‘He forced me to the gym because he didn’t want me to ‘get fat.’ I assumed it was normal.’: Survivor’s eye-opening recount of abusive relationship

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic abuse that may be upsetting to some.

“Let me start from the beginning.

I am 27 years old. For a while, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I knew for sure that I was good at was talking. So, I thought, ‘Why not give sales a go?’ And that’s exactly what I did.

When I started my career in sales, I met this amazing man who was older than me, had a great job, and seemed to really have his head screwed on. There was just something about him that had me head over heels from the start. Everything moved very fast from there. We were inseparable and, after a few short months, began living together. He made me laugh and pushed me to do so many things that I never thought I would do.

After about 6 months, the relationship really started to take a turn. He started forcing me to go to the gym because he didn’t want me to get fat (and when I say force I mean he called me every name under the sun until I was in utter tears and would leave the house). He literally controlled what I did and didn’t eat, and how much. He would portion my meals to small sizes, choose my clothes and how I would style my hair. This was my first ‘adult relationship’ so I just assumed it was normal.

Not before long, I started to drop weight like there was no tomorrow. My friends were shocked at how small I was getting and how quickly my look changed. They started to ask questions. ‘Does he treat her okay?’ ‘Is he controlling her?’ ‘Is she happy?’

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

I remember very vividly the first time he hit me. I remember the feeling of utter fear as I looked in his eyes and couldn’t see him… I remember laying in fetal position on the ground until it was over and looking at him, telling him I was sorry. Me, I was sorry?

I had made him leave town after a night out as he was too intoxicated. This was all my fault. I sat next to him, holding him, begging him not to be mad at me. I know what you’re thinking. If that was me, I would leave him straight away… I used to think I would too. The next day he told me he was so sorry. It was just the alcohol and it would never happen again. Okay, I said to myself. I do dumb things when I’m drunk, too. That’s all it was. He was just drunk. Little did I know that was the day my life would change forever.

It wasn’t like he did it every day and it wasn’t like every day was bad, but my life became a constant walking on egg shells. I always thought to myself, ‘What’s going to happen when I walk through that door?’ I pushed everyone close to me away, anyone who might be able to see through my lies and the layers of makeup to cover the bruises. My bosses sat with me at work and begged me to tell them why I had marks around my neck or a black eye. I would tell them I fell off my bike or tripped over at home.

If people knew, they would tell me to leave him and I was not ready for that at all. I guess that’s the thing about these kinds of relationships. On the outside looking in you’re asking yourself, ‘Why is she not leaving him?’ But when you’re the person involved, it’s a whole new level of control that you really don’t know how to escape or understand.

We had many issues in the years that we were together. There was a child involved (his child) and following that, a drug addiction, which was also a huge factor that soon took over his life. I was so sure I could help and change him. I did everything in my power. But every step I took to try help him was a step that meant that I got more and more hurt mentally and physically. I felt extremely alone and felt like this is what I deserved. I felt tiny, insignificant.

I went to my doctor and broke down. I was 130 pounds, which is tiny for me. I was eating only plant-based foods, as that was our house rule and he could never marry me if I ate meat. My OCD was through the roof and anxiety had taken over my life. I was a wreck. I told her everything about our relationship, apart from the physical abuse. She put me on anti-anxiety medication and advised me to see a counselor. I figured I must be the problem. If I fix me, that will fix him, and we could live happy ever after, right? That’s something I used to think a lot. If I take these steps, life will be great. But life wouldn’t be great, and I was let down yet again.

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

After I started taking the medication, I started to see things a little clearer. My eyes were a little more open to the reality of what was happening in my life. The abuse continued to happen more and more frequently. He put me down so much that I believed these things about myself and thought, ‘If I left, who would want someone like me anyway?’ As the mental and physical abuse began to take its toll, the police were called more often by the next-door neighbors hearing my cries. There were a few times I remember thinking, this is it, this is how I die. That’s how bad it got. I had no energy to fight back anymore. He sucked all the life out of me. I felt hardly human.

But again, I did not leave. It took the final straw to make me pack my bags and leave. It took broken ribs and a broken hand, to tell me this is enough, your happiness is far more important. I think one of the reasons I could not leave was because I didn’t want to admit to others that I was unhappy. It would ruin their view of my perfect life.

I went to work battered and bruised and told my boss everything. He sat there with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Gen, that’s not love. That’s not how people that love you treat you.’ He told me to get my pets, pack my bags, and leave. This meant I had to tell my best friends and family something I had tried so hard to protect them from. I started by telling two of my girlfriends.

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

Have you ever seen your friend’s heart break before?

I hadn’t until that day. I felt utterly sick. How had I hidden this from them? Next was my mom and dad, who were just completely and utterly hurt and broken for me. But none of these people were mad; they were proud of me. This was not the emotion I expected. They were proud of me for having the courage to leave and for telling them.

