I’ve blocked out a lot of my childhood, but I have flashbacks of abuse and neglect. I can remember witnessing domestic violence, being kicked and strangled, and being molested by one of my five brothers. Both of my parents had troubled childhoods themselves—my father was in and out of the foster care system, and my mother grew up in neglect and experienced emotional abuse. So when you put those two people together, you can end up with children who have no real sense of worth.
As I got into my teens, I tried to find love and acceptance from whomever would give it to me. At age 18, I met a man. I was young and naïve and he swept me off my feet. He would tell me all the right things and I wanted to believe him. Looking back, I can see all the red flags—I know he was just a predator.
I ended up pregnant and we had an on-and-off relationship for 10 years. We got married when our son was three and I was pregnant with our third child. Until then, I didn’t really understand how abusive he was. He belittled me, called me names, and told me that I was white trash and that nobody loved me. He was very controlling. He made me feel like I was nothing.
His Abuse Turns Physical
The first time he struck me was when I was still pregnant. He came home one night and he smelled like perfume. When I questioned him, he laid me down on the bed and started calling me names, slapping me over and over.
His abuse escalated over the next six years. He would hold me against the wall until I couldn’t breathe, let me go, then do it again. I was always walking on eggshells, afraid of what he might do.
He was abusive to the children also. When I tried to stop him he would become more abusive with me. I would literally keep my children behind me and say, “Please, do anything to me. Just don’t touch the kids.” He would threaten to abuse the children more if I intervened. Toward the end, if he wasn’t hitting our children or me, he was being emotionally abusive. I felt like a prisoner of war, just trying to survive and protect my children. It was six years of hell.
Searching for Escape
I tried to leave him three different times, but he would follow me, stalk me and threaten to kill me and take the kids. I was in my own private nightmare and I thought I was going to live like this forever. I was in a constant state of fear and couldn’t even think clearly, so I kept going back to this horrible human being. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand that there were places that would help me.
One day I came home from work to find that he had hit my son in the face. I said to him, “You’re going to have to kill me. You’re never touching my kids again.” And I was serious. He was unusually calm—it was kind of scary. A few days later he raped me. He said, “You just don’t forget who’s in control.” I was injured for days afterward. I didn’t really think there was a God, but after the rape I got down on my hands and knees and prayed that somehow my husband would be out of my life and my children and I would be safe.
A few weeks after I prayed, my husband got a job and his new employer ran a background check on him. Around the same time, a detective in Florida reopened a cold case and his name came up. He was charged with a murder that had happened 12 years earlier. His background check made his address public, so he was extradited to Florida. I didn’t know I was married to a murderer. I haven’t seen or talked to him since.
A Path Toward Recovery
I try to look at my life and think, “Okay, I’ve been through a lot, but now what can I do to be better?” I’m determined to break the cycle of abuse. I talk to my children about loving themselves, and I tell them they can overcome anything they want to.
I’ve been through so much therapy and I’m healing. I’m managing my PTSD and anxiety attacks by learning grounding techniques and positive self-talk. I’ve really focused on my healing for the past four or five years. For three years, I’ve attended retreats with an organization called Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, and this year I’ll return as a leader. There’s a huge support network of other survivors, and I feel like I’m understood and I’m not alone. Now I know I matter, my life matters and I’m worthy of having a loving, healthy relationship.