Although Domestic Violence Awareness Month has passed, I believe that we should continue to advocate and talk about domestic violence that has been on the rise since COVID has started. Continuing onward, I will be talking about a number of topics relating to domestic violence and mental health by sharing my stories and what I have learned from them. I’m not a mental health professional, but I believe that my experiences have given me insight into how to react and discontinue the path of toxicity. Since I was able to reach out for help and gain a better understanding of what was actually happening, it’s really shaped who I am as a person.
My story of domestic violence starts at the age of 5. We were moving into our new home, and my mother was 7 or 8 months pregnant with my brother. He pushed her while she was carrying a lamp because she wasn’t walking fast enough and blocked the steps to our front door. I always knew that my father had a temper, but when my father pushed my mother down, I realized then that this wasn’t just a “bad temper.”
I remember my reaction like it was yesterday. I told my mom she must mind dad and do what he says and she won’t get hurt. This was the start of me being in an abusive relationship and as a young girl, and I didn’t learn what was right or wrong. I was not taught what boundaries were, I was only taught to do what I was told. My mother was nearly deaf, didn’t drive, and had no family at all. She did the best she could, but I did not see her having boundaries; she was afraid of my father, and so was I.
I grew up, I was constantly told my by father I wasn’t pretty. He would tell me that I would make a good wife because I was very kind and sweet, and did what I was told. Back then, I didn’t realize the impact of being constantly criticized and told I wasn’t good enough. Therefore, when I got older, even if I wanted to voice my opinion, I was eager to please, so I didn’t get far. If I angered my father, he would hit me with his belt.
I tried to make my life different and stand up for what I believed in, and I thought I was doing well. As I started to date, I didn’t understand what an equal relationship was, so I struggled. I started dating a man for a while, and I thought he was different from my father, which I liked. But he became very controlling after about year and part of me found comfort in that. This is where I wish I had boundaries, because I wasn’t ready to voice what was right. I finally broke up with him, and when I did, he spit in my face. Luckily, I was able to move home and he was afraid of my father so he did not come to my house.
I met my husband about a year after my break up and literally fell in love at first sight. He was so strong, very ambitious, and very much what I needed. He reminded me of my father. “I’ll take care of you,” he said, “Just do what I say, and your life will be amazing.” My father loved him. We were engaged 2 months later and married 4 months after that.
Things went so fast! One month after we returned from our honeymoon, my husband didn’t come home from a night out with his friends. I called his car phone, and his friends answered and lied for him. When he came home the next day, I was so upset. He apologized and said he would never do that again. He seemed so genuine. I realize now that he was testing my boundaries, and I had no idea.
He did that often with different things. He didn’t want me close with my family. My family wasn’t close so it wasn’t that weird, but it was another way of testing my boundaries. He would borrow money from my father, not pay him back. I would end up repaying my father, and this was another test of my boundaries. We moved across the country. This was another way to isolate me, test me more. I wasn’t allowed to have friends because when I tried, he would tell me they were not good people.
For many years, I focused on my children and making sure my husband’s every need was met. It was never enough. We moved back to California and things got very difficult. He was used to me being isolated, with no one to talk to. My kids were old enough to understand this was not a normal way of existence.
This is when everything changed. I became so distraught because I could not understand why I would be punished if I went to see old friends or family. I found out we were going to lose our home. I hadn’t been allowed to see our finances throughout our entire marriage. I ended up in the hospital from a panic attack and realized how bad things really were. The nurse saw what my husband was doing to me was able to isolate me so that I could get a moment to myself.
I finally reached out to Laura’s House and explained what was happening. The operator suggested I get myself and the kids to safety. At that point I was too afraid to leave, but the operator gave me so much information and extremely helpful advice. I finally had a plan. The day the kids were off to college, I would leave, and that is exactly what I did.
Laura’s House has a program called the Heart Program. If I had something like this when I was younger and understood how to set boundaries, my life would have been very different. The younger a child learns what boundaries are, the better prepared a child will be for making good choices in the future.
- I am responsible for my own happiness. I always felt like I had the responsibility to make everyone happy. I learned that I am only responsible for MY happiness.
- Friendships do exist outside of your relationship. I was told, “the only people on earth that matter are inside these 4 walls.” I realize this could not be further from the truth. I cherish my friendships today.
- Open and honest communication is incredibly important. I will never not be heard again! If I have an opinion, you may not agree, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid or my opinion doesn’t matter.
- Respect differences in others. I may not agree with you, and differences are what make the people of the world unique. I respectfully agree to disagree.
- Ask for what you need or want. A person will respect you so much more if you can express your desires directly.
- Accept endings. Not everything is going to go your way, and healthy compromise for everyone involved is very important. I will always remember what I was told, “I always win, if I don’t I will destroy you.” I realized I was living with someone who would never accept my newfound self respect and strength. I walked away from a 28 year marriage with nothing but a chance to start over. I’m so happy I had the courage to learn, grow, and love myself. I actually walked away with a chance to live my life.
- I can be complete without a partner. I don’t think I have ever been as comfortable in my own skin as I have been the last few years.
- Express freely. In every way. It’s my right.
- Let go. If it doesn’t feel right, I listen to myself, and then decide for me.
For more information, visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
I hope this helps. Remember you are not alone.