“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover
the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.”
- Max Lerner
I met my abuser when I was in my senior year of college. He was 28, and I was just about to turn 21. He introduced me to exciting activities like snowboarding and rock climbing. We traveled across the globe and both thrived on new experiences. I thought we had a healthy relationship, and that he was a considerable improvement over other guys I had dated. He paid a lot of attention to me and was always telling me how lucky he was to be with me. He had a way of making me feel special.
I did notice pretty quickly that he could be moody and that he had a temper. However, I never took any of his outbursts personally as he always had a slew of “explanations” for his behavior. I was the type of person who never let things get to me, so I thought we were pretty well matched. If he was having an outburst, I would simply walk away and give him time to cool off. Whenever he complained, I tried to fix whatever was vexing him. I was convinced that he would have done the same for me if I asked him to. Yet, I did notice that he tended to have rather explosive responses to seemingly minor upsets. In truth, it didn’t take much at all to set him off. Initially, the blow ups occurred only occasionally, but over the 6 years we were together they grew increasingly more frequent and violent.
After we had been dating a few months, I was accepted to a Physician Assistant Program. He gave me an ultimatum that we either get engaged or move in together. I was not ready to be engaged, so I agreed to move in. I attributed his rush to the fact that he was older and in a hurry to settle down. Although we lived together for several years, it was always clear that the house was his and not mine. He would complain anytime I brought anything home that we didn’t have space for it. I was never allowed to bring in any of the furniture that my parents had saved for me (they eventually gave it away to his brothers). I wasn’t able to redecorate in any way, shape, or form. The only area of the house that I was allowed to change was the yard. He let me put in a few flower gardens, which then caused him to have an absolute meltdown about me “taking over the entire yard”.
He never had me help with any of the bills, but I was expected to clean, buy groceries, cook, do laundry, take care of his cat, mow the lawn, and help with any home improvement projects. He would often leave a mess all over the house and then rant and rave about what a pig sty we lived in (truthfully, he would often have tantrums over anything simple to remedy rather than take care of it himself- something that seemed like a tremendous waste of energy to me). While he would say he wanted me to feel welcome, he never actually acted like it. He would turn his nose up at my cooking and insist the food tasted like “there are chemicals in it”. In one instance, I made him brownies. After he refused to eat them, I let my mother take them. My mom then happened to serve them while we were visiting, and he told her about how delicious they were and terrible mine were. Then he became irate when we laughed to each other as if we had been conspiring against him the entire time.
Once I started PA school, things began to escalate. I was constantly reminded that I was “no fun”, “studied too much”, made his life miserable, was depressed, and thought I was smarter than him. Yet, while he complained about my dedication to school, he regularly was preoccupied with his two greatest loves in life: drinking and computers. He rarely paid attention to me, unless it was to point out something I needed to improve upon; and when it was time to celebrate the holidays he always cut time with my family short in order to spend more time drinking with his brothers.
When I graduated from PA school, he announced to my family that he deserved an award for “putting up with me” for the 27 months it took to complete the program. That was the extent of his ability to be supportive. Not to say that he wasn’t capable of being completely charming and thoughtful because he was. However, it was always in a very calculated and manipulative fashion. In fact, he was an incredibly gifted manipulator. He would make me feel guilty about everything. Everything and anything that upset him was always my fault. If anything upset me, that was also my fault. I was criticized for not being assertive enough, for being too assertive, for working too much, for not drinking or having fun (we clearly had different definitions of fun by this point), for not wanting to hang out with his ex-girlfriend and her daughter; and for being childish, psychotic, and self-centered (his reasoning- “you only do nice things for other people because it makes you feel good”). He made me feel guilty for “burdening” my mother with my problems, and went into a rage if he ever called my phone and I didn’t answer, claiming that I “never pick up the phone”.
Of course, all of this was just the preview. On the day of our wedding, it all came crashing to a head.
