“If I had known what safety looked like, I would have spent less time falling into arms that were not.” It is incredibly hard to find the words that best describe the most difficult year of my life. How do I describe the feeling of falling in love for the first time? How do I describe the new experience of sharing my daily life with a man I loved so deeply, ending my nights lying next to him after he had left bruises on my body? This was more than a heartbreak. This was losing everything. This was losing my mind and losing myself.
Unlike most my friends, I don’t have the ability to look back at the good memories that my ex and I shared without feeling this twisted knot in my stomach. The feeling that makes me wonder how and where along the way I lost control of my life. The confusion of how I ever came to allow myself to go through so many nights where I was scared of what my boyfriend could possibly do to me out of anger or his drunken state. I have been searching for answers within myself with every day that passes, trying to understand how I became so emotionally involved and trapped, enough to allow that form of abuse to happen and continue. It’s been months of me trying to string together the letters into words, words into sentences, and the sentences into actual writing to be able to speak a truth that many don’t voice out loud. Many choose to keep their stories within themselves to avoid being looked at as weak, as broken, as victims. I don’t want to stay quiet anymore, I don’t want to be silent any longer than I already have.
The truth is that I was stuck and didn’t know how to leave. He knew he had my heart so he took advantage of it. It was an art. He would show me love, then show me hurting. This man once told me that I was his entire world, yet held a knife at my throat in the midst of his drunkenness. This man once told me that he had never loved someone so deeply as he had loved me, yet he pinned my body to the bathroom wall and silenced my screams with the intensity of his grip on my body. This man once said that he wanted to grow with me, but threatened my safety every time he would force me into the car as he drove us home drunk. This man would repeatedly tell me how much he wanted to marry me and have a family together someday, yet punched a hole in the wall next to my head out of his anger. This man once kissed me good morning almost every morning, but would sleep with another woman on the nights where I would get home late from work. This man once shared stories of his passions and biggest dreams with me, but would end a fight by reminding me how easy it would be for him to kill me. He would tell me how afraid he was that he would end up hurting me to the point where he could end my life. “I don’t ever want cops to find your blood in my house.” Was this love? Looking down at the bruises on my legs in the morning while I would shower, I wondered how long it would be until I could wear a dress or shorts again and not have to use makeup to cover my bruises. What was it about ignorance that his parents resorted to? They once saw a cut on my face and pretended to believe me as I told them that “it’s nothing, I just had an accident”. Their eyes told me they already knew what their son had done to me, because he had done it to other girls in his past. After I tasted blood in my mouth for the first time, you would think I would have finally listened to everyone as they told me to leave him, to run and not turn back. I didn’t. I kept on denying the violence, refused to accept the cheating, and lied about the internal pain. I pretended I was happy until pretending finally became too much. How did I know it became too much? I had turned into the girl I never thought I would become. I had reached the point where I resorted to inflicting my own physical pain to manage the emotional pain of what he had done. I started cutting on top of the bruises he had left on me so I had myself to blame whenever I looked at them. So that I would not blame him. I just didn’t want to believe that this was my reality, that the person I loved so much could do these things. He had made me think I was the cause of the fights, and made me genuinely believe that I was the reason that the fights would get so bad. When I started hurting myself is when I knew I had lost all control.
Over time, I have learned that it isn’t just me that this sort of thing has happened to- there are so many other women and girls out there that are currently in or used to be in relationships with men that find hitting their girlfriend or partner acceptable, as long as it’s behind closed doors and no one finds out. These men tend to deny ever lifting a finger on the woman they claim to love. This kind of man will make you think that it’s you that caused him to lose control and hit you, he will make you think that you need help so you stop acting so “emotional” or “crazy”. He will project his problems onto you, he will make you the home for his demons. You should never have to question your safety when it comes to your partner.
My hope is that any woman that does find herself stuck between love and violence somehow stumbles across stories like these to see that they are not alone in this. Women help save each other when another one of us needs a hand. Just find the courage to ask for it, and I promise you, the help will come. Listen to your friends, your parents, your family, your mentors, your coworkers. Just listen and try not to get defensive. Don’t shut it out, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t let yourself get to a point where you doubt if you will live through the next fight. I’m telling you this because I did shut everyone out, I did feel embarrassed, and I did have nights when the fights would be so bad that I honestly started doubting if I would make it through to the next day. I imagined how my parents would feel if they found out the reason if I didn’t make it through. That thought would leave me in tears, and there were many nights where I cried myself to sleep wondering who could save me.
My other hope is that more attention will be brought to topic like this. It’s a difficult topic to discuss, but silence achieves nothing. Silence prevents society from being aware of how domestic and dating violence are both still very much present. I hope that verbalizing and being public about my biggest fall will not lead you to think any less of me. There is no shame in being honest, there is no shame in being vulnerable. It is the beauty of being human. I believe that I am strong because I have lived through a certain pain, a sort of trauma, that not everyone goes through. An experience that can destroy your peace and sense of self. But you learn by living, and as Eleanor Roosevelt once explained, you gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” I try to think of her words whenever I need a reminder of my strength.
Regarding myself, it’s been about five months and I’m doing so much better. I finally am feeling like myself again, but I know that idea of “self” is very different now after what has happened. A few scars are still visible, but they are fading and my body is looking beautiful and healthy again. I’ve gained back the weight I had lost; I’ve been spending my time doing the things I love with the people that I love; I’ve been traveling; I’ve been reflecting. Some days are harder than others, but I take the bad with the good. The pain is there every day, but so are the lessons. I still have dark and pretty messed up dreams on occasion, but I guess that’s a side effect of all the emotional and traumatic things that happened in that one year. One year where each day felt like a marathon. We still work in the same building, the same place where we first met. The days where I see his face pass me in the halls are never easy, but I’ve learned how to manage seeing him without feeling such intense anxiety or going numb. That’s an accomplishment for me. I’m not about to leave this amazing job I have, this passion I have for what I do and for my future career, just because of him. He’s already taken enough. The day I chose to take my life back was the day I made my first step at finding peace again. I’m building the pieces back up. It’s a conscious daily effort and I’m trying. I’m living. I’m healing. I am opening up. It is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible.
It has been a beautiful fight. And it still is.