Disclaimer + Trigger Warning
This writing contains topics surrounding domestic violence, abuse, gaslighting, trauma, and manipulation.
I’d like to begin by saying that I do not want to be known as a victim.
There are so many feelings of shame, guilt, and vulnerability that come with that title.
However, I believe that vulnerability is the key to human connectivity and how we truly relate to one another. Additionally, I believe that we suffer through the pain we do and experience all of the unfortunates we experience in order to better understand the emotional depths of one another and help each other become stronger in that empathy.
Being driven by that belief, I want to share my truths with you and the rest of the world so that I can allow myself vulnerability for the purpose of connecting with other survivors of abuse and anyone who has ever had their power stripped away from them. My highest hope is that this writing educates and inspires, but if I’m being honest, my goal is also to just get this shit out of my head. I want to put it on paper, put it on the internet, pray that someone reads my story and finds strength and resilience in my words, and that they move forward with a head held higher and an engulfing awareness of self.
I’ve been putting off writing about this. I have really only told this story out loud twice to a couple of friends. My family and current (amazing + loving) boyfriend never really asked me what happened or how I felt about it. I don’t blame them, I can understand that it may be hard to hear about someone you love and care about getting hurt.
As I’ve sat down one hundred times to write this, and as I sit here writing it now, my throat feels as though it’s being filled with boulders, one by one, making it more and more laborious to do the most mindless human function I could perform.
I’m pausing after each word I write for minutes at a time because my brain begins to turn into a mess of flashbacks and words and thoughts that I’m trying to unscramble and suppress and bring to light simultaneously. I feel like the room is running out of air, can someone please turn up the freaking oxygen?
Its been three years and I still can’t say this story out loud without feeling all of this instantly, and without crying.
I want to be able to tell my children about this story as a tale of survival and strength, and I do not want to cry while I tell it. My children will never feel the need to console me for stones that I have selfishly left unturned.
I’m scared that people will be upset with me for writing about my experience, call me a life-ruiner, blame me for what had happened, tell me that my actions permitted his responses, or that I won’t be believed.
I decided that I’m done being scared of others’ thoughts.
1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
I’ve met far too many men who lack respect for themselves so deeply and repress emotions that all end up becoming visible on the bodies of the women they say they love.
This is my story, the events I remember, my healing process, and my truth. Additionally, I pray that others find power and insight through that truth.
You’d like to believe that if you were attacked or if someone tried to take advantage of you, you’d fight back.
You believe that you’d be a force to be reckoned with, that your willpower would be unmatched in the battle for your dignity.
I thought of myself in this way.
I grew up watching ‘Law & Order: SVU’. I’ve listened to the stories of battered women finally leaving their abusive husbands. I’ve read the books written by Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, escaping their captors after years of being victims of dysfunctional men with low self-esteem. I should know every trick in the book to avoid becoming a target for abuse, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation.
While I was equipped with every piece of information I needed in order to prevent it from happening, one morning, I looked in the mirror to see blue and purple bruises scattered across my cheeks, covered by mascara-coated tear streaks. I glanced down at the left side of my body, finding my too-lazy-to-go-tanning pale skin camouflaged by colorful marks of drunk anger and suppressed mommy-issues. I would then hear him say, “Did I do that?”.
It was September in 2017, we were going to a barn dance in northern Minnesota. The weather carried the bite of the autumn chill, making it a perfect atmosphere for kickin’ up moves in a barn sitting in the middle of the woods.
I had two cans of Palm Breeze at around 9:00 PM, so I was movin’ ‘n groovin’ until I got super tired and emotional from the alcohol an hour later. At that point, my abuser made the decision to put me in his car, where we were sleeping for the night, to cry it out alone while he went back into the barn to continue partying.
After about thirty minutes of buzzed-sobbing about something probably insignificant, I walked to the barn and found him talking to a middle-aged woman. He was smiling and laughing with her, which set my immature + codependent mind into a whirlwind of anxious thoughts of being cheated on, considering he had sex with another girl the year prior while we were together.
This however, was still no excuse for me to get upset and text him something about him flirting with this middle-aged woman. I regret doing that. I also regret letting someone into my life who had so little respect for me, especially after he had committed such a horrible act that had caused me so much pain.
After sending him this text, I began calling anybody who would answer. I got a hold of my ex-boyfriend from high school, a person I considered a close friend who understood me better than anyone, and someone who I knew cared enough about me to answer my calls. I had formally expressed to my current boyfriend/abuser that I had no sexual attraction to my ex from high school, and I had been under the impression he had accepted that we were good friends.
However, as I was on the phone with my ex, my abuser was standing outside of the passenger seat door, watching me from the window, smiling. I jumped as I saw him peering in, and he opened the car door.
He grabbed my phone out of my hands. He began yelling at me for thinking he was flirting with the middle-aged woman, laughing at me as I cried out of fear and helplessness. I tried to reason with him and communicate to him that I had anxiety about him and other women as a result of his infidelity, but I was only met with a giggle, a hard “fuck you”, and a slam of the car door in my face.
