“Being overweight is all I’ve ever really known. And I’ve lived most of my life convincing myself that it didn’t affect me, and had settled into the idea that I would always just be the ‘cute big girl.’ And if I’m being completely honest, for a long time, my weight was never really anything I spent a lot of time thinking about. It was always just ‘there.’
After I graduated high school in 2006, I moved from my hometown to Louisville, Kentucky, to attend college. By all standards my college experience was very normal…or at least at first. In February of 2007, I attended a party with some friends that turned into a life altering experience.
The last thing I remember from that evening was being handed a drink by an acquaintance of mine. All I really knew of him was that he attended school with us, and he worked in the kitchen of the same restaurant that I worked at. The next thing I remember is waking up the next day in a room that was completely empty, with the exception of an air mattress. I was completely naked and all of my other belongings (purse, cell phone, etc.) were missing. There was a window in the bedroom and I remember looking out of it and not knowing where I was other than that I was in the middle of nowhere. I tried to open the window but soon realized it had been nailed shut.
A short time later, the guy I knew from the party opened the door to the room and explained to me that as long as I was compliant, that I would make it home. Over the next 2 days, I was raped and assaulted repeatedly by him and 2 other men who I didn’t know and had never seen before. I never asked them why they were doing this to me and I never asked them to let me go. I had made up my mind that no matter how compliant I was, that I was going to die in that room.
On the 3rd day, the guy I knew came into my room, handed me my clothes, my purse, and my cell phone and told me to get dressed. He walked me outside, put me in his car, and drove me home. The last thing he did was hold a knife to my throat and promise me that if I ever told anyone what had happened, he would kill me. I believed him, so again, I complied. I told no one. I went into my apartment and continued on with my life as if nothing happened. But even after everything I had been through, the only thing I remember feeling hurt by was the fact that nobody was looking for me. No one took any notice to the fact I had been gone for 3 days. Not my family, not my friends, not my instructors at school. No one. I felt completely alone!
Soon after, I developed a bacterial infection from internal lacerations I received from having foreign objects forced into my body cavities. The bacteria entered my blood stream and spread to my brain, eventually causing me to not be able to do hardly anything, including walk. I was hospitalized and once I was stable, my family came and picked me up and brought me home to recover. At that point, I had told my roommate about what happened and she had told my mother. And even then, even once everything was out in the open, nobody ever asked me if I was ok.
After that point, I pretty much just gave up. I no longer cared about anything. Not my education, not my job, and definitely not myself. Once I returned to Kentucky, I quickly found myself on a downward spiral of self-sabotage. I became an alcoholic, got put on academic probation for failing grades and not attending classes, and became extremely promiscuous. I just didn’t care anymore. I allowed men to use me for whatever they wanted because I felt as though nothing I had to offer was sacred anymore. I was tainted… damaged goods.
This continued until 2008, which is when I ran into ‘R.’ I’d known him since high school. He was a little older than me, but back then, he was never really ‘my type.’ When we reconnected he was still pretty fresh out of the Marine Corps and seemed to, at least on the surface, have things going in the right direction for himself. He still wasn’t ‘my type’ but after some time, and a ton of convincing on his part, I decided that I hadn’t really had any luck with dating guys who were my type, and decided to take a chance, move back to Indiana, and we started dating. We just clicked. He was attentive, sweet, and all about me. Something I’d never experienced before.
He had been deployed and had seen quite a bit of combat and had ultimately been medically discharged after a terrible accident. He was very candid and forthcoming about what he’d been through, and explained to me that he’d been left with a pretty severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) and struggled pretty intensely with PTSD. At the time I really didn’t know what that meant. I just knew I was falling for him… HARD! For almost a year, things were great. In 2011, we made the decision to move in together and that’s when things took a turn for the worst. I found out that he had been carrying on multiple relationships behind my back and abusing his prescriptions. In what felt like overnight, a switch flipped inside of him. His attentiveness became possessiveness and control, and the sweetness that I had seen in him turned into rage and mental and emotional abuse. His emotions started to spiral downward and he became suicidal. I would come home many times and he would be sitting in the living room or in the bedroom with a gun in his hand. There were times when I’d walk into a room and he’d be sitting there with it in his mouth.
Towards the end of 2011 was the first time he hit me. He had flown into a rage about the lunch I had packed him for work and grabbed me by the neck and slammed my head against the bathroom mirror. He did it with so much force that the mirror broke. After that things got progressively worse. He started to isolate me from my family and friends and started hitting me more and more. As a means of coping, I too started to abuse prescription drugs. Things continued to escalate even further until February 2012 when the pot boiled over. We had been in an argument and I told him I was leaving. I packed a bag and drove around for a while but I was so broken down as a person that I convinced myself I couldn’t be without him… so I went home.
When I got there, he was asleep in the bedroom but I must’ve woken him when I came in, because the next thing I knew he was standing in the hallway in the entrance to the living room. I greeted him, but quickly noticed there was something wrong. He didn’t look like himself. I asked him what was wrong and he said nothing. He just stood there. I asked him again what was wrong, but this time I stood up and started to walk to him. I got halfway across the room and that’s when all hell broke loose. He ran towards me, grabbed me by my neck and slammed me into the wall. He pushed me so hard that my body actually went through it. He started punching me in my face repeatedly and telling me he was going to kill me. He dragged me to the kitchen and put a knife to my throat. I was begging with him to calm down, but it was like he wasn’t even there.
