“’Young, wild and free.’ This phrase often comes to mind when you think of a young and lively 19-year-old. At 19, I had just finished a year of Bible school, was working part-time, enjoying my friends and family, and was planning my next steps. Having been raised in a Christian household, I felt I had the values and vision to start my own life. The world was my oyster!
It was also in this season that I met my prince charming. I was captivated by his charismatic personality, adventurous spirit, and charm. We were both Christians and had similar dreams, goals, aspirations and more. A few years later, we got married, and I excitedly embraced the new adventure before me. However, our first year of marriage was littered with hardship. I noticed that over time, he began to treat me with increased disrespect, secrecy, and restrictions. The namecalling increased in vulgarity and frequency. He would yell at me daily, play mental games, and then somehow portray himself as the victim. It never failed. I remember one of the most hurtful things he ever said to me was, ‘You should feel lucky to be with me and that I love you because no one else would.’ Those words became branded on my heart, and eventually, I believed him. My first year of marriage wasn’t ‘rough.’ It was hell.
During the five and a half years we were married, my mental health, self-esteem, and positivity whittled down to almost nothing. By the time our five year anniversary came, my marriage had evolved into consistent name-calling, blaming, yelling, gaslighting, mind games, isolation from family and friends, threats of divorce, and the discovery of his inappropriate relations with other women. People often underestimate the deep wounds that emotional and verbal abuse can have on a victim. I remember one day he got so enraged with me, he screamed, ‘You are the reason I have to take medication!’ These words just affirmed to me that ‘I was really that bad.’ My heart ached and throbbed with confusion, fear, and defeat.
The physical abuse progressed as well. It turned into him blocking, shoving and kicking me. Then he started punching walls inches from my face, throwing objects at my head, restraining me in both private and public, and recklessly driving with me in our vehicle. I remember many of the fights in our truck would start with him driving extremely fast and irresponsibly down the highway, to the point where I was crying and begging him to stop. Then when we got home he would take pride in being the one to ‘comfort’ me.
I didn’t know how to deal with this. I remember praying and asking God to please send someone in my life who understood the insanity that I was living. I felt negative emotions such as anger, shame, grief, and isolation ninety percent of the time. There were times I would resort to self-harm and drinking just to feel some relief. I can recall one night, when my husband was at a work party, I was home alone and drank so much I couldn’t remember throwing up in the bathroom, or lying on the bedroom floor before I passed out. I was later awakened when he returned home. I felt like God had abandoned me. The scary thing was that I didn’t recognize this as ‘abuse’ because it had become my ‘normal.’ This is one of the reasons why a lot of women don’t leave. I had come to believe that his anger was a product of my own wrongdoing. I was the problem. I blamed myself for being a bad wife, because why else would I deserve such treatment from the person I vowed to love, honor and cherish for the rest of my life? So I became devoted to improving myself as a wife, in hopes of appeasing him and therefore stopping the abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse did not stop, and I was getting desperate.
During these years, I spent time in counseling to improve my marriage and myself. I tried to get him to come to counseling with me, but he would give every excuse in the book to not go. An abuser does not take responsibility for their actions but rather blames the victim. I did meet one female counselor whom I saw maybe three times and told me, ‘He is a narcissist, and this won’t stop. You need to decide how much longer you are willing to live like this.’ I was shocked. My mind screamed, as I felt this CHRISTIAN counselor was introducing the option of me leaving my husband. As a Christian, I didn’t believe in divorce. So, what were my options? Lifelong suffering? Misery? Again, I prayed to God to help me and to send someone into my life who understood this pain and this battle. It took a few years, but He did.
On Christmas of 2014, I was on my way to Nicaragua for a mission’s trip with Samaritan’s Purse. This is when I met a dear friend whom I immediately hit it off with, and I found out we had more in common than our shared mission’s experience. I found out she had divorced her abusive ex-husband three years prior. After talking with her I realized that all those years of blaming myself for not being enough, feeling unworthy of love and feeling like I was the reason he was so angry, it dawned on me that I was being treated horribly and deserved so much better. The man, who was supposed to protect and cherish me, was, in fact, treating me the opposite. In reality, I was protecting myself from him.
I went home shortly after the New Year and I had it set in my mind and heart that I would not live this way any longer. I left my husband on January 19, 2015. I packed everything that I needed that was mine, left my dog and cats and that empty shell I once called home, and have never looked back.
I have been free from domestic violence for over 5 years now. The last 5 years of my healing journey have been both amazing and painful. Many women who are survivors of domestic violence think that they can leave their abuser, and within a few weeks or months they will be ‘fine.’ I tell victims that it has taken them an ‘X’ amount of time to enter, survive and then leave the relationship, so realistically they need to expect that healing and recovery will take longer than they want or expect. Unfortunately, I then experienced more trauma in 2016, when I was raped by someone whom I thought was a friend. This only increased my wounds and therefore my recovery time as well. On a positive note, I have learned to better manage my anxiety, PTSD, triggers, and hyper-vigilance. It takes me time to trust people, and there are moments where I still feel overwhelmed by memories or flashbacks. I still get the odd anxiety attack as well. But I feel freer than I ever have in my life. I can recall a moment, months after I left my ex, where I caught myself smiling and laughing harder than I had in years. My mind snapped back at me, ‘How dare you feel happier, what do you have to feel happy about?’ I covered my smile in shame. I’ve had to intentionally rewire my mindset, to recreate a new normal that was no longer filled with violence and abuse.
If you are a survivor of domestic violence, please know that you need to heal mind, body, and spirit. This takes intentional hard work and effort, and you cannot do it in isolation. You need a reliable support network. What has helped me in my healing is my faith, years of counseling, my positive family and friends, writing, working out, eating right, and renewing my mind. What also helped me was setting goals and a vision for my future, which created hope and motivation to move forward, especially in the seasons where the pain was greater than the joy.
In brief, what I want victims of domestic violence to know is that you can rebuild yourself and your life. Yes, it is scary to face the unknowns of starting over, but it is scarier to submit yourself and your children, if you have some, to an abusive environment where the day to day is unpredictable and unsafe. If you are not a survivor of domestic violence, please resist the natural urge to judge. We live in a culture of victim blame and shame, and in reality, the victim is subjecting themselves to enough personal blame and shame to last a lifetime. Instead, be an available and non-judgemental listening ear, but also state your concerns to your loved one, even if they respond negatively. It’s better to say something, and plant a seed of care and concern than to stay silent and tell yourself, ‘It’s none of my business.’ Your loved one’s safety is your business.
Currently, I am a registered social worker and advocate working with victims of domestic violence in my city. I am a published author and am working on completing my coaching certification to further help women in their healing on a more personal scale. My future goal is starting my own non-for profit in Tanzania, to provide support for the women and children who have survived domestic and sexual violence. I enjoy traveling, spending time with friends and family, trying new food, writing and laughing. I have become a stronger, more vivacious and a more whole version of me, even before the abuse. God has been my source of strength and hope during the abusive years, in my healing and in my thriving. His promises to repay what I have lost, and to give me a good future is what I hold onto. I feel called and honored to support and empower others who have walked, or are still walking, a similar journey. Despite all I have been through, I am still a Queen and a daughter of the King.”
[If you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Allie Schwab. You can follow their journey on Instagram or their website. 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.
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‘I sat in our garage, started my car and let it run. I wanted to die. And then I saw my son open the garage door.’: Woman gives hope to other victims of narcissistic abuse, ‘I’m not ready to die. In fact, I’m ready to be reborn.’
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