Years ago, before I was married to my wonderful husband, I was the victim of domestic abuse. It is a dark period of my life that is in the past, but is always with me. Ultimately it made me stronger and smarter. The frightening aspect of it is that it seemed to come out of nowhere. The reality is that there were early warning signs.
When I was twenty years old, I met a very handsome charming young guy. We began dating and soon became inseparable. On the surface, he seemed like a real prize. He was good looking, ambitious, funny and outgoing. What really hooked me though was how attentive he was. If we were at a party or a club, we could be on opposite sides of the room, but his eyes were always on me. I would catch his eye and he would smile or signal something private to me. I would just melt. I thought he was just so enamored with me that he couldn’t bear to be without me. The truth was that he was watching me. He was making sure I wasn’t talking to any other guys.
We were so in love and wanted to be together all the time, so we moved in together. I wanted to get married, but he wanted more time before we made that serious of a commitment. As life has a way of turning you upside down, my mother was diagnosed with cancer a week after I moved out. Within three months, she passed away. Those weeks were a blur of tears and visits to the hospital. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. My mother was buried on his birthday. For two years after that, I was reminded every time we had a fight that I never bought him a birthday card that year. Unbelievable, right? I had just lost my mother, and my best friend and this self centered bastard had the nerve to feign hurt over not receiving a birthday card on what was the most devastating day of my life. In his mind, he was the center of my universe and should always be treated accordingly, regardless of what else was going on in my world.
Up to this point, he had not laid a hand on me. The verbal disagreements became more vicious. One time in the middle of a heated battle he said that I had no family or friends, no one who cared about me but him. At the time I thought he was just spewing venom in a childish way to try and win the argument. Later I realized it was his way to try and isolate me from other people in my life.
Next began the constant criticism. I didn’t cook right, clean right, dress right, etc. etc. etc. Nothing was right. I used to ask him if everything was so wrong with me, why did he love me? He always said he was trying to help me be better. Then we wouldn’t fight anymore. I remember very clearly the feeling I used to get deep in the pit of my stomach when I would hear his key in the door. My eyes would scan the room trying to see what was wrong that I could fix quickly to avoid a fight. The woman I am today weeps for the girl I was then.
I won’t go into detail about the physical abuse. Suffice it to say that once someone is beaten down spiritually it is only a short trip to being beaten down physically. No one ever saw bruises. He was always smart enough to only leave marks where they could be covered by clothing.
After two years of living together, I finally had enough and moved out. This may shock some, but the relationship (and abuse) continued for a time though we were living separately. He had such a hold on me, I truly believed at the time that I couldn’t survive in this world without him. Thank God, I finally woke up and moved on to marry a kind,caring man who would sooner jump off a bridge than lay a hand on me. The miracle is that I was able to recognize a good man and a good relationship and not start a pattern of abusive relationships.
I have spent countless hours thinking back and trying to come up with a reason that an intelligent woman with a strong support system could have wound up in that situation. The short answer is that I was not aware of the signs. Very few abusers punch you in the face on the first date. It is a process. They see what they can get away with and then it escalates. In my situation, I was in a very vulnerable position. I had lost my mother and needed to cling to someone. They are master manipulators. They find a weak spot and then use that to their advantage. It is sick and evil.
My story has a happy ending. I know that is not the case for thousands of women. Women are too afraid to leave and many wind up dead. Children who grow up in houses with domestic violence are forever affected. I do not know how to solve this. I only know that I am very very blessed to have come out of that darkness and into the light.