was all a disguise, a mask he wore to trick me into feeling safe and loved.
However, at the time, I didn’t know all that. All I “knew” was that 1) he was a good man who loved me and made me so happy, and 2) he was going to hit me one day. But my brain couldn’t reconcile the two “facts.” They were too far apart.
I wanted to believe in the fairy tale. I wanted to believe in the love story — that we would “make it” and live happily ever after. So I was in denial of that second fact, and I stayed.
The next four months were mostly peaceful. We fought a little. But, hey, all couples have disagreements, right?
Wrong. Not like this.
In those four months, there was one fight that ended with him punching a hole in the wall. There were also four occasions when he kicked me so hard I fell off the bed, slammed me against a wall, and/or pushed and shoved me. There was a lot of shoving, but I thought because he didn’t actually “hit” me it was okay.
I thought “domestic abuse” meant being punched or slapped in the face, or getting beaten to a pulp like Rihanna or those poor bruised and battered women in the made-for-TV movies.
I had no idea I was a “victim” of domestic abuse. I was in such denial.
Once when he was upset with me, he smacked me hard on the ass with a metal water bottle. It left a small bruise. When I confronted him about it, he simply brushed it off. He said, “Oh no, babe, I wasn’t upset with you. Calm down — you’re overreacting. I was just playing around.”
Something didn’t add up to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it , but there was something decidedly not playful about his actions. I know now that he was gaslighting me. His response and portrayal of the event was so different from mine. I began to question my own memory: Maybe I was overreacting? He apologized, and we moved on. He always apologized. We always moved on.
We had plans to move in together at the end of February. We’d been together for almost a year at that point. The fighting stopped several weeks before our move-in date. He had been extra loving and supportive. I felt good about our relationship and where it was headed.
The first couple of months we lived together, it was smooth sailing. No fights, no rage, no broken property, and no bruises. He followed through on his promise to “get better.”
We were so happy, and so in love.
At the end of April, he asked me to marry him. I said yes.
We were engaged! This is what I’d always wanted — someone who loved me as fiercely and passionately as he did. He was obsessed with me. He showered me with compliments, gifts, and thoughtful gestures. I was his priority. We spent a massive amount of time together, and somehow we both wanted more. We stayed up late on weeknights. We lost track of time. We went on adventures. We laughed, we danced, and we enjoyed the hell out of life together.
It didn’t take long for things to fall apart. Two weeks after we got engaged, he shattered my computer in a mad rage. “It was an accident. I’m so sorry,” he said. I was trying to leave the apartment during an argument. He didn’t want me to go, so he grabbed the purse off my shoulder and slammed it on to the concrete floor. My computer was inside, and he didn’t realize it.
I knew then that I couldn’t marry him. But I still wasn’t ready to leave. I rationalized: “Well, at least he didn’t hit me or anything bad.”
We were engaged, so I stayed.
I rationalized more: “He stopped this scary behavior once before, so he can stop it again,” and “the last few months have been so great; this is probably just a one-time fluke thing.”
I was in denial, so I stayed.
In the next several months, he oscillated back and forth between being my wonderful, sweet, caring lover/best friend and the heart-wrenching physical and emotional abuser. The fights got more and more intense. They began to occur more and more frequently. He became more and more full of rage. Scarier. More unpredictable. He drank more and more, until he was drunk nearly every night. I began to keep a tally of all the things he broke around the apartment: a wooden coaster, a glass bottle of vitamins, a box fan, a stainless steel coffee mug, a large decorative mirror, three doors in our apartment (that we had to pay to have fixed), the box spring to our bed, and the list goes on and on.
But in between the fights and the fits of rage, he appeared to be the charming, kind, caring (and incredibly sexy) man I fell in love with. He was sweet and supportive. We had so much fun together. We’d be happy again for a while. So, I’d forget the trauma, stress, and pain I had just endured. Until, of course, it happened again.
The physical abuse became worse and worse over the course of those few months as well. He slowly started to test the limits and boundaries. Each time he’d get away with a little more. What used to be pushing and shoving had now turned into a quick pop in the face. It wasn’t hard, but he still slapped me in the face. It happened three different nights, during three different disagreements.
I rationalized again: “It’s not like he hit me that hard. If he was really trying to hurt me, it would have been a lot harder.”
Then, harder shoves. The kind that knocked me to the ground. He threw a hard, plastic water bottle at me, and it hit me in the face. I was stunned, but I still didn’t leave. I begged him to change, to get better, and to stop drinking. I desperately wanted that charming, kind, caring (and incredibly sexy) man I fell in love with to come back, but he didn’t exist.
Through all of the abuse, I never once told anyone what was going on. I hinted about it to a couple of close friends, hoping that they would pick up on the clues, understand, support me, and tell me it was okay to leave. But no one did. Everyone thought we were so happy.
I was embarrassed and scared, so I stayed.
We had a big, nasty fight one weeknight in December. It was 1 a.m., and we both had to get up and go to work in the morning. He was aggravated with me because I wouldn’t stay up and drink (more) with him. As I sat on the edge of our bed, I begged him to leave me alone and let me sleep. The disagreement quickly escalated, and he grabbed me by the ankles and dragged me out of bed, smashing my tailbone on the concrete floor. I scrambled back onto the bed — he pinned me down. I broke free and got up — he shoved me to the ground. The next two and a half hours were filled with screaming, yelling, threats, and about 25 to 30 shoves from him as he chased me around our home. In an attempt to fend him off, I hit him back, once. A strong slap to the left side of his face. He finally left the apartment around 3:30 a.m., and I started packing my things.
The next day, I was bruised and sore. And he was sorry. He showed a tremendous amount of remorse. He promised to stop drinking. He committed to going to couples counseling (I had been begging him to go for months).
I had hope, so I stayed.
We spent Christmas with my family and New Year’s Eve with close friends. He was not drinking, but something still wasn’t quite right. He was irritable, unhappy, and unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. (Later, a trusted therapist would tell me that alcoholics are much more difficult to live with when they are “dry” and not actually working the steps of sobriety. This couldn’t have been more true.)
I searched my soul, and his email account, and when I was done, I knew in my heart that he wasn’t going to change.
I knew that if I stayed with him, the violence and rage were only going to get worse. I knew that eventually he would kill me.
I began making an escape plan, and on January 28, 2017, I finally left my abuser.
After I left, my life opened up in ways that I never would have imagined.
I realize now that no one could have told me to leave. I wouldn’t have listened. I had to make the decision on my own, and I had to do it on my own time, when my heart was ready. My head was ready long before — way back when I made that October 2015 journal entry. Part of me wishes I would have listened to my intuitive self back then. It would have saved me a year of excruciating pain, fear, and exhaustion. But this is my story. I cannot go back and change the past. I can only look to the future and be grateful for the lessons I have learned and the wisdom I have to share.
I understand now that I am a victim and survivor of domestic violence. It is my mission to educate, empower, and help others on their healing journey.
Listen to your intuitive self. Lean into that instinct, that gut feeling. And at the same time, have compassion for yourself, knowing that your emotional self is involved as well.
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