Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic abuse that may be triggering to some.
“I was working residential and living on my own in New York. Let me tell you, the apartment was small, but it was all mine. When I say small, I mean could poop and wash my hands at the same time. One day, my job was having an event where my attendance was mandatory, and this was where I met him. He was trying to talk to me, and I gave him my number right away. I thought, ‘Why not? I’m single and I can have some fun!’ Who knew that night would change my life forever.
We ended up going on one date and he won me over. Now, when I say ‘date,’ I mean I ended up paying for my meal and he paid for his; I should have known at that moment this was going nowhere. But it wasn’t hard to win me over. I hate to admit it, but I was desperate to feel wanted and loved. It was something I longed for and would take it any way I could. He moved in and moved in quick. He said all the right things and made me feel amazing. But that didn’t last long.
Slowly, he started doing things that should have made me run and run fast. But guess what, I stayed. I don’t think I ever questioned the warning signs until I left the relationship. May sound strange to those who haven’t experienced what I have, but it’s true. The way he spoke to me, the way he pushed his way into MY space and made it HIS. The way he made it seem like he wanted to hang out with me alone but really was making sure I had less contact with my family and friends. The way I had to be a ‘step-mother’ to his oldest son. The way he made me feel crazy for things. It was all right there in front of my face. I pushed them aside because I wanted love that bad.
I found out I was pregnant with my son three months after meeting my abuser. The first time he put his hands on me was when I was pregnant, and the abuse did not stop until I left the relationship. He started by pushing me, then it was more serious. He started punching me, hitting me, choking me. The worst he did was stab me in my hand. Throughout all the physical abuse, there was emotional abuse as well, and this emotional abuse still affects me to this day. Emotional abuse messes with your head for years after. It’s so wild and crazy.
I had my son, then two years later, I had twin girls. I had the twins on October 13th, the same day as my son, just two years later. That day is something so special to me because those three kids are what pushed me to get through my darkest time. I left the hospital with two newborns and a toddler. I was also doing it alone because my abuser was never around. I left him a couple of months after the twins were born. I figured since he wasn’t around anyway, I might as well really do this on my own. I was broken, but the main thing that pushed me to find the courage to leave my abuser was that I didn’t want the kids growing up in such a toxic environment.
Raising the kids alone wasn’t easy. I cried a lot once the kids went to sleep. When people ask me what I did to survive, I really don’t know the answer. I just know three beautiful babies thought I was amazing, and I needed to keep going. I also took time to heal myself. I wanted to heal and start loving myself. If I didn’t love me, no one else would. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone. I wanted to heal so if I ever met anyone, I would be ready and in a good spot emotionally and mentally.
I was working at a behavioral school at the time, and I had a huge crush on one of my coworkers. His name was Brian. I literally didn’t think he was ever paying any attention to me, a single mother with three kids. I tried flirting for so long and nothing! We finally were moved into the same classroom, and I put my flirting in overdrive. I am sure I didn’t know what I was doing, but something worked. He started texting me, Snapchatting me. I finally grew the courage to ask him to grab a drink after work.
My friend told me not to let him know about the abuse and everything I went through because I didn’t want to scare him off. When he walked into the restaurant, I knew I was going to be honest with him. I poured my heart out to him and told him everything. I remember leaving thinking, ‘He will never contact me again.’
He texted me after leaving, ‘I enjoyed seeing you outside of work. We should do this more often.’ Brian and I started hanging out every day after the kids went to sleep. I told him I didn’t want the kids meeting anyone unless I knew it was going to be serious. The kids were 4 and 2 at this time. The third date in, I told Brian I had a huge secret that might be a deal breaker for him. I got my tubes tied when I had the twins. I knew Brian had no kids of his own, and this might be something he wanted in the future that I wouldn’t be able to do for him. He looked me dead in my eyes and said, ‘I want you, that’s not changing anything.’
We waited months for him to meet the kids, and when he finally did it was so great. The kids liked him, which made my heart so warm. What’s even crazier is everything we had in common. Brian has a sister name Kristi, I have a sister name Christie (just spelled differently). The kids’ birthday is October 13th, his parents wedding anniversary is October 13th. He had a niece named Sydney; one of my daughters’ names is Sydney. Brian’s birthday is December 21st, mine is December 31st. The kids and I met his family and everything just clicked.
Brian got me. His love was so sincere and, most of all he, made us feel safe. During the beginning year of our relationship, my abuser stopped seeing the kids. This was a very tough time, and I couldn’t understand how someone can do that to their children. So, Brian was thrown into parenthood very quickly. That didn’t stop him from loving us.
Brian proposed to me on December 24, 2016. We were so excited to plan our lives together. I never thought in a million years I would get married. We got married on March 24th, 2018. The wedding was nothing short of amazing. Brian said vows to the kids, and we left for our honeymoon the next day.
