When I was 17 I was naïve and innocent. I believed in the goodness of people and had never experienced anything to challenge that…that all changed my senior year of high school when I met a boy in my science class. It was crush at first sight. I fell fast and hard.
We started out as friends and when we were 18 we started dating. It was a long distance relationship at first as I was attending my first year of college. I felt that we connected on a deep and meaningful level and he was all I could think about. I couldn’t wait to move back home and begin our relationship in person. Looking back almost 18 years later I can see many red flags but at the time I dismissed them because I wanted our relationship to work out.
As soon as I moved back home we began what would turn into a volatile and violent relationship filled with turmoil and toxicity.
At first though things seemed mostly okay…he seemed loving and we had fun together. As the months ticked by I began to notice that he was extremely disrespectful to his mom and sisters. This was one of the first red flags. I assured myself though that he would always treat me well and that his condescension wouldn’t trickle its way down to me. Slowly and insidiously it did. I almost didn’t notice it because it was slow burning. His words, once caring, turned bitter and cutting. When I questioned him about it he would laugh and act like nothing happened. He told me I was “overly sensitive” and needed to “stop being so needy.”
As time went by I began to alienate myself from my friends and family. I moved out of my parents’ house and into his parents’ house. It was starting to become apparent that my friends and family did not approve of him and my reaction at the time was to cut them out of my life. He told me that he was the only one there for me and I believed him. I was scared and felt so alone and I was still a teenager. I was already growing unhappy but didn’t know what to do. There were times that he was so kind and fun and then there were times when he would almost turn into someone else, someone I didn’t recognize who was mean and spiteful and reckless. I had dropped out of college and didn’t know how to support myself or what to do…so I stayed with him.
When I was 21 we got married and I quickly became pregnant with my oldest daughter. I was unprepared for motherhood, yet I felt excited. I had always wanted children and felt that this would be what we needed to improve our relationship. During my pregnancy I became very sick and delivered my daughter at 28 weeks. She was in the NICU for three months. I felt overwhelmed. Once she came home I quickly became accustomed to my time revolving around her medication and feeding schedules. He was in the army and during the first year of her life he was in Pakistan and Germany. I bonded so much with my daughter that year and knew that once he and I were reunited he would bond with her just as much and would love being a father.
The day after her first birthday we boarded a plane to Germany. I was nervous yet excited and couldn’t wait to finally be a family. I remember the first night there I got her ready for bed and asked him to join in on our special nighttime routine of reading books. He declined and seemed very uninterested in interacting with her. I felt crushed and sad. That same night we got into an argument and he accused me of cheating on him and lashed out with a barrage of terrible name calling. I couldn’t believe that we had been apart for a year and this was how he was acting on our first night together.
I decided that my only option was to make the best of it. As we settled into life in Germany I became pregnant again. Even though it seemed that I was far more into parenting than he was I was still very excited and hopeful that this pregnancy would go more smoothly. Unfortunately, from the beginning of my pregnancy I didn’t feel well and experienced severe swelling early on. I remember not being able to get up and walk around and asked him if he would help with the housework. He gave a condescending laugh and said he wasn’t going to “buy into” my “laziness.” I was alone in Germany with a man who refused to help me and I was worried about my health, the health of the baby I was carrying and what that meant for my oldest daughter.
When I was 24 weeks pregnant I moved back home so that my parents could help out and so that I would have access to good medical care. Things quickly deteriorated and I had an emergency C-section at 27 weeks, just five days before Christmas. My youngest daughter was born weighing a mere 1 lb. 15 Oz. I was extremely sick and didn’t get to go to the NICU and see her until she was three or four days old. I couldn’t believe that I was going through this again. My emotions were compounded by being so sick myself and a firestorm of terrible threats and anger being spewed from him and his family. He was angry because he was in Germany and thought I was purposely not communicating with him. In reality I was so sick that I didn’t even know what was going on and was barely able to speak.
At that point I was 23-years-old with a very sick preemie and an almost two-year-old. I was a stay at home mom with no job skills or education. It was the first time I realized that I wanted to leave my marriage. I set my resolve to follow through with a divorce.
That resolve quickly crumbled as the weight of caring for another preemie and a toddler came crashing down on me. I decided to give him another chance. The next four years would be a whirlwind of me leaving and coming back, each time believing things would be better. As each year went by his abuse escalated in intensity. What had once been some condescending remarks turned into shoves, hair pulls, pushes, slaps and horrendous name calling and emotional abuse. I wanted so badly to leave but I was so scared. He had eroded my self-esteem to the point that I no longer knew who I was.
At one point I escaped with my girls and just the clothes on our backs and sought safety and refuge at the WCA shelter. His constant threats of taking the girls away from me got to me and I ended up going back to him.
Finally at 27-years-old I was able to leave for the last time. I packed my kids up in the car, moved back in with my parents and we began our new life. It wasn’t easy but the emotional freedom was so worth it. I started going back to school, I went through intensive services at the WCA and I began to take back my life.
I am now 35-years-old and have been divorced for almost nine years. My relationship with my children is amazing, I am remarried to a loving man who has become a father to my girls, and I completed my education and am now a counselor. I have not heard from my ex in six years and I no longer feel emotionally weighted down by him. I am so much stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be.
At last I finally feel free.
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