At this point I am sure you are wondering why anyone in her right mind would marry someone like this. Let me explain: 1) Hindsight is 20/20. All of these behaviors built slowly over time. During the same time, my abuser was doing an exceedingly efficient job of needling my self-esteem and making me question my sanity. He did all of this under the guise of being “very concerned” and caring about me deeply. It was not uncommon to hear “I love deeply you, but…” 2) I thought we were in a rut and it would get better. I truly believed I was in a funk and that when I got better that our relationship would too. I had unknowingly been walking on eggshells for years, trying to avoid saying or doing anything that might set him off. He made it so clear that I was what was holding him back and making him miserable in life. I convinced myself I could fix it if I just tried harder to make him happy. 3) I still identified him as the person he was when we first dated, even if that wasn’t the reality. I was certain that he would do anything for me, and that he had just never had the opportunity because I never asked for anything.
Then came my wedding day. What an awakening! I can honestly say it was the most eye-opening, traumatic, and life changing experience of my life. It shattered my perception of reality and turned my entire world on its head. I wanted a destination wedding- something intimate and secluded. He and his family wanted a “real” wedding. I was overruled. I got stuck planning and paying for most of it. Anytime I had an idea, I was reminded that I didn’t want a wedding anyway so I should let him have what he wanted. My requests were simple: First, I did not want small children there. If he insisted on having his nieces and nephew there (all 5 and under) then I wanted him to explain to his brother (who frequently became drunk at family functions and dumped his kids on me to watch) that he MUST watch his children or not bring them. As you might imagine, having two dead beat parents- his kids were both hellions. Second, I wanted to start on-time. We had a limited amount of time at the facility, and I didn’t want to waste it waiting on someone who didn’t care enough to be prompt. Finally, I begged him not to get drunk. I wanted to actually share the day together and not have to take care of him at the end of the night. He managed 0/3, not because the requests were difficult; but, simply because he didn’t care that they were important to me. It was a nightmare. His family and guests were rude, got drunk , played frisbee with the plates and football, hit on my friends, and the kids ran a muck- with the final stroke being his nephew sticking his entire face in the wedding cake.
I had enough. I was sick with disgust. I couldn’t believe how blatantly disrespectful one group of people could be to another person’s feelings. This was not a frat party; it was an intimate wedding at a winery. When we arrived back at the house, his brother told me that if his kids were misbehaving that I should have done something about it. I calmly explained that it wasn’t my responsibility, and he laughed in my face. My husband did nothing about it because he was too busy getting wasted to the point of not knowing his own name. That is when I lost it. I told him his behavior was unacceptable and that he shouldn’t bring his children to parties if he didn’t intend on watching them. He played the typical victim card that I was being unfairly mean to him and left early. His family railroaded me for this, claiming that I embarrassed myself and that he was too drunk to know what he was doing. None of them thought it was a problem that he drove home that way with his two kids in the car. He could do no wrong, and I was a disgrace. They were also upset that I disapproved of their drunken frat party behavior, and pointed out the “weddings are parties” and I should have expected it. I countered that “receptions are parties and weddings are an intimate exchange of vows between two people” but my argument fell on deaf ears, as there is no point in reasoning with delusional people. I did take an opportunity to write a much calmer email and explain to my abuser’s brother why I was so upset with him, but he never responded or apologized. Instead, he shopped a story around to his family about how I hated his children (even though I spent more time caring for them than he did, bought their clothes, and took them on outings while he ranted about having their mother killed) and blew up for no reason. I was subsequently ridiculed for my “crazy” behavior, told I needed “anger management”, and uninvited from Christmas because my abuser’s brother refused to go if I was there.
In an ironic twist of fate, this rift between my abuser’s family and I put accelerant on an already blazing fire. He was threatened by my refusal to back down. His behavior escalated as he tried to get me back under control. He began screaming , throwing and breaking things, and calling me names on a regular basis. At no point did he stand up for me despite admitting that his family’s behavior was wrong. Instead, he also pointed out that I was “psychotic,” “acting like a 5-year-old”, “unable to handle any little thing“, and in need of “anger management”. On our 2 month anniversary, he drove this point home by hitting me with his pillow, shoving me off the bed, and repeatedly throwing me into walls and furniture before finally throwing me out- in the middle of the night while it was down pouring. I made it out of the house only with my work clothes and my dogs. I never had a chance to fight back or defend myself. He caught me off guard because we hadn’t even been fighting. It came out of no where. I was terrified of the look in his eye. He was completely out of his mind and out of control. Most disturbing- he was smiling. He had enjoyed pushing me around. In his head, he was teaching me a lesson. He later told me it was because he was being “mentally abused” and “couldn’t take it anymore”.