During our honeymoon, we discussed goals we wanted to achieve our first year of marriage. One of them was Brian adopting the kids as his own. We bought our dream home in June 2018, then hired an attorney to help us with the adoption. We made the adoption a huge thing for the kids. We hired a talented videographer and had him follow us the day the adoption took place. The emotions I had that day were so overwhelming. The adoption took place on January 10th, 2019. The kids were so happy, and so was Brian. It finally felt like we were complete.
The process was long and very stressful. My abuser gave the run around to signing over his rights. We had to hire a private investigator to find him and get him to go to court. I can tell you the process was well worth it. With the adoption done, I finally felt like we could breathe and enjoy our little family. The court made the day super special for the kids. The judge thanked Brian for what he was doing. He thanked him for the decision he has made to step up and give this love to the kids and that is when I lost it. I started thanking God for blessing me with this love. To this day, it still feels surreal it all happened. The love I found in Brian and the love that the kids found in him also. I could not hold back my tears because this story is literally so rare and amazing. When I was in my abusive relationship with their bio father, he would tell me I would never find anyone who would love me and three children. As I sat in court I thought how foolish I was to actually believe that.
My son Noah went through the most. He was older and did not have many good memories from the period we were with this evil man. He always tells stories about remembering the yelling and how this man was so mean to his mommy. I remember when we made the decision to introduce Brian to the kids, Noah said to him one day, ‘I like you around my mommy. You love her and make her smile, and you do not yell and scream at her.’
This year since the adoption Noah has made so much progress toward just being a kid again. For a long time, he felt he had to protect me being in the environment we were in when I was being abused. Since Brian has come around, he can be a kid again and that’s so, so amazing. He used to get very uneasy when Brian would work late or if he had a work party because he thought he would not ever come back. Trauma has a crazy way of playing out in your behavior. This year Noah has been amazing. I went to Vegas and he was fine the whole 5 days I was gone. Barely even noticed I was gone and that is because we worked hard to show Noah that it is safe and no one is leaving him.
Brian has been amazing. He never once thought this was way too hard and gave up. He never made me feel like I came with too much baggage. He looks at me like I’m an angel here on earth. He doesn’t know he is truly an angel. Brian is everything I ever dreamed of. He laughs at my jokes, we laugh so much together, he cries with me when we talk about important moments in our lives, the list can go on. What’s most important is when I have terrible dreams about my abuse, he wakes up with me and talks me through them. He is never annoyed. That’s so important.
We had talked about having surgery to reverse my tubes, but I needed emergency surgery in October 2019 that made bearing any more children impossible. I remember feeling so bad, but he was there through the whole thing. After I healed from surgery, he reminded me of the wedding gift he gave me.
On the night before our wedding, Brian gave me envelopes labeled for certain things we would experience in life together. One of the envelopes was labeled when we have our first kid together. I opened the letter and knew he was my everything, and I was going to be okay for the rest of my life. The letter stated, ‘If we didn’t have kids, the kids we have now would be fine.’ The letter made me feel so good because at that time, I was feeling pretty down.
We decided to add another dog to our family after the surgery to make our family complete. Brian came into the relationship with one dog and I came with three kids. We decided one more dog was something we needed after the surgery. Every year, we celebrate huge milestones for the family. We take the kids away for their adoption anniversary. We show the kids what true love looks like on a daily basis. I have learned to love myself just the way I am. Brian has helped with that a lot. In pictures, you can just see the love and confidence. I would have never been able to be happy in my own skin if I didn’t have a husband like Brian. A husband who accepts me just the way I am. I laugh ridiculously loud and snort, and he loves it.
I want everyone reading this to know you can go through hell and still see light and be happy. I still struggle some days with my trauma. I have bad nights where I have nightmares; I can even smell certain smells and it triggers me. I’m so happy I was able to find love, and I’m so happy Brian and the kids found each other. I am also happy I was able to open my heart to love again after being so hurt by my abuser.
I will always be grateful and thankful for my journey because it led me right where I need to be! To anyone struggling with domestic violence, you’re not alone. Leaving is the hardest thing to do, but you can get through it. I know how scary that move is, and it’s not easy. But you’re not alone! I wish someone would have told me that while I was going through my battles. I am so glad fairy tales aren’t just for the movies; I’m living it, in a small town in Antioch, IL. Open your heart and heal. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
[If you are seeking help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Durlak of Antioch, Illinois. Follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more amazing adoption stories:
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‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him
‘She was abandoned with nothing, not even a name. ‘There’s a 10-day old baby girl,’ he told us. ‘She has a disease.’ She only had 3% of a brain.’: Adoptive mom now family of 5, ‘We get to be the lucky ones who love them forever’
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