I Chose to Forgive Because It Was The Right Thing For Me

i chose to forgive

Ashley experienced intimate partner violence at the hands of her former boyfriend. Even after obtaining a restraining order, her abuser was intent on finding a way into her life. Ashley’s inner strength, coupled with the rare kindness from strangers, allowed her to escape, during a harrowing and violent abusive outburst. Ashley shared her vulnerable story of choosing to forgive in the hope that other survivors and friends are able to understand the power of survival, her choices, and her way of breaking the cycle.

The Only Option

I was seventeen-ish when my ex and I started going out. Shortly after, we moved in together. As time passed, we lost our house and ended up homeless. We began at ‘The Brick’ getting food; living out of his car or a tent during terrible summer storms and floods. My grandparents opened their home to me, but my ex and our dog weren’t welcome; I didn’t want to lose him, so without other options, I had to stay with him.

I was inside ‘The Brick’ getting our boxes of food when my ex came in with an officer behind him, handed me his phone and his car keys, and told me that he was getting arrested for unpaid fines. I didn’t know what to do – I’d never been in a situation like this. I had a dog in a hot car, a box full of food, and I needed to be at a job interview shortly. I drove over to one of our old roommates’ house so I could have a place to sleep until I figured out what was going on.

Two or three days later, I still hadn’t heard from him or his mom. I didn’t know what to believe at that point. Was he back on drugs? He knew how I felt about that, but it would explain a lot. At that time with so much on my mind and a broken heart, I decided I couldn’t do this anymore; I was done with him.

His Release

The next day, I got a call from him saying that he had been released, that he missed me, and that he needed to be picked up from jail. I was on my way to work so I turned around and headed towards the jail. I found him smiling on the sidewalk. He got into the car, and his first question as I started to drive towards work (I was already late) was, “Where have I been staying?” When I told him that I was staying at his friend’s house he snapped from Jekyll to Hyde. He slammed his fists into the dashboard and the window yelling as loudly as he could.

I thought he was going to hit me, I didn’t know what to do. I stopped the car and threw the keys into the passenger side floor. He slammed his door closed and headed to my side, while I went to the back door and threw my work bag and my other duffle bag across the parking lot along with my shoes. I knew if he drove off I might not get my stuff back, and that was all I had, other than one more bag of clothes at his friend’s house.

He grabbed me hard, yelling in my face “Where’s my dog?” “Where are my clothes?” He tried to rip my phone from my hands but I managed to get it back, and then he shoved me to the ground. By this time he caught the attention of a woman exiting her car, and one of my co-workers started to walk over. He got in his car and floored it in reverse. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to hit me. I jumped backward just in time, and he hit and ran over the Walgreens bag I had dropped in the fight instead.

I Wasn’t Safe

My co-workers helped me inside, and I called his friend and told him not to give him my clothes. He could have his dog, his clothes, his car, that I was just done with him. Later that night he came back to my work and asked me to marry him. When I told him he needed to leave, he tried to jump over the counter. One of my co-workers had to tell him to leave by threatening to call the cops. The next morning, he broke into his friend’s house. I left it up to his friend to decide whether or not he was going to press charges, and he chose to call the cops. We gave our statements, and shortly after I packed up my things. I knew I wasn’t safe there any longer.

After that, I got a restraining order with help from the women’s shelter. I remember my ex told me, even before he laid a hand on me, that a restraining order was only a piece of paper. He proved that by approaching me multiple times and telling me I shouldn’t be afraid. He also told me that he, “just wanted to be my friend.” He would drive by as I was walking, and ask if I wanted a ride. Each time I told him that if he didn’t leave, I would call the cops.

 About two months after all of this, I unblocked him on social media and sent him a message. I don’t know what made me think that he would have changed. He invited me over to his house, he said that it had plenty of room for a family. He told me that the dog missed me too. He said all the right things, and it just sucked me right back in. The first month I was back it was great. We made that house our home, and we went out and did fun things. However, as his court date approached, things began to get worse. 

