This was me, at age 16. It seems like a million years ago now....I may look like I was happy in this photo, and I was...For a time. I was blissfully unaware of what the next several years had in store for me, and that the man who took this photo would take this happy girl's spirit and completely break it down until she was merely a shell of a person.
Before I tell my story, I want to say that this is not a post to bash my ex. I have no desire to identify him or to make his life difficult. In fact, I want absolutely nothing to do with him on any level, unless it's absolutely necessary. And even then, my husband does most of the talking. My ex can't bully or intimidate my husband, so we have found that Dan being the middle-man works well when communication is necessary.
I can honestly say that I wish my ex well, and hope that no other woman is ever treated the way that I was at his hands. I hope that by losing his wife and his family, he has taken a long, hard look at what he has done, and that he has changed. In some ways, I think this is an empty wish...I mean, do abusers ever really change, or is it something deep-seeded within them that causes them to be the way they are? Or did we simply just bring out the absolute worst in each other? I don't know. I will never know. And that's okay. I have been remarried to a wonderful man who treats me like gold for almost 7 years now...So I suppose, some questions don't really need answering.
In many ways, my first marriage is ancient history. In other ways, however, it still haunts me. It has changed the very core of my being in ways that I wish I could reverse. But I can't. I just have to learn to accept the damage that has been done and find ways to move forward.
I married my ex at 16 years old. (I know. Insanity!) I was surrounded by addiction at home, and I was desperate to escape. My parents were not physically abusive, but there was definite emotional abuse. Having a parent who was addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol is very hard on a teen. I didn't feel loved or wanted, and I definitely didn't feel like I had a positive role model. By this point, I had run away from home a couple of times and had hung out with all the wrong people. I even dated a serial killer. Before he had harmed anyone, of course. I had absolutely no idea that he was capable of such acts.
Anyway, I was 16, but I thought I knew it all. You know how teenagers are. I was working at a Bennigan's as a hostess, and that's when I met him. Even though I was just 16, I got a lot of male attention at my workplace. I didn't really look my age, and let's face it: Guys like boobs. I ignored most of this attention, since I really wasn't looking for a relationship. I had just ended things with the would-be murderer a few months beforehand, and my head was a mess. Anyway, that's when I met my ex. He came in with his brother, and we began talking a bit. I thought he was smart and charming, and we ended up dating. He just had this way about him, and I was hooked pretty quickly.
My ex was 21 when we married. That's right. He was 21, and I was 16. (Tell me there shouldn't have been major red flags waving there!) When I married him, I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I said my vows. I had hoped that my mother, who was present, would have stopped it from happening. But, she didn't. There I was, a 16 year old kid, having to play the role of a wife.
We had money troubles, as most young people do. I was trying to get a better job, just to help make ends meet. A so-called-friend, who it turns out was trying to get me away from my ex, told me some ways to make money. I won't get into great detail, but this backfired. Big time. No, I wasn't prostituting, dealing drugs, or doing anything else illegal. But this money-making venture ended up costing us money.
My ex was furious. he actually rushed home from work while I was getting ready to take the bus to a job interview at a salon. I had a cute outfit on, had my hair done, the whole nine yards. I was just about to leave for my interview when he came barreling up the stairs, gun in hand. He immediately started calling me a whore, asking why I was dressed up, and demanding I give back all my jewelry. I was in shock. Pure and complete shock. I had no idea where this anger was coming from. Yes, I made a poor business decision, but he was accusing me of cheating, which I wasn't doing.
I was absolutely terrified. Terrified of the .44 caliber Ruger that was pointed at my head, and terrified of losing my new marriage. I just couldn't wrap my head around why this was happening. This was a man who was supposed to love me, after all. And now, he was prepared to kill me. And I didn't know why.
I was somehow able to make it to the phone in our kitchen. I left a few panicked messages for my parents, and I also called 911. In no time, our little townhouse was surrounded by police with guns drawn. Apparently they were even hiding in the bushes. After awhile, the 911 operator somehow convinced him to put down the gun and exit the house. He was promptly arrested, and charged with felony abduction and I think assault with a deadly weapon. It was a long time ago, and I ended up agreeing to the charges being pled down to something not so serious. I still thought I loved this man, and I wasn't trying to ruin his future. I was a kid, too, and I am pretty sure that any sort of adult logic.
