By Jamey Sheesley
Devine Kelly grew up in a home with domestic violence. Her brother was abusive to his girlfriend and Devine heard the screams and the punches. She saw his girlfriend run out of her brother’s room with a bloody face. It was then that she knew that she did not want to be in a relationship like that, but she eventually found herself in a relationship full of control and abuse.
At 18 years old, Devine was young and seeking validation. However, she found it in the wrong person. The person who Devine found herself with was already in trouble with the police and heavily used alcohol and drugs. When she met him, she was about to graduate high school and he was three years older than her.
Her whole life became about him. What she did not realize at the time was that he started to manipulate her. He used everything to get her under his control. After graduation, she moved into his house and became even more isolated.
“He was smothering, constantly wanting to get me in his control all the time and I remember thinking it was completely normal,” Devine stated.
She did not realize or understand it, but she was already in love with him. Once she moved in with him, everything of hers became his, like her debit card and car. It was not his fault he could not get a job, or at least that is how he made her feel. To be a good girlfriend she needed to support him. She hung out with his friends and cooked the food he liked and became his slave.
The mental abuse turned physical one night when Devine got mad at him and called him a bad name. He took his hands, wrapped them around her neck, and strangled her. It took two people to rip him off of her.
“I just remember thinking, how could he do this to me,” Devine said.
This should have made her run, but instead had the opposite effect. She did not want to lose him. After seeing what her brother did to his girlfriend, Devine convinced herself that this was not that bad. He did not punch her or beat her, so she forgave him. The next day he apologized and she thought all would be okay. Instead, the abuse progressively got worse.
She started losing weight, around 15 to 20 pounds.
Not only was she living under his control but Devine was also going to college and working. One night after school, she requested to be picked up and taken home so she could focus on her homework but he did not listen. Instead, he picked her up with a car full of friends like he always did. She got in the car with an attitude because he disrespected her wishes. When he took her home, she slammed the door and he got mad at her. He was embarrassed by her attitude with him in front of his friends. When Devine went to grab her car keys, he picked her up, and body slammed her into the memory foam mattress. She was in complete shock. She was able to push herself off onto the floor and away from him. The first thing he said to her was, “Look what you made me do.”
He grabbed her car keys and left her on the floor, crying in the dark for hours.
“I didn’t realize it then, but it was a blessing in disguise that he left me on the floor because I could have been a paraplegic if I would have moved really fast,“ Devine said.
She did not realize that when he slammed her onto the mattress, he actually broke her neck. The next day she begged him to take her to Urgent Care because she was in so much pain. She had x-rays done and four doctors and nurses came into her room and told her not to move. They transferred her to the hospital right away.
Instead of worrying about herself, Devine’s first thought was to come up with a story of how this happened to protect him. Once she was transferred to the hospital, she went through a 12-hour surgery.
“It was a gruesome process, I was in the ICU for seven days and in the hospital for two weeks,” Devine stated.
After her hospital stay, she was 110 pounds of skin and bones. She was filled with shame and felt like a broken vessel with no idea who she was. She lied to everyone about what happened. Her main concern was to make sure the relationship still worked.
“My insides were screaming at me to leave him, but because I was so filled with shame, I didn’t want to be judged for telling the truth,” Devine said.
She kept swallowing the shame but she had many talks with God during this time. She said God kept telling her that she needed to leave him.
Devine was in a neck brace for three months and soon after the brace was removed, she found out that she was pregnant.
She had a rocky pregnancy and cried every time he raised his voice at her. After she had their son, the abuse continued to escalate as her abuser would shake her up daily. Every voice inside her was screaming that this was not going to work.
One particular argument happened as they were getting ready to go to a Christmas Eve celebration at her parents’ house. Devine finally had enough. She was tired of being told she was never going to be a good mother and that she would never find anyone who would love her as much as he did. She was tired of having her son snatched away from her and being locked out of the house. Devine decided to leave her abuser.
She got a new job, a new apartment, and a new car. Life was starting to get better, but Devine noticed that she could not emotionally support her son. She would completely shut down when he started having tantrums. The connection just was not there.
“The co-parenting was so hard, pretending that the person who abused me didn’t trigger me [sic] was the worst,” Devine said.
Her life started to change when she signed up for the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence Survivor Sister Retreat in 2016. It was an amazing opportunity that opened her eyes to the fact that she was not alone. She was finally able to let go of things she held on to for so long and she felt empowered. This was her mission; she knew she needed to take action.
Devine graduated from college; she was a survivor and a mother. She was 24 years old and an assistant manager of a big retail corporation. She beat the statistics, but that was not enough. She was still searching for herself and her son. She saw that her son had very aggressive tendencies, but she also saw love and compassion in him. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she knew this was from him living in two different environments, one with her and one with his dad.
She tried behavioral modification techniques, but no matter what she did, she knew the time he spent at his father’s house was reversing her efforts. She knew where the aggressive tendencies were coming from.
Even though Devine was working 60 to 70 hours a week as a retail manager, her job started requiring more. She was in a very dark place and God was telling her it was to get away. She made the jump and moved from California to Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Since moving to the Springs in January 2019, Devine has already noticed a significant change in her son’s demeanor. He is rarely aggressive now and just has normal kid tantrums instead of the hitting, screaming fits he used to have. While Devine still has a lot of healing to do, she is in a much better place.
“Opportunities will show themselves, you just have to have faith and jump into them,” she said.
She no longer calls her broken neck an accident, but an attack because it was not an accident and it was not her fault. Devine continues to rely on her faith in God and is enjoying her new beginning in Colorado Springs.
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 or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.