In May 2019, I experienced my worst fear which is possible death by asphyxia. Being asthmatic my whole life and knowing the feeling of not being able to catch my breath terrified me. On May 8th, 2019, my fear became a reality. My ex-boyfriend strangled me to the point where I passed out multiple times and truly believed I was going to die. I always chose to deny signs and symptoms of abuse because I was just happy to have someone to love me. He yelled and pulled my hair because he loved me is what I thought. I always made excuses for him. I didn’t want to be alone.
Domestic violence has been a generational curse in my family for as long as I can remember stemming from my great grandmother to my mother, was unspoken of, and no one ever took a stand. I joined Break the Silence of Domestic Violence 3 years later close to graduating nursing school because to this day I hear the words of the police officer that came to my home the day of the incident. This police officer looked me in the eye and told me with 100 percent seriousness and said, “You could have died today” and that is when the power of fight, the power of self-love, the power of determination, and breaking generational curses became by truest mission. I moved in one week and never looked back because I understood that I have the power to choose, and I am the voice of my voiceless 5 yr. old child. My child deserved a strong mom who would love herself and put us first. My healing has been eye-opening, hard, long and I have been able to incorporate a lot of self-accountable coping skills. I have been able to set boundaries and keep my great qualities of love, peace, advocacy & passion for mental health. I am four out of five semesters from finishing nursing school and my goal is to continue advocating for domestic violence, mental health, and breaking generational curses for survivors like myself to have the opportunities to become our best selves every day even on the hard days. My mission in volunteering is to reclaim my power while using positive coping skills and a listening ear to help other survivors reclaim their power as well.
Hi, I’m Shelley and I would like to share this quote with you. It speaks to me and perfectly describes what I felt like when I lived with domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is like drowning in your own home.”
It was like water being poured over me, over and over, by the one person whom I loved and trusted the most. I could not breathe.
I was married to an abusive man for 17 years.
I was 24 years old and a teacher in a private school. I had a child in my class whose parents were divorced. The father was a very involved, very caring, and devoted parent. Throughout the school year, he would call and ask how his child was doing as he had partial custody and did not see him as often as he would like. At our tight-knit school, this was normal. As the school year continued our friendship blossomed as we worked together to help his child, who had some behavior challenges.
When the school year ended he invited me out for a frozen yogurt, then to a party, and began calling me daily. He was attentive, charismatic, and charming.
He would tell me how his ex-wife and the mother of his child was mistreating him, and I believed him. Our relationship quickly escalated into a romantic relationship, yet he was very respectful. I thought that he was the most wonderful man. I saw no red flags towards me; yet, he did speak terribly about his ex-wife and did seem a little too angry. I chose to ignore this, believing that he was responding to his maltreatment by her.
After a year of dating, he asked me to marry him. I accepted, and the following year we were married in a beautiful ceremony. There was one incident in which he got mad at me and started screaming and throwing things in my apartment parking lot, but I did not do anything about it or really know what to do. His family all seemed to have tempers and yelled a lot, so I just accepted that he was brought up that way, and that was his way of communicating.
I was pregnant shortly after that. There were times when months would pass by and things were great. He definitely liked to have things in his particular way. He was controlling, yet loving, and he took care of me and my son. We bought a home and lived a ‘normal’ life. I had my daughter a few years later. During these years there were times when he would scream, yell, and throw things. There were also many times when he was a caring, loving, parent and husband. However, I began noticing that I was living on eggshells waiting and wondering when he would snap. I was afraid of him. When he did snap, he would always come home from work the next day with flowers, and apologised. Yet, he also told me that if I had not said or did whatever I had done to provoke him, that he would not have had to behave that way.
Years later, flowers are a trigger.
His blow ups were usually about finances or things around the house that were not done to his standard or liking. If something broke in the home, that would set him off. It always ended with him berating me. He would tell me how to shop at the grocery store, what to buy, including which brands. He would tell me I had to go to different stores to buy different items. If I would buy butter and we already had butter at home, that would send him into a rage. He would tell me that I was stupid to buy things we already had and that I didn’t understand finances or money. He would go through the refrigerator throwing things out if there were duplicates to further illustrate how stupid I was. When I planned the kids’ birthday parties, I had to get it verified and approved by him before I could purchase anything. However, when the day of the party arrived, he would still blow up and scream at me for spending money. This happened for every single party.
