Survivor Story: I’m Still Working Hard to Find My New Normal
Written by: Valerie, Survivor*
Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions of physical and sexual violence that some survivors may find particularly upsetting. Please consider your triggers and well-being before reading past this point.
Valerie escaped her abuser after a 13-year relationship, finding safety for herself and her 3 children. Like most abusive relationships, hers escalated steadily to almost deadly levels, while she hid signs of abuse from those around her. Read her story to find out how she survived both her abuser and the legal system to get to where she is today.
The Steady Escalation
In November 2012, I finally became free of my abuser – I was 29 years old.
We started dating when I was 16, and he got physically abusive with me two months into the relationship, ostensibly over my ‘guy friends’. I misunderstood his jealousy as love.
We had our first daughter when I was 18, our second daughter when I was 21, and our son when I was 25. During my pregnancies, he became increasingly violent. However, he rarely treated me poorly in front of others, so everyone else thought he was a good guy.
When my children were in bed, he would start fighting with me over anything I had said or done that day that he did not like. Often he would choke me, slap me, or pull my hair. I would not scream because I did not want to wake my kids or have them witness what was happening. I think he would use that to his advantage and at times it seemed like he kept hurting me just to hear me scream. He would hand me the phone and dare me to call the police; but, whenever he did that, he would also tell me to kiss the kids goodbye.
At times he would wrap his hands around my neck, squeezing so hard I could not breathe and just when I thought this was going to be it, he would let go. I would gasp for air and he would tell me I better not blackout because if I did, he could do whatever he wanted to me. Sometimes he pinned me down, and if I tried to escape, he would pull my hair so hard it ripped out of my scalp. When I was pinned down he would touch my vagina to see if I was “wet” and “turned on” by what he was doing to me.
He would tell me the next day that this would not have happened if I had just kept my mouth shut; that it was my fault because I did not keep my mouth shut. There were times that I had visible marks and he would hand me makeup to cover up and tell me what to tell people if they asked.
The many times I tried to leave, he threatened me with his family money and connections and told me he would take the children from me. These threats always made me stay because for a long time I believed them. Although my kids were growing up around violence, I felt I could better protect them if they were with me rather than with him.
It was five years before I left him. Child services were involved, much like they had been in the past. This time they said if there were any more incidents they would take my children away. However, they did not help me and my kids with any support or a plan to leave. They did offer us marriage counseling which I thought was the most absurd option since they knew he was abusing me. In fact, by that time, he had been charged on a few occasions. Their words felt like my death sentence. His abuse intensified and I felt helpless knowing I could not ask for help because it meant losing my children.
He took my money, destroyed my things, sabotaged my jobs, and burned my jeep. There were moments of respite when he was gone, either on dates with other women or because of travels. These were the best times for me and my kids.
In February 2012, he was away, so I took the opportunity to have dinner with an old friend. Within an hour he was texting me to ask where I was. He had come back earlier than expected and discovered that I was not home. He then began calling and texting me non-stop; however, I ignored it all. He then made threats to find me, and I ignored this as well. When I left the restaurant and headed to my van, he was just standing there. I was terrified. I was able to get into my van and drive away, but he followed and tried to run me off the road. I pulled over, and he came over and told me to get out of the van. When I did not, he punched my window and mirror, breaking the mirror, and told me I was lucky that it was not my head. I drove away, but he did not follow. I searched for him in the rearview mirror the entire way home, but I didn’t see him until I got back home. I managed to park my van and ran inside to hide.
Thinking about this now, I should have driven away. I heard him come in, banging and crying, with the crying continuing for some time. After a while, I came out and found him curled up under the computer desk crying. When he noticed me, he said he had messed up and knew he had lost me. For some reason, I felt bad for him, yet I also felt empowered. It was good to see him weak and crying for a change. So I told him I did not care – that he deserved to hurt.
He lunged at me and I tried to run, but he grabbed me by my hair and threw me down. His strength seemed to grow tenfold. He sat on my chest and smacked me in the face. He pulled my lips to open my mouth painfully wide and taunted me saying I had a big mouth. His face looked so evil that I wanted to close my eyes, yet I could not because then I would not see what was happening. He started punching me in the head over and over. I passed out at some point and when I regained consciousness, I was on my stomach with my pants down. At that point, I realized he was forcefully sodomizing me. I screamed and I cried, but he just pushed my face hard into the carpet. My face stung and the tears made it hurt more, like salt in a cut. He ejaculated and then left my body. He got up and told me to quit crying, get my a** off the floor, and clean up because I looked disgusting.
I felt pain everywhere and I just wanted to take a shower. I felt so gross with liquid coming from my private areas. As I got to the bathroom, I saw him come out of the bedroom down the hall. Using a soft voice, he said he was going to help me wash up. I wanted nothing more than to have enough strength to push him down the stairs near the bathroom. Instead, he followed me into the bathroom and started to undress me, being sweet, and caressing me all over. I pulled away, which made him scream at me, and he grabbed me by my hair and flung my head towards the counter. I do not even remember hitting the counter. I regained consciousness alone, on the bathroom floor, with blood everywhere. My face was so swollen and bloody.
When I got in the shower I noticed bruises, scratches, rug burns, and broken fingernails and toenails. This too was hidden, and during the weeks it took to heal, everyone was told that I slipped getting out of the shower. I supposed it seemed believable because my bathroom counter was close to, and directly across from the shower. No one questioned me because I always kept my abuse a secret and he often hit me in areas that were easily hidden.
I saw a doctor unfamiliar to me and disclosed what truly happened to me, but did not say who did it, for fear of losing my kids. He assessed me and did some tests. I had a concussion, a small brain bleed, a fractured nose, a hole in my nasal septum, broken blood vessels in my eyes and cheeks, and significant damage to my anal sphincter. He recommended surgery for my nose and rectum.
For the next seven months, I prepared to leave my abuser. I started telling other people, and I sought help through various agencies. During this time he began a relationship with a woman from work, so I contacted her and told her I knew they were in a relationship, and that I wanted him out of my home. The next day he actually left. I felt so empowered and relieved, after months of trying to figure out how and when to leave, he was out within a matter of hours.
Journey to Freedom
However, I was still not free of him – he tried to take my kids, he stalked me, and he harassed me, all while playing the apparent victim in court. The courts often sided with him and shut me down when I mentioned abuse, even though he was charged a few years prior for abusing me, so there was prior documented proof. I even tried to get an emergency protection order but they denied it, and I was told that I was trying to abuse the system to make him look bad in family law matters.
I have been forced by the courts to deal with him and give him access to our children even when he was mistreating them, which the courts kept dismissing. He had been verbally mistreating our girls, so I fought harder. Finally, after years of fighting the courts and him, he now only gets limited access to our son.
It’s been hell for my children and for me. I also felt that the system only traumatized us further. I am becoming stronger and can finally stand up for my kids and myself. We are working hard to find our new normal, knowing that there is a long road of healing ahead.
*Name(s) have been changed – and in some cases omitted – to protect the identity of the survivor and others affected by the abuse.
**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page. For crisis services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
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