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You think it could never happen to you

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

This is me at the young age of 22. I was four months pregnant with my second child, believing in a love that sweeps you off your feet, in happily ever afters, and in having a life nothing like what I came from. Just prior to this picture being taken, I was told by the man I was about to commit my life to, that I was an embarrassment with clown make-up on, a braid in my hair, and fat and pregnant in my wedding dress. Yet I still chose to walk down that aisle and say, 'I do' in front of the Priest who married us, and in front of our family & friends... because I believed (truly believed deep down inside) that this would be my love story, our happily ever after. Just a few short weeks prior to this picture being taken, I was pinned down, berated, spit on, stripped of my means to leave, fist in my face yet down on my knees pleading for my abuser to please, please keep loving me.

I met my first husband while I was recovering from a painful break up from a boy I had just given my heart and soul to. It would be more accurate to say heart and spirit since involvement with him caused me to lose grip with any moral code I might have possessed prior. He was a boy who was so addicted to pornography, that in order for him to want to be with me, I had to subject myself to his level of self-degradation. There seemed to be no bottom to the explicitness he craved whether it be movies, sexual acts, or simple conversations. His idea of love was threats, abuse, control, and shame. Before we became involved, we had been close friends, so I trusted him and thought I knew him. When my son's father and I parted ways, this friend moved himself right in. On our first real date, he pulled a Bowie knife the length of his glove box out and explained quite calmly and clearly that he could use either the glistening sharp edge or the serrated painful edge of this knife... to keep us together. You would think that moment in time would have made me wake up to my reality, that my first date involved a death threat, but it didn't. Somehow this profession of his love for me convinced me that his love was so deep and true, that he just couldn't accept being without me. I remember mentioning the knife to my older brother. It would be years later that I would hear a story of how my older brother stepped in the gap and tried to threaten this boy out of my life. My brother could see that this was a dangerous relationship for me, but at the time, I was just unable to. All I could see was that this boy was protective, loving and truly committed. The truth was he was displaying abusive, stalking, possessive behaviors that threatened my life and that of my child. He felt it was his right to steal my apartment key and to secretly make a copy for himself so that he could spy on me undetected. He wanted to know where I was at all times, who I was with, who had spoken to me, and what time I went to bed at night- if he wasn't there. This went on the entirety of our relationship. There was a time when you would say I began to open my eyes to his control of me, and I did tell him that I wanted to take a break. He seemed crushed but understanding, telling me he would give me the space I needed. For as long as I needed. It wasn't long after this that he had to be escorted out of my apartment by police officers when my sister and I woke up to him straddling us, stripped down to his underwear, waving a dildo in his hand, telling us that we were both going to have sex with him. I can still remember clearly that crazed look in his eyes, and knowing in my gut that he was intent and capable of hurting us. In the coming months I would again find myself back with him somehow having forgotten just how unstable and dangerous he was. In that desperation to be back with him, I walked away from a kind, caring, generous man who wanted to give me that happily ever after that he believed I deserved. Somehow I had gotten mixed up in my mind and believed that being owned, controlled, and stalked by a man was a safer and happier existence than just simply being loved for who I was by another.

When I first met my husband, I was enamored with his ability to stay standing no matter how much he drank. That was the attraction. And even when friends of ours would warn me with descriptive words of how he could be violent or controlling, all I could see was that he was just misunderstood and broken. Every part of me felt alive just knowing that I could help him, that I could save him from his own misery. The abuse started small but accelerated rapidly. In the beginnings, the put downs were for my own good. They were to help me not be an embarrassment to myself. The put downs turned quickly to name calling which led with ease into berating me for how sensitive and non-trusting I was, that I was just an insecure, not that attractive, crazy in the head girl who was lucky to be with him. These behaviors moved into direct insults, hard slaps, painful squeezes, being pinned down, my wallet being stripped of my ID and bank card, my keys being taken from me, and direct threats of what would happen if I even tried to leave. Even in those moments that sparked complete terror, like guns being pulled out and waved around, him trying to push me out of speeding vehicles, threats that I would never see my kids again, his hard hits in my back, his hands squeezing the air out of my throat, his abuse of our family pets, and him leaving our family for dead, were not enough to shake me out of this compulsion to have a life with him. I am sure that many people, men and women both, can read just this short part and find a million and one things I could have- or should have, done. I can look back today and see that. I could have called 911, I could have left when he was passed out drunk, I could have divorced him. Maybe I should have done all of those things to spare us those years of pain. But the truth is, even if the thought of calling 911 registered in my brain, I was more fearful of what would happen to him- and then what would happen to me because of it. That thought paralyzed me. Sneaking off in middle of the night when he was passed out cold would only flicker through my mind because I knew that at some point he would wake up, find us gone, and hunt us down. That thought paralyzed me. I did seek shelter when things got a little too out of hand, like when he was pulling guns and being physically violent. I was even offered a pistol for our protection from my father in law because he knew things were getting out of control. But I stayed. We stayed.

