I met my abuser my junior year of college. I was not looking for a boyfriend; instead I was focused on getting into law school. All was perfect for the first 10 months. By month 4 he was buying me jewelry and telling me that he wanted to marry me. He convinced me that law school would be a mistake. Something I now recognize was a way to control me. Then in December 2000 everything changed. In a jealous drunken rage, he went crazy in my college townhouse. All of my roommates woke up to find holes in the walls of our townhouse and me locked in my bathroom crying with a black eye. All of this because he had seen me talking to a man at the bar. The man was a partner at the law firm where I had been interning, the bar at the firms Christmas party. We broke up for six months. Then came the promise that he was sorry, that it would never happen again. It is the first of many lies I would fall for.
My abuser didn’t attack every day, week or even month. It would come out of nowhere, a fury of rage in his 6 foot, 300-pound frame. Nothing that I could compete with. It was always something that I did or didn’t do. Years of unpredictable behavior continued. Whenever I thought I was ready to leave, he would break down and cry and tell me he would kill himself if he couldn’t be with me. It would be my fault if he followed through on his threats. So I stayed.
We got married and things got a little better until his mom got sick and passed away our first year of marriage. He came home drunk one night convinced he was going to kill me. The cops came and took him to sober up at his father’s house. The officer told me to give him some slack; after all, he just lost his mom. I never called the cops again.
Each day my job was to keep it all together, to hide the cracks and to make all things beautiful including my husband. I put on a smile at work and church and with friends and family. I told the story of how amazing he was. Sometimes he was, and it would make me forget of the last time he threw me into a wall. To the outside world, I was a woman who had it all together.
I became pregnant in 2007. Holes started appearing in walls again, and I remember thinking — at least it wasn’t me. He was nice enough to choose a wall, progress… finally. He ended up breaking his hand when he punched a wall in the nursery he was preparing for our not yet born daughter. I had questioned the placement of a light switch cover. He flew into a rage. The surgeon who consulted pulled me into the hall and told me that I was not safe and to get help. I wasn’t ready for help. I told him I was fine. I was so embarrassed — after all, I was the woman who had it all together.
In 2008, our daughter was diagnosed with a bone marrow disease. The stress of having a sick child only escalated his anger and his hatred of me. I was trying my best to balance it all, but I was failing. No matter what I did, it was never the right thing. I stopped guessing. I remember my daughter asking what my favorite color was and I immediately looked at him and asked him. I had gotten to the point that I did not have my own opinion or my own thoughts- they were always wrong. If I bought a new dress, I must be cheating, if I wore heels- who was I trying to impress? If I decided to exercise- why did I want to lose weight? Who was I cheating with?
In April 2012, my ex-husband looked at me and said he had fantasies of killing me. Life would be “perfect” if it was him our daughter his mistress and my life insurance money. I was scared enough to tell a friend and change my life insurance policies, but not scared enough to leave. I took a vow to stay no matter what; I needed to see my commitment out and truth be told I loved him. God hates divorce. How would I do it on my own? I could barely keep it together now.
On May 7, 2012, my abuser physically abused me for the last time. After I discovered yet another affair, he came home to me sobbing and immediately went into a rage. This time in front of our not yet 4-year-old daughter. I was tossed like a rag doll, bruises all over my arms, legs and back. I can remember my daughter’s sobs and scream of “don’t hurt my mommy.” The next morning I got up and went to work as if nothing happened, like I had done so many times before. Admitting abuse meant that I was weak. I was less. I was not enough.
Even after all of that, it took me weeks to seek help, to admit I was being abused, to admit I was not safe. It was because of the programs at Vera House and my commitment to therapy that I was able to find the strength to get an order of protection, to create a safety plan and to protect myself and my daughter. It was the programs at Vera House that finally got the light bulb to go off in my head. I remember sitting at a table in a group meeting and the counselor handed us a sheet of paper titled “Why I stayed.” It listed dozens of reasons, and we were asked to circle the ones that apply to us. The women there that day were from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds and all races and creeds, but the one thing in common with me is that they circled a lot of the same reasons. I was not alone. There were other women who understood my brain.
That class, that day, saved my life. It took me from the fog and showed me clarity. There were no reasonable explanations for my ex-husband’s abuse. None. There never will be. One thing was for sure, though — I decided at that moment, my daughter would never witness abuse in my home again. Period. I needed to break the cycle for her. I did.
My faith has taught me that there is a plan and a greater purpose for me. Today is mine. To demonstrate to you that abuse comes in all shapes, sizes, education levels and creeds. That sometimes the strongest person is really just a smoke and mirrors façade. I have learned that while my God does not like divorce, he detests abuse. I have learned that people have not judged me for my experience, but have held me and lifted me up. I have learned that I am enough just the way that I am, and when I start to doubt that, I have surrounded myself with friends to reassure me. I am living proof that an educated, independent woman can be a victim, but most importantly can be an Overcomer. Today, I finally have freedom.