Rebuilding and Grateful But Still Afraid

rebuilding

I was a naive fourteen-year-old, dating an older boy. It was my first real experience, but not his. The first time we met up, he kissed me, my first real kiss, but he didn’t stop there. I was in pain, but that didn’t bother him. He accused me of not being a virgin. I didn’t even fully understand what sex was, and I had no idea of the hell I was about to go through, but I was afraid.

I was a damaged fifteen-year-old, dating an older boy. He kept me awake at night. If I hung up on him or fell asleep, he would keep calling until I answered. If I didn’t answer, he said I would regret it. One night, I put my phone on silent. I woke up with over two hundred voicemails and text messages, berating and belittling me. If I talked to any males, even my close friends, he would threaten me, or worse, threaten them. He had a gift for finding people’s weaknesses. If I tried to walk away, he would reel me back in with lies. I didn’t know what to believe, but I was afraid.

Ripped to Pieces

I was a broken sixteen-year-old, dating an older boy. He isolated me from my friends and family. He told me what to wear, what to say, how to feel. He told me he was just trying to protect me because all men were predators. He taught me to fear, not only him, but everyone else. He told me that if I ever left him, he would have to prove his love to me by killing himself because he couldn’t live without me.

But now, he told me, it was my turn to prove that I loved him. If I really loved him, I would do exactly what he said. He tore me down, piece by piece so that I couldn’t walk away. He cheated, constantly, and blamed me every single time. The worst part was, I believed him. He showed me a world that was so unlike my own. It was full of chaos, excitement, rebellion; full of fear.

17 and Soulless

I was a seventeen-year-old that had lost her soul and had nothing left to believe in. He lost his temper, but it would never happen again, he said. He pinned me to the ground. He left bruises around my wrists. He threw knives at me. He forced me to sit in a hot car for hours. He spit in my face. He broke me. Deep down, there was nothing left. I lost who I was. I lost friendships, I lost hopes, I lost dreams. I lost all respect for myself. I hated who I had become. I blamed myself for being too weak to walk away. I blamed myself for letting him destroy me. Eventually, it got so bad that I stopped fighting back. I lost my voice. At seventeen years old, I lost my will to live.

I had accepted death, but nothing prepared me for the challenges I’d face once I survived.

Rebuilding and Grateful But Still Afraid

At some point, your friends have to walk away and you can’t blame anyone but yourself. They try to help you, but when you have to make choices between them and him, survival always wins, and they don’t always understand. You know how weak and pathetic you are, not being able to help yourself, but all your energy goes into just trying to make it through the day.

I had to rebuild these friendships and relationships, the ones that I hated myself for neglecting, while also trying to find my soul. I was lost. Could I ever go back to being who I was, that unsuspecting fourteen-year-old girl that knew very little about the darkness of the world?

The answer is no.

Rebuilding on a Roller Coaster

Today, I’m grateful for how far I’ve come, but that doesn’t erase the past. I’ve had to work harder than I ever expected. It’s been ten years and some days are still filled with dread, but it’s no longer every day. Some days I wake up wishing I could just disappear because I lose the hope that I’ll ever be able to feel happiness, but it’s no longer every day. Some days, I look in the mirror and am instantly filled with self-hatred. I can hear his voice telling me that I’m disgusting and worthless, that no one will ever love me. Some days, I still believe him, but it’s no longer every day.

Some days, I feel like I’m the monster like he stole a piece of me and replaced it with a piece of him. After all, he taught me everything I know about love.

I’m ashamed to still think this way because so much time has passed, but not all of the wounds have healed. It feels like it’s never going to end. To be honest, I don’t even blame him anymore because, deep down, I know that someone broke him first. Still, though, every time I meet someone new, he lingers over my shoulder. He brings out the worst in me.

I’m Still Afraid

I see his face all too often. Sometimes in my nightmares, sometimes in other people, and worst of all, sometimes in myself.

And I’m still afraid. Afraid that I’ll never know what love actually feels like. Afraid that I’ll never forgive myself. Afraid that every person I encounter sees weakness all over me, that I’ll never be strong enough. Afraid for every innocent fourteen-year-old that is taught to believe that they aren’t worthy of love.

