Firstly I wanted to say all of the stories posted here have moved me greatly and I feel this website is doing such a wonderful job in bringing these issues out of the shadows.
I grew up in an abusive household and I guess I didn’t know what a normal relationship looked like. I moved out when I was 17 and wanted to start fresh. I thought that I had finally escaped my abusive past and fallen in love with my Prince Charming.
The first two years everything seemed good. It appeared to me that I was living in a bubble of happiness and I genuinely thought this person was my best friend. Looking back on it I can see that there may have been signs as there were a few instances where he was short tempered with other people but I shook those off because I loved this person completely.
My bubble burst about two years into the relationship when things turned to violence. I remember it began slowly where during an argument he would hold me down or pinch me surreptitiously in public if I said the wrong thing. Then one time he threw me off of our bed and began to kick and hit me. I was in total shock. There was no apology. There was no recognition of what had just happened. We both just walked around as though it had never happened. I mentally blocked it out as best I could because this was the man that I had broken my virginity to, this was the man that I loved, the man who loved me.
Similar incidents began to occur with greater frequency. I remember he launched at me and smacked my head into a cupboard when I was arguing with him about watching pornographic material. I believe this caused me concussion because I was in a lot of pain and very dazed and confused and all I wanted to do was sleep. He was very clinical about it and said that I couldn’t sleep because if people have concussions then they can die so he kept me awake for half an hour. It has always puzzled me why he did that. Was he afraid I would die and then he would be charged with my murder? It seems like a very strange thing to be so concerned about after having done the act itself.
Another time I was having a huge panic attack and shaking all over and he began to punch me so that I would stop. He punched my stomach repeatedly. I said to him I felt like I was dying and I just remember him saying, “you’re not dying” and punching me as though in his mind he was just trying to make me see reason. I felt like I was the person in the wrong and that he was just doing the right thing by calming me out of my panic attack. Its strange how we can be made to feel that things are out our fault.
Another time he flipped me over on the bed and began sinking his nails into my neck and as I struggled to get up he pushed me back down. I remember wondering whether my neck would snap; whether it was a reasonable or unreasonable fear I don’t know. I just remember feeling very afraid.
I recall countless incidents after that of being throw across the room, attempted strangulation, blood nose, blood lip, bruises, scratches, being thrown out of my chair and being denied the ability to contact a therapist. I can see now why he didn’t want me to speak to a therapist because he was worried perhaps that I would report him. It seems the more depressed I became the more the violence continued, he even ripped a number of special items of clothing and one necklace while it was on my neck which he had given to me.
One of the final counts of violence was when I was at his house. I was surfing the net and I think I must have had a cup-of-soup in one hand. I had brought up the number for a psychologist. He came behind me to see what I was looking at and seeing this he flipped me from my chair and the soup fell all over me and scalded me. He didn’t say sorry and he didn’t help me clean myself up. At times I asked him why he did these things and he said that it was because I made him do it.
I found the entire experience incredibly dehumanising. Perhaps the greatest blessing in disguise was that he ended up ditching me for another woman (I sincerely hope he never hurt her). However, I was finally free as I don’t think I would have known how to free myself I was that deeply entrenched in that world. My whole reality was altered. I suffered with deep, deep PTSD after the relationship broke down and was even hospitalised with severe symptoms.
Since then I have rebuilt my life and I am proud of how far I have come and what I have achieved. I am writing a law honors thesis on a legal issue to do with domestic violence. I intend for the exercise to be healing and to propel me in my journey, which I hope will ultimately be one that helps other survivors.
Despite the fact that I hear so many tragic stories, I do still believe in love. I believe that love can conquer all burdens and wounds. However, I now know what healthy love looks like. I am an eternal optimist.
For a long time I thought I wore a Triple Crown of Abuse. Child sexual abuse, raped in my early 20s, alcohol-related domestic violence from my first husband. I know I'm not alone in this, far from it. Some people win lotteries, others represent a different type of statistic. Being a woman who was victimized by violence sadly isn't a rare thing, not yet.
I really didn't deal with the childhood sexual abuse until I was raped by a stranger in my own little Toyota truck in the parking lot of a bar when I was in college. A man just opened the door and got in. He raped me. I didn't feel much of anything except my neck and jaw under extreme pain from the way he pinned me down and held my mouth closed. My only thoughts were I can't breathe, he's going to break my neck, I'm going to die.
