THE BLOG
10/29/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

Domestic Violence Awareness Month #WhyIStayed; A Therapist's Story of Staying in Abusive Relationships

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With the recent release of the video of a well-known football player knocking his girlfriend out in an elevator, there has been an increase in the media's attention and discussion of an issue those of us in the field are all too familiar with. Though when it's not a celebrity who happens to be caught in the act, the media and the rest of society prefer to pretend it doesn't exist.

There likely isn't one person out there who is unaware October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can't escape the sea of pink. But, how many know it's also Domestic Violence Awareness Month? How many purple ribbons have you seen?

Domestic violence is an epidemic. Three women are killed every day in this country by someone they trusted and who likely purported to love them. These are completely, 100 percent preventable deaths.

How does this continue to happen?

One reason -- we don't talk about domestic violence because we don't know what to do about it. It feels overwhelming. How can you possibly stop all this abusive, murderous behavior? How can you get someone to listen and just leave the relationship?

There's another difficult truth. In order to make ourselves feel better, safer, we blame victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We feel better when we can say it's her fault for staying with him, wearing that, drinking too much, or maybe she should have known better.

For domestic violence awareness month I asked people to share their stories of why they stayed in abusive relationships. We need to support one another, not judge and blame. It is much more difficult for someone to leave an abusive relationship when they feel isolated.

So, in solidarity with my sisters, I thought it only fair I share my story too.

People are often surprised to learn about my history of... well, a lot of different things. But, for the purpose of this post, I will focus on my experience in abusive, dysfunctional, and unhealthy relationships.

Like most people who find themselves in less than healthy relationships, I didn't really define it as such, especially in the beginning. It seemed a continuation of the abusive and dysfunctional experiences I had as a child.

Experiencing sexual abuse and neglect throughout my childhood taught me that relationships were about pain and uncertainty. I also learned I was unworthy of love, stability, compassion, and generally any other positive experience we need and desire.

Early on, I told myself it was better than being sexually abused. Since I chose to be in these relationships, unlike the relationships with the people who abused me as a child, I believed I was in control. And, like most abusive or unhealthy relationships, there were good times.

The memories of the good times, and the continuing hope for more, kept me holding on. Holding on when I was dismissed, cheated on, called names, held down, hit, and concussed.

I would like to tell you that having children changed this pattern. It did not. In addition to believing I was unworthy, I believed I was inherently bad. Bad at my core and with everything I did.

I believed my children were better off being in the middle of a dysfunctional family than being raised by me as a single parent. While I knew it wasn't good for them, I truly believed they were much better off than if they had to rely solely on me.

I know it may seem ridiculous to think in such a compartmentalized way. It's part of the judgment we make as a way to tell ourselves we would never be in that situation.

I would like to believe if they had been directly abused I would have left... I will never know.

There has been significant research done since that time. We now know children growing up in abusive homes are not only more likely to find themselves in abusive relationships, but also to experience significant psychological effects.

I share my story to hopefully erase some of the stigma and hopelessness survivors experience. Whatever you may believe, it is not your fault. You did not cause it. You do not deserve it. You are worthy of healthy love, kindness, and respect. And anything else you desire.

Through the process of healing the wounds of my abuse experiences, I am now in a relationship I never imagined possible.

Domestic violence knows no boundaries. Race, class, educational level, religion, ethnicity, it does not discriminate.

We can only end domestic violence when enough people are willing to acknowledge its existence and recognize the next headline may be your friend, sister, mother, or yourself.