When Abuse Hides Behind Love

abuse hides behind love

I am afraid to tell you my story. Afraid because in my story, I am a victim, and I have never seen myself as a victim. Afraid because – even in the thick of it – I didn’t see the abuse, and I’m afraid you won’t either. The abuse hides. Afraid because I will have to relive the pain, the fear, the emptiness. I will have to see those parts of myself that I have tried to forget and hide and bury. And I am afraid of crying when I tell my story because I’m not sure if I will be able to stop the tears from falling.

Hides in Love

The abuse was cloaked in love and longing. In logic and rationality. In silence and distance. I spent so many years normalizing and excusing the abuse. Even now, I find it difficult to call it abuse. His love hid the abuse – and he had no idea.

We met at a Christmas party when I was 19 years old. Our eyes met across a crowded room, and a passionate long-distance romance began. We wrote letters to one another on carefully chosen stationery. I spent hours crafting my thoughts into words in the hope that they would make him love me. We moved in together when I was 22, and so began the first signs of control. We discussed our finances, and he expressed the need for all of my income to cover our living expenses. I agreed and only later realized that this left me with no financial autonomy. When I over-spent, I don’t remember there being angry words or shouting—just the shame of his disapproval and disappointment.

This was to be the pattern for the next 18 years of my life: subtle and insidious control slowly eroding my sense of self and my place in the world.

Hides Within Family Pain

My greatest sadness lies in my family’s pain in watching my story unfold and knowing that they were powerless to intervene. Early on, they had tried to tell me that this man was not right for me and that there was trouble ahead. He himself had told me when I first met him that he was “not nice.” My family warned me, one of his friends warned me, and even he warned me… But I felt loved and in love. I couldn’t reconcile the warnings with my reality. 

The years that followed brought us both successful careers, amazing travel adventures, and upper-middle-class wealth material trappings. I had come to accept that my husband didn’t wish to spend any time with my family and didn’t like most of my friends. I let his feelings guide my own actions in distancing myself from those who loved and cared about me.

His Loss of Power

We had never planned to have children, but as I approached 30, I longed to start a family. We talked about trying to have a baby and agreed that it was something we both wanted. But it quickly became obvious that I suffered from subfertility, and we were advised to commence IVF treatment. My husband understandably felt like an observer most of the time, powerless to influence any outcomes and bewildered by the many unsuccessful cycles. One night, we discussed what to do if we didn’t fall pregnant the next time around. I suggested donor eggs or adoption. He adamantly refused to accept a non-biological child. At that point, I realized for the first time that we were two very different people. But all of our differences were quickly forgotten when we fell pregnant the very next cycle.

The pregnancy was high-risk and downright hard on my small 5-foot frame. But nothing phased me. I was ecstatic to be pregnant finally and took it all in stride: the constant sickness, gestational diabetes, and the “house arrest” from 20 weeks onward. I think all of this likely made my husband feel powerless and afraid. Outwardly, he seemed calm and supportive, but he could also be very distant and even mean. 

Hiding Behind Parental Struggles

Caring for babies is hard. My husband and I struggled as new parents and struggled as a couple.

I returned to work, and life moved forward. My husband became increasingly stressed. There were financial pressures. He was drinking more. We didn’t talk much, and if I tried to discuss my concerns, he would shut the conversation down. He would only touch me in the context of sexual intimacy. We were both becoming increasingly socially isolated.

At this point, my mother had entered into a wonderful new romance and was getting married. My sister was flying her family over from Europe for the wedding, and my brother was flying his family over from Australia. We hadn’t seen each other for several years and knew that it would be several more before we all met up again. With this in mind, my husband agreed reluctantly that we could attend the wedding.

