The story I'm about to tell is one of love and of pain, of weakness and ultimate strength. It's a story of survival. I've read several accounts of abusive relationships and I've never told mine because I never classified it as that. I thought that, in order for a relationship to be deemed abusive, there had to be visible bruises and physical violence. So how did I end up falling into that kind of situation? Looking back, I think it was partially because I was raised to be one type of woman and I decided to be the opposite. Except I wasn't prepared for the life I chose, and I was more vulnerable than I knew.
Growing up Baptist isn't exactly a self-esteem building experience for a girl. From day 1, we are told that our purpose in life is to be subservient and humble. Essentially, we don't matter and our accomplishments don't count. I was taught that my purpose in life is to marry someone I barely know (because we aren't allowed to have a conversation alone until after the wedding), have kids ASAP and obey his every command for the rest of my life. By the time I was 15 or so, I knew that I wanted something different out of life. I wanted a college degree, an exciting career, a progressive husband who would support my dreams and maintain a 50/50 partnership with mutual respect and effort. How would I ever find that when all I ever knew was misogyny cloaked in Biblical rhetoric?
My story began when i was a student at Kent State University. I worked at a pizza place and stayed away from home as much as possible, soaking up every delightful second of independence. I had no idea that I had already met the man who would change me and my life forever. For the sake of privacy, I'll refer to him as Brian (not his real name).
I met him at the pizza place, another delivery driver. His old Buick was literally duct-taped together and he loved it. His smile made me feel things I had never felt before, and he didn't seem to have a clue how great he was. It was love at first sight. Our relationship progressed quickly and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. We were inseparable, lost in a cloud of infatuation. After a year together, we were both sick of living with our parents and longed for a real life together where we could have some privacy. I barely gave it a second thought. After all, I couldn't afford an apartment on my own and we were in love. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the answer is a lot. A lot can go wrong when you are figuring out how to cohabit with a partner and also trying to figure out how to live as an adult on your own. Even more can go wrong when your upbringing didn't prepare you at all for the challenge of having a normal relationship with a man. But we will get to that.
I should have seen the red flags start waving right away. Around the time we had picked out an apartment, he got cold feet and insisted that I sign the lease on my own, and he would move in with me later if I was handling the bills ok on my own. I knew I couldn't afford it but I was desperate to get out of my childhood home and I thought he would join me soon enough. I was right and I was also terribly wrong. One night, I was sitting home alone after work and got a call from a platonic friend I worked with. We decided to have a few beers and that's exactly what it was. Still, when Brian found out that I had been hanging out with another guy, he reacted badly and accused me of cheating. The next day, he told me he wanted to move in so that I wouldn't ever need the company of any other guys. I can see you shaking your head right now and asking why I let him. The best reason I can think of is that I was stupid and young and didn't know better.
After Brian moved in, things seemed good for a little while. Around that time, my parents stopped helping me pay for college and threw a great big monkey wrench into my plans. It was the decision of a lifetime : give up on my college and career dreams or take a chance and a ridiculous pile of student loan debt. I chose the ridiculous pile of debt and kept going to school. With the added expense of covering my own tuition and books, the other bills started to get behind. Brian and I started fighting about money a lot. It got so bad that I would put my cell phone on silent so he didn't see yet another voicemail pop up from a bill collector. It wasn't just because I was embarrassed and felt like a failure. It was because I was afraid of his temper and sick of him yelling at me until I cried (always the reaction, never an inquiry as to how he could help). I reached my breaking point in 2007 and decided to file for bankruptcy and start fresh financially. Brian was supportive of this move (probably because it made life easier for him), and my case was discharged several months later. I thought the worst was behind me. I didn't know it was just beginning.
As I continued my education as well as full time factory work, I was basically one big ball of stress. I was up at 7 am for school, worked 3-midnight, and had to stay up after work doing homework. In addition, I was doing all the grocery shopping and cleaning because that's the only way it would get done. He worked full time and spent all the rest of his free time and money doing whatever he wanted. I was so stressed out that I was overeating and put on some weight. My life was in a downward spiral and it was just beginning.