He would also check the thermostat constantly and if I changed it, that would enrage him. Again, he would tell me how stupid I was and berate me about expensive bills. I did my best to ignore this and keep quiet, as my children were always there and I didn’t want them to hear this.
You see, having a family, and being a mother were the most important things to me. I wanted a happy home with happy children.
I was brought up in an upper-middle class family. We were all very close, and very loving. I grew up in a beautiful neighborhood where our neighbors were not only friends, but family as well. I wanted to replicate that for my children, and to the outside world we had that. My kids played outside with their neighborhood friends, we had many family outings, and did fun things with our neighbors.
Sometimes our neighbors would hear him yelling and see evidence of his temper. He would follow me outside as I was leaving for the grocery store, asking me how I was going to pay for things, and he would make fun of my driving in front of our neighbors. I was so embarrassed. One time my older neighbor who was a role model to me, told me to just deal with it. Men yell, and I married him and made vows; therefore, I needed to keep the peace. He would put me down in front of people but in a way that seemed half joking and therefore harmless. So I would just cringe inside. Life continued. My children were extremely active in sports so I became a sports mom, room mom for school, and continued teaching. He was their coach. To the outside world we seemed normal, or so I thought.
His temper seemed to get worse, he would throw things at me, barely missing my head, yelling, cussing at me constantly, putting me down, making me feel wrong and crazy, and my kids started to come crying to me. I felt afraid in my own home; yet, I told no one. He became more and more financially abusive. I overheard him telling a friend of ours that he bought a business. I had never heard him mention this before, and when I asked, he yelled at me, telling me he had told me and that I was stupid for not remembering. He then closed our joint checking account leaving me with no money except what I made as a preschool teacher working thirty hours a week. My children were crying nightly, and I was living in fear of his blow ups because they began occurring more frequently. I finally broke.
Breaking My Silence
I broke the silence and told my parents. My children were 4 and 7 at this time. My parents listened and were supportive. They had seen his temper a few times, but they obviously did not know the extent of it.
My parents found a lawyer for me. He was removed from my home with a court order and I was given a restraining order.
This was a terrifying time. My children were a wreck, and they were having trouble at school. He moved in with his parents and the kids would call me crying hysterically when they had to spend the night there. He started apologizing to me, telling me how much he loved me, offering to go to therapy and offering to do anything he could to have his family back. I gave in and allowed him back. I felt I had to do anything to get my family back, seeing my children so sad was killing me inside, and I was terrified about how I could continue financially.
The honeymoon period began. He was the perfect husband and father once again, until he wasn’t, and the cycle continued. It went on like this for another ten years, with periods of bliss, followed by periods of living and walking on eggshells. These periods were as long as three months, and then became shorter, one month cycles. He was nice for about one month, which would end in an explosion of anger. I also had an internal cycle, fighting with myself. I remember thinking, maybe if I would just listen to him, do things as he wanted, not argue back; maybe then things would be okay. Then I would think – no this is wrong, I do not deserve to be treated this way.
Around this time, the internet started to become more mainstream. I researched domestic violence. I remember reading an article to find out how to tell if someone was living with an abusive person. I checked almost every statement in that article. I was afraid and living on eggshells. I was belittled and controlled. I felt helpless. I wondered if I was going crazy. I felt numb. My partner humiliated me, he criticized me and put me down. He embarrassed me. He blamed me for his abusive behavior. He had a bad temper, was jealous, and was unpredictable. He threatened to take my kids away. He destroyed my belongings. He limited access to money. The only thing he didn’t do was hit me. For some reason, many people, including me, believed that if you are not being hit that you are not truly being abused. I did not realize at the time that verbal, emotional, sexual and financial abuse were just as damaging as physical violence. At that time I did not know that throwing things, kicking, and pushing was considered physical violence.
Things began escalating. There were more temper flares-up, more belittling words. He once again controlled my access to money. He began controlling my interactions with friends, often screaming at me and following me into the bathroom and shower accusing me of cheating. He began telling our friends this as well. He kicked me out of our bed, saying it was the marital bed and if I did not have sex with him, I was not allowed in the bed. He broke a lamp over my hand, threw things at me, began pushing me, and kicking me – all in front of my children. At some point, something clicked for me and I just knew I could not live this way any more. I once again broke the silence, talked to my parents, my aunt- who was extremely supportive – and my grandmothers.