That led me to a rape crisis program. The damn holding back everything from my childhood broke open. I had a breakdown. I'm not exactly sure how I made it from the ages of 21 to 25. Somehow support groups and counselors got me through. I can't say that friends did, I really didn't have friends at that stage in my life. With my childhood it took me a long time to trust anyone and to feel safe to tell the truth, two things required of friendship. When there is so much damage it's hard to see yourself of much use to anyone, anyway.
But I rebuilt my life, somehow. I fell in love with my husband fast. In retrospect I was really inexperienced and flattered by his promises. His alcoholism was obvious, but I told myself once the fun of dating was behind us he'd settle down. I was going to help him. In my deep heart of hearts, I also knew he would never, ever leave me. His sickness made him feel so safe to me, so trustworthy.
It backfired. His rage against himself took shape as rage against me. I became the reason everything had been denied to him. The reason he wasn't a successful man. The reason he failed. He spit on me, yelled at me, tore me down, got in the way of every possible opportunity that came my way, isolated me, controlled every penny, and overall tried to keep me so tiny I would fit like a pinch inside of a can of tobacco in his front pocket.
I don't even remember how I managed to leave. I have a lifetime of foggy memory bits, and leaving him about seven years ago is one of them. It feels like an old, fading movie, with clicking sounds instead of a soundtrack. I didn't even know how bad it was until long after I left. One day I was sitting on my porch after cutting the yard in my new house and it hit me. I'm happy. I was filthy and the air smelled so green and it was a beautiful day...and nothing else. It's so simple, really, but I had not felt that simple feeling too many times in my life up to that point. It turned out all this time happiness wasn't a thing, happiness was just the absence of feeling broken. Now I judge everything else by that simple happy feeling and won't ever give it away.
I don't know if I'll ever get married or even fall in love again. I certainly am not looking for a relationship. I know I'll never have children. I don't need to win the lottery in money or love or anything material. I just want to feel like everything is behind me. I want to keep my friends and take care of them. I want to help others who have been hurt get safe and feel peace. I just want to live a good life and be happy.
Johanna was one of those cousins who fell into the honorary sibling category. She lived a few blocks from us and she was my younger sister’s age (best friend) so we grew into adulthood together. We borrowed clothes, we shared secrets, we argued and we loved each other like siblings do.
How not to love that sassy, mocha skin girl?
How not to wish the very best for her?
How not to wish that she would see herself the way my sister and I did? Like a phenomenal, artistic woman. Like a woman worth to be loved by someone as worthy. Like an infinite field of possibilities…
But it is hard. It is hard to swim against the current. It is hard to break the noxious family patterns that had been engraved for generations. Especially, when these behavioral patterns have become accepted and they are considered normal by everybody else within the family.
I can’t complain about my childhood because all the hard experiences made me extremely resilient. Nevertheless, not everybody reacts the same way to life hardships.
Growing up under my father’s side of the family was like growing up under a dictatorial “machista” regime. We women were second class citizens and men were spared all kinds of abuse by the mere fact of beingborn a male. Most women in our family were psychologically, economically or physically abused. This was just the way things were and there was nothing we could do about it. I never agree with these unfair set of rules, not even when I was a child. I always rebelled against it and I pictured a brighter future for myself. Having a mother than despite being a victim of abuse, encouraged my sister and I to become independent, strong women, helped considerably. Having grandparents from her side of the family loving us unconditionally and reminding us of the wonders we could accomplish was priceless. But as I mentioned before, not everybody reacts the same way or shares the same luck.
Most of my female cousins accepted their unloving fate. They did not feel special enough to break the cycle and consequently ended partnering up with even less special men, just because their eyes have been so used to look down than looking up to the stars was not only pretentious, but also insane.
That is how I was labeled most of the times, as pretentious, because I dared to wish a better future. A future with a loving man by my side, and more importantly, a man who would see me as an equal. I remember thinking most of my cousins were lost causes. After all, they were all perpetuating the same mistakes made by women in our family for generations. Nevertheless, there was always hope for one, my dear Johanna.
