In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, I have decided to share my story and break the silence that accompanies domestic violence. This post is in honor of someone I knew who lost her life to domestic violence. Domestic violence is deadly and I hope that no one ever forgets that. I am lucky enough to be sitting here writing a blog post, but many are not that lucky.
Going away to college when I was 18, I was filled with big dreams. I was filled with excitement to get away from the small town I grew up in and experience life with new hope away from the troubles of my teenage years in high school. I never had a romantic relationship in high school and I looked forward to maybe finally finding someone. Things did not start well the first few months in college due to a few very traumatic events. However, the one thing that came out of these few months was my friendship with my 'soul' sister, my best friend, Heidi A. whose friendship still endures to this day even after her untimely death almost seven years ago.
At the beginning of my third quarter in college, Heidi's friend, X came up to visit. I was immediately drawn to him. He and Heidi were not currently in a romantic relationship, but had been in high school in Texas. Why I was so drawn to him, I am not sure. Anyone meeting him at that time would immediately sense that something was 'off' about him, but I thought he was charismatic, funny, sweet, and was so different than anyone I had ever met. Don't get me wrong though, I also knew he was 'off'. Within a few short weeks, he and I were romantically involved. He was traveling and living in his car with his dog. The three of us took trips to the ocean and explored the Northwest together. Heidi and I were left several times in strange cities, for many many hours, wondering where he had wandered off to. We wondered at some of his behavior and our roommates even staged an intervention to try and get him banned from our apartment. This early time was also punctuated with weird mind games that he loved to play on Heidi and I. Looking back, I wonder what I was thinking, but at the time, I was swept up in some romantic ideal that told me that he was just 'misunderstood' and had to much to offer the world with his creativity, his music and his ideas.
My first quarter of my second year in college was a quarter of growth and friendship. Heidi and I lived in an apartment together and would hang out for hours and hours every night with our friend, Matt listening to music and talking. X was gone for this semester. He had traveled to Kansas and then back to Texas. My parent's divorced during this time, which caused some upheaval and strife. I ended up going to Texas with Heidi for Christmas and re-connected with X. I loved his 'nonconformity' and the fact that he would not adhere to any social norms. After we returned to Olympia, he followed shortly after. What followed was a several months of tumult and strife that culminated in me leaving college and taking off with X. Within several months, I was pregnant. X started physically abusing me the summer before I found out I was pregnant. He was increasingly paranoid about everything and often this paranoia led to hostility towards me. At the beginning of this pregnancy, I once thought the child had died because he hit me so hard in the back that I started bleeding the next day.
I went back to college and isolated myself from my best friends, Matt and Heidi and from everyone else, including my family. I know now how concerned they were about me. I knew I was living a nightmare, but I did not know how to get out of it. I thought I could somehow help or change him and that he would be better. Ironically, my mom was the director of domestic violence programs for the state of Wyoming. My family knew what was going on, but felt powerless to stop it. I remember vividly a letter my mom sent me early in my pregnancy, pleading with me to leave him and sending a big packet of handouts about domestic violence. I ignored them. X was becoming increasingly delusional and paranoid. Violence was an at least weekly occurrence. On my birthday that year, I came home from school and he held a knife to my throat. I broke free and took the bus to a movie and stayed at my worried friend Heidi's house that night. Of course, I told no one the extent of what was happening to me. The pregnancy culminated in X becoming almost completely catatonic, me having the baby and both of us leaving Olympia and going to our respective parents houses. (One thing to note about this time period was that there was a doctor who I saw regularly throughout my pregnancy who had to have seen bruises, but never said a thing. I do not know if him saying anything would have helped, but I would like to think it might have.)
Amazingly, after all that, I ended up getting back together with X when our daughter was around six months old. During our absence, he was hospitalized and medicated. Alternately, I went with our daughter and lived with my dad and recuperated from the nightmare that was my pregnancy. That winter, the three of us headed back to my college. Some of this time was somewhat of a 'honeymoon' period for us. However, although the violence had stopped, the narcissism and mind games were still there at times. Deep down, I knew that I wanted more than this. I knew that he hadn't really changed. Even though some thought that his mental illness caused his violence and abuse, I knew that it did not. I knew that even when he was medicated, he could still be self centered and hurtful. He did not work and his grandiose dreams of being a musician were never realized. We moved to Portland, and that summer, I fell in love with three different people. I obviously was trying to get away from him, but did not know how. I did try to leave him after falling particularly hard for the last of the three people, but he left and X was still there. Within two weeks, we were back together. I do not know why I kept being drawn back to him, but I do know that my self esteem was shattered. I do know that perhaps I felt that there was nothing better out there for me and that perhaps, he was all I had and all I deserved.
Fast forward several years, we were living in Fort Collins and my oldest daughter was about to start kindergarten. I was relieved as I felt that I could start working again and maybe get on the path to finally leaving X. The summer before my daughter started kindergarten, I found out I was pregnant. This was extremely hard for me as I did not know how to survive on my own with one child, let alone two. At the same time, X was told by a psychiatrist, who saw him for 15 minutes every six months, that he could go off his medication. X became increasingly paranoid and verbally abusive. One thing I did know is that I could not put my kids through this anymore. It was enough for me to go through it, but to have my kids go through it was another thing. My youngest daughter was born and things were not any better with X. In fact, they were getting worse. I started to go to an incredible domestic violence support group and therapy with the leader of that group. The light came on. Finally, I realized that I not only could get out, but I had to. Our lives depended on it.
I told X he needed to leave. It was several months before he finally left. However, he did not stop his abusive behavior towards us. He would not leave us alone. I still cared for him as if he was a child and worried for his physical safety now that he was on his own. I cared for him for years and it was hard to let go of that. But, I slowly started to let go. Without the financial support of my family in these early years, I do not know if we would have made it.
Many of these periods throughout our relationship could comprise a book, instead of a mere blog post. I will be spare in details, but, I finally started to move forward, in spite of all of the hurtful things he continued to do to us. It wasn't easy. I was not easy to be in a relationship with while I healed. Today, we all still feel the effects of the things he has done. His abusive behavior did not end. As recently as this year, we had to get another restraining order due to harassing phone calls.
But, we move on. The effects of domestic violence last a lifetime and there is never a time that I will be completely 'over it'. Nor will my children. It is like a scar that is healing, but never fully healed.
For my children and others, I would impart the lesson that there is hope. I would also impart that no one ever deserves abuse and that you cannot change your abuser even when you desperately want to and think you can. And for those who love someone who is being abused and/or see or hear it happening, act. Do something to help. Offer financial support. Offer emotional support. Call the police. Do something. And finally, in spite of all this, I do not regret our relationship because it gave me two amazing young women that give me so much. I would not trade that for anything.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.