This time we made a plan so I could leave. I did not want a scene in front of neighbors or a scene for my children. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was the right way to leave. I should have told him to leave, but I just wanted to get away because I was so scared of him by this point and so worried for my children. This time I would be leaving ten years after the first time, and my children were now 11 and 14.
The plan was made and I rented a home from a friend. I had financial help from my family, and emotional support from my friends. I slowly started taking my things from my old house. I purchased my own cell phone and made plans for my children to stay at a friend’s house on the day I planned to actually leave. That morning, I took my children to a park and explained the situation and then took them to my friends. It was the hardest talk I have ever had to have with my children. I will never forget the look in their eyes. I tried my best to reassure them and answer their questions.
I then went home and told him I was leaving. He went into a rage. Screaming, yelling, throwing things and he came at me with an intense look of hatred in his eyes. I ran outside to my friends who were waiting for me. He barricaded himself in the house, so I was unable to get my things or things for the children.
He started throwing my things outside as the police arrived. They only allowed me to take enough clothing for myself and my children to last three days. He was also allowed to follow me as I gathered our belongings, yelling and cussing the whole time.
After this, we decided (through our attorneys) that the children would go back and forth every two days. My daughter was worried that she would not see both of her parents, and I wanted them together, but I was worried for my children when they were with him. I was hopeful that they were old enough to call me if anything terrible happened.
I once again got a restraining order. He stalked me. He would stalk me at work, and at my house, once he found out where I was living. He made up fake emails with different names, and sent me messages about how I cheated on him. He called and emailed me multiple times a day calling me horrible names. He harassed my parents so much that they also had to get a restraining order. By this time he had told all my friends and family that I was cheating on him and had multiple abortions; which I never did. He was so unstable. I still had to see him at my kids baseball, softball, basketball and soccer games. He would intimidate me, cross over the line of his restraining order guidelines. I was still so terrified of him and he knew it. He also threatened to take my kids from me. He was leaving horrible things on my car. I had ten flat tires in this two year period. During one of the kid’s baseball games, he started screaming at me, so I walked to my car, and he chased me. He didn’t allow me to drive away, and instead hit my car, yelling, and screaming. The park was crowded with people, but not a single person helped me. During this time, he was not paying child support, for the kids health insurance or any other mutual expenses. Additionally, during the many court dates, he would arrive without the necessary paperwork and the judge would then turn us away, to return in three months. This prolonged the situation, and if I didn’t have financial help from my family, I would have been homeless.
Stock photo – WordPress
When we finally went back to court again, his demands had increased: he wanted more time with our children, and did not want to pay spousal support. Moreover, he had moved his girlfriend into our home, but was not paying the mortgage, so the house went into foreclosure. He destroyed my credit. He also hid his money and income as he worked for himself. He got a brand new car every six months. At court, he produced documents that showed he made less money than me. Therefore, he did not have to pay spousal support and paid very low child support since the kids stayed with me for the majority of the time. He was allowed to scream at the judge when the custody did not go his way.
He tried to ban me from attending my children’s sporting events when he had them, and he tried to get a court order preventing me from driving on his street. He filed a police report saying that I hacked into his home and work computers, and ruined his business.
The harassment and abuse continued for many years. He continued incessant emails, texts, and stalking, and made my life as difficult as he could.
I became stronger though. I learned after a while that responding to him only escalated things. There was no reason for me to explain why I left and try to make him understand what he did. He would never see it that way, never see anything as his fault or my leaving as consequences to his behavior. I began using no contact. It was a breath of fresh air. He still tried his best to intimidate and harass me but I ceased responding. I felt less afraid. I still had to see him at the kids’ events – but I was very careful to stay away and not engage with him; focussed on trying to make things as easy as possible for my kids. My life was consumed with trying to make my kids feel happy.
This lifestyle continued until both kids turned 18 – about 9 years ago. I finally felt him backing off about this time. It was not easy but it was getting easier.
I continued teaching, working more hours, and doing my best to be the best mom I could be. Luckily my children seemingly thrived. They both went to college. My son graduated from Sonoma State University and is currently working in his chosen field. My daughter is currently attending CSUN and working a full time job. I have a boyfriend who I have been with for many years. I am also following my passion by helping other women and men who are survivors of domestic violence. I volunteer at a hotline, talking to clients and offering resources, support, and additional help for those with children.
