It took me a long time to finally share my story of surviving domestic violence. By opening up and being honest about what I have experienced, and by being honest about the journey of healing and all its complexities, I’ve realized that not only have I helped myself move on but I’m also helping others overcome the weight of these kinds of memories, too.
Surviving trauma and navigating your way through the healing process can sometimes be as difficult and exhausting as the trauma itself. That might sound terrible, and probably strange to anyone who hasn’t been through it. But I promise you, making an active and conscious effort to keep fighting and keep climbing whilst also fighting and climbing your way through everyday life is not for the faint of heart.
I was a senior in high school when I met the man who would become physically, psychologically, and sexually abusive to me throughout the course of a decade that followed. It wasn’t until we had married—that’s right, I married the man who had destroyed me—and the months that followed that I realized I had had enough.
The abuse was a slow burn. He waited until I lost my father to really dig his claws in deep. I had felt like something was off in the beginning, but at the same time I had wanted that male figure in my life that was a pillar of support and someone I could rely on and turn to. Unfortunately I had identified the one person who would make all of my pillars crumble—with me underneath and no place to go.
We moved from Delaware to Washington, D.C. in 2009 where we each started our first “real jobs” after having graduated college. Our first apartment together was in Alexandria, Virginia, about 30 minutes outside the city. I can still remember the fights, the abuse, the sleepless nights, as if they were yesterday—they even sometimes appear in my dreams today. It was when we were living at this apartment when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. I remember thinking to myself “this is what could save us; this is what will turn him around" but of course that couldn’t have been further from the reality of my situation. He berated me and threatened me to have an abortion. Reading this, you might think right, how can someone possibly force someone to have an abortion. And I get that. But I promise you, he did. He had me convinced that I would be out on the streets and with no one to support me and I might as well be dead if went through with the pregnancy. Not only that, but he had already brainwashed me into thinking I was the biggest burden on him and he had to put up with me so much already that why on earth would I make things harder for him by bringing a baby into the world. So, there I ended up. In the clinic, receiving the pills and instructions on how to terminate my pregnancy.
About three years later, when we lived in a different apartment closer to the city in Old Town, Alexandria, I got pregnant again. Like with all of the horrific memories, I remember his reaction clear as day: he was reclining in a chair in the living room when I told him, with that smile of mine that held on like hell to any ounce of hope I had left, and he said out loud while still holding a book in front of his face “you fucking idiot.” He proceeded to throw things around the apartment and at me—typical response when he was ‘stressed’—until finally taking his anger physical. I remember it was then that I had finally decided to defend myself and pushed him off of me and he took a few steps back and tripped over a clothes basket. He took that opportunity to point out how abusive I was and turn to his arsenal of you’re a burden, you’re worthless, you’ll never survive without me, get back here don’t walk away from me abusive words and behavior.
When it came time for my first trimester screening and ultrasound, I was alone at the doctor’s office. He wasn’t going to take off of work for something like this, especially when he didn’t support it. I remember sitting back in the chair as the ultrasound technician developed a look of worry on her face. Never having had got this far in pregnancy, I was confused. I thought this moment was supposed to be joyful and exciting and I would have the chance to hear and see the heartbeat. But that’s just it. There wasn’t a heartbeat.
I held myself together long enough to walk out of the building and to my car. I began to sob as I closed the door and prepared to dial the office where my then partner was working. Frustrated because he couldn’t understand me though the tears, he hung up on me. I called back. “There isn’t a heartbeat, we lost the baby,” I said as he picked up the second time, and I remember there was silence afterwards. Then, a sigh. “Well, that’s a relief,” was what I heard through the telephone as I had been sobbing at the loss of a child that I felt would bring us back to where we needed to be. I hung up the phone.
A few days later we had another one of our infamous knock-down-drag-out fights. It lasted the entire day and when the sun set and we finally took to our own quarters—him, the bedroom, and me, the sofa (as it was always the case; never did he offer the bed to me)—that’s when the pain started. I couldn’t sleep at all, knowing what was coming and feeling exhausted from the fight the day before. I woke the next morning to a clanger of dishes in the kitchen and heavy footsteps in the hall. He didn’t say one word to me. I started to cry again, feeling the weight of everything happening around me, and within me. He finally came out into the living room, toothbrush in his mouth, and leaned in close to me. I thought to myself he’s going to apologize, and tell me everything will be ok. He took the toothbrush out of his mouth and spit in my face, “stop your fucking crying.” He proceeded to get up and throw one of the armchairs across the room, and as it hit the bookshelf and came tumbling back to the ground, debris with it, something happened in my brain, something had finally shifted. It was as if the force of that armchair flying through the air and hitting the bookshelf was me, finally breaking through the fog and into the light of the reality of my own situation. What was I doing? What had I been doing, for so long, in this relationship? After he finally left for work, and I could see that he drove off and down the block, I got up to wash my face and take a shower. I only made it to the sink to wash my face when it started. I began to bleed and the pain was worse than any punch or slap delivered from the man whose child was dying inside me. I picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1 and spent the remainder of the day alone in the hospital, making plans to move out.
That happened in the summer of 2012. A few weeks later, with the help of my mother, I moved out and into my own apartment in the city. The year that followed was one of the best years of my life—as much of a struggle as it was to make ends meet, it was a time for me to focus on myself, to rebuild, and to make plans that benefitted me.
I moved back to Delaware in the fall of 2013 and divorced my now ex-husband shortly after. He had tried everything to draw out, even stop, the process but thankfully I was in a place where I could see through all of his crap.
More than five years after moving back to Delaware, I’m in a healthy and deeply loving relationship with an amazing man, we have a beautiful son and another child on the way. And yet, I still have nightmares about my time spent being abused by my ex-husband. I still have flashbacks, I still have to remind myself that I am in the present and no longer in those apartments in Virginia, and within his grip and control.
That’s how it goes, though. The healing process is not forgiving—although ironically part of this process involves forgiving your abuser (I haven’t fully arrived there yet). But, you continue to fight. You continue to find things, people, places, experiences, and beliefs and thoughts that benefit your own peace of mind and sense of sanity. You ground yourself in the work you put in everyday to keep going. You rebuild yourself every time you fall down. You remind yourself how far you have come, and how you will continue to travel onward and upward from whatever and whoever it was that held you down.
When I wake up part of my morning routine is prayer. I usually go through the same things, always focusing on the following:
Thank you, Lord, for my journey, the struggles and the lessons. Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to learn and to grow from them, and I pray, Lord, that I can continue to pick myself up and become stronger each time. I pray that I can use my strength to help others who may be suffering.
When I started my Moderncity + Main business I knew I wanted to incorporate my passion for helping others who are suffering from domestic violence experiences. I decided to donate ten percent to domestic violence awareness—to organizations and foundations focused on not only raising awareness and educating others but also giving survivors a voice. In February of 2018 I formally established Shine the Light Foundation, dedicated to strengthening the dialogue on domestic violence through education and outreach.