It was a chilly but sunny morning when I descended the stairs of the apartment I shared with him for the last time. As I caught my breath in my chest and opened the door to the stiff December air, the sparse warmth from the sun gently cradled my face and led me away from my captor. With every step, I felt the weight of my heart digging into the earth like rusty forks on a plow and resisting each footfall. I felt damaged, humiliated, and ashamed. At the time, I believed I was broken and that everything had gone horribly wrong could rest its burden upon my shoulders that were already straining under the weight of defeat. How do I hold my head up high after this? How do I sift through the lies, pain, doubt, fear, and insecurity to go on with life? How could I survive? And where would I find the desire and motivation to get through each day without being stumbled by a bruised and shattered heart?
The answers to these questions seem so simple to me now just one year later. On that morning, however, my entire world laid in pieces haphazardly scattered at my feet, and, to be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that life had to somehow go on. I was struggling with my heart being crushed yet still feeling like I had to hide it from everyone. I had to keep them from knowing my secret. That I was a woman unworthy of being loved. One who had spent countless hours and minutes cowering in fear, trying to wrestle free from his inhumanly powerful grip, and nursing my injuries in silence behind closed doors. A failure of the worst kind, for what kind of woman cannot figure out how to fix what was so undesirable about herself for even one man to appreciate her value? What kind of woman could not create and nurture a peaceful home? And who would ever want a damaged woman like me?
Therefore, when I walked into work, although carrying the knowledge that, at that moment, I was broke, homeless, and in danger, I did my best to not let anyone in on my pain. To not let them see me vulnerable and alone, frightened and destroyed. But my best was no match for his tenacity. I had grown used to his endless harassment while at was work.. phone call after phone call which consisted of a barrage of insults and accusations and ended with him hanging up, only to call and do it again. Until this morning, I had never had trouble ignoring him, because my brain being focused on working, I could easily not hear what he was saying. However, I had already gone to work in a distraught state of mind, and the volume of his calls coming through easily quadrupled what I endured normally. Interrupting work and sending me into my meltdown.
There was something different in his voice that morning. Something that frightened me on a level that I can’t recall ever reacting that way. When he told me that I was expected at home so he could finish what he started, it was like he was giving me his final command, and I refused to walk into a trap. In my heart I knew what was coming if I walked back through that door. I was no longer able to concentrate on work, no longer able to keep up appearances, and the silence was shattered. Risking my secret being thrust center stage and any shame that would ensue was now safer for me than the simple act of going home. I had already decided I would not go home that day, but until then, the reality of the choice I was making had not yet set in.
While I was off filing for an emergency order, the company had its Christmas party. After quite the busy morning for him, calling and threatening me, calling the girls in my department repeatedly, and even the security desk, he decided for my non-compliance, he would show up at the company party looking for me. Oddly enough, because I do not observe the Holidays, and he knew this. He was so desperate to find me with someone else, so desperate to make sure I hadn’t ratted him out, that he sauntered in and watched for a few minutes before the director of financial services went to speak with him and escorted him out. One of the girls said that he took off running back down the street after he was led out of the building. However, they had called the police to inform them of the situation, and they caught up with him.
He was served with the stay order that afternoon. The woman who filled out my paperwork told me to ask for a certain clerk when I got to court and have her call her. They pushed it through while I was there and my father called to speak to the judge. He told him he had already signed it. It was great that they acted so quickly to serve it.. However, when they called to inform me that they were about to have the sheriff serve the order, they had put the address where I was staying on Kevin’s copy. At that point, I went into another meltdown on the phone, trying my best not to scream at the woman on the other end, but I was able to keep myself calm enough to get my point across. I am fairly sure that me asking if she were in the same situation, would she want her abuser to know where she was if she fled… so they took the extra time to correct it. The court called me back just before 5 p.m. to let me know that he had been served. Then he spent the entire weekend harassing my mother himself but having his nephews repeatedly calling my father for him.
One year ago today, I could have died. I have come to terms with this indisputable fact and feel an endless sense of amazement at how, despite my acceptance of how potentially fatal my circumstances truly were, I am overcome with emotion every time I think or speak those words. I could have died. That I did not is my cause for celebrating the traumatic day that started my journey to where I find myself at this very second in time. In celebration of this journey, I reflect back on what was, what could have been, and what is, and I take no small measure of solace in the fact that I have overcome.
