Criminal harassment, forcible confinement, assault, gaslighting, manipulation, psychological abuse are all terms that I had come across in my life. They were terms that I was familiar with on a need-to-know basis. As it turns out, I did not know enough about any of them until I somehow landed smack dab in the middle of it all.
I am intelligent, well-spoken, strong, and kind. I am also compassionate and selfless. Most victims of violence are all those things. As it turns out, these qualities also make us a preferred target for abusers.
To the world, it appeared that I had it made. I was with a charming, charismatic, devoted man, and I was his everything. What more could any woman want? I posted happy, fairytale posts on social media while I smiled through the pain and hid every single traumatic piece of my life from the outside world. Why? Because there was one thing that he was truly skilled at – being an abuser. The rest was an act. He waited until he had his hooks in me, and then his true colors revealed themselves one at a time.
I will never forget the moment in the backyard, where I was sobbing and pleading with him to stop begging him to take away the pain he had caused me. With tears streaming down my face, I screamed, “You won’t be happy until I’m 6 feet under.” He looked at me with his dark and cold eyes – eyes that at one time I thought were so kind – and he laughed in my face. It was a shaky, loud, nightmare-inducing kind of laugh.
Somehow, that was not enough to make me run. I was brainwashed and manipulated beyond recognition. I, once an intelligent, strong woman, had been reduced to a mere shell of my former self. I was seeking the approval of that garbage human.
Time brings clarity, and when you are finally out, and it starts to crystallize, my God does it hurt. It hurts, and it is confusing and life-altering. I felt like I had left a cult. It is really the only way I could explain it.
He Wouldn’t Let Go of Me
I had been out of his death grip for a month, and still, he would not stop contacting me. He bombarded me with various forms of harassment, calling, texting, emailing, and leaving me brutally threatening voicemails. He was constantly showing up outside my home, posting personal things about me on his social media, begging me to “come home.”
The less I responded to his attempts to pull me back in, the worse he became. The stalking was not stopping, and I was terrified. I had spent so much time with a psychopath, and, for a majority of that time, I was oblivious to the danger I was truly in. And, one day, I was not oblivious any longer. The women’s shelter encouraged me to go to the police. They told me that he was a high-risk individual and that I needed to protect myself.
Getting the Cops Involved
I called the police, and a kind officer came to my home. He sat at the table with me and asked me about the stalking. I started out calm and spoke clearly. That quickly changed. The officer recognized my circumstances, and he knew I had been severely abused in many ways. His words that night were what gave me the strength to go to the station.
My mom drove me in. She sat in the waiting room for three hours while I sat in an interview room, providing the officers with details of the abuse I had been suffering. I had a video camera pointing at me and the officer across the table making notes. That moment changed me forever. It opened my eyes wider than they had ever been. That moment directly impacted the course of my life. I was numb, yet tears poured from my eyes. I was empty, yet words would not stop spilling from my mouth.
Processing the Shock
Those three hours felt like a lifetime. I have never felt more raw, ashamed, disgusting, terrified, or small. I remember being shocked and almost relieved when the officer was able to label each and everything for what it truly was. I was shocked that I had lived it and that I somehow still stayed, yet also relieved that he knew exactly what I had been living. The emotional roller coaster is something I’ll never describe.
I was immediately introduced to Victim Witness and Victim Services. Many people who work with domestic violence victims reached to me, and I spoke to the Domestic Violence Crown Attorney. I had meetings, appointments, and counseling, and so much support from my true friends and family. I had a safe place, even though it did not feel safe.
Healing is not linear. Quite honestly, it is a hellish journey, but it is so much better than the alternative.
Thankfully, my abuser took a plea bargain, and I did not have to testify. Do I wish he would have received more than what he did? Of course, I do; I am human. Do I wish the system was different? I absolutely do. Do I think that the system continues to victimize the victim? I know it does.
What I’m Thankful For
That being said, I also know that the people who work with domestic violence victims are remarkable human beings. They cannot control how the system works, but they move mountains in the lives of the people they support. I would not have made it through without them. That support started with the officer who sat across from me in uniform but spoke to me like an equal and included my abuser’s probation officer who described my abuser to a T without my having to say a word.
I have learned so many things, and I know that these lessons have only bettered who I am as a person and increased the quality of life that I now lead. The perspective I’ve gained in all of this is immeasurable.
As a result of the abuse, I have PTSD, and, while some days it feels like I am drowning, those days are becoming fewer. PTSD is my scar. My bruises healed and emotionally, I came back stronger than ever. My enjoyment in the little things is far greater than it ever was. I know true happiness once again.
If PTSD is what I have to carry throughout the rest of my life, I am up to the challenge. If it means having nightmares and screaming at the sight of a familiar face appearing around the corner because I live in fight or flight, I will face it. As long as I worry about who may be lurking around me, I will look over my shoulder every single time I leave my house or am in an open area. I might feel exhausted after having a shower.
Until it changes, I will walk on a treadmill to avoid walking alone and cancel plans simply because I cannot handle my anxiety that day. Whatever it is that needs to be done to get through, I will do it, and I won’t feel guilty for it. We all have scars. Some are visible, and some are not. Depression and PTSD are my scars, and considering what I lived through and what I know, I will wear my scars proudly.
The Importance of Education and Empathy
I have heard some uneducated, and downright cruel things said. I have listened to people discuss other women and how “stupid they were for staying” and dismissively adding, “Well, he didn’t punch her in the face.” Sometimes, they push it a little further as say, “She just should have stood up for herself,” or “He seems like such a great guy; she must be lying.” The list goes on. I can honestly say I was not someone to say that kind of thing before, and I am even more sure now that I will never say or think anything like that.
Leaving an abuser is dangerous. Going ‘no contact’ is dangerous. The less control they have, the more dangerous they become. There is a reason people say “until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes…”
The biggest lesson I have learned through all of it is this: you don’t know what you don’t know. I do not want sympathy or want attention. I want to enlighten people and bring awareness to something that needs to be heard. In 2020, I will continue to live my life. For the rest of my years, I will live it the way I choose, without fear or concern in the opinion of others. That is my right, and I have earned it.