I understand my triggers, and struggles, and have fears about my past; but, I feel strong and empowered by my choices, my decisions and where my life is now.
One of the biggest reasons why I left was for my children. I did not want my son to believe that men can treat women the way his father treated me and I did not want my daughter to see life through archaic gender-normative stereotypes. When I sit back and observe my children and their relationships with others, I see that they are kind and respectful adults and that warms my heart. I feel very successful as a parent. I can say they are my greatest accomplishments and I will say I am so proud of my strength as well.
I started with a quote to describe what it was like for me to live with domestic violence. I would like to end with another to describe what it felt for me to have a life after.
“She believed she could, so she did.”
Stock photo – WordPress
I hope that I have conveyed to you that domestic violence can and does happen to anyone. It doesn’t know racial, religious, or economic boundaries. It is all about control, about power, and when dealing with an abusive person I felt I could not win. I understood that feeling invalidated, disrespected, afraid, silenced, and abused was not a healthy relationship, and needed to leave. I left for myself, for my children, and for my life.
In November 2012, I finally became free of my abuser and started to find my new normal- 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 to hear me scream. He would hand me the phone and dare me to call the police, but he would also tell me to kiss the kids goodbye whenever he did that.
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 me 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 would find out, threaten 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 my kids and me 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 my kids and me.
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.
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 mistreated 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 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.
I am a single mother, and a survivor of domestic violence. A couple years ago, I escaped an extremely abusive relationship where the situation had become so bad that three times, it was almost fatal to me. I am blessed to be alive and perhaps have more lives than a cat.
In the process of fleeing this relationship, I left behind my home, my belongings, much of my dignity, and I was in danger to the point I had no choice but to move into a domestic violence shelter. With the support and services of an incredible local domestic violence organization, I am still safe today.
During the safe months that I lived in the safe house, two advisers from our local community college presented educational opportunities to the residents. They spoke about incredible things I was previously unaware of; the many degree programs offered, financial aid, FAFSA, scholarships, and Pell grants. That very same week I applied and was accepted into the college.
Domestic violence has not only impacted my life, but also my education. I have learned the difference between surviving and thriving. Surviving is defined as: continuing to live or exist, in spite of danger, hardship, accident, or ordeal. Well…to keep living…to still be existing…that is a great thing! Even after life throws terrible things at us–wow–even better! Surviving is not to be taken lightly, it is something to be proud of.
Yet, there is something even better, and that is thriving. Sometimes, on life’s journey, we can get stuck in survival mode, sort of just existing. I am learning how to go beyond just surviving and existing, and how to thrive.
Thrive means to flourish and prosper. I’d like to share with you an inspiring acronym I created from the letter in the word T-H-R-I-V-E. Inside of this little six letter word is a much bigger and more valuable lesson.
T for Teachable: If you want to thrive, you need to be teachable, ready and willing to learn. Appreciate knowledge.
H for Hopeful: Never give up hope. Even when things seem hopeless, there is always a reason to hold on tightly to hope.
R for Resourceful: Our country is full of incredible resources, including many kind, helpful people who will encourage, guide, and support us along our journey. It is rare that things get handed to us easily. We must search for clever ways to overcome difficulties.
I for Inspiring: Inspiration is infectious. When we are inspired by someone, we need to spread that by being an inspiration to others!
V for Victorious: Victory can be hidden among our failures. When we look for it as if it is hidden treasure, we will find it in the most unlikely of places. We can be victorious in how we learn from our failures. If we fall, we get back up!
E if for Educated: Most of us know that famous phrase, “knowledge is power”. There is a lifetime of learning awaiting those who will grab hold of it. A college education is powerful, life applicable and valuable for our futures. Seize knowledge!
Striving to thrive instead of just survive has made a world of difference in my life, and positively impacted my desire and achievements in higher education. It is why I am where I am today, having just graduated Summa Cum Laude with dual honors degrees from college, with a 3.94 and 4.0 cumulative GPA, and am now transferring into a Bachelor’s of Science program. I am thriving – when just years ago I was surviving, but homeless and living in hiding in a domestic violence safe house.
Winston Churchill once wisely said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” I am excited for the opportunities ahead of me, even when I must traverse through difficulties to achieve them.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.