He Always Came Back

He destroyed one room at a time; he threw me at furniture; he burnt my clothes in the closet. I still stayed and I didn’t ask for help. I was literally brainwashed. I hoped that I could help change him or that he would stop because he really did love me. It didn’t stop, and I kept getting hit. He also stopped respecting me, my wishes, and my life. He would say, “you’re mine, I do what I want with things that are mine.” He would then hold me down and force himself on me. He would then follow that by telling me that he was going to leave and “go end it all.” He always came back though.

I still remember it like it was yesterday and probably always will. I was in bed that morning, because I had just gotten home from work. He had left to go cut wood with his friend. I was suddenly jolted awake because of loud frantic bangs on the front door. As soon as I opened the door, he pinned me against the porch wall. Something pressed into my neck as he screamed, spit flying in rage, “What did you do? Tell me what you did? I Know What You Did!” He kept screaming it over and over.

By this time, my chest was starting to get wet and I screamed back that I had no idea what he was talking about. He grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into the living room, which looked like nothing had happened the night before. I always cleaned up and tried to fix what I could, but this was different, there was something in his eyes. He pushed me into the chair and told me to shut my mouth. I remember touching my neck and feeling something warm and sticky on my hand, blood. How bad was it? What was I going to do? I tried to get up to get something to stop the bleeding, but he grabbed me and threw me through our coffee table. Then, he picked me up by the collar of my shirt and threw me through the end table.

He Was Going to Kill Me

I laid on the floor. There was glass all around us; he grabbed a big shard of the broken table. I immediately grabbed his hand knowing his intentions. That’s when it really hit me. He was going to kill me, and I needed to fight or I was going to die. I finally knocked the piece of glass away from his grasp, but like a rabid dog he latched onto my jaw, biting down so hard I thought he was going to tear flesh. He stood over me with this twisted look on his face and repeatedly stomped on my chest. Then he slammed the boot (with what felt like the force of a train) and hit me right in the face. “Now maybe that’ll keep you down,” he said as he walked over to the chair and sat down. 

He sat for what felt like hours; I didn’t really know because my concept of time was gone at that point. I could feel each and every piece of glass that was underneath me, but I didn’t dare move. Then the friend he was with earlier that day came through the door and saw the utter destruction. He tried to talk to him, but even his childhood friend, a man who was like a brother to him, was not getting through to my ex. I no longer recognized him. He got back on top of me, grabbing me by the collar of my shirt slamming me against the floor into the piece of glass.

My Attempt To Escape

In a collision of bodies, his friend was on top of him yelling “you have to stop, let’s talk,” My ex just told him, “None of you are leaving today, I’ll make sure of that.” I didn’t know where the strength came from, but I somehow got up and ran through the dining room, into the kitchen, to the back door. It was locked! My hands felt like spaghetti and all I could think of was he was right behind me. I finally got it unlocked, and started running. I didn’t even stop to open the screen door. I just had to keep going as far as I could, before hiding. I ran up the alley to the second house on the street.

The back door was unlocked. I ran in so fast and crouched below the window as I slammed it shut. I started clenching my neck from behind when I heard a woman’s voice ask, “What are you doing in my house? Get out!” I turned to see the woman and saw the color drain from her face. She put her arms around me and guided me to the kitchen. “Who did this to you?” As I caught my breath, I explained that my boyfriend had just attacked me and tried to kill me. She insisted on bringing me to the ER right away. She took me into the bathroom to clean up my face and assess the situation.

Two More Centimeters 

Looking in the mirror I didn’t even recognize the person looking back at me. My hair was in gobs mangled from the sticky blood, my shirt was torn down the middle almost in half and covered in blood, on my face a dark purple bruise was already forming where he bit me. My eyes were black and blue, and a nearly perfect boot print covered the side of my face. I could see my lips were split and then, when I looked down, I really understood the gravity of the situation. There was a nike swoosh across my neck and it was still bleeding.