Isolation

But my husband did not want to see my family before the wedding, and I didn’t have any energy to try to do so without him. Following the wedding, my husband agreed to visit my mother’s house, which didn’t have any child safety measures. My husband and I were racing around trying to prevent any toddler accidents when he suddenly yelled that he’d had enough, picked up the twins, and said that he was leaving. I pleaded with him to stay – this was the only opportunity I had to spend time with my family. I also knew that if I stayed against his wishes, he would see me as disloyal, and a period of emotional distancing and silence would follow. I was too exhausted to protest and stay.

I will never forget my entire family begging us to stay and then standing on the driveway crying as we pulled away. I, too, cried silently as I waved them goodbye, knowing that I would not see them again for years.

Reflection

I recently asked my siblings for their recollection of events because I still don’t trust my own memory of what happened. And when I imagine looking at my story from the outside, like you are now, it doesn’t seem that bad. It doesn’t seem dramatic or damaging. But every one of these small, hurtful daggers added up to almost two decades of being slowly hollowed out, of losing myself.

I have since asked myself, “how did I actually let that happen?” I have looked inward and tried to uncover the psychological flaws in myself that could have led to this abuse. I have also wondered what motivated my abuser – he didn’t know then and doesn’t know now that he was abusing me.

Jess Hill, in her polarizing book, See What He Made Me Do, explains the complexities of being in the shoes of both the victim and the abuser. She highlights that the issues are societal and individual; the solutions demand individualized treatment through community-led, collaborative programs. 

By the time I turned 37, I understood why some people choose to disappear from their current lives – leaving their family, friends, and familiar surroundings. Not that I myself was going to disappear, I felt deep despair at losing myself. I knew that I had somehow lost my truth, my way, my light.

Saving Myself

When I was 39, my husband chose to take a 12-month overseas work posting on his own. As a result, I was suddenly set free and reveled in my newfound freedom. Over the course of that year, I reconnected with friends, family, and myself.  I realized that every decision I had made up to that point in time was my own. There were outside influences, but ultimately no one could save me but me. I was going to have to save myself. And so, I did. By the time my husband returned, I had decided to leave our marriage.

Thankfully, after the break-up, I continued to work full time and quickly established my financial independence. There was no requirement for child support payments, and I found myself free of my ex-husband’s financial control. I give thanks every day for this. I am deeply aware that this is not the case for many victims and that financial autonomy can remain an ongoing source of trauma.

But my ex-husband’s pattern of emotional distancing, silence, and control continued despite the divorce. He hasn’t spoken a single word to me in 8 years, even though we have 50:50 shared custody of our children. Without any in-person dialogue, we initially agreed to communicate by email. Predictably, my emails would frequently go unanswered, and I often found myself pleading for replies. After a while, I gave up begging and waiting for responses. 

Seeing the Control

I didn’t realize it at the time, but we had begun a system of “parallel parenting.” Parallel parenting allows parents to take charge of parenting decisions while the children are under that parent’s care without the need for the other parent’s approval. It is often the chosen parenting method for high conflict ex-partners.

Withholding of information has been my ex-husband’s dominant strategy of control over the past 8 years. Luckily, now that the twins are teenagers, they can message or call me with any important updates. We have also moved from email to a parenting app called “Talking Parents,” which has facilitated much better communication when needed. 

My ex-husband remarried several years after our divorce and now has another child. He enjoys great success professionally, and I find that I am still immensely proud of him and all that he’s achieved. I truly hope that he is happy and doesn’t repeat the abuse pattern in his new relationship.

My New Story

I have now written a new story: one based on love, kindness, generosity, joy, and the simplicity of being. I give thanks every day for my two beautiful children, an amazing family, wonderful friends, and work that I love. In just over two years, my children will turn 18, and there will no longer be any need for regular communication with my abuser.

I know that I am one of the lucky ones and that for many other victims, there can be no such happy ending. Many will tragically die, and many will be irreparably damaged; as Gloria Stein points out, in many societies, “most women are one man away from welfare.” My greatest wish is that our children will not have to continue the fight against domestic abuse. That with this war fought and won, they themselves will never have to go into battle.

