DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: MY STORY I struggled writing this because only a small handful of people know my story. This article has been several months in the making. I’d write a little bit, then stop. Recounting the events would become too traumatic for me. Was it even worth writing anyway? I have realized that there is strength in numbers. And, although it’s scary to come forward, it’s important. Abuse thrives only in silence, and we have the power to end it by shining the spotlight on it. I had just graduated from college and moved across the country to Los Angeles, California. I was 22. That’s when I met him. He took me out for sushi on our first date- my favorite! He did all the little things, like pulling out my chair for me. He was funny and had me laughing until my stomach hurt. Most of all, he was so, so charming and knew all the right things to say. I still remember texting my best friend from the restaurant bathroom. “This is the best date of my life,” I told her. After our date, he wanted to hangout nearly every day. Although I liked him, it was not what I wanted at the time. I explained to him that I had just moved to a new city, so I wanted to focus on the reason I came here, which was for my job. I was nervous that if I jumped into a relationship, I would miss out on meeting people and building friendships, something that was necessary for me to feel at home here. He told me that the way I felt was valid, but he didn’t want to give up. “Also, I know a lot of girls here, and I’d love to introduce you to them,” he concluded. I wasn’t quite prepared for that answer, but he was right. He was born here, raised here, and attended school here. His whole life was in this city, and mine was just beginning. Fast forward several months, and he became my boyfriend. He planned cute beach picnics for us, would always bring me flowers out of the blue, plastered me all over his social media accompanied with a cute caption and cooked me dinner almost daily. I was on cloud nine. If you would have told me one day he’d have me in a chokehold, threatening to kill me, I would have laughed at you. He had so many friends, and didn’t posses any anger or aggression. I didn’t know until later that the first stage in a domestic violence relationship is to seduce and charm the victim. I am usually guarded with my heart, but he had something about him. He was able to make me feel safe and like I could be unapologetically myself. He roped me in, and when he knew he had me, he started to control me. He thrived off of control. Going through my phone, digging through my trash, rummaging through my drawers, making me have my location on at all times. He called me names and yelled vulgar things at me. He did everything he could to belittle me and make me feel worthless. “You’re a dumb c*nt,” he’d say. “You’ll never have someone who loves you. If you weren’t attractive you’d be jobless and friendless, because everything else is nonexistent.”’ His insults became more frequent and more intense. “Have you ever thought about killing yourself? You really should. The world would be a better place if you were dead,” he told me. “Hope you die.” Once, I actually considered taking my own life. Saturday, August 18, 2018, is a date that I’ll always remember. It was the first time he ever hit me. In the middle of the night, his phone started going off. It was another girl. I asked him if he was cheating on me, to which he responded by jumping out of bed and slamming my body against the wall with full force. I could barely pick myself up off the ground before he swung at me and knocked me down again. This continued a few more times before I mustered up the strength to get out and drive home. I was so in shock I couldn’t even cry. I kept thinking it wasn’t real and that it was a bad dream that I’d soon wake up from. The bruises on my face the next morning proved what I didn’t want to accept. I reached for my makeup because I had to go into work, and didn’t want anyone suspicious of what had happened. I patted the concealer over my bruises and looked into the mirror. My eyes welded up with tears. How the hell did I get here? Finally, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going back. I blocked his number and told my mom and two best friends what he had done. I didn’t want to ever see him again. But, later that day, he showed up at my apartment with an abundance of apologies, chocolate, and pink roses – my favorite color. He sobbed into his hands when I explained to him what he had done to me. He claimed he had no recollection of any of the events that took place. “And, in no circumstance, is it okay for a man to ever put his hands on a woman.” That is what he told me. As for my mom, he wrote her a 5-paged email apologizing for his behavior and blaming it all on a sleep disorder he alleged to have. Mind you, no sleep disorder exists that causes someone to wake up in the middle of the night and beat their significant other. However, I could see how bad he felt. I was hurting, physically and mentally, but I knew he was too. I cared about him and I wanted to be there for him and help him emerge a better person. I thought that maybe this could make us stronger. I realize now that I have the perfect personality fit for sociopathic behavior as well as perpetrators. My eagerness to please, trusting attitude, kind smile and willingness to forgive and see the best in people has helped me make a lot of friends, but also has the ability to lead predators to my door. I minimized the issue and rationalized it to myself – he was tired, he didn’t mean it, he’s clearly sorry for his actions. So, I swept it under the rug. I stayed with him and even invited him to spend Christmas with my family and I, because he didn’t have anyone to spend the holiday with. We posed in front of the Christmas tree in our matching plaid pajamas. From the outside, we looked like a perfectly happy