Anyway, we were separated for a couple of months. During the time that court proceedings were pending, there was a strict no-contact order. I tried going back home, but I didn't like the idea of having to go by my parents' rules when I had been living as an adult with my own place. So I left. Or they told me to leave. I don't recall which. I ended up staying in various "flop-houses" in awful living conditions, and with groups of people I barely knew. After awhile, this became very, very old, and I thought the only real option was to take my ex back. So I did.
And this is when my own personal Hell began....
After the incident that almost ended my life, there was a bit of a honeymoon period. He was nice. He didn't say or do awful things to me. Then his controlling nature began showing itself once again. Eventually, I was hit. I was called names constantly, and put down. My self-esteem was chipped away so badly that I began blaming myself for his bad attitude and thought I actually deserved to be mistreated. Plus, when he promised he'd never mistreat me again, I foolishly believed him.
It wasn't long before I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son. I had literally JUST turned 18, and I was petrified. I didn't know what to do with a baby. Before this, motherhood wasn't something I had ever really considered. I was barely more than a child, myself. I also knew that this man was the last person I wanted to have a baby with. By this time, I stayed solely out of fear and self-loathing. I was beyond miserable, and I was bringing a living breathing child into the mix. I felt quite trapped.
During my pregnancy, my ex was increasingly cruel to me. He would say terrible things, such as "I keep hoping I come home to find your p*ssy bleeding and you shoving tampons inside." He even tried to deny the baby was his, claiming I had slept with the Milk Man. I cried every single day.
Then, my son was born and I fell hopelessly in love....I had the only worthwhile part of my ex, right there in my arms. This beautiful little boy depended on me to nurture and care for him, and to help him become a man one day. The thought of that terrified me, since at this point, I only thought of men as mean, abusive creatures who were out to dominate and control women. My head was very screwed up.
I threw myself into motherhood. Every breath I took was for my baby, and I found out that motherhood came pretty naturally to me. I adored my little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby, and he adored me.
The abuse continued, though...Most of the time it was verbal and emotional, but I did get hit and threatened with bodily harm, too. One of my ex's favorite things was to tell me that he would throw me into a wood chipper and that no one would ever find my body. He also told me he would tear off my nipples or gouge my eyes out with a spoon. I was even sexually abused. My ex has an odd fascination with anal sex, probably because it's degrading and painful, especially without any lube. This was basically forced on me, and I even needed surgery once to correct the damage he had done. Remember, by this point I had been taught that I was worthless and that I deserved this. I submitted, just to avoid his wrath. Perhaps it wasn't technically rape, but it wasn't far off...I was scared. I was young. I had nothing without my ex. And I had a child. I felt trapped.
So I stayed.
Finally, after several years of constant belittling, name-calling, mind-f*cking, and physical abuse and threats, I started to wake-up. I had a job that I loved working in the local elementary school, and I was starting to make friends, despite my ex's desire that I didn't. I even re-connected with close friends I had in middle and high school. I started going out and doing things, with and without my son. (Usually with.) I finally started to see my own value, and rather than being frozen in fear, I became angry. I started getting back my strength. I knew that I was DONE. Our marriage was already over and had been for years. We weren't even sleeping under the same roof the vast majority of the time. There was no sex. There was no love. There was no relationship. That was dead, and I wasn't even trying anymore to resurrect it.
One weekend, I went to a concert with friends. Tenacious D, to be exact. My son stayed with his father. When I arrived home, my baby had 2 huge, black eyes. Originally, he said he got the black eyes from sneezing. (How does a SNEEZE cause black eyes?!) Then later, when Dad wasn't around, he came to me, crying and upset, and said he was hit. I didn't know if it was true since I wasn't there, but I didn't waste any time....I called the police and filed a report. When it comes to my child, there is no such thing as being too careful...Especially when I had been assaulted before, even in front of my own child. I didn't need to be present when the injury took place to know that, while I couldn't prove it, my son may have been hit, too....Just like I had been before.
It was the love of my child that snapped me out of it. Did he harm my son? I truly don't know...It doesn't matter now. I actually dropped charges to avoid forcing my son to go through all of the court stuff. It was having a very negative effect on him, and I just wanted it to be over. Once and for all.