A Pastor’s Daughter: Road to Recovery & Forgiveness

pastor's daughter

Pastor’s Daughter

Having been raised as a pastor’s daughter with little hope or help in my brokenness, I know the lack of response on the part of churches when abuse strikes families of faith. My dad was a pastor and missionary with the first denomination to recognize the need for victims to be heard and helped. In 1997, the denomination faced tragic abuse allegations at the denomination’s academy in West Africa during the 1950s – 1970s. A committee on discipline & restoration was set up in 1998 to help many survivors who were tragically abused at that boarding school as children as their parents were doing missionary work.

As a pastor’s daughter, I never thought I had a story until I began a relationship with an imprisoned heroin addict. He and I had a link: dangerous sexual abuse as I began to write him. Over eight years, I was emotionally codependent with this hardened criminal as we brought him in & out of prison and our home. Early on in our marriage, severe PTSD and infertility following decades of trauma led to our eldest son’s adoption. But pornography and infidelities rocked my marriage to the core. Many years later, I realized my husband’s sexual addictions and deep anger towards me resulted from his not having dealt with his father’s suicide.

I knew nothing about his world but was willing to help him get into detox and drug treatment programs. I thought that I could help him, but I learned that I was the one who needed rescuing. Because of my faith, I am a caretaker with deep empathy, but I had to learn who I was and what happened to me so these strengths could become my purpose in helping other survivors. My long road to recovery from childhood incest from ages 2-8 and clergy sexual assault from ages 11-12 took decades. Along this road, I found my passion and purpose.

Road to Recovery

In 1998 after watching a show on confronting family secrets with my elderly mother, I realized that secrets destroy your soul and ability to live free. I gained courage and Pandora’s box opened as I wept and told my mother what her father did to me as a very little girl – only to learn that she too had been violated.

The following summer, I finally found my God-given passion and purpose after going back to the camp where I was violated by a clergy member. The house of cards began to fall as triggers surfaced and I saw one of my childhood friends. I discovered that she too had experienced sexual assault by the same pastor as I had. We both wrote letters to the denomination’s headquarters and reported what happened to us. The committee on discipline & restoration, with several pastors and well-known psychologists, led four of us adult survivors forward to face the elderly youth pastor for what he did to us in the 1950s. He was in complete denial when I confronted him and chose to forgive him. He was charged with six counts against myself and the other women, having caused severe PTSD. Just seven weeks later, I received a phone call and was shocked to learn that he fell down the stairs, broke his back, and passed away.

My Purpose

It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but necessary to my restoration, closure, and healing. My story has received international attention. A film crew flew to my mission compound during my humanitarian aid work in the Philippines and made a short YouTube movie about my life. I now co-host the NAASCA Stop Child Abuse NOW Talk Show.

You Never Deserve The Abuse

you never deserve the abuse

“You never deserve the abuse” is the message Andrea has for her Survivor Sisters after recounting her own abuse. As Andrea breaks her silence, she questions why she stayed and why those around her never spoke up about the abuse that they witnessed between her and her boyfriend. Thank you for your strength, Andrea.

The Beginning

I first met my abuser when I was in middle school. We didn’t meet again until my senior year of high school when we started dating. He was a liar and childish then, maybe a bit of a manipulator, but I didn’t feel he was malicious. At least not until our fifth year together. Our on and off relationship was an emotional tornado. 

He had never even threatened or seemed like he would hit me. The most he would do is get angry or yell, but I was not afraid of him. I was not perfect. I want to make that clear. He was not the typical narcissistic abuser, although I would find out he was a pathological liar. He seemed to turn on and off his emotions and sympathy for me and maybe others. He was never pleasant, charming, or affectionate in the beginning, then it became gradually worse. He was funny alright, and charming when he wanted to be. 

After the abuse, I berated myself…I knew who he was. And yet I stayed. He cheated many times. Although I never caught him physically, it was always flirting, texting, and trying to hang out with other girls behind my back. He would make remarks that suggested I should change, or I wasn’t good enough. He would accept and ask for money but then not talk to me until he needed some more. Then he was nice for a day or two. I still felt I needed his approval, affection, and attention. It was a drug. The first drug I ever had. 