Things were at their worst when I was almost done with college. By this time, Brian and I had been together for 5 years. He had become cruel and controlling, constantly making disparaging remarks about my appearance such as "Don't wear that shirt. I can see your fat rolls. Wear the black t-shirt instead." Or "You need to buy those jeans a couple sizes bigger. Girls your size shouldn't wear hip huggers." I felt terrible about myself, and I was always walking on eggshells around him. If I dared to defend myself, he would resort immediately to yelling at me until I cried and then threatening to leave me until I apologized and promised to listen to him. He tried to control who I talked to, who I saw, and how I did basically everything. I heard "Why can't you do anything right?!" entirely too often. He would even accuse me of cheating if he thought I took too long at the grocery store. The fights became frequent and ranged from money to my appearance and even more allegations of cheating. When he was especially angry, he would back me up against the wall, yelling in my face, and I was actually afraid that he might hit me. He always chose to put a hole in the wall instead. At this point, it was a full-on cycle of abuse and I didn't see it. I didn't know that relationships weren't supposed to be like this. All I knew was that I loved him and I thought this was better than being alone. Over the years, he never did actually put his hands on me but he sure did cause me a lot of pain. The scars he left are invisible, but they're there.
After I graduated from college, I came out of my stress bubble and started having more time to exercise again. I was determined that the last 6 years of my life would not be a waste. I was determined to be good enough for him and finally earn his ultimate approval...marriage. Three more years went by and I continued losing weight, working on my career, and trying to be the perfect "housewife." He didn't have to lift a finger around the house or pay an even half of the bills. I thought if I made his life easy, he would appreciate me again and finally propose. Three more years went by and nothing got better. The fights got worse, the yelling and crying more frequent, and the constant threats were just about weekly. Still I stayed, determined at this point that it would be too hard to start life over again on my own.
In 2012, Brian decided to relocate out of state with his parents and did not even ask for my opinion on the matter. He said he had made up his mind and that I could go too if I wanted. That disregard on its own should have been my last straw but it wasn't. After nearly 9 years together, I told him that I wasn't moving with him unless we were getting married. He acted like that was acceptable. We had several conversations about it, planning the move and the wedding. He pretended like it was going to happen. Then, one day, he told the truth. It was never going to happen, and he had known it for some time. That was the end. In the Spring of 2012, he moved out and I found myself single for the first time in nearly a decade. I was 28 and terrified of what the future held for me. I wondered who would ever love someone as broken as me. I didn't know how to fix myself.
After Brian moved away, I was a wreck for the first few months. I went to work and cried in the bathroom, came home and cried for several more hours. He continued to text me from his new locale, claiming that he missed me and wanted to be sure I was ok, and still trying to keep tabs on who I was talking to/hanging out with. After he had been gone about 6 months and I was finally starting to move on, he called and begged me to give him another chance. He promised we would get married this time and told me all about his new area, seemingly the promised land full of good jobs and sunshine. I planned a trip there to visit, and of course he was on his best behavior. As cycles go, I was sucked back in and I began making plans to move there and rekindle our relationship.
Less than a week before I was set to move, I was so excited. I had already put down a deposit on my new apartment and quit my soul-sucking dead end job back home. I was ready for this new life. Then, my phone rang. It was Brian, and he was calling to confess something major: he was already seeing someone else. I was aghast, shocked, and angry. Most people would have called off the move altogether but I really wasn't happy in my home state and my career was going nowhere. I decided to move anyway, because I was excited about starting my life in a new place and didn't want to stay in Ohio. At that point, the relationship was truly over in my mind forever. There was no fixing this, and I was ready to start a new life on my own.
The New Beginning
After I moved, the pieces of my life that had been in disarray began to fall into place. This really was the promised land. I had a great new career within 2 weeks, loved my new apartment, and experienced life as a single girl in the exciting city. The weight kept falling off and I was finally able to enjoy cute clothes again. I felt pretty again, and stronger than ever. Best of all, I was finally strong enough to reject Brian when he tried a couple more times to get me back. I was strong enough to end the cycle of abuse and learn to love myself again.
It has now been a year and a half since I moved to my new city. My career in sales is very successful, I've lost nearly 50 lbs, and I've never felt stronger as an independent woman. As for Brian, he is now a dad and texts me occasionally just to say hi. I am friendly but distant. I've forgiven him but I will never forget. I often find myself wondering if his new girlfriend is going through any of the same emotional and verbal abuse that I did. I hope not. Nobody deserves to be torn down like that. My new friends here have no clue about any of this. Until now, I haven't felt ready to share my life-changing story with the world.
For all the good things I have to say about my new life, there is one puzzle piece that I still haven't figured out and that's how to have a healthy relationship with a man. I've dated a few new guys and even fallen in love with one, but the sad truth is that, at 30 years old, I don't know how to have the loving 50/50 partnership I want and I haven't found anyone who wants the same thing and is willing to work on it patiently with me. I still find it difficult to trust men not to hurt me. I hope someday to find someone who will love my fears away every day.
The reason I have chosen to tell my story is because I know there are others out there who are dealing with cycles of emotional and verbal abuse. If my account can help just one person find the strength to leave a bad situation, I will sleep better at night...even though I'm still sleeping alone.