I packed my bags, got my pets, and drove to my best friend’s farm where I felt safe. I was an utter mess making my way away from my house. I told my group of friends and the support was overwhelming. These girls truly loved me and cared about me. They were there every night in bed with me, holding me tight while I cried, and on the phone when I needed them. These girls did everything in their power to show me support. I was important. I did deserve to be loved. And oh boy, did they show me love! FINALLY, I HAD LEFT!

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

But the pain didn’t leave. Anxiety soon took over me and I had to learn to control it. I found that healthy eating and fitness was something that helped me feel in control of my body again and gave me back a small bit of control I had lost. I loved going out again with my friends and going on adventures to the hillside, getting out in nature, and going on road trips. But it wasn’t enough. A fire had been lit inside of me that I could not get rid of.

I did research into mental and physical abuse in New Zealand and that’s when it really started to hit home. Did you know that New Zealand has the highest rate of family violence in the world? And that police here attend a family violence case every 5 minutes? I went on to read that one in every three women will experience domestic violence in their lives… I was one of these women.

As I read on, there was a sentence that really stuck with me: ‘This is not something that happens in some parts of New Zealand. This is happening across every single social and ethnic group. It’s happening on every single street and every community. We need to make people think and talk about this. The more aware, the less it happens.’

When I left my ex, I remember the police coming over for the last time to my beautiful villa in a fancy part of town with my white fence. My gardens were perfect, my home looked like a house from a magazine. I remember saying to the police officers, ‘I’m so embarrassed.’ His response? ‘We’re called to this neighborhood more than any other.’

I decided this is it, I’m going to make a change. But how?

I signed up for a reality television show. Not for love, not for money, not for fame. But for something far more different: having a platform to spread awareness regarding domestic violence. I needed a social platform to have a voice, and this was a good way to start. I truly believed this was my calling.

My confidence was already knocked; I thought very little of my looks and my personality, as I had been told so often that I was fat, ugly, stupid, and that nobody would ever want me. I didn’t really think that I had a chance, but how bloody great if I did? I feel like someone watched over me during this time in my life. Soon enough, I was chosen to be on the first season of the show.

This show mentally challenged me on so many levels and really pushed me to a breaking point. I was on an island with a handful of strangers. I remember telling people on the show about my past relationship, but not really going into detail. I was still very embarrassed to speak about it and nobody really understood abuse or maybe it made them feel uncomfortable to talking about it.

When I left the show my social media blew up. People were following my Instagram and people cared what I had to say. This was my time to tell me story of abuse, this was my time to create awareness to a taboo topic. This was my chance to gain the strength to help others leave and let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

The first post went live and the messages rolled in from around the world from women and men. This made letting go of him and what he did easier. I felt other people needed me to be strong. I wanted to make sure this happened less and less. I want to be someone young girls and women look up to. I want them to know just how beautiful they are, and I wanted to be honest with my life struggles.

I have a vision for my future and I am grateful for the hurdles I have overcome. I want to use my social media to spread an honest and truthful message to people. I don’t want people to look at my life and think it’s perfect. I want them to relate and see that there is a way out. I have no intention of letting go of my goal.

But my story is not all doom and gloom. A few months back, I was out in town celebrating with my friends as I was at the bar. I felt my shoulder be pulled and it was my ex. My heart dropped. He asked to talk and I didn’t know what to do. I quickly left and took off in a taxi, crying, scared, and in shock. When I got out of the taxi, I felt something hit the ground. It was a large wallet. I looked inside and found $100.

I messaged the lady and added her on Facebook. I did all I could to try get in contact, but to no avail. So, I put her name on my Instagram saying, ‘Does anyone know this lady. I have found her wallet?’ The messages rolled in. She called me 5 minutes later, absolutely overwhelmed that somebody was returning her lost wallet. She told me she lived a few hours away and had returned home but would get one of her kids to come and pick it up from me. She gave me her son’s number to contact him and arrange for him to collect it from me.

That night, there was a knock on my door, and a brief chat. Now, one year later, he is my partner and the best thing that has ever happened to me. He loves me like I have never been loved before and shows me utter kindness. He is already my best friend.

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

I think when you are truly ready for love, the right kind of love, it finds you. Just like this modern-day Cinderella wallet.”

Courtesy of Gennady Sharpe

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Gennady Sharpe. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more powerful stories from abuse survivors:

‘My bully was 6’3 and 300 pounds. Only he wasn’t on the playground, but in my home. He ran it like a military boot camp from hell. When he freed me, I wasn’t allowed to say a word.’

‘He proposed. ‘You’ll NEVER find a man as good as me.’ I was ecstatic and terrified. Finally, we will be married and everything will be perfect. I was lucky to have him, because HE would still love me.’

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