You Don’t Deserve The First Hit

He didn’t hit me until August of 2016, maybe a week or two before discovering I was pregnant. He hit me on my lip, and I can only remember we were sitting on my sofa-bed, with the light barely spilling through my blinds. My neighbors lived close to us in the apartment complex and I’m surprised they never said anything during the time I stayed there when we would fight or slam doors. My head rocked, and I was stunned, not from any pain but because he hit me. It wasn’t hard, but it was the beginning of something that I never even thought would happen. 

Despite his bullshit and flaws, I never thought he would beat me. Two weeks later, I found out I’m pregnant. Not conceived out of rape or sexual assault from my abuser, but more so emotional manipulation and stupidity on my side. I thought I wanted kids with him because he desperately wanted them. I never did until I met him, and whatever he wanted, I tried to provide for him. I even took more than multiple trips to his house in another state while he went to school, paying for an Uber, a friend’s lift, then a taxi there and back to the train station. A 16+ hour trip. Paying for his friend to pick me up or a $200-300 taxi sometimes. I would buy his underwear, food for us, rent for him, a PlayStation, sports stuff, and pay for almost everything unless he had a job. Even then, he needed money sometimes. I was there in every way I could be. If a child was what he wanted even if he asked during sexual intimacy, which leads to more vulnerability, sometimes, I wanted to give that. 

After I found out, I didn’t want it. In my gut, I did not want a child. I didn’t have the means to support it anyway, and neither did he. I felt horrible, but I told him I made my decision, and I was getting an abortion. He was upset but said he supported me. He came to appointments with me before and during the surgery. He would hold me whenever I got upset and cried about it and felt I failed everyone. Later I would find out he blamed that decision on starting his resentment and abuse toward me. It had started before, but I would always wonder if that was true. 

He gradually started to choke me. Once he knocked my head back, and it hit the floor hard. He choked me at night, mainly. I would silently cry because he would tell me to shut up, and he didn’t feel bad if I cried. I did this to myself. I didn’t know how to listen. He would hit me in my face if I didn’t shut up, he said. My roommates would be home or in the same room as us. I always wondered if they could hear us too and just pretended for their sake (maybe mine too) that they couldn’t. 

Eventually, one roommate noticed I was becoming increasingly depressed. My sadness was visible even though I thought I did a decent job when I needed to act normal. I was becoming more isolated than usual (even for me) and more and more anxious. I felt I had OCD, and it was getting worse. I was focused on school and my abuser. My family and I didn’t really connect or talk for several reasons. I felt they only knew my superficial life and that I couldn’t turn to them or anyone. I barely had friends, to begin with. Now I really had no one. He started to destroy my stuff on top of choking me and yelling. He would make scenes even when I begged him to please quiet down because my manager lived right next door. The walls were thin here. He would say he didn’t care and slam the door if he left to the store or to the kitchen and/or yell at me and take my phone sometimes. Threaten to break things. 

It would get bad like this if I threatened to leave. He threatened to kill himself sometimes. Those times if it was at my apartment, he would take a knife or some weapon into the bathroom or talk, walk and say he would just off himself, and I would be better off. I’d have to rush after him and stop him. The times that I didn’t chase after him, because I felt he wasn’t serious and just wanted sympathy and attention, he would barge in and choke me or yell at me. He would make me stay up to answer his questions on why I didn’t care or finish a conversation we had earlier. If he finally let me sleep, he would threaten me quietly and tell me to go the fuck to sleep then. His threats were sometimes only implied with his facial expressions, and that was enough for me. 

I Knew His Triggers

I learned what words and actions were triggers. However, I still crossed the lines anyway because I became more reckless even though I would shut down if he tried to hurt me or damage my things or get more aggressive. I always shut down as I would when I was younger and would get yelled at. He would get angry if I was silent and refused to answer anything. I pushed when I was angry, and he was calm or pleading, then he became the one to push my buttons and hurt me. He eventually started to tell me he cheated because I wasn’t there for him, or I wasn’t woman enough; I needed to woman up. I was a bitch, I didn’t cook, I didn’t do anything, I was a baby killer. I killed his child. He would drag me sometimes or slap the back of my head. Choking was his primary ammo. 

