‘The first thing in his search was, ‘How to track girlfriend’s phone.’ Blood drained from my face.’: After becoming a ‘shell’ of her former self in abusive relationship, woman finds true love, realizes ‘I am enough’

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“In 2013 I was a recently divorced single mother of two little boys. I had just moved into a basement apartment of an incredible family I had found on facebook. They also had little kids and welcomed me in in such a warm light. I was a dialysis technician at the time and worked insane hours. The center opened at 4:00 am every morning so we could set up before patients started coming in. The shifts were 12 hours but usually lasted 13-14. Because the shifts were so weird the sweet mom who rented me their basement offered to watch my kids during the day so I didn’t have to drag them out so early in the morning. At the time my boys were 3 and 1. As you could imagine loading babies of that age up and taking them somewhere would be incredibly difficult. Aside from that there weren’t any daycares in the area that even had the availability that I needed. I graciously accepted the offer and remember feeling so relieved.

2 months into this arrangement I had become fairly close to my landlords. Their family was incredible and I appreciated the friendship. They told me they had a friend who was single and asked me if I wanted to do a double date of sorts with them. I was a bit hesitant at first but it didn’t take much convincing. She exchanged our numbers and we started talking. The first time we met was a scheduled arrangement to watch Super Cross upstairs with my landlords, now friends. We are going to call my date Justin because I don’t feel it necessary to reveal identities of anyone in this story except myself. Justin seemed super down to earth and sweet. We hit it off immediately. He was a single dad raising his son alone. His ex-wife had gotten wrapped up into drugs and was at the time incarcerated and had been in and out of prison. As a single mom myself I found it incredibly attractive that he had stepped up, took care of his son, kept a steady job and was responsible.

Shortly after meeting Justin my younger son got really sick. He had contracted RSV, Roseola, and 2 ear infections all within 6 weeks of each other. I was so stressed and sleep deprived. I had no idea how I was supposed to get adequate sleep, take care of my boys, and work to provide for them. I was overwhelmed. One night I was up with the baby. It was 1 in the morning and he hadn’t stopped screaming for hours. I had been rocking him in a rocking chair in the front room when I heard a very faint knock on the door. I was nervous to answer it not knowing who was there but on the other side stood Justin. He stepped in and took the baby from my arms. He knew I had to be to work in 3 hours and told me to go to bed. He’d stay up and rock my baby so I could get a few very needed hours of rest. In that moment he had stolen my heart.

Things moved incredibly fast between us. Within 2 months I was switching locations for my job and moving in with him. At that time I’m sure there were red flags but I was so blind to them because I was blinded by the attention I was getting. I point out these good moments because that’s just it. Things weren’t always bad. There were really really good moments. There were moments I felt like there was no other love in the world for me. That I absolutely could not do any better.

Things were ok for a while and I really thought I was in love. We talked about building a family together, adding a baby, and marriage were all brought up. We had tried for a baby for about 6 months without any luck and after 8 we sought out medical help to conceive. I would travel to and from a bigger city that offered fertility treatments and often times had my mom ride with me. On one particular trip I had come home and one of my sons had a slight fever. I needed the dosage to how much Tylenol I should give him and Justin handed me his phone to google the recommended amount. The first thing that popped up when I typed in what I was looking for was the recent search tab. It popped up below the bar and read ‘how to track girlfriend’s phone.’ The blood from my face drained. This was one of the first altercations we had that I realized just how controlling he was. He had always done little things like looking through my phone, questioning my friends, or showing up to my job to make sure I was there. The only problem is I had never given him a reason to not trust me. I was always where I said I would be. Yet he never believed me and still kept me on a short leash. Thank God I was never able to get pregnant.

Small things like that grew into big things. He isolated me from the world except from his family and his friends. He’d get mad at me if I called my family. He told me my friends were bad influences and wouldn’t let me see them. He even went as far as to send the truck my boys dad provided for me back to him saying ‘if anyone is going to provide her a vehicle it will be me.’ He took away all of my freedom. My money went to the bills. The house we bought was only in his name. He did everything in his power to remove any of my independence. He made me NEED him.

He then started isolating me from my children. When my now 2-year-old would cry for me, Justin would get mad at him and tell me I am just babying him. He wouldn’t let me rock him or hold him. He wouldn’t let me give him too many hugs for bedtime. He turned my silly playful baby into a robot. He eventually did not cry for me, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t play, he just listened to all commands that were given to him obediently.