couple, but it was all a facade to cover up what was really happening. Domestic violence occurs with a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member. It’s a very complex issue when someone you love is hurting you. Once you have established an intimate relationship with a person, it’s human nature to bond with them, even if they mistreat you. You live on hope, hope that they will alter their behavior to accommodate the relationship. I accepted his initial apology. I thought it meant he wasn’t going to do it again. I was wrong. A few months later, he became violent again. After finding out he had an online dating profile under a different name for the past ten months, I told him I wanted to end the relationship. He didn’t like that answer and began pushing me against the wall and throwing me to the ground when I tried to escape. He stood to create a barrier between him and the door. “If you leave, I will kill myself,” he told me. I told him I was calling 911, that I needed to put an end to this. He grabbed my phone out of my hand and threw it. I was shaking and could taste the saltiness of my tears as they rolled down my face and onto my lips. He punched a hole in the wall. “I fucking hate that you make me this way,” he shouted. He had me questioning myself, even though I had done nothing wrong. He told me I was the problem, I was the reason he was so angry, I was to blame for all of our arguments. I felt defeated. After hours of fighting, I told him to give me my phone and let me go home for the night. He agreed, as long as I promised to answer his calls and give him a chance. I went home that night and checked my phone once I settled into bed. I had a text from him. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone about this. Trust me, I know a lot of people here and can easily ruin you. Your life would be hell.” The text sent chills down my spine. I could not believe that after what had just happen, THIS was his first text to me. He was right, he knew many people here. He presented the perfect public image to evade ever being caught. He was like a chameleon, morphing into whoever he wished to get his agenda met. That’s how he was able to love-bomb and groom me in the first place. He knew very well what he was doing to me, and he knew if anyone found out exactly what he was doing behind closed doors, then they probably wouldn’t be his friend anymore. So, I did as he said. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. Sure enough, it happened again, and I still didn’t tell a single person. I was ashamed to tell my friends because I felt foolish for choosing someone who would ever lay his hands on me. I was scared of being deemed stupid for sticking by someone who did those things to me. I didn’t tell my family because I didn’t want them worried about me from across the country. I knew if I spoke up or left, he was capable of following through with the threats he was making. I was paralyzed with fear. This scary distorted reality became my new normal. Things became “good” for several months. Abuse usually isn’t consistent or constant. So in between, you become a normal couple. You cook dinner together, go to work, watch movies. Whenever there’s a break in the violence, whether it’s emotional or physical, you are lulled into a sense of complacency. When times are good, you feel such a sense of comfort and relief that you become grateful to your abuser. The abuse followed a pattern: He would be loving and sweet for about four months, then he would blow up and hit me. I always thought each time was the last. It became my mission to save him from himself. I believed I could love the abuse out of him. I figured that if I was a good enough girlfriend — if I showered him with love— he wouldn’t want to hurt me again. It was a twisted, sick game I was playing in my head that I thought I could conquer. We think that our abusers are going to have this ‘aha’ moment. That one day they’ll wake up and realize what they are doing to the women who love them. Every day we’re hoping it’s that day. I got stuck on the fact that he could be a good man when he wasn’t abusing. I got glimpses of the kind, sweet, funny man, and I held onto that, continuing to look for happiness in the person who was taking it away from me. It took me fourteen whole months to finally leave and speak up about what had happened to me. The fourth and final time, he beat me so badly, I thought I was going to die. I was tackled to the ground, had my head slammed against a wall, and had objects from his living room thrown at me. Before running out of his apartment, he wrapped both hands around my neck and repeatedly said “I am going to fucking kill you. I swear, I’ll kill you.” He made a gun motion with his hand and put it up to my head. “Pew,” he whispered. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t breathe. I started seeing stars. He needed to let go of my neck. I turned my head and bit his arm hard enough for him to release his grasp. I grabbed my things and drove away. I was disoriented from being strangled and having my head hit against the walls and floor. My heart was pounding and my fingers hurt so badly I could barely wrap them around the steering wheel. My right foot was in so much pain, I thought he may have broken it. That night, my body ached so badly that I barely slept. In the morning, I told my best friend what had happened to me. She urged me to go to the police station and to tell my family about what I experienced. I told her no. That I would deal with it myself. I was so used to his threats and being silenced, that I was terrified to speak up. She told me that if I didn’t tell my family, she’d tell them herself. That was the hardest phone call I ever had to make to my mom. I couldn’t help but cry as I admitted to her that I had been badly beaten, strangled, and that the man I thought loved me was threatening to kill me. If I hadn’t had their support, I would never