Fast forward to my third apartment and in a new state in the spring of 2018, the state where he went to college and where I used to visit him. I followed him to attend my master’s program for a new experience, to be away from my toxic family issues at the time, and because of its cheap tuition. But mainly to be with him. At the same time, he continued to work his job at a restaurant. I was pregnant the week after I arrived and moved into my new apartment. I regretted that experience so much, even though it was consensual again, and felt worse because I wasn’t learning from my mistakes. 

One time, he started to punch my chest and stomach. He sat on me and hit my back so hard that I was temporarily paralyzed for a day. I had to go to the emergency room. No one could help me and get anything for me. He decided to leave me and go to work rather than go with me to my first trip to an E.R. I came back home at 3 am. I was better, but eventually, I got a UTI. I was in excruciating pain for a week. During my spring break, and still pregnant, I couldn’t eat much, was easily nauseous, and would discharge as if I was peeing myself. I was anxious and ready to get rid of this one too. 

Detachment

He was upset but more detached. He was angrier because he would sit on me, choke me, and yell at me. After all, I was getting rid of it, but he refused to get attached to it like he did the last pregnancy. He was reckless, and I became increasingly so. I became erratic and obsessive in my behavior, controlling because of his constant lies and sporadic cheating. I would walk at night, even more, taking off in anger, finding him, or would go to his house. He would do the same to me. He would take my phone and bend it, throw it on the ground. I had to threaten the cops and hunt him down for my property. He slammed doors still even though I had another roommate and others below me and down the hall. He would choke me and hit even with his roommate down the hall in his house. He would leave me in his room while he hung out with friends or go to the store and come back, pretending everything was fine. He wanted me to be okay after, too, and if I wasn’t, I got yelled at or dismissed. My crying sometimes warranted sympathy and apologies, sometimes he was nonchalant and forced me to cut it out.

I had my second abortion, paying for all expenses yet again and another painful experience. I had gone to the E.R. twice after my back injury. The first time because of my UTI, the second because the medication didn’t work. The last time because I had a thick blood clot, I was worried I was miscarrying. I still went to work and school but missed days to stay with him because there were still many days. I loved him and wanted to be near him all the time. He was always my drug, and I hated it. I didn’t know how to stop or if I could ever leave him. He was my confidant, best friend, boyfriend, and at one point, very briefly for almost a month, we were engaged. Looking back, I am embarrassed, but only my roommates knew. He was also the second biggest bully I ever had in my life.

Remembering the Details

I remember most of the details of the last several experiences: smell, sound, touch, the pain. I remember him becoming so bold one morning while on the way to class one day that he grabs my throat, and I have to remind him we’re outside. He didn’t care, but he soon took his hand off. He was bold to throw himself at me after I sprayed Febreeze in his face because he took my phone and wouldn’t give it back. He had a friend over to smoke and watched tv with him while I was sitting in the apartment as a small child. I begged for my phone, and when he kept dismissing me, I grabbed the spray with anger. After I sprayed him, it happened quickly, where he lunged at me after to wrestle it from me and pinned me down on the couch. His friend said, “Woah!”, backing away, nervous, and rather than help or even try, he left after my abuser, said bye, and apologized. After his friend left, I was smacked a few times. 

His friends he was staying with noticed but didn’t say anything except a warning that maybe he should stop. He was bold enough to drag me in the house, pick me up and slam me on another couch at another close friend’s house, and he choked me even if people were in the next room with no doors to give us privacy. I started to believe people had no idea what he was. Before we moved into an apartment together while I was in my master’s program, I stayed at yet another friend’s house with him. As we got into an argument, I wanted to get my stuff out, and he told me to leave. When I did what he said, he stopped me from opening the door, closed it, and grabbed the back of my head, and tried to slam me into the wall. The only way I could protect my face was by covering it and stopping the impact. I was fine, but I knew he would have smashed my face in the wall had I let him. He took me into his room and told me to get on the bed. He yelled and called me names and got his belt from his pants. He whipped me a couple times on my legs and told me to stay still, or he would do it worse. He stopped soon after, apologized like usual, and tried to amend it. But he always followed up with; he just wanted me to listen and not make it hard to fix things. Not make things difficult, period. 