We held a damp paper towel to my neck, and I finally let her drive me to the ER. I was still in my fuzzy slipper socks and blue shorts when I walked into the ER. After I was done at the ER, I was taken to a safe house for the night with 12 stitches in my neck. If it had been two more centimeters, I wouldn’t be here. Just two more… 

He was taken into custody by law enforcement the same day. Initially, he was charged with attempted first-degree homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, domestic abuse, false imprisonment, mayhem, strangulation and suffocation, and bail jumping. He was found guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, and domestic abuse.

Don’t Give Him The Power

 It took a year to finally go to court. A year since I’ve seen the man who I thought cared about me, but then tried to take my life. Most of the things said in court are just a blur now. He made me feel pathetic, like the scum-of-the-earth. He stripped away my self-worth, layer by layer, until there was nothing left of the person I used to be.

I felt the weight of the world bearing down on me and it suffocated me to the point that I thought I’d disappear and no one would even know that I was gone. Or that they would blame me for what was happening to me. But I realized you must not hate people who have wronged us, for as soon as we begin to hate them, we become just like them; pathetic, bitter, and untrue. Now, most people know me as the girl who got her throat slit. They are always concerned with why I stayed in an abusive relationship;  rather than all the terrible things that my abuser did to me.

Leaving My Abuser and Living with PTSD

survivor left with ptsadv

This BTSADV Survivor Sister has been through some incredibly difficult abuse and hardship. She speaks about how she left her abuser and was left the PTSD. Her story is painful to read and epitomizes the dangers that survivors face during and after the escape.

An Alcoholic and a User

My abuser was an alcoholic, and an occasional heroin user. He wasn’t supposed to meet me. However, his cousin met my girlfriend, and then we all started hanging out. At that time, I had only experienced one prior relationship, which was also negative. To understand that, I think I have to explain my naivety and self-identity. I lost my father when I was fifteen and had no guidance or instruction in my life. Therefore I made all my decisions. I was also 5’2″ and 265lbs. I had three chins and no self-esteem. So as you can imagine, I fell for anyone that showed me the least bit of attention and thought I was attractive.

The Culmination of Childhood Trauma

I endured several horrific waves of abuse as a child and suffered through heartache, a lack of respect, and so much more. It all culminated in seven years of abuse at the hands of “Derek.” Derek swept me off my feet. His smile was contagious, and of course, I fell in love – or maybe it was lust at the time. About two weeks into our dating period, I got the first sign that something was amiss – all because I put my shoes in the wrong room. I dismissed it at the time, thinking it was unimportant.  

After that I dealt with so much more; it became difficult to make eye contact with others, talk to my own family, and feel anything but fear. There’s a lot of emotion behind my abuse still, so it’s easier for me to just write this as factually, and unemotionally as possible. 

Derek abandoned me with his family, who I’d only known for a day. After about two months, he surprised me by returning on his birthday and then proceeded to punch me repeatedly in the head and upper body. It felt like the attack was never-ending, but it probably finished as rapidly as it had begun. He followed this with six more years of control and abuse. He threatened me with a gun, he threw me down a flight of stairs while his family watched, he punched me in the eye while we were walking past a police station because I spilled water on his shirt, and beat me up countless times.

The First Time The World Went Black

One night, we were walking to the subway and Derek thought I let someone steal $5 from me. He pushed me up against a chain-link fence, on a secluded side street. I remember that we argued, and then I don’t remember anything else, I just saw black, and heard nothing. When I regained consciousness, I was momentarily disoriented, but then I saw him looming over me. I think he thought he killed me, and honestly, I feel like a part of me died that night. He dragged me to my feet and guided me to the subway as if nothing had happened. 

My Haunting

The worst night of my life haunts me to this day. Derek and I were watching a movie, sitting on the edge of the bed. I saw something that made me turn my head, and he immediately started accusing me of trying to meet someone else and cheating on him. I kept telling him that was not true, and he just ignored me. He picked me up and threw me from the dresser to the wall, and back again about 8 times. I kept screaming at him to stop, but he wouldn’t.