I’m not sure what eventually made the switch but things down the road turned into obvious abuse towards me. One particular event I remember so vividly. I had come home from work at 5 pm. He was working nights and left usually around 5:30. I don’t remember what I had done to upset him but we had argued and before leaving work he told me where a gun was and told me ‘you just need to kill yourself. Just make sure you don’t do it on the carpet, I don’t want to clean up your mess.’ I was so sad and devastated. I had told my boss at work about some of the abuse going on and just that day she had bought me a bottle of wine and some candles. She told me to go home, take a bath, have a glass of wine, and focus on the good things in life. After he left I did just that. He tried calling and texting me and I of course ignored them. About 20 minutes into my bath his mom showed up. He had sent her to ‘check’ on me. She was a corrections officer and he had told her I was threatening suicide. That was far from the case. He told me I needed to kill myself. Of course he didn’t tell her that. She and him decided I needed to be taken to the hospital to be watched. Despite my cries and pleas they dragged me kicking and screaming to the ER. I tried telling the doctors what really happened but his mother’s authority trumped my voice.

Even though it was a conflict of interest Justin’s mom handcuffed me, placed me into a van, and transported me 3 hours to the LDS hospital in Salt Lake City. I was placed in the psych ward on suicide watch. I couldn’t believe what had happened. During my stay my mom tried contacting me because I hadn’t showed up to pick up my boys and my ex was concerned. They kept calling Justin and he’d say he had no idea where I was or what was going on. When I finally got phone rights I had called both of them and explained everything. Obviously they were not happy. Justin had also called me multiple times a day. Telling me I wasn’t allowed back into my home unless I got help. He told me I would have to find somewhere else to live. Thinking back now that would have been the best thing for me to do. To never go back. My heart and spirit had been broken. I thought that was all I deserved. That was all I was ever good enough for.

Growing up as a child I lived in a home that was also a domestic violence situation. My dad was an abusive alcoholic. He beat my brother unidentifiably on multiple occasions. Constantly threw my mom around. It was an absolute hell growing up. There wasn’t a single day I didn’t pray to be taken away. I begged and pleaded with God EVERY SINGLE DAY to give me a different family. Given this history as an adult I followed the same patterns. I continued the same behaviors physically while mentally wondering why I kept choosing the same life for myself. My mom always thought she couldn’t do things herself. She thought, ‘Where are we supposed to go? We can’t leave.’ She too had the beliefs I now had.

After 4 days in the psych unit I AMA’d out. The perks of also working in health care I had the advantage by understanding and recognizing protocol. I refused further treatment and even my therapist said he wasn’t sure why I was there. I checked out just fine and had no suicidal ideations. No kidding. I wasn’t there because I wanted to hurt myself! I love my children so deeply I could never leave them for anyone else to raise. I am their momma. It is my job. Justin very angrily picked me up. He yelled at me the entire 3 hour trip home. Telling me I couldn’t do it without him. That I needed mental help. That I was crazy. That I made up these abuse schemes in my head. To be honest I started believing I was crazy. I believed the problem was me. I started actually listening and letting everything he said sink deeply into my heart. Easter was that weekend. Upon arriving home Justin threw a diamond ring at me and said ‘I was going to propose to you for Easter but you aren’t worth my time so consider this it.’ That was what I deserved. I loved him. I deserved this right?

From this moment things grew darker. Justin refused to have sex and would say things like I wasn’t attractive or no one would want me. I was undesirable. This really sunk in to my core. No one would ever want me. Why would someone want a woman who has 2 kids? Why would someone want a woman who has stretch marks, saggy boobs, cellulite. I was 130 lbs. But I still believed him.

Eventually I had become a shell. I had no part of me that was myself anymore. Except my kids. When he wasn’t around I held them as much as I could. Played with them. Read to them for hours. Took them to parks. Taught my 3-year-old to ride a bike, throw a ball, identify all of the dinosaurs. I took any spare time I had and filled the little bit of light I had left in myself into my children. They were and still are the most amazing boys I have ever met in my life. Strong, independent, confident, grateful, mindful, and most of all they hold love for everyone they meet. I didn’t deserve the love they had for me. At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Things finally escalated in roughly May of 2015. I had just gotten off of a shift at work and rushed home to my little boys. Justin had already left for work and had left all 3 boys with his sister in law for roughly 2 hours. She was at our house with the boys and her daughter. When I got there I immediately saw bruises on my 2-year-old’s face. I asked her if he had fallen or what had happened. She said he hadn’t fallen at all while she was there and said they were there when she arrived. I figured ok he’s two, he’s clumsy sometimes, maybe he fell down a step or something. Then I found a bruise on his neck that looked like a hand print. Again she reassured me nothing had happened and maybe he had just fallen. I pushed the feeling aside. Thanked her for watching my boys and went about my business. After dinner I ran my little guy a bath and started taking his clothes off. Immediately I knew something more sinister had happened. My baby had bruises that stretched from his upper back all the way down to his ankles. Small circular bruises but tons of them. I took pictures with my cellphone and sent them to Justin, his mom, his sister in law, and my best friend. I wanted evidence that I really wasn’t making this up. Justin’s response was ‘well they could have happened at their dad’s house.’ They hadn’t been to their dad’s house in 6 days and these bruises were fresh. His mom’s response was ‘You don’t know where they came from and if you call the cops they can’t do anything.’  Of course she would say that to protect her child. I had no idea what to do. I had no where to go, no vehicle, everything that was ‘mine’ was technically his.