He would get upset sometimes if I brought up why I wanted out or why we had issues. I yelled one day as we walked home that I was sick of wearing sweaters and long sleeves during the summer to cover my bruises on my arms. I had some on my neck sometimes too, and that’s how I knew he didn’t care what people thought or if they suspected. He was getting worse, and the abuse more frequent. 

Several days before I left, he taunted me while I lay on the couch with a small blow torch, knowing I was afraid of fire. When he hit me on my head, he brought me to my feet, and we ended up in the kitchen where he was close to my face. A usual scare tactic, his nose flared and mouth clenched. He threw his forehead on mine and hit me again. He said he knew I was checking out his friend earlier when they were talking. The irony is he was the cheater in our relationship. When I asked to use the restroom, he allowed me to and followed me. He soon choked me before I could even wipe myself and said if I ever told his sister what he did again, he’d kill me. In another instance, he tried to force my head into the toilet. It was another punishment. It was one of the worst insults he knew he could give me, given my anxiety and germaphobia.

The Last Straw

The night before I decided to go to work and not come back to stay at our apartment, he was yelling again, and I told him I’d just go. I was sick of it. It was raining, and he told me to go, even though I paid most of the bills, paid the rent, and our phone bills (for three or four years straight, I paid his phone bill). I walked out the door, and he rushed after me as I walked into the backyard, which had no fence, so I would have kept walking to the alley and had no idea where I was headed. It was raining hard, and the dirt was muddy and thick. The only thing I wore were pajama shorts, a tank top, and my house slippers. He yelled after me, and when I saw him run after me, I ran, but he caught up to me, and I slipped. He dragged me through the mud, on the concrete patio to our apartment door and in the house. He dropped me on the couch and told me to lay there with no shower. I had scratches on my legs, they were wet, muddy, and I was cold. He knew I was a germaphobe, borderline obsessed, which was my last punishment for the night. He was drunk, as he was some nights, and he sat on his favorite armchair and watched tv on his tablet for a few minutes until he fell asleep quickly. When I heard him snore, I wiped the floors clean of the water and mud, soaked my shoes to get the dirt out, and showered, crying again. 

By now, I broke down more than several times a week in the bathroom and at work when I was alone. He would get angry if I listened to my music and locked myself in there, claiming I was weak for being suicidal. I could stop being depressed if I stopped complaining all the time and had more mental strength. I let my tears run with the water coming out of the showerhead and in the drain, the mud coming off, and my scratches stung more. I made my plan to just leave in the morning with my backpack, which he would not think weird because I would bring a sweater and other things to occupy me at work. Instead, I got clothes, my laptop, and other personal items I might need for a few days until I figured out what to do next. 

Picking Up The Pieces

I ended up going to my co-worker/close friend’s house, who I just met at my summer job. Her apartment was literally down the street from our apartment, but he would not know who I was staying with. I could only hope he wouldn’t figure it out because he knew what apartment she lived in and who she was as we used to do our laundry sometimes during the summer there. After my job ended that August, I had some money to pay for a train back to my home state and ship a couple of boxes of my clothes back. I finally left. I’ll always be grateful to those who helped me pack, move, and sell the property from my apartment. My abuser was reasonable enough to leave the apartment we shared. He responded to my threats to call the police and promised to find a new place to live. 

It was a long process the rest of that summer as he damaged the apartment wall and had to fix it because I told him I wasn’t paying for more damages before I moved out. He soon left, and I went through the rest of that summer torn between staying in the state and going to school in person or leaving. My parents eventually convinced me I should leave for my safety. I reconnected with my old best friend, and she supported me along with my co-worker and two boys from our job that would play games with us at work to pass the time.