It will never cease to amaze me the things that wake us up. For me, the wake up came the first time when he pulled a gun and was threatening to shoot himself, or me, or all of us- he just couldn't decide. We separated for a short time until he said he was better and not drinking as much, and decided to move back in. Things got better for a short time but then almost overnight things got really scary again. The physical violence escalated, the threats intensified, guns made their appearance often, the erratic and reckless driving became common, and the cycles of apologies and being sorry had no end. In this craziness, I was actually jealous- blindingly jealous no less, of his love for alcohol. I clung desperately to a man hoping, praying and even pleading for me to mean more to him than alcohol. I never did. My heart and my mind became so polluted that I wanted this man above all else, even though this kept myself and my kids in a very dangerous and unsafe place for far too long. Other eye opening moments occurred, like when he pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot our family pets- and in what order, while my younger brother and sister were living with us. Even though the police were called, he met them at the door and told them everything was just fine and they should go. Which they did. We ended up throwing what little we could into the car that night, and I just started driving. I had such high anxiety I couldn't even find the police station in Redmond, so at 2:30 am we drove over the Santiam Pass, terrified he would follow us and make us go back. We agreed to separate for a short time and he made a decision to try sobriety to save our marriage and family. This did not last long. We were soon back in Prineville in the same house with the same escalation of threats, abuse and violence. Things became completely out of control. Friends and family grew tired of the late night calls, the sad tales of what happened 'this' time, and the cycle I was caught in of honeymoon-violence-separate-repeat. I clearly remember one night locked in my bathroom crying hysterically as the door was being beat in, pleading with God to save us from this hell we were living. God didn't save us that night, although he did spare our lives. Then I found out that he was having an affair, that he had another family on the side. This devastated me and I crumbled. Suddenly every thing he called me, every insult, every put down- felt true. I wasn't pretty enough. Sexy enough. A good enough mom. Definitely not a good wife. I mean, what kind of woman loses her husband to another woman? Then I found out there had always been other women, throughout our marriage, whether we were separated or not. I became undone. While I was sitting in my tears waiting (and willing) my husband to come back, to want me, to want us... we almost died. There are a lot of things I remember clearly about that night. The car wouldn't start. The smoke from our wood stove was filling the house. We were becoming confused and not feeling good. Because of the restraining order he refused to come help us unless I lifted it, and since I wouldn't, he convinced me that if I called the fire department everyone would laugh at my stupidity and that I would have a bill I could never afford to pay. So we opened the windows, shut the bedroom doors, and went to sleep. We woke up with unbearable headaches, vomiting, falling in and out of consciousness... and he called. Called to see if we were still alive and accused me of trying to kill my own kids. We were taken to the hospital and I was told we were single digits away from being air-lifted to Portland. We almost died that night. And it would take one more painful reconciliation before I was finally able to say 'not again'. The threat of splattering my head against the wall if 911 were to be dialed was when my reality became crystal clear to me. I didn't want my friends and family to read a tragic news headline involving me and my kids, gone forever by the hand of violence and abuse. By this time, I knew he was not throwing around empty threats. This is also the time that I realized with certainty that God had been there all along. Even though we were hurt physically, he saved us spiritually. There were times when faith was the only light we could see by.