I believe that he had drank 6-8 pounder beers at this point, the time being roughly 11:30 PM. He had taken my phone though, so I wasn’t completely sure until he came back twenty minutes or so later.
While he was gone, I had thought about walking to the highway and seeing if I could be picked up by someone, but the possibility of being the next body found in the ditch scared me away from further consideration of that plan.
I thought that I could walk up to the random house that stood about 300 feet away. But what would I say? How would I explain to them that I was a guest at their barn dance, who sat in the car the entire time crying, and that I was scared of my boyfriend who was good friends with a majority of people attending the party? And then what? I decided against this plan as well and was soon met with a much more intoxicated boyfriend than I had seen twenty-ish minutes prior.
From the poor short-term memories he was spewing, to the names he called me as I sat there silently staring at him, I could tell he was in an uncontrollable, angry, unpredictable state of being, and I knew that I really had something to be scared about now.
He began telling me about the conversation he had with a man he had just met at the dance, “You know what this guy in there said to me? He said that if someone doesn’t trust you and thinks you’re cheating, it means that they’re the one that is actually cheating.”.
As I heard this and tried to formulate a calm and calculated response that would get my point across without causing an argument, he began to fall asleep.
I was relieved that the conversation was over, but I was still thinking of a way to get out of this car and somewhere safe.
I was reaching over into his jean pocket to grab my phone when he jumped awake, grabbing my head and slamming it into the passenger seat window. I wasn’t necessarily shocked, but I was in pain. My first thought was that of, “if I keep crying, he’ll stop.”, but he didn’t.
He just slammed my head into the window again, harder.
I began praying that one of the blows would knock me unconscious or crack his window, anything to make it stop.
After five or six hits, and a plethora of knives in the form of words, “fucking slut”, “stupid bitch”, “fat cunt”, “ go talk to your little boyfriend (ex-boyfriend’s name) you whore”, it finally ended.
What felt like six hours was only a mere two minutes of my life.
Thinking that he had gotten everything out that he needed to get out, I began sobbing as the thought of me being a coach of young girls came to my mind.
I had recently been able to stop self-harming after six years because I wanted to be a strong, able, and powerful role model for them. At that moment, I was a woman with scars on her wrist and a slight concussion from her boyfriend... incredible role model.
As I cried out my guilt and my remorse for the woman I was before I became a victim of relationship abuse, he woke up and grabbed my face.
His freshly-bitten fingernails dug into my cheeks while he screamed at me through his teeth, “I can’t sleep with your fucking crying shut up”. I thought my face was bleeding from his nails scraping down my skin.
As I cried more from how scared I was in this moment, he brought his face closer to mine and started to bite my nose. I tried pulling my face away and he bit harder, spitting on me as he let go.
He then grabbed my neck and I thought this was it. This was the end. I was either going to pass out, or he was going to kill me.
My body went into fight or flight mode and decided it would be a good idea to slam my own head into his window as hard as possible, to try to scare him into letting my neck go. When I did this, he grabbed me by the back of my hair, throwing my face into the dashboard so hard that I thought I had lost teeth or broken my nose. He continued to pull my hair, pulling out my clip-in hair extensions with so much force that I had lost clumps of my real hair as they were ripped off my scalp.
I decided to try something new. I stopped crying, stopped making noise, and basically played dead. I played dead like I was an opossum. And it worked. He stopped.
Again, what had felt like a lifetime, was four minutes.
My abuser had then decided that this would be a good time to start driving four hours home, drunker than I’d ever seen him before.
As he pulled out onto the gravel road, I knew that we would die in an accident if I didn’t try to stop him. I went over my options, glancing at the lock/unlock button on the car door, looking at the door handle, trying to gauge whether or not I could withstand the impact of jumping out of the car or if my safest bet to try to talk him down from this raging drunk driving.
While considering all options, he saw me pondering jumping out and he started laughing while also speeding up to 70 miles per hour on the gravel road. I screamed, begging him to stop, and he continued to speed up and laugh harder, looking at me instead of the road, which frightened me even more.
I’d never heard something so evil and inhumane in my life than his laugh at this time, a time so close to both of our possible deaths.
I remember knowing that I had nothing left to try, and so I prayed.
I don’t recall what I prayed for, but the next thing I know, I’m reaching over to grab the wheel.
He responds by stopping the car completely, asking me why I tried to hit him. I explained that I was only trying to take the wheel so that we didn’t get into an accident and die.
He proceeded by using every last piece of strength that he had to punch me in my left arm and leg profusely, over and over again.
I had given up completely at this point. I knew that if I tried to fight back that he would only hit harder, choke me more, maybe even kill me.
I had made the decision to try to stop crying, stop making any noise, stop trying to reason, stop trying to escape, and just let it happen.
As I pushed my body further into the passenger seat door, preparing for each blow to hurt more, I became numb. It was as if my nerves were shutting down, allowing me some kind of peace to protect me from what was happening.
I began wondering if someone would take it upon themselves to murder him if I died that night.