I thought Johanna had been mesmerized by my ideas of independence. I swear I saw her eyes shining when I spoke of my dreams of travels, Master’s Degrees, wonderful men and freedom. Freedom, from the curse, that seemed to have been casted on the women of our family. My house, our conversations were a safe harbor … no storm, no bully and certainly no curse could touch us there. At least that’s what I thought. After all, she had seen me fighting for what I wanted and she had seen it work.
So eight years ago she helped me pack my apartment to come here to USA. I remember it as if was yesterday. Johanna fought my sister over the clothes I was giving away. We had some beers and we laughed a lot recollecting memories from our childhood and teen years. She was young, she was beautiful, she was single … she told me with sparkly eyes that one day, she would come to visit.
Unfortunately, life drastically changed. In a matter of three years my dear “negrita,” as we used to call her, started dating first a married man and then a man fresh out of prison. She left her parents’ house. My guess is, she could not tolerate living with her alcoholic, irresponsible father any longer, so she moved in with this shadow of a man to run away. She worked to support him because he did not manage to keep a job.
When I came back after my first year away, I actually saw her kind of happy. She looked great in her work clothes and she told me she felt useful and independent. I faked an #iamhappyforyou kind of smile for like 15 minutes. After those eternal minutes I just could not hold my tongue anymore. I knew she had run away from one worthless man to fall in the claws of another. This happiness was just an illusion. I spoke my mind. She got upset. She told me I was wrong. She called me a “snob!” She said that poor men actually “love better.” For her, his lack of responsibility, ambition and personal hygiene automatically equaled honesty and decency. I felt something breaking inside me as I heard those words. I just realized that I had lost her!
In my desperation, I remember yelling (pardon my French) “Fuck girl! Social status and money have nothing to do with this! I am talking about self-respect. I am talking about choosing a worthy partner to live your life with, someone who lifts you up! ” We argued for hours. In vain I tried to instill that little fire of hope again but it was too late, she was already blind. She was already looking down, accepting the fate, settling for shadows.
After that, I did not return home for two years. In those two years the situation only worsened. As I predicted, he never got a stable job. Besides, he dared to cheat on her and left her after a few months of finding out she was pregnant. Being right never hurt this much.
My sassy, sweet morena became extremely depressed and got really sick. My family never told me how sick she was. They hid the information because I was going through a difficult situation in my new job and they did not want to add to my stress. To be honest, they could not have told me what she had either, because her doctors never found out what it was. I have no idea how she managed to keep that baby inside her with life slowly slipping away out of her body, and soul.
But she did, at least for a while and she gave birth to an extremely premature beautiful girl. The baby and the mother stayed in the hospital for a while and then went home with her parents. I came back to my country for a visit right around this time. I was with my mom on the phone one day before my trip when she said “I have to tell you something.” I know my mom so well that I knew that something was not something good. She continued “You will have to mentally prepare to see your cousin. She is not the Johanna you grew up with. She looks at least 30 years older. She has lost a lot of weight and her skin is peeling off.”
Not even that call prepared me for the sight of her once I came back. I thought I was going to faint when I saw her. I faked a big smile. I hugged her and held back the tears that were about to come out of my eyes. I gave her the gifts I had for her and we talked. Or better said, I nervously talked and talked while she looked at me from some distant place inside her. We saw each other almost every day during my stay. I talked and talked making plans for the coming summer. I told her off, I tried to cheer her up, I joked, I recalled stories from our childhood but she answered weakly, mainly out of politeness I guess. Her eyes had lost all happiness. It was like talking to a ghost. She kept on repeating she felt tired. She kept on saying that all she wanted was to sleep.
Me, the super trooper though, hold hope. I thought myself a miracle worker. I kept visiting her expecting a change, a response, a ray of light… and she pretended I know. She faked a cheerful attitude not to disappoint me. She really did, but she had already made her choice.
A month after my departure, one hot afternoon of September I got a call with the dreadful news of my cousin’s death. I remember my mom saying something like "her body just gave up."
They say people can’t die out of sadness …
I think she did.
I could not cry at that time. I was also unable to travel to my country for her funeral. I buried the pain I was feeling some place deep inside me. I masked my sadness with anger, anger towards her father, the men in her life, the unfair conditions that surrounded us while growing up… and also her. Yes! I was mad at her for leading her life the way she did. I was mad at her for letting things affecting her, the way they did. I was mad at her for giving her precious love to undeserving, abusive men. I was mad at her for not loving herself… for not being strong.
