Life After Domestic Violence: When the Trauma, Fear, and Tactics Continue

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      Ana Gaby

      Once upon a time, I was married. I was in a relationship, that even though looked normal in many ways and I was happy, it included a lot of red flags that I missed. We got engaged fairly quickly after we began dating. After my wedding, domestic violence instantly escalated in the form of financial, physical, spiritual, and emotional abuse. I became pregnant not much after, and when my daughter was born, I gained the awareness and courage to make a change and leave a bad situation behind me. I found amazing support systems in the state I was living in, I got an order of protection, and I filed for divorce. I also left that state to seek shelter near my family.

      I started a new life – with a new job that allowed me to get an apartment with my child in a safe and gated community, find great childcare, and start over.

      Meanwhile, my former spouse was fighting for my daughter and I to return. My daughter was 6 months old at the time, I did not have family in that state, and realistically I could not find the same level of employment there to support my daughter by myself. I was terrified.

      My former spouse and his lawyer continued to fight to bring me back…UNLESS I agreed to lifting my order or protection, not filing domestic violence accusations in our new state, and attending counseling with him. In an attempt to fight for a safe new life and remain in my new home, I agreed. He moved to a nearby city, and we attended four counseling sessions which all centered around the same threat: He said that he would be a worse father to our daughter if I was not with him. As a new mom seeking safety for my baby, this terrified me. This fear only expanded when he fought for 50/50 custody as he realized that I would never be with him again.

      It has been almost three years since leaving him. Despite the amount of time since our divorce, he wears his wedding ring and sends reminders that he still sees us as a married couple in the eyes of the Catholic Church. In an attempt to break entirely free, I filed for catholic annulment. It was a two year process that resulted with acknowledgment of his control towards me from his own testimony and statements from several witnesses. The annulment was granted, and for the first time years after the separation, I felt free and validated from the abuse that I received. However, the journey did not end there.

      My former spouse decided to fight the annulment as a final attempt to remain married. He selected the most drastic and expensive appeal available to him to fight the church’s decision…despite knowing that I never want to be with him again. This appeal was sent to the Roman Vatican, and we have not heard a result. Therefore, the wedding ring remains proudly on his hand. In the last years, he is responsible for numerous anonymous gifts sent to my apartment and my parent’s residence, stalking my social media accounts, sending reminders of his unwanted affection towards me, and several occasions in which he has driven by locations that I am at with my daughter. This year, while some of these stalking tendencies were addressed in the court, he gained 50/50 custody of our toddler, decided to enroll as a student at my workplace, and began attending my church.

      At this time, post-pandemic madness, grief, and loss, I find myself finding a new balance and starting over yet again. I have often considered myself to live a double life. One life as a thriving single mom to a toddler, finding success in the workplace, enrolling in grad school, , and raising a strong little lady. We’ve met many life-long friends, and stayed connected to those that helped us get to where we are today. However, there is this other side of life. The dark side that comes with trauma and reminders that I am and will always be a survivor of domestic violence.

      For some individuals in my community of survivors, domestic violence ends after a criminal charge, or after a terrible incident in which someone is harmed or killed. For individuals like me, there is not much that can be done. We are a large group that lives a normal life in lots of ways, but continues to not have protection in legal, emotional, financial, and sometimes physical ways. While I have started over and am committed to overcoming the obstacles in my life, a big part of actually doing so includes “breaking my silence”, looking hard at the messy and difficult parts of my own life, and embracing the community of people that can understand and support this hardship.

      This year, my focus is quality over quantity. The quality of the belly laughs, the drinks shared with good friends, the meals shared with family and loved ones, and the sticky toddler kisses after now limited days full of fun under the sun. We focus on the things we can control, and do our best to manage the things that are entirely out of our control – With emergency plan A, B, and C ready in case we might ever need it. Most importantly, we take care of ourselves. Pour a little grace, and keep moving forward. It’s not a perfect life, but despite the hardship, my strong daughter is thriving, which means I am thriving too. Today, in an effort to heal and face the world with more strength and growth, I #BreakTheSilenceAgainstDomesticViolence, and I thank my family, friends, support systems, and the BTSDV which have all given me the courage to keep moving forward to have the happiness and peace we deserve.

      I do not know what is in store at the end of my story. There is a lot of fear that it will be a similar ending to the ones shared by many that have lived almost exact experiences as me – an ending with tragedy or loss. However, I have the tools to be ready, and the support systems to not back down.

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