Hey Jen…How do you pick up and move on after getting out of an abusive relationship? Where do I start?
Thank you for having the courage to go outside your comfort zone and ask for help, because that’s a starting point. By posting this question for mobileWOMEN, you are allowing other young women in similar situations to learn from this question and my experience.
I’d like to start off by answering the second portion of your question: "Where do I start?" Well, guess what? You did--the moment you hit that send key on your computer and asked for help. Lately I have been speaking a lot on the topic of unhealthy, abusive relationships, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence. No matter what the circumstance, there are no easy answers, but the first step has to be recognizing that you are in an abusive relationship and that you are being mistreated. An abusive relationship can stem from actions such as physical, mental and/or emotional abuse, alcohol and/or drug abuse induced behavior, cheating, any type of destructive behavior that may cause violence, an argument, a break-up, trust issues or jealousy, just to name a few.
Keep in mind that I am not a professional on this subject by all means, but I am a victim. As far as I’m concerned, actually living and experiencing life can be worth just as much knowledge as any textbook can hold. What I’d like to do is share a portion of my personal experience with you. This entry wouldn’t be true or fair to you, me and other MW without being brutally honest about the subject, so I want to share two examples of very distinct moments in my abusive relationship. This first event takes place a few years prior to the March 1997 drunk driving accident that caused my quadriplegia.
After a guy’s night out, my boyfriend and fiancé at the time came home drunk, or I should say wasted, which was the norm for him. This time, however, he decided that he didn’t have enough to drink and was going to get into his truck and drive to another bar about 30 minutes away. Of course, I knew he was wasted and too drunk to drive, so I saw his keys on the counter and hid them behind my back. When he realized I had taken them, he wanted them back, but I knew better. He became very angry with me and adamant that he was going. I pleaded with him on my usual arguments, such as his safety, getting into an accident, a drunk driving ticket, killing himself or someone else, all the while, holding those keys tightly behind my back and avoiding his reach. Trying to have a rational conversation with him in that capacity was not happening…he only became angrier. Before I knew it, he bolted at me and shoved me onto a nearby recliner. As he made his way on top of me, screaming at me about the keys, which I now had white knuckled in my hand, he continued to restrain me with his knees and body weight, holding both arms and hands down into the chair. Then he took both hands and proceeded to press them into my sternum; one push after another. His eyes were black and anger seeped out of every pore; almost unrecognizable. The whole time, I was crying and begging for him to stop. I couldn’t tell you how long this went on for, or how many blows I actually took. I was in so much pain; a pain like no other. As a matter of fact, in that moment, I wasn’t even sure if I’d survive. I don’t remember much after that point; it was as if I went limp and my mind blocked the pain. Finally, it just stopped…he stopped. He stood up and walked to the bedroom, leaving me crying and gasping for my next breath of air, never once looking back at me. He literally passed out in the next room, not even knowing what my condition was and never mentioned anything more about the bar, the whole reason the argument started to begin with. I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t sit, stand or lie down, because each position hurt worse than the other. As I lay on the floor, in a fetal position, I cried myself to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I couldn’t move the pain was so intense. I knew something was terribly wrong and that I needed to see a doctor, which meant I had to call in sick to work for the first time in my life and lie about the truth.
One of the most difficult parts to fathom was that he got up for work the next morning, as usual, like the whole confrontation the night before had never happened. When I called him at work to drive me to the hospital, he accused me of faking it all and tried everything he could to get me not to go to the doctor. I was persistent, though, and I said that if he wasn’t taking me then I was calling someone who would, which he didn’t like. Reluctantly, he did take me, but on our way there he instructed me on what I would say to the nurses and doctors when they asked me what had happened. It was like a rehearsal. I obeyed him. I lied. I actually told them a very common domestic abuse excuse: “I fell down the stairs.” The doctor checked me out and determined my ribs were cracked. I continued to cover for him. It was neither the first time nor the last. I never thought I would be one of those girls, but I was. I grew up with four brothers. I could have whooped his *ss if I wanted! I had no defense, though; he isolated me into a position where I didn’t have a chance against two overpowering components: his body weight and strength.
