Domestic Violence: A personal experience
Thirty years ago, my boyfriend hit me for the first time.
We were arguing in the rented bedroom of his mother’s house. I was twenty-one years old, six months pregnant and working myself through nursing school, with his help of course.
The argument was something ordinary and forgettable. I was under a lot of stress, with a baby on the way and on a race to finish school so that I could share in the responsibility of supporting a budding family.
He was smart and educated, having graduated college in engineering and had a new full-time job with responsibilities too. He was also unpredictable and had an increasingly violent temper. He’d finally lost it.
That day I learned very quickly what he was capable of doing to me.
I’d felt trapped and unloved. My self-esteem plummeted with each degrading word that came out of his mouth: I didn’t appreciate him. I didn’t respect him. Nobody except him tolerated me. How could anyone ever want to be with me and a baby? I wasn’t even attractive; I was fat and gross. How did I expect to succeed in this world? Look at me. I was a loser without him.
I snapped back, and he punished me for it.
Instead of leaving him for good that day, I decided to stay. As I sat on the edge of my bed, rubbing the pain out from the bruises on my body, I vowed that I would never do anything ever again to make him cross that line.
I was carrying his child, and I had to make this work. I needed his financial support. Besides, he apologized. He promised that he’d change. He was stressed out, and I’d pushed him too far. I probably deserved to be put in my place.
My choice to stay and “work it out” started a cycle of domestic abuse that continued for the next twelve years.
That line was crossed so many times; I couldn’t count. After a while, I realized that I had very little say on where the line laid in the relationship.
When I was a child, my upbringing conditioned me to become a victim of intimate partner violence. I was raised by a single mother in a hand-to-mouth culture of near poverty.
I learned to work my butt off and to make due with little. I also learned that women put up with abusive men, as I watched one barfly after another invade our home, and contribute nothing but more chaos into our lives. I was personally abused by these men who lived with us for short (or long) periods of time, and I suffered in silence.
In my preteens, I pushed back against this with short stints of running away. As a teenager, I further coped by getting a half-time job and going to high school, which kept me away from home most of the time.
Then I closed the circle by leaving home and running into the arms of the first man who showed me any attention. He predictably turned into a man who was as abusive as all the male role models I had growing up.
For twelve years, I experienced many forms of abuse from him. The battering was only part of this vicious cycle.
It would start with him having unrealistic expectations that I needed to live up to, and I failed. He put me down, called me a bitch or told me I was worthless.
The behavior would escalate to yelling, throwing things (so many times I’d have to clean food off the wall and broken dishes off the floor), destroying something I cherished or hitting me.
Then he’d apologize, reconcile, and promise never to do it again. Life would remain eggshell calm until the next time.
But it was more than that. He humiliated me in public. He flirted with (and slept with) other women. He controlled who I socialized with, and how I spent my time. He always made a point of letting me know what a worthless piece of shit I was and how nobody else would ever want me.
He was reckless with my life.
Sometimes I thought that I was too stupid, that I didn’t know any better and this life was best for me.
Other times, when I thought about leaving, I believed that I couldn’t support myself and my kids. I continued to operate on the belief that I was financially dependent on him like I was when I was in nursing school.
These reasons were bullshit.
I was educated, affluent, and financially capable. The reasons that I stayed were purely emotional. I didn’t leave because I was afraid. I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do that.
Although everyone saw that I was being abused, nobody said or did anything to stop it. His family enabled him to be abusive towards me and were maybe afraid of him as well.
I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I never filed a police report. My wounds were never enough to take me to the hospital. My doctor never asked me if I felt safe at home. I would get a critical eye, and so I’d shut my mouth.
Twenty years ago, there wasn’t the awareness that there is now, and there weren’t as many resources. It was a considerable stigma, placing the blame on the victim, which was usually the woman. I was too embarrassed to mention this to anyone. If I hinted at the abuse, I was either ignored or questioned; why didn’t I just leave?
Well, it wasn’t that simple. Leaving wasn’t just a one-time act. Leaving was a process.
If I tried to leave, the intensity of the abuse cycle increased, which ranged from crying, apologies, and gifts, to threats and intimidation, including death threats. I was making him look bad. I was tearing our family apart. I was a selfish bitch and wouldn’t last long in this world.
I was so confused, afraid and exhausted; it was easier to go back and take the abuse than it was to leave the relationship. I believed that I was handcuffed to this relationship for the rest of my life.
One day I’d had enough. It was another night of him not coming home until 3 am, drunk and loud and crawling into bed with me to take advantage of my body again.
I realized that I became a disposable object for him to use as he wanted.
My life didn’t matter. His behavior had gotten so bad; I was afraid that either he was going to kill me or I was going to kill myself.
I was worried I wasn’t going to be there for my kids in the future, and my kids were everything to me. That’s when I decided to leave.
It wasn’t easy. It was the hardest damn thing I’d ever done. When I left for the last time, I made an escape plan. I kept myself safe. I didn’t give him my address for fear that he would come and hurt me.
I confided in a close friend that I had a “crazy ex” just in case something ever happened to me and my kids needed to be taken care of. I lived in fear for months.
I worked through all of this on my own, without anyone’s help. I had only myself to rely on for strength and support. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I’m a pretty strong person. But, this was too much for one person to go through by herself.
Without the help of anyone else, without getting real help to stop my cycle of abuse, I continued my pattern.
I believed I’d finally broken free and that I was going to find someone who truly loved me. I found another man who made me think that he was that person, and I married him.
Three months into my second marriage, he went off on me so badly, I was stunned.
That’s when I realized that I hadn’t broken my cycle at all. I continued it, just with a different person.
This terrible marriage went on for another six years. I would go more into this, but honestly, the story is the same. The only difference is that he was a different person, the details of the experiences were different, but overall it was the same cycle of domestic abuse I experienced in my first marriage.
However, by the time I decided to leave my second husband, there was more help in my community. Because of the support, I was able to break my patterns of abuse.
I received counseling. My counselor taught me to work through my shame of what I experienced. She encouraged me to break my cycle of abuse and introduced me to other resources for abused women.
I started going to Al-Anon meetings (different than AA) and was welcomed with compassion and understanding.
Those meetings saved my life.
I still felt shame, but I continued to work on healing. I shared my story and found that I was not alone. I started connecting with other women who had experienced similar stories as mine.
I took the emotional power and control from my abusers and learned to give it back to myself. I forgave myself for taking so long to get real help. I worked hard to change and created a life where I was safe, happy, and loved.
Although it took me almost thirty years to get to this place, I got here. It hasn’t been perfect. But because I’d finally received the help I needed, I broke my cycle, and I changed my life.
If I were to advise anyone who is going through what I did, I’d say don’t wait to seek out help.
Please don’t go through this by yourself. Educate yourself on what is happening to you. Find help.
There are people and agencies out there to help you.
My process took so long, thirty years, because I didn’t get outside help. My process would have been so much faster if I’d sought help and resources. I encourage you to find help for a place to stay, to seek as strong of a support system as you’re able. Find a domestic violence program in your area. Use the assistance of a domestic violence shelter, which has a variety of resources.
Reach out for help and keep yourself safe, this matters the most. You deserve to live free of fear. You deserve to be safe and happy.
Michelle Jaqua is a blogger on Medium.com. She writes to inspire people towards emotional healing, personal transformation, and living a passionate life. You can find her blog here.