Heartbreak

My Life As An Abused Wife

Photo: Yupa Watchanakit / Shutterstock
woman sitting on bed looking out window

Thirty years ago, my boyfriend hit me for the first time.

We were arguing in the rented bedroom of his mother’s house. I was twenty-one years old, six months pregnant, and working myself through nursing school, with his help, of course.

The argument was something ordinary and forgettable. I was under a lot of stress, with a baby on the way and in a race to finish school so I could share in the responsibility of supporting a budding family.

He was intelligent and educated, having graduated college in engineering and had a new full-time job with responsibilities. He was also emotionally unpredictable and had an increasingly violent temper. He’d finally lost it.

That day I learned very quickly what he was capable of doing to me.

I’d felt trapped and unloved. My self-esteem plummeted with each degrading word that came out of his mouth:

I didn’t appreciate him. I didn’t respect him. Nobody except him tolerated me. How could anyone ever want to be with me and a baby? I wasn’t even attractive; I was fat and gross. How did I expect to succeed in this world? Look at me. I was a loser without him.

I snapped back, and he punished me for it.

RELATED: 8 Early Warning Signs Of Silent Domestic Abuse

I sat on the edge of my bed, listening to his pleas to stay with him while rubbing out the pain from the bruises on my body.

Instead of leaving him for good that day, I decided to stay.

I was carrying his child, and I had to make this relationship work. I needed his financial support. Besides, he apologized. He promised that he’d change. He was stressed out, and I’d pushed him too far. I probably deserved to be put in my place.

So, I vowed I would never do anything ever again to make him cross that line.

My choice to stay and “work it out” started a cycle of domestic abuse that continued for the next twelve years.

That line I vowed to never cross again was crossed so many times; I couldn’t count. After a while, I realized I had very little say on where that line lay in our relationship.

When I was a child, my upbringing conditioned me to become a victim of intimate partner violence. I was raised by a single mother in a hand-to-mouth culture of near poverty.

I learned to work my butt off and to make do with little. I also learned that women put up with abusive men, as I watched one barfly after another invade our home to take advantage of my mom, and contribute nothing but more chaos into our lives. I was also abused by these men who lived with us for short (or long) periods, and I suffered in silence.

I pushed back against this in my preteens with short stints of running away. As a teenager, I further coped by getting a half-time job and going to high school, which kept me away from home most of the time.

Then I closed the circle by leaving home and running into the arms of the first man who showed me any attention. He predictably turned into a man as abusive as all the male role models I had growing up.

For twelve years, I experienced many forms of abuse from him. The battering was only part of this vicious cycle.

The cycle would start with him creating unrealistic expectations that I needed to live up to, and which I failed.

RELATED: 15 Undeniable (But Often-Overlooked) Warning Signs You're In An Abusive Relationship

He put me down, called me a bitch, or told me I was worthless.

The behavior would escalate to yelling, throwing things (so often I’d have to clean food off the wall and broken dishes off the floor), destroying something I cherished, threatening me, or hitting me.

Then he’d apologize, reconcile and promise never to do it again. Life would remain eggshell calm until the next time.

But it was more than that. He humiliated me in public. He flirted with women in front of me. He slept with other women, then accused me of sleeping with other men to deflect his infidelity.

He controlled who I socialized with and how I spent my time. He always made a point of letting me know what a worthless piece of sh*t I was and how nobody else would ever want me.

He was reckless with my Life.

Sometimes I thought I was too stupid and didn’t know any better, and this life was best for me.

Other times, when I thought about leaving, I believed I couldn’t support myself and my kids. His insistence that I was nothing without him continued my belief that I was financially dependent on him like I was when I was in nursing school.

All of these reasons were bullsh*t.

I was educated, affluent, and financially capable. The reasons I stayed were purely emotional. I didn’t leave because I was afraid. I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do that.

Although everyone saw I was being abused, nobody said or did anything. His family enabled him to be abusive towards me and I thought maybe they were afraid of him too.

I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I never filed a police report. My wounds were hidden beneath my clothing and never severe enough to take me to the hospital. My doctor never asked me if I felt safe at home. Instead, I’d get a critical eye, so I’d shut my mouth.

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t the awareness that there is now, and there weren’t as many resources either. Being a victim of domestic violence was a considerable stigma. Society blamed the victim, which was usually the woman. I was too embarrassed to mention my abuse to anyone. If I hinted at being hit, I was ignored or questioned; why didn’t I just leave?

Well, it wasn’t that simple. Leaving wasn’t just a one-time act. Leaving was a process.