The next episode I’d like to share took place after my paralysis, but repeated itself on many occasions during the last three-and-a-half years of our relationship. Now for the record, one stipulation with the court system was that my ex couldn’t drink alcohol, possess alcohol, and be in a bar amongst alcohol during his probationary period, which was the major portion of his punishment. Plus, he made a promise to me that he would quit drinking, which would also prove to be short lived. My ex would have one alcoholic beverage to start, but as time went on it only progressed, so one drink became two, two became four, and then he would just get wasted. It hurt me to see him drink again, especially because he saw the struggles I faced. He saw me fighting for my life and my independence every day--all because he made a decision to take on the role as a “designated driver” and then chose to drink and drive anyway. I remember how painful it was to see him have that first drink after my paralysis. It felt like someone stabbed me in the heart. I never dreamed it would escalate to the point that it did and ultimately lead him to drink and drive behind my back. I thought if anything would slow him down it would be hurting someone he loved, but obviously it did nothing to his integrity.
When these nights of neglect occurred, it was like being in a horrible nightmare. After a night out with friends we would get dropped off at home and I would watch him stumble around the house, passing out randomly here and there forgetting that I was still there, in my wheelchair. Finally, he would get me into bed, but not positioned comfortably or the way I would need to be, and then he’d just pass out. He would pass out to the point that I’d be screaming out his name at the top of my lungs, over and over, until I just couldn’t anymore. At the time, my night routine consisted of taking medications every four hours, repositioning to avoid pressure ulcers every two hours and catheterizing approximately every four hours. I spent many nights crying and screaming out his name praying that just maybe he’d hear me. Eventually, I would have an accident, because my bladder became overfilled. Due to my spinal cord injury I would become incredibly sick or dysreflexic. Autonomic Dysreflexia is a condition that occurs when the blood pressure in a person with a spinal cord injury becomes excessively high due to the over activity of the Autonomic Nervous System. There are many stimuli that cause dysreflexia, such as anything that may be painful, uncomfortable, or physically irritating below the level of injury, such as an overfilled bladder. The result can be life threatening if untreated. As I lay there, now in my own urine, with a multiple of side effects, such as sweating, flushed, blotchiness, high blood pressure, slow heart rate, blurred vision, spasms, a pounding headache, there was always a flicker of hope in the back of my mind, because every morning I had a caregiver come to get me out of bed. On these mornings, she would find me a mess, extremely fatigued and exhausted. My ex slept and stayed in bed, hung-over the majority of the day. Once he’d finally get out of bed, like each time before, he would tell me how sorry he was and how his behavior the night before would never happen again. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard those excuses and then some!
Why did I stay? Why does anyone stay in an abusive relationship? It’s not that easy when love is involved or what you believe to be is love, especially, when you are stripped away from positive relationships with family and friends, are being physically threatened and/or psychologically beaten down. I thought that this man loved me and would do anything for me. Abusive relationships are like an addiction. You never have enough; the high is so great you keep coming back for more. There may be many reasons why we return, such as a sexual chemistry, financial reasons or maybe you just simply cannot be alone.
I stayed for many reasons, which may be some of the same reasons you are holding on, such as:
* I was hoping he’d change, but I was wrong. Until he admitted he had a problem, got professional help and stopped blaming other things for his actions, things were not going to change.
* I believed I could help him change, but I was wrong again. This was not my alcohol problem to fix. I thought if I was there, I had control over the situation, but I didn’t; as a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite.
* I truly believed him when he said he’d change his abusive behavior, but I was wrong. When my ex was facing consequences, he’d plead for another chance, beg for forgiveness, and promise to change to keep me from leaving him, but every time I gave him another chance he returned to his drinking and abusive behavior.
* I also believed counseling worked for him, but I was wrong. In my case, my injury wasn’t even enough to change him. He is still living his life in this reckless manner. In his eyes, he is an alcoholic when he needs to admit to it to get himself out of trouble with the law, but in the end always chooses the alcohol.
* If you are worried about what will happen to you if you leave…don’t be. I found the courage and strength to leave in this capacity--in a wheelchair! Believe me, I wondered how I would support myself and move on. He had pushed me so far away my family and friends I thought I had lost everything and everyone, but that’s one thing I feel is unconditional--the love your family and friends have for you no matter what happens in life.
