You know how you wish you could have those conversations with your young self? You think about your life back when you were impressionable and what you or anyone you know could have said that would have made an impact. I was 17 when I got involved with my abuser. He was charismatic, mysterious and oh so charming. We started out as friends. He seemed to have this magnetic pull and not only did I have a crush on him, but so did two of my friends.
He was a grade ahead of us and was in a rock band. Back then, that was so appealing to me. I grew up in a conservative household and was going through a rebellious stage. He was a “bad boy” from the wrong side of the tracks but he went to my church and was part of my youth group.
He “played” us, my girlfriends and me. He and I were friends, but he dated one of my other friends. I became his confidante in trying to get them together. He did the same with a different friend as well. It got to be a competition between us girls and suddenly everything was secretive and dramatic. Well, fast forward a year and suddenly, he wanted to be with me! I was so excited, because now we weren’t just friends, we were a couple. I felt so special that out of all three of my friends, he chose me. It was a crazy, weird deal, but hey, that was high school.
No one ever grows up and thinks, “Hey, I would like to be in an abusive relationship”. It happens over time and you don’t realize what is going on. If I’d had knowledge of what some of the characteristics of an abusive relationship were, perhaps it would have been different for me. My parents didn’t like my boyfriend, but they allowed me to date him. They were afraid if they were resistive, they would completely alienate me and they wanted to be there when it all fell apart.
So instead the relationship ran its course. He was so attentive and charming. Flowers, cards, gifts. I had just graduated high school and got my own place. He stayed with me but didn’t pay rent. He was with me all the time. He took me to work and to all my college classes, usually in my car. I worked as a secretary in a hospital and if I put on makeup and dressed nice, I was accused of trying to attract the doctors (really???) or other guys. If I didn’t put on makeup or dress well, then I was trying to embarrass him in front of his friends. It was a no win situation so I made it a point to make sure my outfit was approved by him.
We would go to parties and I couldn’t talk to other guys. I remember using someone’s restroom at a party and as I walked by a fellow class mate, I said hello. My boyfriend had followed me to the restroom and witnessed the exchange. That was the night he stopped the car on the way home, grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to a nearby creek and tried to push my head under water.
I wanted to move in with a few girlfriends for financial assistance with the rent. He was so “concerned” for me. He said he trusted me, but he just didn’t know what kind of “riff raff” they would have around. He said he just knew other guys were going to hit on me. Then it got to where he didn’t want me to even hang out with my friends because of the “riff raff”. That led to another huge fight where he held me to the ground and pinched my face repeatedly. I was supposed to go shopping with my parents the next day but wouldn’t answer the door for my dad. I watched out the window and cried as he knocked on the door. But I was afraid my dad would be furious with my boyfriend and I was embarrassed about the bruises.
There was the time I thought he broke my arm, the times he shoved me, push me, pinched me. I’d make up stories about how I got my bruises. But then there were always tears and apologies afterwards. He said if I hadn’t provoked him, he wouldn’t have gotten so upset. He said he just loved me so much and didn’t want to lose me.
It was all about control and isolation. He was possessive and jealous. And then I began to think I deserved it. I just wasn’t considerate enough for him, I wasn’t nice enough, I was too fat, too thin, too whatever. And I began to believe everything he said. It’s hard to leave when you’ve been told you’re such a pain in the ass, no one else will want you. And if he can’t have you, no one else will either.
It took me several years to escape. With the assistance of family friends and my parents I finally got out. But it wasn’t easy and he stalked me afterwards. I’m lucky he found another victim. Lucky for me, not for her. And I’m also lucky I’m not dead.
When I heard about the Foundation I knew I needed to be a part of it. If I can provide just one bit of education that prevents a young woman from getting involved with an abuser, then I’ve done my part. If I can impact many lives by telling my story and providing help that’s even better.
Women need to know what a healthy relationship looks like and they need to know they deserve it. My self-esteem was low back then and I so wish I could have convinced my young self that I was worthy of so much more. My parents told me so back then but as a teen, I didn’t think they knew anything. Turns out they knew so much more than I gave them credit for