‘Who the f*ck are you sneaking around with?,’ he screamed. Before I could answer, he threw the phone at my head. I had to hide my eyes from my son. ‘I can’t let him see me like this.’

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“The first time I ever experienced domestic violence, I was 15 years old. Domestic abuse wasn’t an unfamiliar presence in my family. I think somehow, somewhere along the line, we became a bit desensitized to it. At 15 years old, a male hit me until I blacked out. I wasn’t sure what reaction I should have gotten from my immediate family since what had happened was visibly obvious, but the response was dismissive. How could this have happened to a 15-year-old? Growing up, I enjoyed way more freedom than I should have been allowed. Raised in a single-parent home, my mother had to work hard in order to maintain the household. In the meantime, I was out looking for the love I didn’t receive at home.

By that time, I was a broken, lonely, rebellious child with no self-confidence or self-value at all. The very first poem I wrote, at 13 years old, sounded like this:

I stayed up one night too exhausted to sleep, wondering why this pain was sent to me. Sometimes I’d think and wish I would die Looked above tempted to ask the Lord why…

At 13 years old, my most sincere prayer was to die. I had heard the words ‘I hate you’ so many times that my spirit was completely crushed. I felt unwanted and rejected. I needed someone to see anything in me that was worth loving. Hence, a pattern emerged. In my relationships, we would fight, then make up, and fight, then make up again. Though I didn’t really care for the fighting, I was addicted to what I thought was love. Therefore, if I had to fight in order to get to love, then the fighting continued.

Courtesy of Makayla Russell

Unfortunately, this same dynamic would continue in all of my unhealthy, toxic relationships. In some instances, I would be the aggressor. I was so used to fighting until I was always in defense mode. I went to work many days and nights with a face and neck full of makeup to conceal black eyes, bruises, and hand prints. What’s worse is that at the time, I was reluctant to go back home to my family because I hadn’t left on good terms. I didn’t think I was welcomed there. So, I suffered in isolation. I learned how to ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’ – literally.

I never saw what a loving, healthy relationship should look like. And as far as guidance or protection, my father was absent all of my life. By the time I was 27, I was weary. I grew tired of failed relationships and the pain of watching people I loved walk away from me. I really believed that something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get anyone to love me… and stay? I decided that my next relationship would be my last. No matter what, I was determined to make it work. In the beginning, that’s exactly what it looked like – a love that would last forever and a day. We were inseparable. At least for the first six months. After then, we quickly became oil and water. For some reason, we could not coexist for even an hour.

Every day, bit by bit, he chipped away at my independence and what little self-confidence I pretended to have. He monitored and controlled who I spoke to on my phone, who I engaged on social media, and the friends I could have. If he didn’t approve, I had to shut it down. I allowed him to prey on my insecurity that I was lucky to have someone want me. He told me I wasn’t that pretty. He claimed he was only still with me to give me a chance to prove myself to him – that’s exactly what I tried desperately to do. I tried to prove I was worth his love. When he told me if he left me, no one else would want me, I believed him, so I held onto him for dear life. ‘Why are you so stupid?,’ he would ask. I would apologize with tears flowing down my face. I used to pray and ask God to fix whatever was wrong with me that made me unlovable.

There would be times when we would have physical altercations, and afterward, he would offer me his chest to lay on and wiped the tears as I cried. I had shared so much of my past, my fears, insecurities, and desperation to have a successful relationship, he knew exactly what buttons to push – and he loved having that power over me. I don’t know exactly when he did it, but he bugged my bedroom to be able to hear everything I did, and every conversation I had. Eventually, he convinced me to move in with him.

One night, he woke me up after midnight to pick a fight with me. I had gotten a Facebook notification, and he was not happy about that. ‘Who the f*ck are you sneaking around with on Facebook?,’ he screamed. Before I got a chance to answer, he threw the phone at my head. When I looked up, he was charging towards me and shoved me into the wall. Everything was happening so fast and so intensely, I remember feeling light headed – I could barely stand up. Struggling to remain conscious, I began begging him to stop. ‘You are going to kill me.’ I barely got the words out of my mouth. I think he stopped because hearing me say it must have made it more real for him. Meanwhile, my son was sleeping in the other room, had no idea what was going on.

The next morning, I was gone. Whatever shame I thought I’d feel showing up home as a failure went out the window. I got my son, took whatever little things I could gather and ‘ran for the hills.’ My eyes were blood red and swollen because I had been crying so much just a few hours before. I had to hide my eyes, not from the public, but from my son. ‘I can’t let him see me like this. I don’t want to lie to him, but if he sees me, I can’t tell him what really happened.’ From that day, I never looked back.

Courtesy of Makayla Russell

It took me a really, really long time to even be able to go to sleep without crying myself until I was tired. Almost every day I replayed the relationship in my mind to pinpoint what I did wrong and where I should have made ‘better’ decisions – decisions that would have made him stay. I think I was experiencing relationship withdrawal. I started to wonder, ‘Was he right?’ ‘Would anyone else find me attractive?’ I was so sad and unenthused. I could look in the mirror and see the physical toll this was taking on me. I could feel the heaviness on my face. It wasn’t just this relationship, it was every relationship. It was every mistake. It was every hurt I had ever experienced. I was carrying the burden of pain and hardship since I was a child – this just added to it.

I prayed that God would make me beautiful and attractive again – I felt ugly. Life had stripped away so much of the inner me, I literally felt like I was on emotional life support. My room was always dark – day and night. I was too sad and depressed to open the curtains to let light in. One night I remember sleeping in my closet because even though I was alone, I felt naked and exposed. For three days I didn’t eat any food, I had no appetite, no drive. I wanted to trade in my heart for one that wasn’t broken. Nonetheless, I kept praying for grace to endure and the strength to overcome.

I don’t know when it happened, but after months, I woke up one day and I wasn’t crying. I was grateful for that morning. For the first time in a long time, my heart felt something that wasn’t excruciating pain. My breathing was more relaxed, and I was even able to muster a half smile. ‘Thank you, Lord,’ I whispered. Since that day, it has been an uphill battle, but I feel so much better. I took the time to go all the way back to my 6-year-old self and tell her, ‘You are loved unconditionally. You are not here by accident.’ I admitted to myself all of the foolish choices and mistakes I had made over the years, and I forgave the naïve young woman who made those decisions. I mended the relationship with myself and made a vow to always take care of me first.

Courtesy of Makayla Russell

I believe that there is a lesson in every experience and an opportunity to grow and be a better person than you were yesterday. I realized that I had a choice. I could continue to mope about the things I didn’t have and the people who didn’t look out for me, or I could make a real effort to improve my position and emotional state and evolve into the person I was created to be. I went through my season of mourning and my season of learning and growing. The best decision I made was the decision to invest in myself and my health – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Healing is a continuous process. You have to choose every day to maintain your healing and intentionally be made whole.”

Courtesy of Makayla Russell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Makayla Russell of the Bahamas. You can follow her journey on Instagram and TwitterDo you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more empowering stories of women overcoming abusive relationships:

‘No one will ever want a single mom with 2 kids, by 2 different men,’ he said. I loved him in a very dark and twisted way. Not following his rules would unleash Satan.’

‘He pushed his way in. ‘Sit on the couch!,’ he demanded. I begged him to leave. Then he came up with an idea: ‘I’ll leave if you have sex with me.’

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