‘Wow, he really cares about me.’ His scheme to butter me up to lose his virginity worked.’: Domestic violence survivor reveals she’s been ‘scared to speak my truth’ for years, but finally realizes ‘I’m stronger for what I’ve been through’

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“I met him a couple weeks before my 16th birthday. I wanted a date to my Junior Ring dance and my best friend at the time set us up as a blind date. I was a junior at an all-girls high school, and he was a junior at the all-boys high school down the street. During our first month of talking, he was mysterious and unpredictable. He disappeared on my 16th birthday but was insistent that I invited him to my joint sweet sixteen that I was having with my friend. His first impression to my mom and stepdad was that he was rude, disrespectful and narcissistic. They saw the red flags from the start, but I turned a blind eye. About a week later, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Being so young, I didn’t quite understand what that would entail. The first few months of dating we barely spoke, or he ignored my messages. We hung out once or twice but mostly it was me wondering why he didn’t want to get into contact with me. It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day in 2013, that he showed affection for the first time. He brought me over a huge teddy bear, chocolate and flowers. I thought, ‘wow he really cares about me,’ but later saw the text to his friend that his scheme to butter me up to lose his virginity worked.

Courtesy of Samantha Smith

With his bad first impression on my family, we snuck around a lot. I was constantly in a state of anxiety about lying to my parents, but I was convinced I was in love. He would come over to my house when no one was home, or we would sneak over to his house. We spent a lot of time in the shower, under the sheets, getting more and more sexually invested. The more invested, the more I felt I was in love. We went to his junior prom in May 2013 with his friends that I didn’t know, so I was uncomfortable. I was apparently being too quiet, so he pulled me to the side.

‘I’m embarrassed I even brought you,’ he told me.

His words brought me to tears and I spent the entirety of the prom with my friend Nick because my boyfriend wouldn’t speak to me. After the prom, my mom picked us up and brought us back to my house. We got into such a vicious fight – to the point where she had to separate us because I was heartbroken over the words he said to me, but he showed no care. My junior prom a week or two later was much more fun with my friends, even though we fought at the after party because he felt I was talking to other guys more than him. After that night, the list of people I was not allowed to talk to got longer.

Courtesy of Samantha Smith

We had our first bad breakup the beginning of my senior year of high school. He had broken up with me out of the blue stating, ‘I didn’t respect the relationship,’ and it broke me. I felt it was all my fault. He wouldn’t answer any calls or texts, using silence as a punishment. A few days later, we got back together because ‘I showed that I cared and he would give me another chance.’ In October 2013, he was hit by a drunk driver in a devastating crash; he shattered his knee and the other driver was killed. The next few weeks I spent by his side every second I could while he rehabbed his knee. I helped him go to the bathroom, wash up, eat food and sleep. He rewarded me at the end of November by telling me that he didn’t love me anymore. Then decided he did in December. But then decided he didn’t love me again a couple weeks later, a few days before Christmas. I went to a rave with my best friend to try to forget about him and met someone else. For the first time, I felt there was hope beyond our relationship. However, the next day he drove to my house and we both sobbed and screamed in my driveway for hours. I remember this day so vividly because it was the day my mom surprised me with a puppy named Cody.

We remained on and off until February of 2014, where we called it official more than the millionth time. My high school was holding a Valentine’s Day dance for the seniors but he didn’t want to go. My best friend and I decided we were going to go as dates and I was super excited to have some girl time, since I didn’t spend much time with anyone else besides him outside school. A few days before the dance, he told me, ‘If you go to this dance without me, the relationship is over.’ So I lied and told my best friend I didn’t want to go, not wanting to admit the power he held over me. She was so angry with me that we didn’t talk for weeks. I felt absolutely alone, isolated and afraid. I was fighting with my closest friends and family over him at this point.

Not long after Valentine’s Day, I was sitting in my room doing homework when I received a call from one of his ex-girlfriends. It turned out that he was dating another girl at the same exact time. He had two girlfriends. He was caught red handed. I broke up with him immediately. The next day, he drove to my house with flowers (the only time he ever bought me flowers) and sobbed for forgiveness. ‘I’m so sorry,’ ‘She doesn’t matter to me, only you do!,’ ‘I’m just so insecure because you’re so out of my league so I got nervous and cheated.’ These were among the many excuses he made to me. I was so hurt and angry, but yet, I forgave him. I couldn’t imagine who I would be without him. This sent me deeper into isolation. I continued falling deeper and deeper down a hole I couldn’t escape from. My moods were all over the place, self-esteem contingent on what he would say to me on a given day. We fought at both our senior proms. At my senior prom he made a very racist joke so I defended my friends, which made me ‘disloyal’ to him and my punishment was silence. My other punishment was going back to his house instead of going to the afterparty.