At some point, he went into the kitchen, and I tried to figure out how to get out of the small bedroom I was in and escape the apartment. I walked out of the bedroom and tried to go to the bathroom when I suddenly heard the sound of a knife being stabbed into my head. I was so confused that I literally asked him if he had just stabbed me. Instead of responding, he stabbed me twice more in the head, twice in the arms, and once in the back. I was frantic, probably in shock, and covered in blood. I began fighting back, focused on getting the knife away from him. However, he pushed me into the kitchen and cornered me by the fridge.

I remember he told me that he could kill me then, and no one would ever know.  I truly thought I was going to die. Somehow, even though my whole body was on fire, I managed to get the knife away, run to the bedroom, and call 911. It was the first time I tried to call the police. He came running towards me when he saw what I was doing, and repeatedly punched me in my knife wounds. It was all I could do to turtle up and endure it. I don’t know how long it lasted, but eventually, he made me go to bed. 

He Didn’t Remember

I woke up in the morning and was told I couldn’t go to work. I asked him to help me to the shower, and when the water ran into the drain, it was a reddish brown colour from all the dried blood. There was so much of it, he actually asked me if I had dyed my hair. I realized he didn’t even remember the previous day. 

I was rescued by my family about two weeks later – they drove me an hour and a half away without either of us knowing. However, about a month later I took him back. For another two years, I endured more abuse, this time more emotional and verbal, rather than physical. 

Then one day, he watched me talk to a co-worker on our lunch break. When I got home I immediately knew something was wrong. We got into an argument over my co-worker, because he thought I was getting his number. I tried to de-escalate things because I didn’t want a full blown argument, and was surprised when he became sweet and kind. He told me to go wash up, and come to bed. I did just that, and when I came to bed, he raped me so hard I threw up on the side of the bed. 

The next day, I kicked him out and have never seen him again. It took me eight years to share this story. I feel like I’ve only ever experienced hurt, abuse, and lies. However, I am not completely beaten yet. I know I am struggling with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, but I am working through it. There are times when I feel like everything about my life is just abject sadness, but there are other times that I’m reminded that I’m a survivor. 

I Escaped Abuse, But Am Still Working Through the Aftermath

aftermath of abuse

I’d like to share my story with everyone.

Let me start here– my name is Erikah, I’m 28 years old, and domestic violence has ruined my life. It all started when I met my children’s father, Tony*, in February of 2006. Six months into the relationship, he slapped me in the face for the first time. Tony swore that the abuse would not happen again, and he wasn’t physical for a long time. However, the relationship was still ridden with psychological abuse.

Quick Escalation

Fast forward to November 2007– I turned 17, moved out of my parents’ house, and rented an apartment with Tony. The abuse quickly escalated. Black eyes became a common occurrence. He once head-butted me in the face so hard that it broke the skin on the bridge of my nose. He seemed to have no shame, choosing the front yard of his stepfather’s house to host one of his beatings during a cold, Michigan winter day.  

A couple of years went by, I endured every form of abuse possible. I tried to stay strong as he kicked me with steel toe boots, and destroyed many items I valued. The verbal abuse was just as heinous. 

Abuse During Pregnancy

Fast forward again to 2009, I found out I was pregnant with our first son. The abuse didn’t stop during this fragile time in my life. Throughout my pregnancy, DVDs were whipped at me like frisbees and a laundry tote was pushed into my stomach.  I could not believe the complete disregard he had for me and the health of our son.

In July of 2010, our son LJ was 2 months old. Tony went to jail for the first time. He was shooting airsoft gun pellets at me, throwing objects at me, and destroying the house. In my attempt to escape his chaotic episode, he struck me in the jaw. A neighbor witnessed the act of abuse and called the police. The following day, an order of protection was ordered by the courts. However, being young and afraid with a 2-month-old child, I foolishly let him come back. 

