I put the first incident behind me – the one from the club. He didn’t mean it, I told myself. Maybe I provoked him. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Whatever the case, it wouldn’t happen again.
But a couple of months later the next act of violence came. We were at a party. He had been drinking for a while, and it was nearing 5 a.m. I was tired and wanted to go home and suggested we leave, but he didn’t want to. We argued, it got heated, and then he slapped me. That was it, I thought. We lived together, so mentally I made a plan to move out in a couple of days. But the next night he came back and apologized, promising he wouldn’t drink again. He said he would get help. Sadly, I believed him.
With that, a new cycle of violence began. Had I never been trapped in a cycle of violence, I could never have understood it. There is a ‘honeymoon’ stage, when you decide to stay and the violence disappears for a moment. Everything seems great. It is a tricky stage because all you see is how wonderful your abuser is, and how much he or she “loves” you. You see all the positive qualities and none of the negativity. You remember how much they care. You almost forget the violence ever happened. It begins to seem like it was just a bad dream.
But then reality sets in, and a new stage begins. You remember that the relationship is imperfect. He starts to slip; sometimes he’s mean, other times possessive. You try to keep the peace, to hold it together. But sometimes you push back. Then the violence rears its ugly head again.
This horrific cycle continued for close to 3 years of my life. Every time I left I went back, always believing that maybe if I were more patient, more kind, more understanding, more helpful, something would change. But it didn’t; in fact, it got worse. One day he tried to drive away with my arm stuck in his door. He stopped, but not without first letting me know who was in charge. Another day he asked in a drunken and drugged stupor if I feared death. Then he tried to hang me out of a 2nd story window. At one point I resigned myself to being a victim. I accepted that I would live this way forever because I “loved” him.
My cycle didn’t end with a superhero rushing in to save me from my terrible abuser. But you might nevertheless say I was rescued, though by another sort of hero. It started on an early day in February almost a decade ago. I had been working all day. I came home tired from the day, and we quickly started arguing. I can’t recall the details of how it escalated, but when it did, he jumped up from the couch and shoved me. I tripped over something on the floor and fell to the ground. He began punching and kicking, letting go of all of his restraint. I curled up in fetal position. I didn’t feel scared exactly. I just wanted it to stop.
The next day I called out sick from work. My arms were covered in bruises and I had a small, rare bruise on my eye (he usually avoided my face). I remember that day so well because it was the day my grandfather died. He was like a father to me. As I tried to process his death that day and in the days to come, one thought that stood out in my mind: he would watch me from heaven. He would see me take these beatings. He would watch me go back time and again. It killed me inside to think that he would be a witness to my suffering. He had done so much for me, tried so hard to encourage my strength as a woman. And now he would have to watch from heaven as I allowed someone to break me.
I boarded a plane to Nicaragua for the funeral wearing makeup to cover my bruises. I knew I had to make a change – if not for my own sake, for my grandfather’s. When I got back, I started reading self-help books. Melanie Beattie’s Co-dependent No More was especially helpful. I started to pray more. I started to go out. I went back to school and started therapy. All the while I was still in the cycle of violence. But slowly and surely I began to grow stronger until finally I broke the cycle and left. I pursued a restraining order shortly thereafter, and then I started to rebuild.
Leaving was not easy. I wish I could say it was. The battle with myself didn’t end the day I finally opened the door to a new life. It took rebuilding, and that was often painful. Eventually, with help, I pulled through. I began to recognize signs of excessive control in others, and learned how to be more assertive. I learned how to keep the wrong people out of my life, but also to let the right people in. In time, I realized that the strong woman I thought I had lost in the cycle of violence was still there – hurt and in need of some nurturing – but still there. I see now that part of what kept me trapped was the belief that I could change him. I was codependent in the sense that I needed to be needed and I felt that he was so broken that I needed to fix him. The truth is that he was stealing little pieces of me, bit by bit. Now I see that leaving was the only way to be whole again, to be the strong woman I was meant to be.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and you want to get help, call The National Domestic Abuse Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)