have been able to get the help I needed or gone through with seeking justice. I am sure there are many victims who give up because they feel it is not worth the trouble. Or, they are scared of the backlash they could face if they speak up. Trust me, I was in your shoes. I know how you feel. After I spoke up, he harassed me daily. He texted me swearing he’d ruin my life and that I would forever be sorry that I ever said anything. He sent me nasty texts that I cannot even bring myself to repeat. So many days, I wanted to just give up. The weight was too much to carry. I could barely make it through a day without breaking down. I desperately wanted my life back. I was distracted at work, and getting through a full day became so hard, I contemplated leaving. I excused myself to cry in the hallways more times than I can count because I just couldn’t fathom the realization that this was now my life. My outgoing, happy-go-lucky, amicable, carefree personality had been distorted beyond recognition. I became closed-off, stressed, angry, tired, self deprecating. I felt as though I had no one to relate to, and as a result, I isolated myself, which became nearly unbearable at times. I used to pride myself on being independent, but I was scared to even go to the grocery store alone in fear of bumping into him in one of the aisles. We lived in such close proximity so I avoided going places. Any time I saw car lights outside my bedroom window, my heart raced. I live by myself on the first floor of my complex, and I was afraid to be in my apartment alone. My mom took off of work to come stay with me for a month because I was in constant fear for my life. It’s a horrible way to live, always looking over your shoulder. He made the place I called home an uncomfortable place to be. I tried so hard to forget those nights, but was constantly having to recount the events of my assault. Answering questions like “Were his fists opened or closed when he hit you? Did he punch you first or did he kick you first? How long were his hands around your neck? Did your head hit the wall first or the floor first?” Replaying those memories in my head is traumatizing, to say the least. When the judge delivered the verdict, he screamed across the courtroom and told me to go fuck myself. He yelled that I ruined his life by bringing this to attention. But, he seemed to have forgotten about the other person in the equation: me. He forgot about my life. You should have never laid your hands on a woman, not once, not twice, but four times. You have no idea how many sleepless nights I had, and how many days I spent inside crying, too scared to leave my home. I lost so much weight from the stress, but when people would comment on it I’d tell them I’d just been going to the gym a lot lately. I am still working to rebuild parts of me that are weak. I am hesitant to let my guard down and get close to men. I am learning to be okay with being touched. That guys can put their arms around me and it doesn’t mean they’re about to strangle me. I pray that one day you will look back and understand all of this better. That I am the first and last person you will ever do this to. I need to heal, and I fully support your journey towards healing, too, because that’s the only way you will be able to change for the better and help others. You may be wondering: Why did I stay? It’s the most commonly asked question, and to me it’s also one of the most painful questions. It’s code to some people for “Well, it’s kind of her fault for staying.” Like I knew all along what I was getting myself into. The answer is easy. I was terrified. Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has left the relationship – because the abuser has nothing to lose. It seems like an easy thing to get out of. If a guy lays a hand on you, leave him – it’s simple. I would have thought the same. Never in a million years did I think I would forgive a man who put his hands on me. Until you are in the situation, you will never understand the hold an abuser has on his victim. According to the Domestic Violence Prevention Center, it takes between five and seven times before successfully and permanently leaving an abusive relationship. You think we don’t know it’s bad for us? We are hyperaware of all of it. Many times, people in abusive relationships have to decide themselves when it’s time to leave. We rationalize until we can’t rationalize anymore. I was so naïve that I didn’t realize no matter how much I loved him he was always going to abuse me. This 28-year-old man was never going to grow out of it. Men don’t outgrow being abusers. People in those situations need support – not back handed callouts or humiliation. Instead of judging, extend compassion. Calling me dumb for staying in a relationship with an abuser only reinforces what the abuser told me: I’m useless and dumb. Being there and supporting someone who got out of an abusive relationship goes a long way. I’m not sure if I’d be alive today if I didn’t have the outpouring support from my friends and family. It’s been many long, stressful trials later, but I have found my voice. I am not a victim, I’m a survivor with a story to tell. When someone pushes beyond my boundaries, I push back. Love is not how much shit you can tolerate from someone. Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men above the age of 18 will experience domestic violence. It’s hard to accept what has happened to me, but I share my story in hopes of helping others. I am the happiest I have been in a long time. Although it has taken its toll on me in a lot of ways, I like to think that I am better and stronger because of it. I know that I shouldn’t have to feel embarrassment or shame about what happened to me. The way I look at the whole process of leaving, I am one day further away from the abuse I endured, and one day closer to reaching happiness and success in life. It’s a part of my past, but it’s done defining me.