“It’s part of the human experience to think ahead. To spend our days wondering what we’re going to eat tomorrow, what fun activities we can plan for next weekend. We look forward to the weddings, baby showers, graduations, parties, anniversaries in our near future.
It’s such a beautiful thing, this opportunity to get creative with how we craft our time with loved ones. It’s something that comes so natural to us all. But for two years, I was robbed of the joy of planning. The joy of looking forward to a tomorrow. In fact, for the longest time, I was sure there was no tomorrow. And the only thing I was planning was an escape route. Planning what preliminary goodbyes I could send my family to let them know I loved them before my life reached its untimely end.
Domestic violence. I’m sure you’ve all heard the term. You sympathize with women like me. Some of you might even blame us. For getting ourselves into this situation. For not leaving sooner. For not speaking up. For not reporting. The truth is, you can never truly understand the complexities of repeated trauma until you’ve lived it. It’s not as simple as just ‘leaving,’ especially not when leaving meant dying and staying meant torture. But back to the term. What comes to mind first? Bruises? Blood? Screaming, fighting. Yes, that’s true. But it’s not all there is to it.
You see, for every bruise, for every scratch, for every broken bone, there’s also a ton of love. Not the real kind though. The make-believe love. Trauma love. Only you don’t know this until after you get out…if you do. It’s the kind of ‘love’ that’s only thrown into the mix of your everyday life to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. To toy with your brain chemistry and convince you that you need this person. After all, he’s spent months, years breaking you down, convincing you that you’re worthless, but that he’s the only one who sees you as otherwise. And, suddenly, you need him. But the second you need him, you’re suddenly told you’re worthless again. And ‘everyone’ else thinks so. Now you’ve got blood dripping down your legs. Contusions. You’re clinging to him for survival. To just convince him that you’re not so bad after all. You plead with him to just put the knife, gun, belt, needle, fist down. Then it switches up again, and you’re ‘loved’. And repeat. Again, and again.
I think it’s safe to say that although the abuse I’ve endured is similar to other women in many ways, it’s also very different. I didn’t just get the usual kick. The black eye, the choking. No. My abuser found pleasure in a slow torture. In making me sing his favorite song aloud for 14 hours straight, a broken shard of glass in his hand in case I messed up any single word. In locking me in the basement with nothing but a few grapes to eat a day. In occasionally ripping out one of my nails. In poking me with hundreds of little needles. In playing ‘pretend murder’ as he liked to call it, where he’d cover my mouth and close my nostrils until I nearly suffocated. He never ran out of new things to try. I was his plaything. So many of his words still ring in my head.
‘You look so much more beautiful with a black eye.’
‘I didn’t mean to hurt you. You just looked so cute sitting there on the couch.’
‘One word to anyone and your family will disappear.’
‘There’s a gun in here. Don’t you forget it.’
My entire life revolved around trying to stay alive. There was no tomorrow, no next week. Just the now. And it was fleeting.
My time wasn’t divided up into seconds, minutes, hours. It wasn’t the typical 9-5 and 8-hour sleep schedule. Instead, my mornings consisted of figuring out, realistically, how much time I had to dry my eyes and wash the blood off before work. How much time I had before he came home to get on my hands and knees and pray for my life. On average? 11 minutes. Then the abuse clock started again.
It’s been three years since I’ve gotten out and that clock hasn’t stopped ticking. I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I find my mind often trailing off, planning escape routes in every room I enter. A restaurant. A supermarket. A birthday party. It doesn’t matter where I am, and I can’t turn it off. I find it hard to trust anyone at all, even friends and family. My brain keeps telling me everyone is out to kill me, too. I can’t describe the sheer devastation of not being able to feel authentic love from anyone. It’s all tainted by fear.
But through it all, I am so blessed. Blessed to have a selfless partner today who understands. When I wake up in the middle of the night screaming because he’s killed me again in my sleep, he’s there to hold me tight and kiss my forehead. When I go off the rails with accusations that everything he’s doing or saying is him plotting against me, he reminds me that it’s my PTSD brain. He doesn’t fight. He just reassures me. And loves me. When months go by without intimacy, he never pressures me. He understands the weight of my damage, that for what seemed like an eternity, sex was not a pleasure, but a weapon of war, and I the losing army.
It’s not easy loving a domestic abuse survivor. But my friends, my family, and especially my partner make it look easy. I am forever blessed to still be alive, despite all of my struggles. And with each passing day, I am slowly re-learning how to look forward to tomorrow.”
[If you have or are currently experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit www.thehotline.org for more resources. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
Read more powerful stories from survivors:
‘I heard a cracking sound and a thud as my head hit the window. He threw the car into park. I’d ‘pushed his buttons’ and made him do it. He told me it was my fault.’ Woman recounts how ‘fairy tale’ quickly turned to abusive nightmare
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