The day I decided enough was enough was the day I asked myself a very simple question. Would I be with this man if I wasn’t in a wheelchair? The answer was very clear “NO!”
There are places to turn to for advice and help such as:
*The internet is a great resource with informational sites, such as www.safehorizon.org or www.thehotline.org.
* Hotlines for advice and support, such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
* Shelters for a safe place to stay. Check out your state’s branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
* Your family and friends…never underestimate the people who truly care.
* For immediate help or in an emergency, call 911.
I wish that I would have had the courage to seek help, such as counseling, a support group or just found the strength to talk to a friend or family member, but instead I felt small and weak for allowing him to hurt me on so many levels. I know now that I did not deserve to be treated as if I did not matter in this world or that no one cared about me.
Here are a few statistics that I found interesting and important to share with you and MW on www.safehorizon.org:
* 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
* Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners.
* Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner.
* Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.
* Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her partner.
* #1 FACT - Most cases of domestic violence goes unreported!
It’s difficult to admit it, but I am a statistic and I plan to do everything I possibly can to stop another woman from becoming a statistic. I also want to emphasize the fact that no one deserves to feel degraded, verbally torn apart, physically broken, or feel as though we provoked this abusive behavior. Even though he may be blaming you for his actions, you have to believe me and trust me when I say these words: “You will never change him.” This type of abusive behavior is impossible to predict and he is going to break at some point, whether physically, emotionally or mentally towards you, so do not let him get that advantage over you.
I think a key aspect to ending an abusive relationship is by cutting off all means of communication with your abuser, which includes seeing each other, talking on the phone, text messaging, emailing, and posting on Facebook and MySpace. Every time you break a source of communication it’s like starting the healing process all over from day one. Seeing them and hearing their voice brings back memories, feelings and emotions. You need to start spending quality time alone or with friends and family; love who you are and start to heal before getting involved in another relationship. When I left my ex for good, after my paralysis, it took me about two years to physically leave, but I was already checked out emotionally after one-and-a-half years. I think detaching emotionally was crucial, because there was no love there anymore, which helped me to move on with no regrets. I have never looked back once.
Today, I am living life confined to a wheelchair, due to not only my designated driver the night I was paralyzed, but also my abuser. I realize now that I’m out of his life that he is the one with the problems. I was in a relationship with an alcoholic the majority of my life and had no idea. My whole life I was told by my mom how special I was and at one point believed it, but I allowed him to steal that away from me. He changed my identity and who I truly was as a young woman. If I would’ve only listened to the people who truly cared about me--my family and friends--I could have saved us all a lot of pain and heartache. It took me half of my lifetime to regain the strength, courage, confidence and, most of all, the trust back that was unfairly stole from me, and I promised myself that I would never let another man steal from or hurt me again. Enough is enough!
I hope this helps, Megan! Keep in mind that the choices we make today can change our lives tomorrow. We control our own destiny.
Remember, nothing is too personal in my book, so send your questions to “Hey Jen” at: mobileHeyJen@gmail.com!
Learn more about me and my story at my website: www.InspirationSpeaks.Me.
I want to give a shout-out to Denise, a mobileWOMEN reader. Thank you for sharing your story last week. So many of us living with similar injuries, diseases and disorders have been in your situation more times than we ever should have to be, but that is just the reality of our situations. The more we become aware and learn to accept that we are our own best advocates, the sooner doctors, nurses, therapists and society in general, will respect our rights and us as individuals. Ultimately, see past the visual aspect that they think they feel a connection with, dig a little deeper and recognize that there is an inner, emotional side that we all share, whether disabled or able-bodied. What society doesn’t realize is that we have the same needs and wants as everyone else does. Physical capabilities simply are irrelevant and they do not define who we are as individuals. I am so proud of you for standing your ground! Keep that positive, strong, infectious attitude and most of all, stay true to yourself and do not let anyone try to take your independence away! You rock, Denise!
I also want to thank everyone for all the positive feedback and for welcoming me into the MW family with open arms! I notice a few of you have seen my work in some form before and that’s a great feeling to have so many amazing people in my life backing me up. I couldn’t do what I do without your support! I’m excited for this new journey, so let’s all enjoy this ride together!