Perhaps maybe what I should address first is something that never fails to leave others in shock when they hear things that he did to me during the times he would beat on me. I have been asked more times than I can count: “Why didn’t you ever end up in the hospital? Why didn’t you end up like the others?” My only answer for this is something that I would not ever suggest anyone to ever to do unless they are willing to assume the risk that they could be killed. It’s a dangerous situation to put yourself in, and I have to stress that I would never advise a victim of domestic violence to do this. The one thing I did was simple, and in my case, I truly believed it saved my life.
They tell you, “Do NOT fight back.” They want you to resist that urge to protect yourself, because when you are subject to physical abuse, fighting back can anger the abuser so much in the moment, they could kill you. It’s a move that agitates them further and fuels their anger. The typical reaction is to punish you severely for this defiance, and it can quickly become fatal. But, I did not comply with this exhortation. I acted to preserve my life. It doesn’t mean that I pulled weapons on him or hit him in the same manner he did me. He had almost 100 pounds on me, and he liked to use things like boards and metal bars during his attacks, so I am certain if I tried that route, whatever I used would have been ripped from my hands and used on me instead.
Abusers depend on being able to corner you so they can mete out proper punishment. This is also why they tell you to never let yourself get cornered in the kitchen or the bathroom; they are the two most dangerous rooms in the house. While this may be true, maybe they should have come explain that to me after he would throw me down and drag me around by my hair. I can just picture them now: “We told you not to let this happen…” In light of the fact that I could not prevent In what room he would trap me, I had to employ alternative means to keep myself out of the corner. Literally. This means that I would him away, giving me a few seconds to maneuver myself around so when he came back at me, he didn’t have leverage and I could wrestle free and run somewhere else. When he had his full weight on my chest as he choked me, I would use my lower body to throw him off balance and bite his arm. This doesn’t mean that I was always able to avoid serious injury. There were several times that I was bold enough to say I needed to go to the hospital. I was properly punished each time, as he was misguided enough to think it would teach me a lesson.
What I did learn from my experiences with him were a mix of positive and negative. Perhaps the thing I abhor the most is the amount of knowledge I have about the things people do when they are running the streets.. not only to themselves but to others. Also, the monstrous things he did to me. I have things burned into my mind I so wish I could forget. They revisit me from time to time in the form of dreams, triggers, and flashbacks, but I have become adept at switching the memories off.
More important still are the things I learned about myself. Those who abuse us bring us to believe we are weak, worthless, ugly, unintelligent, etc. However, the amount of strength it takes to persevere through abuse can be inhuman; we first somehow live through each day despite the treatment we endure, we are able to handle every day business (work, school, children, housework, cooking, etc.), and we are able to do this all while never revealing to others our pain, our fears, or our physical and emotional injury. Carrying this burden is not for the weak. Going on afterwards is not for the weak. We are in fact, powerhouses of strength and courage, and I am no longer afraid to own this. We may bend, become weighted down, or crack, but we never break.
Abusers go out of their way to steal our sense of value from ourselves so they can render us their possession. They must do this, because they know that we would not otherwise stay and tolerate their abuse, no matter how we feel for them. At my lowest point, Kevin absolutely had me believing that the beatings he would inflict upon me were my fault. That if there wasn’t something incredibly broken about myself, he wouldn’t “have to resort” to violence. So each time he punished me, I tried my best to follow his directions to the letter. However, I learned, too, that pleasing him was not possible. Even when I did everything the way I was told, he would decide afterward that he wanted it different way, and I was supposed to read his mind and know. Eventually, after enough occurrences of this, I began to wake up to the fact it wasn’t my lack of value that was causing him to act this was. It was lack of value for himself or for any kind of respect.
Despite the mountain was left for me to whittle away a year ago, I have made significant progress in confronting and negating the many misconceptions and fallacies I had about myself. I wish there were suggestions I could give others that would help them work through theirs, but the only thing I have to offer is time. You have to repeatedly break yourself of thinking these horrible things by repetition of both the fact that the person who planted them there was lying and follow it by saying something positive about yourself. Every day, week after week, month after month. It just takes time. Sometimes, if you confide in someone close to you about this, they can help you by prompting a correction when they catch you slipping back into the abuser’s mindset. It is hard to break yourself of this, but you will.