I went straight to my parents house. It wasn’t until I went to work a few hours later that the gravity of the situation struck me, and I fell apart. I asked my supervisor for the Employee Assistance Hotline number and spoke to a counselor. She firmly told me that it was not my fault- he was the one who lost control. She recommended I go to the police station, so my sister and mother brought me to file the report. The officer who finally came to “help” me was nearly 3 times my size and felt the need to take it upon himself to ridicule me in front of the rest of the force. He told them I was “only married for 2 months and already at the police station”. He gave me an attitude for not calling while my husband was in the act of beating me because it would have saved them a lot of time and paperwork. He said he was only going to charge him with disorderly conduct because “it’s not like he hit your face,” and that I would probably get back with him anyway so this was really all just a waste of his time. When I described the size and location of my bruises his reply was “that’s all?” Then he explained that I was not eligible for a restraining order because feeling like your life is in danger and actually being verbally threatened are not the same thing. When it was all over, the station claimed they were too busy to provide a police escort and left me on my own to retrieve my belongings.
I am very blessed to have a tremendous support network. My sister’s husband immediately took action to help me reclaim my possessions. My coworkers all offered words of support and encouragement, and my parents allowed my dogs and I to stay with them for over 6 months while I saved for a house (no small inconvenience!). I finally have put my life back together, but it has been a long, arduous process. I have experienced crippling anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, obsessive cleaning, and a host of other post-traumatic symptoms. Although they have lessened dramatically, I don’t know that I will ever be rid of them completely. I am thankful, however, to finally have gained back my self-esteem and sense of identity. I feel like running has played a big part in that. I also owe a great deal to Susan Omilian, her My Avenging Angel Workshops, and all the women in her group.
Since starting this blog, I have run in (and survived!) two Tough Mudders, multiple Half Marathons, a Full Marathon, the very first Spartan Ultra Beast, and, most recently, my second 50K trail Ultra. Many of these races were a part of my Running for the Color Purple Campaign which I started as a way to give back to CT-ALIVE- the organization that funds Susan’s workshops and had helped me so much. As a survivor of abuse and THRIVER I feel it is not only my responsibility to help raise money and awareness for victims of domestic violence, but also to give hope to other survivors that anything is possible. To date I have raised over a thousand dollars for the Never Going Back to Abuse Project and hopefully some spirits along the way! Through my fundraising efforts I have also had the opportunity to join the CT-ALIVE board and help other women transition from survivor to thriver.
My life has changed in so many ways, beyond anything I could have imagined. I was always a happy person- even through most of the abuse. However, now I am happier and stronger than I ever! Rebuilding my life after abuse was both the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life; and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I also don’t regret any of it. The fact of the matter is, the roughest patches of our lives are what help mold and define us. They force us to change because they offer only two options: crumble or overcome. I chose to rise up and overcome. No person or situation is going to defeat me in this life- not while I still have breath in my lungs. Bottom line: living, leaving, and rebuilding after abuse have helped make me the person I am today, and I like who I am.
Susan Omilian begins here workshops with the quote that “living well is the best revenge”, and I believe she is right. However, I am beyond the point of wanting revenge. I have found contentment and have truly moved beyond (FINALLY!) even thinking about the abuse. The abuse can’t control me anymore. I am in charge of my own life and happiness.
I hope that by sharing my story and journey that I can help other victims of domestic violence realize they are not alone and don’t need to be silent any longer.
victims survivors still suffering abuse- no matter how bleak or hopeless your situation may seem, there is a happy, productive life waiting for you if you’re willing to work for it. There are people in this world who will be willing to help you. Stop listening to the lies your abuser is feeding you and free yourself. Find a safe plan and get out! Men who belittle and try to control women do not change; they only manipulate people into thinking they’ve changed. Don’t become another statistic. Your life is too important!
If you or someone you know may be suffering from domestic abuse, please get help.