Later that evening Justin broke down crying saying he was overwhelmed and that he did it. To this day I have no idea what he did to cause the bruising. I sent the confession to his mom and she responded something along the lines of ‘He’s overwhelmed. He has to watch the kids on his day off while you work and you never let him go out with his brothers to the bar.’ She told me it was my fault, he told me it was my fault. I believed it was my fault. I was so stupid to believe it. So naive. When you are told something so often you begin to believe it. Later that week I went to counseling and I poured my heart out to her. About the abuse, the pictures, the injuries to my son, how I was stuck. She of course had to report it to the law. I went straight home to Justin crying and begging for forgiveness. He told me I had to erase the pictures, I had to tell the cops I made it all up. I was so deeply under his spell. No. Not this time. A rage inside of me burned like it never had. This was my baby. He hurt an innocent child. He could have killed one of the only people in this life that truly mattered to me. When they investigated and interviewed my 4-year-old they learned that Justin had gotten mad at the baby for wanting to be held. So he grabbed him by the neck and threw him against the wall and hit him over and over with a steel toed boot. We also learned my boys had been hit in their genitals when needing to be  ‘punished.” Justin’s son was never touched or abused.

I wouldn’t lie for him. And once his family caught news there would be an investigation both Justin and his mother showed up to my job in a patrol car. A male officer pulled me out and told me they were there to get the engagement ring and the vehicle I was driving. I was a mess. How can she do that? How can she show up with her uniform on with an officer and take everything from me. They did. They told me I wasn’t allowed back on the property. I had nowhere to go. I called my best friend crying in a panic. She contacted a victims advocate for me who connected me with a domestic abuse shelter. My children and I moved into a shelter.

We were homeless, without a vehicle, and my bank account had been drained. He held all of the power. I was paying all of the car payments and had proof of that. My victims advocate encouraged me to file a restraining order that stated I got to keep the car until a court date. That thankfully worked and I got to regain the car. It bought me some time to continue working and getting my babies to and from daycare. Living in a homeless shelter is one of the most unreal feelings you can have. Living in a place where you know all of the women were there for the same reason was a little comforting. There was 24/7 security on the safe house at all times. I was escorted everywhere I went. I was terrified. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without running into a member of his family. It was a stressful time. The shelter had informed me I only had 30 days to find somewhere new to live. 30 days. I didn’t make enough money on my own income to be able to obtain a home, a car, and pay daycare. I applied for low income housing and state assistance. Fortunately for me the law requires all subsidized housing to have a unit left open for domestic cases. But the process to qualify would take some time.

The boys and I jumped from place to place for over a month upon leaving the shelter. Whoever would let us crash with them we accepted the help. It didn’t matter. I was safe. My babies were safe. Everything else was just small speed bumps that we’d cross when we got there. Finally we moved into our new low income apartment. It was a spacious 3 bedroom, 2 story townhome and it was perfect. We had our own space to do as we pleased. I rocked my baby to bed every single night. It felt good to hold my boys close without someone ripping them away. I reveled in the chance to cuddle them, sing to them, hug them, and to love them.

Shortly after moving in; our court date for the protection order approached. The day of the hearing I was under the impression he would not be there. That wasn’t the case. I pulled into the courthouse parking lot and lo and behold Justin was standing in the parking lot with ALL of his family. How could they support him? How could they have all of the evidence and still be there in his corner? The courts decided that I could not have the car despite me making all of the payments and I had to surrender it immediately. I had nothing to get my kids around in which was yet another speed bump. We literally walked everywhere and I made a game of it. A week of walking and again my best friend came to my aid and let me borrow an extra vehicle she had. She was always my God send. I continued working and living there for a few months but because we lived in such a small community his family showed up everywhere. They spread rumor after rumor about me. Posted nasty things on Facebook about how I was a liar and how I was trying to ruin Justin’s life. His child abuse charges were somehow dropped and he was only charged with domestic violence. A class C misdemeanor.

