3 a day.
Every day in this country, 3 women die as a result of domestic violence. (According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)
I’ve always thought of myself as a strong person but it was on Cinco de Mayo nearly 10 years ago that I realized that I was about to become one of those statistics.
It started innocently enough, we met on an airplane coming back to Charlotte from a NASCAR race that we were both working. I had just gotten out of a serious relationship and moved across the country for what I thought was my dream job. That job ended faster than it took me to drive across country for it so I was left in a strange city trying to figure out what was next for me.
He was charismatic. He was athletic and handsome. He was TOTALLY into me. After leaving my previous relationship after repeated infidelity, that last quality felt really good.
I don’t remember the first incident but I do remember feeling increasingly unsafe when there was drinking involved. I chalked it up to the booze, never once categorizing it as domestic violence. Then the need to control me and the suspicions about my integrity started to be more and more frequent, even without booze. There were threats to my own safety and to his own.
The actual physical abuse didn’t start until a few months into the relationship and got worse and worse each time. And still, I never once categorized what I was living through as domestic violence.
He would get mad at me and keep me prisoner. He would destroy my phone so I couldn’t call for help. He would destroy my things to make me feel bad or “teach me” to respect him and him alone.
There would be incredible outbursts. Followed by extreme regret and remorse. Assurances that I was loved. That I was respected. That it wouldn’t happen again.
I felt trapped. I felt conflicted. I felt alone.
I felt shame and I isolated myself.
Then that Cinco de Mayo, when he punched me in the face, choked me to the point of passing out and popping the blood vessels in both my eyes, I woke up. Thankfully. I went to work the next day and made up some crazy story about how paint cans fell on me and did the damage to my face. The manager at the restaurant I was working at pulled me into the office and told me that if something else was going on, she was there for me. No questions asked.
She didn’t ask what really happened. She knew. She didn’t reprimand me. She knew I was doing a good enough job of that on my own. She knew that I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone and it wasn’t my fault and she was right.
I opened up to a few of my girlfriends about what was going on. I reached out to my ex. I started to feel stronger, more like myself, and a plan came into shape. I just needed to endure until he was gone at a race – I picked the race that was the farthest distance the crew would drive to, assuring that he couldn’t get back to town quickly if someone told him what was going down.
I started to organize my things, under the pretense of spring cleaning when in actuality, I was getting them into bins that I could clear out quickly and easily. I rented a Uhaul. I rented a storage unit. And that morning that I dropped him off to his ride to the race, I felt free and ready. And out of my mind scared.
It’s ironic that at that point in my life when I’ve never felt so alone, is when I quickly realized I wasn’t. There were so many people who rushed to my side to help. Even flew across the country to help me escape. Friends who opened their doors to me despite the valid threat of me being found and what that would mean. Friends who loved me back to life and for that, I will be forever indebted to them.
I’m the classic case of “it will never happen to me” but it did. I am a survivor of domestic violence. There is still a part of me that feels shame in getting myself into that situation but there is a bigger part of me that is proud of finding the strength to survive and find a way out.
If you are reading this and you think that you might be in that same situation, you are not alone. There is a way out and there is no one more worthy of that than you.
Domestic Violence Resources
Read this 11 Step Guide to Leaving Your Abuser from another domestic violence survivor.
Call 800-799-7233 (National Domestic Violence Hotline) or visit their website http://www.thehotline.org/ if you feel like you need help.