Now, I wish I just had comforted her. I wish I had hugged her more. I wish she would have been stronger. I wish I can forget that hopeless look in her eyes. If I only knew all my pep talks were nothing but meaningless chatter at that time. If I only knew that was the last time I was going to be able to hold her hand.
Whenever I come back home again and visit Florencia (Johanna’s daughter) I feel hopeful. She is strong, charismatic, intelligent and so full of fire in spite of being so tiny, that I know her mother is watching over her. She is making sure Florencia fights for a bright future, for a life full of possibilities and tremendous, immeasurable love...a love to the moon and back.
The author blogs as Bloggable Girl at Skirt Magazine, where she originally shared an extended version of this story.
It all started when I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years. I was madly in love with him, we were going to get married. But it was a bad relationship, a really bad one. I was constantly pulling him out of trouble, constantly trying to prove to my friends and family he was everything I thought he was. It became exhausting; he had destroyed my trust in any way imaginable. But I still loved him. After he cheated on me, I put my brain in charge instead of my heart. We broke up. His last comment was, “But I still love you” to which I replied, “Not enough.”
It took a while to even think about moving on from him. But when I finally started to, I began having what I thought were nightmares. The nightmares were always a little different, but very similar. And part of some of them involved my brother, who was 3 years younger than me, standing by the side of my bed. He would touch my breasts, feel around under my underwear. Sometimes they even involved him taking my hand and touching his penis.
The first time this happened I could have swore was real but my brain couldn't make sense of it. I remember looking at my brother the next day. I remember thinking, how could I ever even think he would do something like that? He’s my sweet baby brother. That same day I asked him if he had been in my room the previous night, he answered no. I believed him.
A few weeks later, I had another nightmare. During the nightmare I woke up, and I pretended to be asleep. He remained in the room with me. He took my hand and made me touch it. As soon as I thought he was gone, I ran into my mother’s room barely able to spit out what had happened. Part of me was convinced it was real; part of me wasn’t sure what to believe. I remember puking up water, then dry heaving. Then I remember having my very first panic attack, I felt like I was going to suffocate. My mother calmed me down, I explained to her how real it felt. She believed me and went to check on my brother. When she came back she told me he was sound asleep, there was no way he could have just been in my room. My mom and I talked, and concluded that I was having hallucinations that were perfectly rational in moving on from my abusive boyfriend.
Something still didn’t seem right. Why did the nightmares start all of a sudden? I began to wonder if this was what it was like for people who become psychotic. Was I crossing the line from reality to crazy? I did not want to be someone who was too weak to handle life. If I crossed into imaginary land, would I ever be able to find my way back? If I became crazy, did my ex win? Surely I was stronger and better than that. My parents and I talked the next day. The plan was to get through the next few weeks until graduation. If the hallucinations continued, we would see about putting me in an institution. We all agreed that they would have the best resources for me to get help. I made one of my best friends make a promise to me. I made her promise that if I ever was in a mental institution and became crazy, that she would come visit me.
Later that week, my mother came to me. She had been having doubts about the “hallucinations” too. In a car ride she had gotten my brother to confess. He came to me later that night, to say he was sorry. I told him to get out of my room. How dare he think that this was something that could be forgiven with a simple “sorry?"
My ex- found out what had happened. He didn’t call, he didn’t text, he didn’t offer any kind of support.
At first I couldn’t even look at my brother, but things eventually got better. But even after what he had done, I still loved him. I wanted him to get help. As a family, we slowly began recovering. It is fall now, and that was last summer.
For part of my counseling, I did tell a couple of my friends. Most of them just sat quiet and nodded. That being said, there are some of my friends who I will never tell.
As for my abusive ex? I have since raised my standards, by a landslide! If I ever do meet someone who is worthy of me, I probably will tell him about my brother when the timing is right. Part of me is a little scared about getting to the intimate part of a relationship again. Will I be able to have a normal sexual relationship with anyone again? To be honest, I’m not sure. Some things may never be the same. But, if these past few months have taught me anything, it’s that you have to have faith. Three months ago I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to look at my brother again. I’m very proud about how far I’ve come.
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