‘Every night, I put a sign on our bedroom door that read, ‘come in and kiss me on the cheek. I didn’t cheat on you.’ I accepted his marriage proposal after 2 months. Almost immediately after we were married, the abuse began.’

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“Somewhere along the trajectory of my life I decided it was easier to struggle in silence than admit I was struggling. I’m not sure when this started for me but it was somewhere around the time I separated from my ex-husband.  I was a young mom with a 1- year-old daughter from a previous relationship when I met my ex-husband. At 20-years-old I was wide eyed and bushy tailed with my whole life ahead of me. I hadn’t been with anyone since my daughter’s father when I was introduced to him as my focus was solely on my daughter and going to college. We were living in a small one bedroom apartment in a nice area and I had a great support system around me. Things were going really well for us and the two of us were extremely happy and content.

Michelle Fairburn

My ex husband (let’s call him ‘Junior’) and I were introduced to each other through a mutual friend on a rare girls night out. We had an instant connection but I was sad to discover he actually lived all the way on the east coast and was just visiting the west coast for the weekend. This tiny hiccup didn’t stop us from spending the entire weekend together and having the most amazing time. He truly wined and dined me and spoiled me rotten. When he left for the airport to go home we promised to keep in touch and see what happened. Within 2 weeks he decided it was unbearable to be away from me and was going to pack up his life and everything in it and move to Vancouver to be with me. Can you say red flag? Anyhow, I was blind to it and just happy I was going to be able to see him again. He flew my daughter and I to the east coast for the weekend so I could help him pack and meet his family. Once everything was neatly packed into boxes and his family had given us their blessing we flew back to Vancouver – just the 3 of us. Looking back at this, I can’t believe I was so naive. But hey, I was barely 21 and this man wanted to be a family with me and my daughter. I felt like i’d met my knight in shining armor.

I think it’s also important to to state ‘Junior’ had told my Dad and I he was a registered nurse – as in a RN – as in went to university for 4 years and got the degree. Of course we believed him, I mean why would anyone lie about such a thing? This, he told me, is how he afforded to fly here and there and just pack up his house with the turn of a dime. It turned out it was a lie but we will get to that later.

Once we got back to Vancouver things were great. At least for a little bit. My dad was so happy I had found someone who wanted to be in a family – especially as the relationship with my daughter’s father had ended. Side note: My dads happiness is unfortunately what I clung to when things got especially bad. I didn’t want to disappoint him or admit to him another relationship had failed. We were playing house really well and we moved out of our cosy 1 bedroom apartment into a larger 2 bedroom close by. We were hosting dinner parties (he loved to play host) and going on little trips – we were playing family really well and it all felt great. My daughter was happy, my dad was happy – what more could a girl want? I know, how about a marriage proposal? Yeah, that sounds about right after 2 months. Let’s do it!

Michelle Fairburn

You’re probably thinking to yourself, why didn’t anyone try and stop us from moving so fast. He was really good at making people believe he was a saint. My dad doesn’t really like anyone, but somehow Junior won him over in a matter of weeks and seeing him happy made me happy. He was a master manipulator and played us all extremely well. He fed my family and I everything we wanted to hear and he seemed to be a great provider for my daughter and I. I thought I had hit the boyfriend jackpot. Deep down I knew it was fast – but everyone around me was so happy I had found a ‘good man’ that I rolled with it even if it went against my better judgement. I knew it was fast when I accepted his marriage proposal after just 2 months of being together – but again, everyone was super super happy so I just kept rolling along. And to be completely honest, when I think about it – I was happy in my own 21-year-old fairytale way but I also knew moving so quickly didn’t sit right, either.

I remember hiding the wedding guest list he had made under a pile of papers in hopes he would sort of forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong! He had hired a wedding planner to help us get married in the quickest way possible. All of a sudden, my family was flying in from England to attend this wedding – dresses were being purchased – engagement parties were being thrown – meetings with pastors were happening and it was all moving so fast I didn’t have time to think. He was still feeding my family and I sweet nothings and making me feel like a princess but deep down I knew it was too fast. So why didn’t I back out and call the whole thing off? Everyone was so happy for my daughter and I; we were finally going to be a ‘real’ family.

Michelle Fairburn

On my wedding day I had an actual anxiety attack before walking down the isle. My dad had asked me if I was okay because my breathing was so rapid – I lied and told him it was because my dress was too tight. I wish I could go back in time and shake that 21- year-old me and say ‘hey, you don’t have to go through with this!’ But I didn’t. I rolled with it. When I look at pictures from that day and I see my dad’s face – he was so full of joy and pride. That’s what got me through that day. In contrast – when you look at my sweet naive face you can clearly see the sadness in my eyes. I didn’t want to get married so quickly.

Almost immediately after we were married, the abuse began. It started with jealousy towards the relationship with my daughter’s father – he would work himself into a rage anytime we spoke. It progressed into jealousy towards me and any man I spoke to or had any type of relationship with. The abuse turned physical within weeks of us getting married which is around the time I found out I was pregnant with our daughter. He would drink and make himself believe I was cheating on him and proceed to beat me in a jealous rage. When I say beat – I mean wrestling me to the ground and closed-fist punching me like a punching bag.

I vividly remember the first time my daughter witnessed the abuse – I was sitting at our computer desk and for whatever reason he knocked me off the chair and started beating me on the floor. I looked down the hall and saw her witnessing the entire thing. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed but I was pregnant now and felt like I couldn’t leave. My family had just spent thousands and thousands of dollars flying across the Atlantic for our wedding – how could I tell them I was leaving him?