Baby Number Two

A few years later, in 2013, we moved to Alaska and had our second child. This is when the mental, physical, and financial abuse reached its max. We purchased a house together in 2016. In the first 8 months, he pulled a gun on me 6 times, almost stabbed me in the stomach at our home, attempted to loop a rope around my neck, and threatened to throw me out of a truck. 

In December of 2016, I reached my breaking point and the final straw. I walked outside and *BANG* Tony fired a shot at me. I could take no more, so I found somewhere to stay. There wasn’t much support from my family and was forced to leave the kids with him. It felt as if I had no other choice, and he never harmed the kids. 

Tony Begins To Use

I then found out that Tony had started using meth. During a high, he became paranoid and ran off in the woods for 3 days with our 4 and 7-year-old children. OCS took custody of the kids and they went to stay with my parents– who Tony turned against me earlier in the relationship.

Tony ended up moving back to Michigan, and I had to move back into our home. For 5 months, I was stranded 20 miles from town without friends and family. I never received notifications from the court about the custody fight for my children. My parents told OCS that they would pick me up for visitation with the kids, however, they have failed to do so. In short, my right to see my children has been terminated, with the reason being that the court felt I was willingly not seeing my kids. I had no support system, especially from my family.

Continued Struggle To Live

It’s now a year later and I’m still living in the house Tony and I had started buying. No payments have been made since 2017. I have no electricity and no water. Also, I am unable to afford cell phone service, which makes it very hard to secure a job. I survive off of going to the local transfer site for everything I need, including all my food. 

It’s been almost 2 years since my parents were awarded custody of my kids, and I’ve only been allowed to see my babies 2 times. My oldest just turned 9, and my youngest turns 6 soon. Since I’ve been exiled from my family, I’ve missed many birthdays. Tony now has a new girlfriend who has 2 kids of her own, yet I am unable to see my children. 

I Feel Lost

My will to live and purpose to my life gone. I have suffered from severe depression since my oldest child was born. Most days I don’t even get out of bed. I feel lost and unsure of what to do anymore. It’s hard to preach about not going back to your abuser when I did for 11 years, but my advice to anyone who needs it is don’t put up with abuse. If I wouldn’t have left that December, I can almost guarantee that I would not be alive to type this story. And to the mothers out there – watch for signs of abuse. My parents never suspected anything. When I tried to open up to them about it last year, Tony had already made me look like the bad person for leaving and falsely accused me of using drugs. 

*Name(s) have been changed – and in some cases omitted – to protect the identity of the survivor and others affected by the abuse.

The Importance of Breaking The Silence Against Domestic Violence

The estimated annual number of domestic violence incidents in the U.S. far surpasses the number of reported cases each year. It is estimated that more than ten million adults experience domestic violence in the U.S. annually. Yet, only between 960,000 and 3,000,000 incidents are reported each year Reporting on a domestic violence incident or breaking the silence is likely to precipitate a series of events and reactions that current victims might not be prepared to deal with.

Consequences of Breaking The Silence

Speaking out may cause the abuser to become more violent and even lethal if they perceive an upcoming break-up. If the abuser is the main income-earner, it might trigger a separation. This could deprive the victim of financial support and confronts them with single-parenthood challenges. 

Personal Challenges As A Survivor

Breaking the silence presents survivors with their own challenges. There may be a fear of other people’s negative judgment or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Survivors can emotional distress of dealing with painful memories. There may be a desire to protect the abuser. These challenges can stop survivors from sharing their own experiences with domestic violence. 

Challenges As A Witness

Reporting on a domestic violence incident can be challenging for witnesses of domestic violence as well. A recent study of intimate partner homicides found that 20% of domestic-violence-related homicides were not victims. Rather, it was family members, friends, neighbors, people who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders. Journalists who write pieces on domestic violence cases receive threats and angry calls from abusers and their families.