I also wondered what heaven was like.
I then thought about what people would remember me as... and I sure as hell knew that I wouldn’t be remembered as a nineteen year old girl who was killed by her boyfriend.
I also knew that I had players and their families depending on me for a successful first club season. I decided at this time that I had to survive. I didn’t have to try to fight back, I didn’t have to try to escape. I only had to survive for three more hours until sunrise.
He had stopped the punching spree after five or six minutes and began driving the car back to the spot we were parked at before. As we parked, he looked over at me and said “If you try to get your phone or leave, I have a knife. And no one would ever find your body in those woods.”.
I didn’t say anything, I figured that one word spoken would be a death sentence.
I sat in the car shivering and reflecting on what had just happened. I recognized that I am now a victim of domestic violence. My boyfriend, who says that he loves me, has left me bruised, bloodied, and internally scarred for life by words that cut deeper and deeper each time he repeated them.
His tone, what he had said, all of it, still plays in my head like an infinitely replaying track of the most agonizing song ever sang.
I live with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, and I always have a million and two thoughts running through my mind at all times. Although, when his words make their unwanted appearance, I freeze. I can only focus on that one sentence, or the hundred sentences and phrases he had thrown at me from a place of hate and disgust. I feel every muscle tense up, like I’m on high alert for incoming impact.
To escape this fight or flight mode, I have to close my eyes, remember where I am in that exact moment, I make note of the fact that I’m safe, and that I am more powerful than he could ever be. Seriously, what 21 year old, six-foot-four man drunkenly beats up his nineteen year old girlfriend as she sobs in his passenger seat?
Hint: an extremely insecure, emotionally unstable, deeply troubled little boy that I feel very sorry for and pray for often.
Three hours had finally passed and the sun began its descent upon us, lighting up the sky with my first gleam of hope in ten dark hours. I made a slight coughing noise to prompt him to wake up and see that it was morning. He fluttered his eyes open, looking over at me. I was terrified by his stare until I saw him begin to widen his eyes as he asked “Did I do that?”.
I propped open the mirror hanging over the passenger seat and saw something I wish I could unsee.
I looked at my face, dotted in bruises from his fingers clawing into my skin and my head being banged against the dashboard.
As the sun rose and we had received more light, I saw the mess of green, blue, and purple strewed down my arm and leg.
“Oh shit.” I thought to myself, “I have a personal training session with a middle school girl and high school girl today. What the hell am I going to tell them?”. I asked my now-sober boyfriend, who looked distressed at the thought of me reporting his abuse from the night before, this exact question. He asked if I could cancel the training session. I thought it was unprofessional to cancel sessions without more than 24-hour notice, so I told him I couldn’t.
We started our four-hour drive home. He spent the majority of the drive trying to justify why he had done what he did, how I should have handled things, and where I went wrong. I got a half-assed apology out of him at some point, but nothing concrete or meaningful.
I didn’t leave him or report this because I was extremely codependent. I was in the midst of finalizing plans to construct North Dakota’s first and only volleyball facility and bringing my first business to the next level. With all of the change and instability I was experiencing in every other aspect of my life, I needed my relationship with him to stay the same. I needed him, good or bad, to stay where he was. If he didn’t, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to continue thriving in my business life.
Boy, was I wrong.
I hate that this experience wasn’t the last time. I hate that I allowed more pain, more bruises, and more tears into my life at the hands of him.
I hate that I had to lie to others over and over again about the marks landed on my body.
I hate that I had to choose sweaters over tank tops.
However, I’ve spent far too long giving what happened to me a power over my spirit and soul that I don’t deserve. I’ve finally recognized that I deserve to feel free of all burdens and negativity that this hurt has left me with.
As much as I wish that this didn’t happen, and as much as I’ve prayed, asking why I have to work daily pick up the pieces and heal from something that I didn’t have any part in creating or ever even asked for, I feel blessed.
I feel blessed with my newfound strength.
I feel fearless, knowing that I can survive even the most severe of pain.
I feel grateful for the perseverance that I was able to show myself.
I’ve always loved this thing about the process. The process of healing, the process of growing, the process of becoming. In all of my processes, I’ve always been so enamored with the ability to learn from each roadblock, each struggle, and each victory.
There’s beauty in evolution and transformation, especially if it hurts.
Tears, doubts, loathing, screams into the pillow- it’s all a space of revolutionary change, a space that allows us the opportunity to prove to ourselves the true depths of our capabilities.
Men, do not let your homeboys talk about the women in their life in a disgusting, violent, or disrespectful way. Hold each other accountable. If you associate yourself with a man like my ex, you are supportive his actions.
If you are experiencing relationship abuse, reach out to someone. Anyone.
If you are in a situation or argument where you feel unsafe with your partner and you have a cell-phone, make it a habit to record the conversation, or set your phone up somewhere that allows you to secretly take a video in case you need proof for a judge when filing a restraining order or a no contact order. Just try to get some kind of record of the abuse.
Make note of your resilience + learn to take back your power.