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If I tried to leave, the abuse cycle’s intensity increased, ranging from crying, apologies, and gifts, to threats and intimidation, including death threats:

  • I was making him look bad.
  • I was tearing our family apart.
  • I was a selfish bitch and wouldn’t be much longer in this world if I decided to leave.

I was so confused, afraid, and exhausted; it was easier to go back and take the abuse than it was to leave the relationship. I believed that I was handcuffed to this relationship for the rest of my life.

One day I’d had enough. It was another night of him not coming home until 3 am, drunk and loud, and crawling into bed with me to take advantage of my body again.

I realized that I became a disposable object for him to use as he wanted.

My life didn’t matter, it never did. His behavior had become increasingly dangerous; I was afraid that either he was going to kill me, or I was going to kill myself.

I was worried I wouldn’t be there for my kids in the future, and my kids were everything to me.

That’s when I decided to leave for good.

Leaving wasn’t easy. It was the hardest damn thing I’d ever done. When I left for the last time, I made an escape plan. I secretly rented an apartment. I got a U-Haul and planned a date. When that day came, I packed my and my kid's essentials and drove away from our home for good.

I didn’t give him my address for fear that he would come and hurt me. I kept myself as safe as possible.

I confided in a close friend about my “crazy ex” just in case something happened to me and my kids needed to be taken care of. I lived in fear for months.

I worked through all of this on my own, without anyone’s help. I had only myself to rely on for strength and support. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I’m a pretty strong person. However, this was too much for one person to go through by herself.

Without the help of anyone else, I continued my pattern without getting real help to stop my cycle of abuse.

I believed I’d finally broken free and that I was going to find someone who truly loved me. I found another man who made me think he was that person, and I married him.

Three months into my second marriage, he went off on me so severely I was stunned. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t broken my cycle at all. I continued it, just with a different person.

This terrible marriage went on for another six years. I would go into more detail, but honestly, the story is the same. The only difference is that he was a different person. The experiences were varied. Still, overall it was the same cycle of domestic abuse I experienced in my first marriage.

However, by the time I decided to leave my second husband, there was more help in my community. Because of the support, I was able to break my patterns of abuse.

I received counseling. My counselor taught me to work through my shame of what I experienced. She encouraged me to break my cycle of abuse and introduced me to other resources for abused women.

I started going to Al-Anon meetings (different than AA) and was welcomed with compassion and understanding.

Those meetings saved my life.

I still felt shame, but I continued to work on healing. I shared my story and found I was not alone. I started connecting with other women who had experienced similar stories as mine.

I took back the emotional power and control from my abusers and learned to give it to myself. I forgave myself for taking so long to get real help. I worked hard to change and create a life where I was safe, happy, and loved.

Although it took me almost thirty years to get to this place, I got here. It hasn’t been perfect. But because I’d finally received the help I needed, I broke my cycle, and I changed my life for good.

If I were to advise anyone going through what I did, first I’d say stop blaming yourself for the abuse. If your partner fills your mind with shame, you’re being abused. You’ve been brainwashed through manipulation and intimidation. You are being held hostage in your relationship. Start looking at how you’re going to save yourself.

RELATED: 9 Things Abusers Do And Why You Should Leave As Soon As These Signs Of Abuse Appear

Then, I’d emphasize taking steps now to get out in the safest way you are able. Don’t wait for the relationship to get better; it won’t. Let me reemphasize this: YOUR RELATIONSHIP WON’T GET BETTER. He has you exactly where he wants you, and he will keep you there until you are of no further use to him, or you are dead.

Thirdly, please don’t go through this by yourself. Educate yourself on what is happening to you. Don’t try leaving on your own. You’re in a dangerous situation and you will need help.

There are people and agencies out there to help you. Seek out the professional help you’ll need to get out of this relationship. They have seen your story thousands of times. Your situation is not unique. In fact, it’s a typical pattern of domestic abuse. Let them help you.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to let go of a lot of ‘things’ in your life, and I can’t tell you what they are, but I CAN tell you that when you leap, you will fall for a little bit, and then you’ll fly free into a new life.

My process took so long, thirty years, because I didn’t get outside help. My healing would have been so much faster if I’d sought help and resources. I encourage you to find help for a place to stay, to pursue as strong of a support system as you’re able.

Find a domestic violence program in your area. Use the assistance of a domestic violence shelter. You don’t have to be in their shelter to take advantage of their various resources.

Find your advocates to speak for you when you’re too scared, exhausted, or emotionally bankrupt to speak for yourself.

Reach out for help and keep yourself safe. What matters the most is your safety. You deserve to live free of fear. You deserve to be safe and happy.

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and abuse.

Michelle Jaqua is a women's advocate and a writer on medium.com. Her publication, The Virago, has 100+ women writers who share their stories. Visit her page. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.