Consequences of Remaining Silent

Speaking out about and against domestic violence is a challenging path for anyone who chooses to do so. However, the consequences of remaining silent are arguably even more dire and simply cannot be tolerated. In the U.S., 1 in 2 female and 1 in 13 male murder victims are killed by intimate partners. 65% of all murder-suicides are perpetrated by intimate partners. Intimate partner femicide has increased in recent years, due to an increase in femicide committed with a firearm. Additionally, 1 in 10 women and 1 in 50 men have experienced stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 12 men have experienced contact sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse. Finally, intimate partner victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior.

Break The Silence Becomes Life Or Death

What is at stake with breaking the silence against domestic violence, then, is life and death. Our voice has the power to save lives, end ongoing, long-lasting cycles of family abuse, stop intimate partner stalking. We can reduce the prevalence of sexual assault in and outside intimate relationships. Our voice can help victims maintain or regain their job and financial independence. We are able to improve victims’ mental health and alleviate cases of PTSD by speaking up about domestic violence. Using our voice, we can protect children from aggression and traumatic events that can haunt them into adulthood.

The sheer prevalence of domestic violence across the globe may make us feel small and unable to contribute to its eradication. However, breaking the silence as a solution to IPV is neither a single act nor a one-person job; it consists of a series of actions that complement and build off of each other.

Where Does Break The Silence Start

It starts with education. What are the red-flags in abusive relationships, and how to spot and avoid them? What is a strong, loving relationship? Why do abusers engage in violent actions, and what can social institutions do to stop them? What are the dynamics of abusive relationships, and why do some victims stay? How should victims, survivors, bystanders, governments act in response to domestic violence? Many genuinely do not know the answers to these questions or haven’t pondered them deeply enough. How could they, when schools, family and acquaintances, and society at large, haven’t properly informed them about IPV?

Survivors who share their personal stories effectively become public educators, shedding the much-needed light on IPV for those who want to help but just don’t know how or why also inspiring current victims to take action and begin their healing process. Researchers who publish reports on the effects of government policies and interventions on domestic violence refine our pool of knowledge, and we, the readers who seek out reliable information on IPV, help establish a more educated and aware society.

Breaking the silence equips us with the knowledge required to take informed actions against domestic violence. These may take on any shape and form, and no initiative is too small. 

Educate Your Community

You may use your knowledge on IPV to teach teenagers about domestic violence and healthy relationships at your local schools, or you may post articles online or hand out fliers with statistics and insights on domestic violence.

So, now your local teenagers are informed about IPV, but law enforcement might not have the human and financial resources to properly detect every domestic violence incident in their jurisdiction. By reporting incidents you help them perform their job better. Once victims escape abusers, their domestic violence situation is dealt with according to a specific set of laws that aren’t always victim-friendly or informed. So, you may protest or lobby for legislation that properly protects victims and for institutions that take domestic violence seriously.

Start The Conversation

What about deep-rooted cultures of victim-blaming and privilege that allow abusers to continue inflicting harm on others? Breaking the silence starts regional and national conversations on ending these maladaptive cultural habits and replacing them with healthier, more inclusive ones.

Volunteer Your Time

You may want to lend out victims a helping hand directly and volunteer with a domestic violence hotline or a victim shelter. Shelters for domestic violence victims are usually under-funded, so you may, alternatively, want to collect funding yourself or pressure local institutions to make donations. Of course, those funds are only made available by those who believe in eradicating domestic violence, that is, those who are educated on the issue. This brings us back to the relevance of breaking the silence on domestic violence by sharing personal stories, statistics, reports, thoughts, and any insight.

You, along with your team of helpers, are a crucial part of this breaking-the-silence-chain that victims and society at large rely on for a future where no person is subject to abuse from the people closest to them. Whether it’s one-hour taking calls with a hotline, one fund-raiser, one post, one article–whatever you feel capable of doing, it matters. Every piece adds up and contributes to breaking the silence and saving lives.

Photo Credit: Michael Dam, via Unsplash