It became unbearable to live so I uprooted my family and moved 2 hours away. I got a job bartending nights, waitressing in the day, and working at a retail store for the rest of the time. I worked 180 hours every two weeks to scrape by. Rentals were very expensive and the only thing I could get into was an apartment for $1600 a month. I needed to work as much as I could to afford life for my kiddos. Weeks turned into months and I had entered 2 more relationships with toxic men. You would have thought I learned my lesson. Both of those men had drug and alcohol addictions that I was oblivious to because I have never been around or used. Upon finding out I ran as fast as I could from both. I was obviously continuing a trend that just wasn’t working.

I remember on my birthday, I hit rock bottom. My boss had offered a room at her and her husband’s house and I reluctantly accepted to try and get back on my feet again after one of the break ups. My boys were at their dads for the weekend and I broke down crying. I called him and told him maybe I shouldn’t take care of the boys and he should have custody of them. He reassured me I was the best mom our boys could ever have and that I needed to pick my head up. I needed to get back on my feet.

It changed the course for me. I was on this downward spiral always blaming everyone else for my choices. I choose these men because I don’t know any differently. I do this because my dad was abusive. No. I made those choices because I chose them. Yes there were circumstances I had no control over but no one made me do any of the things I did except for me. Having this realization gave me this incredible sense of power. I was in charge of how my life was going to be from here on out and there was no more room for bullshit. I was done hating myself. I was done blaming myself for my son being injured. I was done beating myself up for staying in an abusive relationship and my son getting hurt. It happened. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened. All I could do was move forward.

Amazing things started happening as I took accountability for my choices. The very next day after this breakthrough I got a call about an apartment I could easily afford. I moved in the following week. Great things started happening to me once I stopped with the belief that I wasn’t worthy. That I didn’t deserve it. When I started loving myself I called positive things into my space. The law of attraction was working but this time in a positive way. I was strong. I was beautiful. I was worthy. I deserved a good life.

This shift inside me moved my core of my beliefs. I was a survivor. Then, I met the love of my life. My husband came into my life when I didn’t need him. He came into my life when I loved myself so much I allowed a good man to love me too. He has changed my world for the better. He encourages me, supports me, loves me, and loves my children. So much so I think they may love him more than me! Joking, kind of. We now have 5 beautiful kids. I have an amazing bonus son and last year we were blessed with identical twin girls. My life is better than I ever imagined it could be.

Samantha Sprague

There are always ways out. There are resources to help you. There are ways to end domestic violence. You are strong enough. If you start seeing the warning signs please don’t stay until more and more present themselves. You can and deserve to end the patterns. Break the cycle. Create new beginnings. It’s hard. It is so incredibly hard to start over and rebuild but I can promise you it is worth it. It is worth it to your heart, your soul, your mind. You don’t deserve abuse. You are capable of leaving. It’s going to be scary, you are going to want to go back, you are going to hear things like ‘I’ll change’ ‘things will be different’ ‘I’ll be better’ They won’t. I can guarantee you if a man or woman is telling you things like this its not going to get better. ‘Better’ looks like action. Not just meaningless words you’ve heard before.

Samantha Sprague

If you have babies that are involved don’t be like me. Let this story show you how it may start with just you being abused but it can turn to your babies in a second. You are their voice, you are their safe space, you are their lifeline. They need you to be safe. They need you to make a better future for them. God gave you those babies because he trusted you with their lives. There are so many children in this world who are killed in these situations. I thank God every single day my baby wasn’t one of them. You are enough! Tell yourself that right now: ‘I AM ENOUGH.’

Samantha Sprague

I am going to attach resources and numbers to call if this story has impacted you. If you are in a situation like mine please reach out. Life can be so different for you. Don’t wait until it’s too late because you are so strong and can take action right now. I believe in you.”

This is an exclusive story to Love What Matters. For permission to use, email Exclusive@LoveWhatMatters.com.

Read more from courageous women leaving domestic abuse relationships:

‘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.’

‘I was tossed like a rag doll off a deck by my hair. He tried to take my life in front of my kids.’: Domestic violence survivor escapes abuser, ‘takes her life back’ with the help of her ‘tribe’

‘I ran 2 miles, barefoot, to the police station, with my husband chasing me. It was 28 degrees outside. I ran those two miles for my life.’

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Samantha Sprague. Submit your story here. Subscribe to our free email newsletter here.  National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Domestic abuse support

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