Ashley lives in Colorado and got involved with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence when she met the BTSADV founder Kristen Faith last year. When she isn’t working or volunteering in her community, she makes the most of her Colorado life hiking with her dog and spending time with friends.
Where there signs you either didn’t realize were signs or ignored because you were in love?
They say hindsight is 20/20 but I’m still realizing red flags years later. I come from a “broken family” but honestly my parent’s divorce opened my eyes to the abuse my mother endured but kept silent [about]. I was sheltered [from] most of it so I grew up thinking it could never happen to me. The reality is [that] it can happen to anyone no matter how attractive, successful, or financially stable you are. You can miss the signs because you think its passion or how much they love you. Somehow it’s never their fault for the way an abuser treats you; it is that they drank too much or they just feel insecure. It becomes a pattern and a cop out.
How long did you stay with your abuser?
The standard cycle of tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm feels more like a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but it’s all based in control. I’ve been in a few relationships [of] various lengths, but the longest was two years. I got so burned out constantly shrinking myself to avoid conflict. I was actually told “You never told me you couldn’t handle me screaming at you,” as if drunken verbal abuse was excusable but would never escalate. When he found out I was attending Al-Anon meetings to learn how to cope, he was mad because he still refused to acknowledge his addition except to justify the way he treated me.
How did you finally break free?
One guy showed up at my house drunk one afternoon and threatened to burn me out of my home. I moved and blocked him from social media but I just didn’t have the energy to get a restraining order.
It’s always difficult emotionally, socially, financially to walk away, especially when you’ve built a life together. I’ve dated my fair share of guys [who] struggled with addiction and domestic violence themselves so when things escalate they see it as normal. Breaking free is never easy but when it happens, it’s like you can breathe again.
Did you still live in fear after leaving your abuser?
Yes and no, but the statistics are baffling! I highly recommend Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit because it highlights the power structures and layers within society that allow for abuse. She explains that we never frame this as a civil rights or human rights issue but that rape and violence against women around the world is pervasive across race, class, religion, and nationality. The more you read about domestic violence and engage with groups like BTSADV, you find strength through learning and helping others.
Were your family supportive? Did they see the signs?
I love my sister dearly but when I broke up with a boyfriend…[who] had sexually assaulted me…she told me she was disappointed that he wasn’t at breakfast and that I’d made a mistake walking away from the relationship. She didn’t know the extent of the abuse, but honestly that felt worse than the abuse. I felt ashamed and alone.
I never saw myself as a survivor or a victim because I kept it a secret. My last breakup went very differently because my family…knew what I’d been through and why I needed out. They were incredibly supportive but I still struggled to sleep, eat, or take care of myself.
What would you tell others in an abusive relationship?
Always trust your instincts. If you need a plan before you leave, that’s okay. Take your time. I’m bless[ed] that I don’t have children to worry about but know that if you do they are learning what is acceptable.
Know who to trust. Plenty of folks will claim to know what’s best for you. I had a neighbor try to show up at my office to convince me to take my ex back and I later heard her tell my abuser that, while she knew what I’d been through in the past, I was wrong. Friends and family can enable the abuser and create a really toxic environment. It is not incumbent upon the survivor to explain why they left. If someone does open up, treat them with compassion and encourage them to rebuild their lives in healthy ways.
Go easy on yourself. We all fall into these patterns for different reasons and it’s often a series of mitigating circumstances that lead to a perfect storm. I would say to everyone in this world that the signs of emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse may not be visible to you. Abusers create conditions for dependence and vulnerabilities to facilitate their control. I started to believe I deserved the way I was treated and self-isolated. Everyone grapples with it differently.
How are healing? Are you journaling, counseling, support groups, or any other ways?
All of it. Every abusive relationship I have been in has always had elements of alcohol or drug addiction that I’ve learned I didn’t cause, I can’t control, and I certainly can’t cure it. I’ve learned that abusers take someone’s secret and make them yours. There is such beauty in the work of Kristen Faith and her partner going to schools, universities, and military bases to talk about what healthy relationships look like. To witness the depth of tenderness, affirmation, and reciprocity in their relationship has been such a blessing.
Someone can break you without laying a hand on you. Everyone should feel safe and loved in their own home. I will always volunteer and donate to this great cause because BTSADV has become a support network for me when I needed it most.
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.
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.
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