I Was Secretly In A Relationship With My Abuser

Photo: Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock
sad woman crying

On New Year's Eve 2011, the man I loved and shared my world with brutally beat me and left me on the side of a country road.

I was left in a heap on the sidewalk in 20-degree weather with a sprained ankle, two eyes too swollen to see out of, and a concussion that rendered me too dizzy to walk for more than a few feet.

My face was so covered in blood I couldn't identify the origin of the bleeding. In a heap on the sidewalk, I clutched my fishnet-clad knees to my chest and made silent deals with the God I hadn't spoken to in years. I listened as the neighboring house counted down to midnight. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Happy New Year.

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He had never hit me before that night. He hadn't laid a hand on me, not in the two lovely years of our union.

We shared a home together in the city with a lively crew of other college-aged friends. Work was stressful and city life was hard, but we relished the comfort of the sanctuary we had built.

At night we would bask in the glow of loving and being loved; making elaborate dinners, watching back-to-back movies, and taking drives through the winding hilltop roads surrounding our home, picking out which house with a city view would someday be ours. This is love, I thought to myself as I would walk rain-soaked from the bus stop every night. I finally found it.

I was raised as a feminist, and I have never known a time when I haven't identified as one.

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The immigrant side of my family was one of a matriarchal society, and my all-American mother has been fighting for women’s equality in our small red state her whole career.

I was well versed in women’s rights on a societal level. Somehow, between reading A Room of One’s Own and holding my junior high school accountable for slut-shaming, there had been a disconnect. I forgot that it was my own treatment I had been fighting for.

I forgot that I was a woman who deserved equality, too.

Upon a tearful phone call to my parents, my mother watched in horror as I returned to the home Mike and I shared. I assured her it wouldn't happen again. I told her to leave me to make my own choices. I told her I needed him, he needed me.

My friend sent a snapshot of my black and blue face. My family, horrified and powerless, took matters into their own hands and sent the evidence to the police.

He was arrested two days later in our living room, pictures of us all around, Anthropologie candles blazing.

My roommates held my hand and fed me chocolate, unsure of what to say after watching my little world collapse in 48 hours. With no job and no money, I had no choice but to pack up my belongings and return solemnly to my childhood home 8 hours away.

How can I describe how it felt beyond a "living nightmare"? How had my perfect, dreamy world been turned upside down so quickly?

I didn't want to press charges, but the county we lived in took it into their own hands. The brutality of the beating combined with his admission created a strong enough case for them without me, the victim. I had not had control from the moment he punched me and I didn’t have control over how it was handled.

I was helpless, I was out of control, and my future was suddenly hazy and dark. I counted down the days until the courts would allow us to talk again.

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And sure enough, six months later to the day, I called him. "I love you," he told me, "I'll never hurt you again. Please come home."

And those words were all I needed to justify speeding across the border at 80 mph, listening to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros on repeat, straight into his arms.

"I love you too," I told him. "I know you didn't mean to."

I was certain that I was the only person on this planet acquainted with his demons enough to understand that what he did hurt him more than it hurt me.

I told my family that I was returning to my longtime dream of cosmetology school and to be with the friends I had left so abruptly.

To quell their fears about my abusive relationship, I spun elaborate lies about my love of the culture and the city, and my need to develop my skills in a thriving hair community. I was active on social media as if it were a full-time job, ensuring that I took every available opportunity to paint a picture of myself thriving.

I participated in extracurricular activities, devoted myself to my new craft, and kept a strict schedule for Weekly Social Appearances among my friends.

After I arrived, it took him three weeks to try to kill me, pushing me down and stepping on my throat while I gagged my apologies. He raped me and bought me a new Deisel outfit the next day. "Sorry," he said. "I was in a bad mood."

And for months after, I focused tirelessly on my new career during the day. The night was focused on keeping myself alive.

Before I slept I would reprimand myself for my stupidity, and when I awoke I would start the cycle of abuse over. Long gone were the days of dinners, movies, and drives just because.

I remember him holding me down on the floor to rub a rotting cheeseburger from the trash in my face.

After washing it off, I took the opportunity to redo my makeup and take a "#MOTD" selfie, to which I got a lot of "I'm glad you are doing so well," and "You look amazing" feedback. I was the master of manipulation. My secret was so completely mine, it was terrifying.

To cover up my circumstances, I would share and comment on articles on my Facebook and Twitter timelines detailing how domestic abuse needs to be talked about

Articles saying things like "It could be your sister, your mother," or "It is our duty as a society to put a stop to the cycle of abuse." Smoke and mirrors.

I became a hashtag advocate against rape culture and was active online during the Steubenville backlash. I became an online crusader against victim-blaming. The more I became outraged about these women's treatment, the more I was able to identify as what I was: a victim.

After our last fight, he picked me up by my throat and held me up against the wall until I passed out.

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He had become savvy since the first attack, now bruising me in places that were easy to cover. My neck to my hips was lined in finger-shaped bruises and burns from the carpet where he had dragged my unconscious body.

He again threw me out of a moving car, landing me in a familiar position. With my knees against my chest, curled up in a ball and begging for God to hear me. "I will do anything," I whispered. "Anything."

This time, with a picture of us in my lap, and hot tears streaming down my face, I called the probation officer assigned to him for the initial beating.

I told her everything about our abusive relationship. Every single detail. And after I told her, I told everyone around me. I told my best friends, I told my co-workers, and I told my family. I told strangers. I screamed it from the rooftops. I told anyone who would listen.

I held my hand out to other victims, understanding the shame they felt to my very core. I was so afraid that if I stopped talking I would start to hear his demons whispering in my ears again. Telling me, "I love you, come home, I will never hurt you again."

In the wake of the media frenzy surrounding

I feel that it is my duty as a survivor to be louder than ever. Victims need to be able to see the community of survivors as clearly as they see the imminent danger present in their lives every day.

As a community we must be loud, we must be vocal, and we must be active. We must be willing to keep each other afloat, at all costs.

We must empathize with the psychological warfare being perpetrated against these victims every day. We must present ourselves publicly and with pride, and we must create a long-term safety net for these men and women to land in when they get too tired to fight.

We must be here for one another, side by side with neon signs flashing "You are not and have never been alone. Did you hear me? You are not and have never been alone."

xoJane was an American online magazine from 2011-2016 geared toward women and founded by Jane Pratt and co-published by Say Media.

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