The Aftermath

At the last minute, I found support as I grew more determined to leave my abuser and leave the state and continue my program at my university online. My feelings of shame, anger, sadness at leaving the state I had come to love, and town that grew on me, letting him win, was all I could see. These feelings lasted well into even this year until one day, those feelings of anger started to lessen in frequency and intensity. Feelings of regret and what if I had just stayed with him or at least found a new place and just continued school there, subsided. I still feel the what-ifs once in a while, but I realize how far I have come. Anger, irritability, and sadness are still there, even if I can’t pinpoint the trigger or cause all the time. Anxiety is still the main barrier I face and struggle to deal with. Still, I’d rather deal with the double aftermath than having stayed with my abuser.

The girl I was then would be grateful to me now. You never deserve the abuse. You are not evil or just as bad for becoming like your abuser while you are stuck. This is a survival mode, and we do what we have to get through each day with them. You don’t deserve any of it no matter if you lie to appease them, how mean you think you were in response to them, and no matter what they tell you.

Rescue from my Prince Charming – Gaslighting, and the ‘Fog’ of Abuse

heroine over prince charming

This survivor felt completely alone in what she thought was her ‘fairy tale’ romance with Prince Charming. Without any reference and new to dating, she struggled to identify healthy habits from abusive ones. She slowly realized that she was in an abusive relationship and is working to free herself from it. She has the power to be the heroine of her story – with all the support and love from her survivor family and domestic violence shelters and organizations.

Enter Prince Charming

54 months. That’s how long I was with this guy. I met him when I had just turned 18 and he was 24. I thought he was my Prince Charming, here to rescue me from my miserable life, and strict parents. However, it was an ill-fated tale from the beginning.

The first thing he did was limit my interactions on social media – I had to remove all males and any females who were lesbians. He thought I would cheat on him, and wanted me to remove all options… even though I was straight.

Then he demanded access to all my passwords, because he was still insecure about my faithfulness. I ended up giving them to him because I though this was a normal step in a loving and caring adult relationship – in fact it was my first adult relationship, so I had nothing else to reference.

He then locked me out every social media account, preventing me any technological access to the ‘outside’ world, because he said I shouldn’t need anyone else if I truly loved him. It snowballed and I wasn’t allowed to see my friends in real life either. I lost all connections with them as time went on. 

My family time was also ruined through incessant arguments and tears. He then told me I was not allowed to play sports either, as that would prevent me from responding immediately. But he, of course, never abided by the same rules, and didn’t respond for hours or days at a time. He even chatted with women on social media; I just had to accept it because he made me believe I didn’t deserve a man like him.

My life consisted of school. I went to uni to study nursing where I had no friends, no social life, no extra-curricular activities. I would work, study, and then sit alone in my studio apartment, as I wasn’t allowed to live with other women. He told me this was because if they were single, they could influence me negatively. 

Three years. I ended up alone, with no support, no family, and no friends for three years. I struggled…

The physical abuse started to get worse after I was at uni. He would strangle me constantly until I fainted, and squeezed my wrists so hard that they would swell up and bruise. Anything triggered him. It could be as simple as asking him a question or seeing a guy smile at me in the grocery store. 

I wasn’t allowed to do anything without him. Not even to go on two weekly grocery trips with him, and that was it. 

I constantly had black eyes, bruises everywhere: on my ribs, arms, lips… I know people saw them, yet no one said a thing. 

He made me believe I had bipolar, depression, all sorts of mental illnesses. He even suggested that I admit myself for mental health problems as I was my issue in life. His tactic was to use my past against me and would constantly remind me that I should be dead right now. In between, he would call me fat and ugly, telling me that I was his last option. He was only with me because he settled for me. 

When I tried to get help, his friends, family, and work would paint me as the abuser, even though I was not. He would blackmail me, threaten to hurt my family members, ruin my career as a nurse, and destroy my home and life. It got worse as he forced me into sexual acts. He made me give him things that he believed I ‘owed’ him, and would often count down from 5 for no reason – making me fear for my safety.

I felt like everything was a trigger. Honestly, I want to die most of the time because of how he makes me feel. I struggle to cope, and I’m so upset. I feel crazy because I want someone to believe me, and help me. I want out.

I want to be free and safe.

I want to be rescued.

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.