We met at a campus Christian fellowship meeting during my first week of college. We were introduced by a friend of his and he walked me back to my dorm. I assumed he would be a safe person since we met through a Christian entity. Up to this point, I had very little dating experience. It went from nothing to intense real quick. We never had the conversation about what we were and all of the sudden we were serious. It went from seeing him weekly at fellowship meetings to all the time, in no time at all. We were THE couple on campus. If we weren't at an event, folks were banging on my door asking where we were. Everyone wanted to be like us. There was never any “are you sure?” or “this doesn’t seem right” conversations from anyone. There was an expectation to see us at events around campus. The abuse was gradual – boundary testing and love bombing. Although I didn’t recognize it as abuse at the time. As far as the smaller signs of abuse, I remember I told him I thought hickeys were trashy and almost immediately he gave me an intense hickey and responses, “you mean just like that?” I thought it was just a dude thing to do but in reality he crossed a boundary I set on the spot. There were so many little things like that that didn’t originally feel like a red flag. If I knew what I knew now, that would have been an immediate no. He and I broke up after graduation. It felt like he dropped off the face of the earth. However, he literally showed up years later at my parent’s doorstep when I moved there to take care of my mother who was dying of cancer. Cue the love bombing again... I was already in a vulnerable place because of my mom. Once my mom passed on his birthday, he dropped everything to be with me. Looking back, he brought his baby sister and she made several comments about how I need to be “cheerful and smiling” because that is what my mom would want. It made me question why he brought her in the first place, because it wasn’t helpful. But, I still was in shock at how he dropped everything for me. We got engaged and married shortly after. The abuse continued. One day when I was heading to the grave site, I was sexually assaulted in the car and I tried to justify it by him not being used to me being dressed up and that I was being hyper emotional. These little escalations over time grew. The gaps between escalation got shorter and shorter and the escalation got more and more. He knew so much about my insecurities that he used it against me, by saying things like “who else will give you attention,” “I am the only man who has come back to you,” “you are hypersensitive just like your mom said.” He would also manipulate me and use intimidation knowing that the local DV shelter was not wheelchair accessible at the time, leaving me without a quick escape. It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate this and move forward. He enjoyed making me fear for my life, but then making me get my emotions together before seeing any of our friends. He enjoyed humiliating, degrading and making me fear for my life. One time he refused to help me accessibility wise (couldn’t get into a bathroom) and I had an accident – he enjoyed the ability to control things. More than a year before I left, I had a disassociation episode and lost hours of time. By the end of that day, I tried to leave and went to my church group for help, and they didn’t support me. So, I figured if they didn’t believe me or think that he is a good man being with a disabled woman, I thought I deserved to stay and I will likely just end up being killed. In fact, I am a strangulation survivor. He would put his hands on my throat and say things like, “you know how easily I can kill you” and once I replied, “just f*cking do it then and get it over with” – I was at that point where I didn’t care if I lived or died. Eight years later it was my birthday eve, we went to dinner – he had to work on my actual birthday – and we began to argue over him wanting to go to a friend’s house that night. Prior to this night, he would leave for three hours or more and I never knew what he was doing or if he was dead somewhere. So, I wasn’t fond of him going back to his friend’s house on my birthday eve and I muttered the statement “well happy f*cking birthday to me” and he replied with “you have only been ruining my birthday for the last eight f*cking years.” And immediately after he said that I unloaded on him. The last thing I said was – I know how long you spend at your friend’s house, and I will be gone before you get back. For context, in the past I tried leaving three times. I had been pulling away for a little bit to try and process what has been going on. Once after staying with a friend for an extended period of time I would question why I would go back but it felt like I was telling myself that it would get better. One time he and I had a nasty fight when he got home very late, and I said “are we going to talk about this or do what we normally do and sweep it under the rug.” His response made me fearful. I immediately dissociated as he banged his fists on the wall and was screaming over me. I curled up and time disappeared. His voice became just noise. Then something switched and he was back to normal. I knew I needed to do what he expected me to do in order to de- escalate. So we changed for bed and I didn’t sleep a wink. The next day I tried to get him out of the house and to church but it wasn’t happening so I just left. I dissociated and don’t remember driving into town. I made it to church and it was clear that I was unwell. That is when I finally made a full disclosure and it was horrible. My pastor said it was too busy and had me sit with his mother in law. After sharing my experiences with her, she said “Are you sure you understand what abuse really is? You just need to go home and be a better wife and appreciate how much he takes care of you.” as she gestured to my wheelchair. I knew I needed to get out of there immediately. I then found a friend and disclosed it to her. She had a similar reaction. This set me off. I got in my car and had self harming thoughts. But I made it home. He told me I might as well just stay. I thought I would just die here. There was more escalation and sleep deprivation - everything got worse. He told me if I went to stay with someone else that I would be a burden to them, and no one would help me due to my disability. Two days after I left, I went home for an already planned trip for Thanksgiving and folks knew something was wrong immediately. That part of the family was and always has been supportive of my divorce. They are two hours away so help is limited. The community I lived in and am back living in, so many people want to minimize abuse towards people with disabilities. They don’t want to see the severity of it. Other folks outside of my family were not that supportive. Many questioned my ability to know what domestic violence truly is. Most tried to justify his actions and tell me it couldn't have been that bad...after all, why would he be with someone like me if he wasn't a good man?!?! As if he must be a Saint to be with someone with a disability and “maybe he was just tired of taking care of me” – utter nonsense. I have had to make my circle small. I have learned which people get it and validate me vs those who made comments or don’t support me. The biggest thing for me was finding validating books and literature. Coming into Speak Your Truth Today and seeing similarities in stories and having that validation of not being over dramatic, over sensitive, and this is a reality I am healing from was a huge thing for me. I really hope to make it known what happened to me and make sure that even if you have the slightest inclination that you are not being taken seriously, find support elsewhere. You deserve help. Not all folks with disabilities need a caregiver. And not all partners are caregivers. This is a common stereotype/assumption that people can have. Validation was rare outside my family until I found SYTT. But know this – there is NEVER an excuse for abuse. Your disability didn't cause it, there's NOTHING you do to deserve abuse. Educate yourself on healthy relationships and know that you are deserving of a peaceful, loving, committed, happy relationship. Educate yourself on the nuances of abuse towards those with disabilities. Abusers use a completely different set of tactics. We have different barriers, complex needs and shame/ ableist mentalities are deeply influenced by our abusers.