But seeing my child, scared and upset woke me up. Knowing my child had witnessed ME being yelled at, hit, and constantly in tears woke me up. I was raising what would one day be a man, and I couldn't allow this cycle to continue. I didn't want my son to think it was normal or to grow up and one day treat another human being the way his father treated me for so many years. I just couldn't do that to my child.
I ended up filing for and paying for my own divorce. He wasn't having it, and refused to help pay for it. So I did. I had the help of friends, and ended up moving out of our marital home. I didn't want the house. I didn't care about the vast majority of the co-marital possessions. I wanted my child, my vehicle, and our personal possessions. And that's what I walked away with.
Domestic violence...It is far more common than people realize. And domestic abuse doesn't have to be physical. Shoot, I will be the first to say that the hitting, choking, shoving, etc wasn't an everyday occurrence. I can probably estimate that things got physical MAYBE a dozen times. It wasn't a regular thing in my first marriage.
But while I wasn't black and blue constantly, my heart was broken. My soul was shattered. I was a pitiful, timid, and meek shell of a person. He had complete control over every aspect of my existence.
While there wasn't constant hitting, there WAS constant verbal abuse, very regular threats, cruel ridicule, control over friends, finances, and every other thing under the sun. During my "marriage", I was brainwashed into hating myself and blaming myself for every negative thing that happened. I was weak. I was convinced that if I ever lost HIM, no one would ever want or love me, and that I'd never be able to survive. I truly believed I was worthless.
So while like many women suffering from domestic abuse, I stayed too long for all of the wrong reasons....
This is why I left.....
Today, there is no name-calling. There aren't any put-downs. There is no violence of any kind. I am encouraged to be myself, and I am told that I am more than good enough, exactly the way I am. I have a partner and a best friend. And I am so amazingly grateful. Sometimes it takes being with the devil himself to truly appreciate a good name when you find him. Dan is definitely a very good man. It's crazy to think that at one point, I didn't think good men existed.
Dan and I have been married for almost 7 years now. I have 2 more beautiful children, and they have the best Daddy a kid could ever hope for. My husband even claims my oldest as his own. He never, ever refers to him as a step-child, and when he's asked how many children he has, he always says 3, without hesitation, My husband has been in my oldest's life for most of his life, and it makes me proud to see their relationship. It makes me proud to know that my son is growing up to be a kind, compassionate, and empathetic person, just like the man who has spent the past several years raising him. Fatherhood isn't just about DNA...It's about who is there to love, to support, and to nurture.
I am not going to lie and say that my first marriage didn't change me. It has. In ways that I hate. I was Bulimic for years in hopes of finally being "good enough" and not being "hideously ugly" anymore.While I am better now, I still suffer from incredibly low self-esteem. I doubt myself constantly. I am terrified of failure. I have bad anxiety, including social anxiety. Being around people I don't know well scares the crap out of me. It's very hard for me to open up to others and allow anyone to really get to know me. It's hard for me to trust others, and it's hard for me to reach out to anyone. Most of my own family doesn't really know me. I always fear I am unwanted and am a burden, so I don't make phone calls...I don't put myself in many social situations. I don't have a bestie I can call and chat with or go grab lunch with. I am lonely a lot. In some ways, I am keeping myself in the same sort of prison that my ex subjected me to. I realize that only I can fix this, and it's going to take time.
Oh, the official diagnosis? Social anxiety, PTSD, and occasional bouts of depression.
But despite the challenges I still face as I rebuild my spirit, I am at peace. I am happy, for the first time in my life. I am safe. I am loved. I am treated like a human being. My children will never, ever have to witness their parents at each other's throats or their mother crying every day. They have a healthy relationship to look to as an example as they grow and form relationships of their own.
Did I deserve the years and years of abuse that I endured? No. Of course not. No one ever does.
But it has made me a kinder, more compassionate person. It's made me a better wife, a better friend, and a better mother.
This is my story. It's hard to talk about, or even think about really. I am still scared of my ex, and I hope I never see him again. But I survived. I left. And I am okay.
If you're being abused, please know you do not deserve it and you CAN change your life. You can find your strength, even if it's literally been beaten out of you. Please talk to someone. Please get help. Leaving can be very frightening. Change is often scary. But trust me when I say that you won't start living until you take back your voice and your power.
Have you suffered from domestic abuse? Why did YOU stay?