With all of the talk about Domestic Violence lately, I figured now is as good a time as any to tell my “Why I Stayed” story. I used to live in a shelter for abused women and their children. It was there that I learned how domestic violence encompasses not only physical abuse, but mental and sexual abuse as well. Before we get into that, let me give you a little history and show you how it may correlate to someone staying in a relationship that is no good for them.
I grew up in a dysfunctional home, much like the rest of the world, but I did not realize how dysfunctional it was until I got older and after I’d had a couple of children of my own. My father was in the Navy for most of my childhood. My mother was a stay-at-home mom but ended up working full-time, outside of the home, a few years before she and my dad divorced. Growing up I saw my parents argue and fight with each other and I always thought that was normal.
Sidenote: I think that kids should see their parents argue but I also feel that they should see them resolve their issues and make-up… I mean, how else can we teach them problem solving skills and to work with people who are different than they are, if they always think that everything is easy and the 2 most important people in their lives never have any issues???
The arguing quickly turned into physical fighting and, even as a child, I knew that this was not right. I saw my dad grab and hit my mother in ways that a man should never place his hands on a woman. I remember wanting to protect my mother, and actually trying to physically protect her a time or two, only to be slapped or knocked unconscious myself. I also remember, as my siblings and I got older, my younger brother and my dad physically fighting like they didn’t know and love each other. It appalls me to think that my father, being the adult and thought to be “mature one” in the matter, thought this was okay.
I am not saying that children should not be disciplined but there is a fine line between abuse and discipline and my father clearly crossed it. One of my most vivid memories from my childhood was a time when my mom and dad had divorced but they were thinking about getting back together. My dad had come to pick us all up from my grandmother’s house and we left with him. This was a day that could have changed my life forever, and actually did change my life, probably more than I am aware of even at the moment.
So, we were driving and were supposed to be going on a picnic however, we ended up driving for miles and miles and ended up in, what we like to refer to as, “the middle of nowhere”. I could tell that something was not right but my mom was speechless and looked as if she had seen a ghost. She didn’t speak a word until we arrived at a gas station that my dad had stopped at to fill up. When he got out of the car and went in to pay the attendant, my mother had quickly grabbed the phone, that my father had accidentally left sitting in the cup holder, and dialed my grandmother and prayed that she would pick-up. I guess someone picked up because mom started quickly telling the person on the other end to call the police and gave the description of the vehicle and the description of my dad. All I remember is that she mentioned the word “gun” and I almost lost it.
Dad got back in the car and decided to turn around, in the direction we had come from, and headed back to the city, where grandma lived. Why did he do this? I have no clue but it was in that moment that I thought someone, an angel or someone, must have been looking out for us because we ended up arriving back in the city and the police sirens were going off behind us telling my dad to pull over. He pulled over and was arrested on the spot. They searched the vehicle and later my siblings and I found out that my father had 2 guns and rope and tape in the trunk. The story that we were told was that he was planning to kill my siblings and I, my mom and was then going to turn the gun on himself and kill himself. I don’t know how true that is but I believe that my dad probably would have done it had it not been for my mother’s quick thinking, my grandmother’s prayer, and our guardian angels.
As I got older, and began to have children myself, I knew that I did not want to go through what my mom went through. Statistically, children who see their parents fighting and being in an abuser/abused relationship are more likely to be in that type of relationship, at some point, in their lifetime. Crazy, right? So although I never wanted this type of relationship for myself, I quickly found myself in this type of relationship, unknowingly. My ex-husband and I had a toxic relationship from the start. There were plenty of red flags and signs that we should never had gotten married but I chose to look past all of that. I was one of the many women that felt like I could “change” a man and show my ex that not all women were the same. He gave me sob story after sob story about women leaving him and I am, by nature, a fixer so I felt like I just needed to stay and try to fix him. I decided to try to show him that not all women would leave him and then everything would be fine and we would live ‘happily ever after’. Obviously that did not happen.
During our dating relationship, he and I got into arguments but we always were able to makeup, which I guess is why I never thought of it as being a bad relationship to be in. Our arguments were pretty typical and did not happen that often. After we got married I learned that he had a history of sleeping around, mainly with prostitutes, and had slept with over 100 women (or prostitutes). Being the woman that I am, and not wanting to experience divorce, I forgave him and made up in my mind that I would stay and try to make our marriage work.
Shortly afterwards, I learned that I was pregnant with our first child. I learned that I had a STD called Trichomoniasis. Thankfully it was not permanent and I only had to take medication for it for about a week and it was gone but that crushed my spirit because I knew that I had been with no one but my husband so I knew he had been unfaithful to me. I brought this to his attention and this is when the verbal/emotional abuse began. He quickly told me that I was the one that had cheated and to stop accusing him of things that he did not do.
About 6 months later, he was fired from his job for looking at nude photos on his cell phone. He came home and told me and, once again, I decided to stay and forgive him, because I did not “believe” in divorce and I already had a child that I was going to have to raise alone, if I went through with leaving him. So, fear was definitely a big part of me staying at that point. Shortly after that, my ex joined the Army and it seemed that everything was great, between us, again. He was stationed in Fort Campbell, KY and we later joined him there. At this time, I had 2 children to care for. He was deployed about 3 months after arriving at Campbell and I was left alone, in a new town, and with 2 children but somehow, I made it work and made some great friends along the way.
While he was overseas, we had been told not to bring any upsetting news up in our conversations with our loved ones because it would cause them to not focus on the mission and could get them killed so for the entire year of his first deployment (and the next deployment after that) I did not mention anything about finding out about his unacceptable “extracurricular activities”.
Out of the blue, I had received an email from a young lady that my husband had known in high school, and that he had been talking to in a sexual manner, and this was during the time that my husband had been gone for about 2 months. She forwarded all of their text messages and emails to me and I could hardly believe what I was reading. I then found out about a number of other women that he had been speaking to, while I was delivering his second child – which he was not at the hospital for – and it definitely brought me to tears.
Shortly after my ex had come home from his first deployment, he had gotten so angry with me and knocked me out of the bed, landed on top of me and choked me almost unconscious. He proceeded to tell me that he could kill me in 100 different ways. Our kids were in the next room and I finally kicked him enough to where he had gotten off of me and was able to call the Military Police. He had to remain out of the home for 3 days, since we were living on post at this time, and when he came back I thought he had “changed” and was really sorry for what he had done. That was not the case.
To make a long story short…between all of the emotional and physical abuse that I suffered, at the hands of my ex-husband, I decided to take it upon myself to get away, once and for all. I had tried many times before but had always returned to him. I remember feeling scared and unworthy of being loved, ugly and just feeling like everything was my fault. “If only I would” and “if only I had not” were a major part of my vocabulary back then. It took me a very long time to heal. The physical wounds healed a lot quicker (and easier) than the mental wounds. I strongly believe that mental/verbal abuse is something that we can carry around, and not truly be free from, for many years, even a lifetime, if not dealt with.
You see, no one can escape this stigma. Domestic violence crosses all boundaries, including: age, ethnicity, socioeconomic, religious, and educational. Many stay for various reasons. I stayed out of fear, because I thought that I could change him and because I did not truly know how to value myself, as a person and, more importantly, as a woman. So, in honor of this month of Domestic Violence Awareness, I urge you that if you, or someone you know, are a victim of domestic violence please talk to someone and get help. No relationship (whether family, romantic, work, etc) is worth it.