The physical abuse was an almost daily occurrence but from the outside we were a perfect family. He attended every single one of my midwife appointments. Everyone thought we were so happy and I let them believe it. The physical abuse quickly turned to financial and emotional abuse. He would tell me if I left him, no other man could possibly want me as a single mother to two children. I believed him. He would not allow me to have access to our bank account and only gave me what he thought I needed for the day. When he would leave during the day to do what I thought was work he would take the internet modem and phone battery with him so I couldn’t communicate with anyone. Oh, he also made us move to a different city by this point so I was just a little bit more secluded.

Michelle Fairburn

I was around 6 months pregnant at the time and I remember having to put a sign on our bedroom door at night that read, ‘come in and kiss me on the cheek. I didn’t cheat on you’ so that when he came home every night after drinking he wouldn’t blow up in a jealous rage. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. If it didn’t, it meant I was going to get woken up, wrestled to the ground and punched – while pregnant. I wanted to leave with every fiber in my body but he had isolated me so badly at this point, those closest to me had no idea what was going on. Everyone still thought we were living this perfect life – how could I admit the truth and look like a failure to those closest to me. Especially my dad. My dad had raised me by himself since I was 3 so making him proud was always at the forefront of everything I did and I most certainly didn’t want his fairytale for me to have a horrible ending.

So I didn’t – I stayed. I never admitted to anyone my marriage was failing and I suppose in retrospect I didn’t even admit it to myself. I endured the hellish days and waited for the one good day where he treated my like a princess again and apologized for all the horrible things he did to me. I basked in those days like it was heaven. No matter how hard it got. No matter how much abuse he put me through. I was adamant I was going to stick it out. ‘Wife for life’ was his famous tagline and he always made sure to introduce me as such and never by my name. I was property. Not a person. Once I gave birth to my second daughter things only got worse. He would only come home to sleep and when he did it was hell. I had postpartum depression and by this point I was thinking of ways to leave but still hadn’t told anyone what was going on. I still felt afraid to tell anyone and have everyone look at me as a failure. When my baby was 6 weeks old and my husband was drunk and passed out, I looked in the yellow pages for women’s shelters close by. I was terrified he would wake up but I called them as quietly as I could on our house phone and they told me to wait until he left the next day and they would pay for my cab to leave. I waited until he woke up to leave for ‘work’ and quickly packed what I could and called a cab. I remember arriving at the women’s shelter and feeling completely free – I felt like I had arrived at the doorstep of my guardian angel. We stayed there for just a week until somehow he weaseled his way back into our lives and convinced me he loved me and would change. So, I went back.

He was back to treating me like a princess and being a doting father, at least for a few weeks. Then the old him started creeping back in and the abuse fired up again. By this point I had confided in a few close friends and they were begging for me to leave. I knew I was going to at some point but I just needed to be ready – logistically and financially. This was obviously difficult to do when he controlled every aspect of my life.

During the next few months I endured physical abuse, rape and the biggest mind games of all. I also discovered he wasn’t an RN at all and our whole life was supported by different women whom he made believe they were in love. He would wake up and put on scrubs and a stethoscope. One woman wracked up a 100k line of credit to support his/our life and I had no idea. Our car was in another females name and I didn’t know until close to the end when she showed up on my doorstep to collect it.

You’re probably wondering how I could be so naive and believe all of his lies. Well, to be honest I look back and wonder how I did as well. The only answer I can give is he was extremely good at lying – he was a master manipulator in every sense of the word. I mean, would you assume if your husband was waking up everyday and putting on scrubs and a stethoscope he was going to female 1 and 2’s house? Or would you assume he was going to work as a nurse? Call me naive or maybe I just want to see the good in people – but I believed him. I had no reason not to.

The final straw for me was when I had left to go and stay with my girlfriend for a few days to get away from him. My baby was 10 months old and I wanted to ween her from my breast but he wouldn’t let me – he wanted me to be a human feeding machine 24/7. My children were/are creatures of routine and after a few days it got too much for them being away from home so I went back. When I got to the house it was empty so I gave the kids a bath and that’s when he returned – drunk. He had the biggest smile on his face and said ‘you decided to come back’ to which I replied I was only back for the kids. Later on that afternoon we got into an argument and he began to choke me against the fridge while I was holding my baby. My eldest daughter was trying to pull him off me and at that moment, by the grace of God my girlfriend walked through the door. She had planned to come by later that day to drop some things I had left at her place. He panicked and let go of me and she immediately called the police on her cell phone. That was the last day we saw him for years. We were finally free.

Michelle Fairburn

It took me years to realize even once you’re physically free from your abuser you are essentially still trapped by all of the abuse you endured. Until you’re willing to unpack all of the trauma and the all of the feelings associated with it – it will continue to follow you around like a dark cloud. It followed me into my relationships, friendships, career and most importantly the belief in myself. He tore me down both physically and mentally and it’s taken me years to build myself back up. I have learned it’s ok to not be okay. it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable does not mean you’re weak or less than. It makes you human.”

Read more stories from courageous women leaving abusive relationships: 

‘I was staring at a naked picture of myself on my father’s computer. ‘What the heck?,’ I said out loud, the last words before rage overtook my body.’

‘My father picked me up. After a short drive, he stopped the car and told me there was a ‘problem in our relationship.’ I had an instant sick feeling. I was 12 years old.’

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michelle Fairburn. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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