The years I spent in my recovery program helped me to heal from the shame and guilt of what I (and we) had lived through. Recovery helped me to realize the power that abuse can hold over you. It helped me to realize that I had allowed very unsafe people access to my life. Recovery helped me to forgive myself for being human, for having real feelings of fear, doubt, and even hope. There were countless times I could have packed a bag and just disappeared, but I didn't. There were so many times that I believed I had cried my last tear and was finally done, but something in me wasn't. At least, not yet. I know over the years many have judged me as a wife, as a mother, as a woman who would stay. I know there were many friends and family members who were left with no choice but to just take a step back, they just couldn't keep watching it happen any longer. I want you to know that even when I got lost, very lost... I knew you were still there. I knew you loved us and wanted us to be safe. I knew you prayed for us and that you helped us the best you knew how. For that, I will forever be grateful. Today, when I see stories on the news about the women and children who almost didn't make it out... or were never able to, and it breaks my heart right down the middle because domestic violence is a very real thing. I can understand that deep compulsion to stay. That true fear of what happens if you try to leave. That love you hold for the abuser, as distorted as it is. I once had a counselor with Focus on the Family explain the glacier effect of abuse and violence to me. She said that what we, the victim, are seeing and experiencing is just the tip of the iceberg that can be seen above the water. That if an abuser does not choose to get help through recovery, counseling, therapy, medication, or whatever it takes... that the glacier below the water will start to rise. And when it does, that might just be the last thing you see on this earth. That statement shook me to my core.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The US Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year. That every 9 seconds a women in the US is beaten or assaulted by a current or ex-significant other. That 1 in 4 men are victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. People who are in an abusive relationship will stay with their partner for a number of reasons, some being destroyed self-esteem, the cycle of abuse (honeymoon, abuse, apology, repeat), the fear of leaving, feeling personally responsible for their partner, sharing of a life (marriage, children, home, finances). Domestic violence, also defined as intimate partner violence, encompasses sexual violence, physical violence, stalking. Abusive behaviors indicative of domestic violence include jealousy, control, manipulation, humiliation, physical threats, and emotional, verbal, psychological, and economic abuse.

If you are unsure if you are in an abusive relationship that you need to get out of, following are some signs to look for.

* Has or does your partner hit you, beat you, or strangled you in the past?

* Is your partner possessive (they check up on you constantly wanting to know where you are or who you are with; they stalk you; they only want you to do or wear what they say or behave like they tell you to)?

* Has or does your partner objectify you (sees you as their property or sexual object)?

* Is your partner jealous (accuse you of being unfaithful, isolate you from family and friends)?

* Has or does your partner put you down (they attack your intelligence, looks, mental health, or capabilities)?

* Has or does your partner blame you for all of their violent outbursts?

* Has or does your partner make you feel like no one else will want you?

* Has or does your partner sexually or physically abuse you (they push, shove, hit, kick, force you to have sex)?

* Has or does your partner threaten to hurt himself/herself because of being with you or being without you?

* Has or does your partner make threats with weapons?

* Has or does your partner prevent you from making or having your own money?

* Has or does your partner destroy your belongings?

* Has or does your partner check your phone, emails, or social networks without your permission?

* Has or does your partner use gas lighting tactics/psychological manipulation (blatantly lying; pitting you against others; working to align others against you; telling you and others that you are crazy, unstable or manipulative; making you doubt whats real)?

Some warning signs of an abuser:

* extreme jealousy

* possessiveness

* unpredictability

* bad temper

* cruelty to animals

* verbal abuse

* extremely controlling behavior

* adequated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships

* forced sex

* sabotage of birth control

* blaming the victim for anything bad that happens

* abuse of other family members, children or pets

* controls all the finances

* accusations of flirting or having an affair

* demeaning the victim

* embarrassing or humiliating the victim in front of others

* harassment of the victim at work

I remember years ago sitting in a CARDV [Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence] group and the speaker was making a list of abusive behaviors on a white board. It was my first time attending, and because I was questioning the extent of abuse in my relationship, I remained somewhat quiet and removed from the group. I felt fine just being an observer. All around me women were calling out things that were obvious to me like hitting, shoving, yelling, accusing... but then a woman said 'he takes my wallet and keys'. I sat up a little straighter, unsure why this particular thing was considered an abusive behavior because this had been happening to me. The speaker explained to me (and the group) that a partner forcibly taking your drivers license, your bank card or credit card, and your keys as a highly effective abusive technique since it renders you without identification, money, or a means to leave. I learned a whole lot that night about the things I minimized or explained away that were indeed active signs of abuse. That was the start of a very long journey out of that abusive relationship. I did not know then that it would take many more years of those same types of relationships before I would be able to see, to know, and to understand that I do not deserve to be with a man (or in relationship with any person) who is unsafe or abusive toward me. And you do not deserve that either. If you are caught in an abusive relationship, please reach out to someone who can help. Tell someone even when it may feel safer to remain silent. Silence hides violence.

If you need help:

CARDV Crisis and Support Line: 541-754-0110 or 800-927-0197 Live Chat with and Advocate

Warning! Your internet activity can be tracked. If the person who is harming you has access to your computer and/or router use a trusted friend's or a computer at the library. If you need immediate assistance, call 911.

NCADV Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)


National Domestic Violence Awareness Month- October (Signs of domestic violence or abuse) [National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

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