When I was 18 I dated a guy who sold me drugs. It was the best possible scenario at the time. We lived with his mom and his grandma at different points in our relationship because he wasn’t allowed at my parents’ house. But I got all the pills I wanted, and as a result my relationship with my family deteriorated.
When I was 18, this guy I dated who sold me drugs slashed his arm in front of my in a drug-fueled haze and told me to leave him to die. He subsequently told me if I left him he would kill himself.
When I was 19 I met a guy who promised to save me from the Hell I was living in and help me restore my relationship with my family. Without a word, without a single belonging I left to live with him while my ex blew up my phone, threatening to kill himself, promising to get help, and calling my job to tell them I was selling drugs out of the store, that I was a whore and a thief. I thought I was safe.
When I was 19 I dated a guy who seemed to be everything I wanted. More than I deserved. But slowly he groomed me until I could no longer step outside of the house without confrontation. He followed me to the bathroom, kept my phone on him at all times to read and respond to my messages. If I made eye contact with another man, I was a cheater and a slut. He deleted all the male contacts from my phone. I lost a lot of friends.
When I was 19 the guy I dated who wanted to control me locked me in a room with him and screamed at me for hours, calling me a slut and a whore and a liar, calling me worthless and pathetic. He told me I was lucky he didn’t hit me, because he’d made a promise to God that he’d never hit another woman.
When I was 20 something I finally found my prince charming. I knew he was meant for me and he treated me like a queen. I was sure I didn’t deserve him.
Maybe I taught him how to treat me based on my past experiences. Maybe I pushed him to the breaking point. Maybe I ruined him. Maybe I just didn’t see the signs.
When I was 28 he put his hands around my throat and told me he would kill me. The cops didn’t believe me. He convinced them that I attacked him.
When I was 28 I left my husband, by force. I couldn’t take my kids. I couldn’t take my belongings. I went to live with my mom.
If I had a choice, I would still be with him.
For a long time I believed that abuse meant visible bruises and scars. Abuse meant being hit. I’d never let a man lay his hands on me, I said.
For years I beat myself up for allowing my ex boyfriend to force himself on me in a public park. I didn’t want to. I said no. But in the end, I let him. It wasn’t rape, right? If I had fought more he would have stopped—right?
When my husband guilted me and punished me into having sex with him, I thought it was my duty to submit to him. If I was a better wife I would give him what he wanted. We made a deal that I would have sex with him any time he wanted and in exchange he would allow me to stay in the house with our children.
I always thought that abuse meant bruises and scars. I didn’t realize I’d been groomed for abuse since the first guy I dated out of high school. I’d been conditioned to believe that if I gave enough, they would treat me right. I’d been conditioned to believe that yelling and screaming and belittling and name calling and threats weren’t the same as physical violence. As long as they never hit me—
Abuse is so much more than physical altercation. Abuse is psychological. Abuse is covert. Abuse begins with small, manipulative comments, so small that you don’t even realize what’s happening to you. Abuse begins with questioning your own reality until you don’t know what to believe, so you trust whatever you’re told.
Sometimes, it ends with being yanked out of bed and thrown against a wall. If we’re lucky.
Writing this right now, I feel ashamed for even considering myself an abuse survivor. What I’ve survived isn’t nearly as bad as what others have.
But that’s the trap. The trap we throw ourselves into. It’s not as bad as someone else’s experience. So we should just suck it up.
I’m not writing this post for sympathy, or to justify my experiences and say “it was abuse”.
I’m writing this post to show women everywhere that abuse isn’t always what they show in the movies. It isn’t always what we’re led to believe. And it’s a lot easier than so many of us realize to become a victim of abuse. Because more often than not, it doesn’t happen all at once.
I’m more than the abuse that’s been afflicted upon me. I am no longer defined by my abuse or my abusers. I’m no longer defined by my past, nor am I living in the past.
We are warriors. We are survivors. And we will never stop fighting.
If you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship, or are questioning whether you might be, please reach out for help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for resources and help.