After a few more minutes, he walked out of the room and towards our bedroom. I saw this as my opportunity to run, so I did. I ran out of the sliding glass door into the courtyard of my apartment complex. It was snowing and I was barefoot, bloodied and screaming for help. The next thing I know, I looked back and he was running towards me. At 6-foot, 7 inches, he has almost a foot on me and it didn’t take long for him to catch up to me. He dragged me back into our living room where he had taken out our mattress from the bedroom and it was laying in the middle of the floor. He threw me down on it, and started hitting me in the face again. He then held me by my neck, took a lighter and started trying to light the mattress on fire. He kept telling me he told me he was going to kill me. For whatever the reason, the mattress wouldn’t stay lit and he grew frustrated. He got up and went back to the kitchen. I got up and ran out again but this time I didn’t stop. I was able to get away and get to my car to call the police.
He was arrested and charged with felony domestic battery. But a few days later I started feeling guilty. I thought back to what had happened to me in Kentucky and I started to think it was my fault that these things were happening to me. And why should he have to suffer for something that I brought on myself? Eventually, I gave his mother the money to bond him out of jail and I dropped all charges against him and took him back.
Things continued on the same path as before until the summer of 2012 when I finally decided, after a Xanax overdose, to get clean. I’m proud to say that I’ve been sober since then, but less proud to say I still wasn’t done with ‘R.’ In October, I had finally convinced him to get some help. He left for a VA-run treatment center in Michigan and while we kept in contact I had explained to him I thought that putting our relationship on hold was going to be the best thing for both of us. Roughly a month later he came home to visit and get his vehicle. He insisted on seeing me and after a night out and a few too many drinks, I agreed.
6 weeks later, I learned I was pregnant.
I was still at a point in life where I was adjusting to my new life without drugs. I didn’t think I was capable of raising a child on my own, so I made what I thought was the best decision at the time, and decided to stay with ‘R.’ Needless to say, nothing changed. He continued to abuse me and be unfaithful throughout the course of my pregnancy. When I was in labor, he was with someone else. But despite everything, I persisted because I finally had my baby… my Brayden Michael! The moment he came into this world looking just like his momma, I knew that now, after 25 years of living in hell, I had something to live for.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses from then on though. I soon learned that my decision to stay with ‘R’ despite the urging of my family and my own better judgement was… wait for it… a TERRIBLE idea! Having my baby changed everything for me. I think that’s what kids are supposed to do. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for ‘R.’ Things were fine for a little while, but once it was time for me to go back to work, they just picked up where they left off. By the time Bray was 5 months old it had gotten to the point that I was getting hit on an almost daily basis. Finally in December of 2013, 2 weeks before Christmas, I’d had enough. In this particular instance, ‘R’ had flown into a rage, pulled the cabinet doors off the hinges, threw me onto the kitchen floor and hit me in the head and back with the door until I was able to crawl under the kitchen table to shield myself. And once he’d left (as he usually did for fear that I’d call the police again) and I’d picked myself up off the floor, I packed my baby’s things and a small bag for myself, and I left. We moved into my mother’s house and until I was able to get myself together and get a place of my own, that’s where we stayed. For a time, I continued to let Bray see his dad, mainly out of guilt, but once I realized he was only interested in my child as far as it’d get him with me, I cut that off too. It’s been 4 years now since I finally freed myself of him.
It was also during this transition that I first noticed I had begun using food as a crutch. As I said before I’d always been big, but I never noticed it until I was on my own. I was struggling with motherhood, my sobriety, I was struggling with the feelings of guilt about leaving Bray’s dad and feeling that everything he ever told me about myself — that I was fat, ugly and worthless and no one would ever want me — was true. And I ate all those feelings. And I ate and ate and ate. And before I knew it I had gained 150 pounds. I had ballooned up to 400 pounds and I was more miserable than ever.
I didn’t know it yet, but not everything would stay doom and gloom forever. I didn’t know it at the time, but someone was just on the horizon and a chance encounter at a bar would entirely change the course of my life as I knew it. In January of 2014 I was out with a girlfriend celebrating her birthday. That’s when I met Jauron. I’m from a relatively small town so I had seen him here and there in the past, but that was really the extent of it. He was 10 years older than me. A lot older than anyone I’d ever dealt with in the past. He was handsome, educated, and funny. But I quickly remembered that I also thought ‘R’ was ‘different’ too. I was the biggest I’d ever been weight-wise and so run down emotionally there was no way in hell I was going to trust my own judgement! As time went on, we became casual acquaintances, and that eventually developed into a friendship and eventually I found myself able to be more comfortable with him than I’d ever been with anyone else. I told him about my past, and about the things I’d been through. I told him all the things I was afraid of and the things that made me feel insecure about myself. I explained to him that I’d always struggled with my weight and that it has become my barrier to the outside world. And he never judged me. After a while, I let him meet my son and it was an instant connection, almost like they were two souls that been searching for one another.
Fast forward to 2016. I was outwardly as happy as I’d ever been. But inside I was still an ugly, insecure, unhappy, fat, depressed mess. Then one day, Jauron and I were having a conversation about how I wanted to lose the weight but didn’t think I’d ever be able to, and out of nowhere, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I am tired of sitting here and watching you sell yourself short. If you want to lose the weight, you’re going to do it, and I’m going to help you.’ And from that day forward, I’ve been on this journey. We’ve been on this journey. He changed my diet, got me in the gym, and it’s been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. But still, here I am 100 pounds lighter, and with everything I’ve been through, I know now that I can do it! I can be all the things that I spent my life telling myself that I couldn’t be. I feel better than I’ve ever felt, I’m learning to be a better mother to my son, I’m learning to love myself for the first time, and I’m over the moon in love with a man who only wants to see me succeed. I struggle every single day. Nothing about this journey has been easy, but I am so grateful for how far my struggle has brought me!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Vent, 30, of Kokomo, Indiana. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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