Courtesy of Samantha Smith

After we graduated high school, I took a trip to Disney in Orlando with his family. My mom was so badly trying to pull me out of his grasp at this point, that when I told her I was going to Disney, we got into the biggest fight that we have ever gotten into (even to this day.) My relationship was destroying my family. Nevertheless, I went to Disney anyways. He raised his hands to me during this trip. It was not the first time, he had been aggressive in other situations. This time, though, he hit me and laughed. He took my phone and found that a guy had messaged me (a friendly conversation); and immediately broke up with me. I stood in the middle of Magic Kingdom crying, alone and terrified. But later that night, those 10 minutes when he puts his hands on me in affectionate ways …made up for it all. I craved those moments. I suffered through days of anxiety for those few moments. ‘I love you,’ ‘I want you,’ ‘You are mine’ – the words that made me feel whole. Like having his love and affection made me somebody.

Courtesy of Samantha Smith

In August of 2014, we both went to college. I went to Bryant University in Rhode Island and he went to a school in Florida.  The first few months, he ignored all my message. I mean for weeks on end. Then he would reappear and tell me he was ‘busy’ and ‘he loved me’ then disappear again. He cheated on me with multiple girls. He ignored me on my 18th birthday. I cried to my mom, who was so defeated with the situation. She told me I deserved better, but I didn’t believe it. I started drinking heavily and frequently. He came home for Thanksgiving but I noticed something changed, his few moments of affection didn’t get me as high as it used to. When he came home for Christmas, I felt the control slipping away. I didn’t feel as close to him. I didn’t want to be around him. I started to hate him for the way he made me feel. In the spring of 2015, I had to drop out of school because of a bad concussion. He was extremely unsupportive, ‘Is that necessary? You’re not really that injured.’

One night in February of 2015, after starting my concussion recovery I watched a movie called ‘Enough.’ It was a story about a woman who’s controlling husband follows her around the country as she attempts to escape his grasp. I can’t explain it, but after watching that movie, I saw my future with him vividly. A future full of fear, isolation, unhappiness and violence. I decided that day I would NEVER let my life go down that path. I decided to leave him. So I did. He begged me to get back with him for months. In May, he came home and brought me flowers. When I said I didn’t want him, he said, ‘I’m going to crash my Camaro into a pole and kill myself, maybe then you’ll realize you love me.’

The years after I struggled with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. I never truly realized how deep my pain was, so I tried to ignore it. I bottled my feelings, escaped all connections and used unhealthy coping mechanisms. I realized I would never be able to live to my full potential until I took a look deep down and put my most painful memories on the table. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I am also a daughter, sister, business manager, a great friend and a fitness instructor. I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. I have four fitness certifications, one being my Personal Trainer’s Certification. I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and found a career that I love. I am fully financially independent. I am strong, intelligent, brave, empathetic and loving. I am all of these things because of what I’ve been through, not despite.

Courtesy of Samantha Smith
@iammariodevon

It’s taken me more than four years to talk about my story, to say it out loud. I’ve been carrying the weight of this memory all these years, by myself, scared to speak my truth – but the truth will set you free. Here I sit, on the eve of my 23rd birthday, with tears streaming down my face while writing my story. But these are tears of joy because I feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. There is life beyond an abusive relationship, a life full of love and joy. Healing is not an easy process, but there are far greater things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Courtesy of Samantha Smith
Courtesy of Samantha Smith

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Samantha Smith of Nashville, Tennessee. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more powerful stories from domestic abuse survivors:

‘Take your kids, get out of there! Leave him now!’ There was a knock on our door. The cops. They’d seen the video.’: Woman narrowly escapes abusive man, flees home to family who cried when she was ‘finally free’

‘Shaking, with my daughter, I drove to the gas station. I needed help. I stood there in my slippers, crying with my 3-year-old in the back, convinced he wouldn’t be far behind.’

‘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 what I began to call, Satan.’

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