On average, nearly 20 people a minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, and God forbid, one day you might be one of them.
“But I’m too smart to be caught up with a guy like that. That would never be me. I would leave the first time a man put his hands on me.”
I said that, too. Maybe I would have left the first time he laid his hands on me…if that’s how it started, but it’s not. The truth is domestic violence can start way before things ever turn physical. Sometimes you’re first put in a mental prison that keeps you in your place until the bruises start to show up.
There were a lot of red flags in my relationship, and I’m not sure I missed them as much as I was forced to believe they were a sign of love. It didn’t help that I was young when the relationship started. I was 16 years old when we began dating, and by the time I finally got out, I was 21.
In the beginning, it was jealousy over any male friendships that I had and monopolization of my time, keeping me away from my friends and family. He told me he just loved me so much that he always wanted to hang out with me, or talk to me on the phone. I told myself sure, it’s excessive, but that’s what it’s like when you really love someone.
Later on as the jealousy progressed, he requested my cell phone logs, made me talk to him every night until I fell asleep to guarantee that I had no other plans, and followed my class schedule to be sure there were no times in my day that were unaccounted for. In the back of my mind, I knew this was wrong, but I had been brainwashed to think it was OK. I believed that eventually it would get better. But it only got worse.
I remember the nights we would argue. He would find out that I had spoken to a male friend about a homework assignment, or something else completely innocent, and he would start yelling at me. He would stand inches from my face and scream at me at the top of his lungs while I cried. He called me a liar, a cheater, a slut, and any other insults he cold hurl at me. It would go on for hours while I pleaded my case, apologized, and reassured him that I loved him more than anything. All the while in my head, I had wished he’d just hit me and get it over with. It would have been faster.
Then one day, after getting into an argument at a bar, he did hit me. He was flirting with another girl across the room from me, so I walked up to him to break it up. When we got back to his place that night, he told me I embarrassed him. He hit me, and he dragged me across his apartment by my hair while I begged him not to hurt me. It was then that I regretted the day I ever wished he’d just hit me instead of scream at me. It was just as bad as being yelled at and lasted just as long.
I wish I could say that was all it took for me to walk away, but it wasn’t. Time went on and the mental and physical abuse continued. I was threatened with my life if I ever tried to leave. So I stayed. I alienated myself from almost everyone that truly cared about me, and I kept the majority of my suffering to myself. When people did question what was really going on with our relationship, I protected him. He manipulated me into feeling like he was the victim. He told me I brought out the worst in him, and that he wouldn’t be as angry if he were dating anyone else. It was always my fault when he abused me.
I truly believed I could find a way out on my own, and I was embarrassed that I had let things progress to the point they had. I was broken and scared. My abuser had all of the power, and he held on to it for a very long time. But eventually, by the grace of God, I was able to escape my Hell on Earth.
During the worst attack, the cops were called and they got me out of the situation. To be honest, had I been able to deescalate the situation that day, I probably wouldn’t have told anyone about it, and I would have stayed. That’s how incredibly controlled I was. I was terrified to leave, and I thought I could get out without getting him in trouble. But he deserved to be in trouble. Once I was ripped out of the situation, my veil was removed, and I could finally see the truth. None of it was my fault, and I was the real victim.
Every survivor of domestic violence has a different story. Some suffer mental abuse, some physical, and some a combination of the two. Abuse does not discriminate by class, race, or gender. There are multiple resources to help victims of domestic violence remove themselves from their situations, and start over.
With October having been Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I challenge you to learn more about ways you can make a difference. Educating yourself is a simple thing you can do that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit http://www.thehotline.org.