Some things, too, may take some internal examination and work to overcome. Perhaps there were qualities about yourself that were revealed to the abuser and were subsequently exploited by him and used as a way to subject you to his will. If you endured emotional abuse, neglect, or physical or sexual abuse as a child or young adult, there are fears, insecurities, and doubts you have yet to confront that could require counseling. This, too, requires time, but it also requires reliving events you tried to put behind you so you can free yourself of the baggage and move on.
Despite what I have been able to overcome, I still struggle with many things that resulted from being abused. I think the worst of them of is PTSD and not being able to always control what triggers it. Anything that has an overwhelming feeling of Kevin can set it off. For instance, I do not yet have the emotional capability to handle being around people, especially men, who are impatient and angry. It has been known, in fact, to cause more than a few panic attacks. And while I do not become argumentative myself, I feel the urge to, and resisting that reaction coupled with remembering how it felt being around Kevin’s anger, pushes my mind into overdrive. I cannot cope with it, and I get a little nutty. I shake, I get confused, emotionally agitated. Sometimes depending on the strength of the impatience or anger, I actually flee. That’s right. I will get up and get out to save myself… even though there really is not anything to fear. My reaction to them is strictly governed by my experiences with the man who abused me.
Something else I need to overcome? When people do things that remind me of what Kevin did. This is the quickest way to set the crazy free from the closet. If you want evidence of this, Kerwyn can speak firsthand about this. I get angry, agitated, and impossible to handle. Really, I become implacable until I am able to keep the burning train from going off the cliff. Sometimes, the brake fails. It hasn’t been anywhere near as intense the past few months, but it is still an issue. It is not something I am proud of, but I work on it on a daily basis. Part of it is reminding myself that I am in the present, and Kerwyn (or whoever else it involves at the time) are not Kevin. They live their lives on the exact opposite ends of the spectrum; there is no middle ground. They do not act with the same intentions. Sometimes, keeping my head in “now” is harder than you would think.
Also, I am still harder on myself that I would like to be. This was a character flaw I had in place long before Kevin came into the mix, but his actions certainly exaggerated it. I have learned to be more forgiving of myself, perhaps more patient, but still it persists. A lifetime of a learned behavior takes a long time to unlearn. However, all things taken into consideration, I have done pretty well for myself. It isn’t easy to rebuild a stable life after such devastation.
Make no mistake, I have plans for this life. One thing in particular that came by as a result of this blog I started so many months ago. I no longer feel the need to reveal the pain I endured at his hand. My focus has shifted to others, and this blog is not big enough to handle what I want to accomplish. I am sure you are quite curious. But if I put it all out there now, what’s left to read later? There is something to be said for a little bit of mystery, no?
Before I end this, I would like to thank all of you who helped me along the way. Your encouragement and support meant the world to me, and you are all amazing for it. I see how supportive and uplifting you are to each other, and it is a wonderful picture of hope for all involved. To know that you are strong, courageous, kind, compassionate, merciful, and that your words and actions give each other the peace you so deserve. Continue being the light for each other so the darkness can fade away. So we can all know the promises of peace, security, happiness, hope, and love aren’t just for others…. they are for us as well. Continue reaching out your hand to those who need to be picked up. Extend this kindness, because it was extended to you; we do not overcome by our own power but by that of many. Be gracious and giving, supportive and loving also to yourselves, for you have no way to know all the hearts you have reached and helped through a hard time.
So, the questions I asked at the beginning…. “How do I hold my head up high after this? How do I sift through the lies, pain, doubt, fear, and insecurity to go on with life? How could I survive? And where would I find the desire and motivation to get through each day without being stumbled by a bruised and shattered heart?” The answer is simple, but getting there is not. I wanted to live, and not just get by. I wanted peace, happiness, freedom, and love. So I faced it all, the muck and mire. I confronted the ugliness and enveloped myself in working on healing my heart. Everything you see here is a result of this.
It’s been a wonderfully encouraging year, and I have made it the length of the way. And I shall celebrate this past year, because one year ago today, I could have died. But I am alive today to share my story and let others know they do not have to be resigned to fading away. The heart of this girl is filled with hope, peace, and love, and with you all I shall share the overflow.