I’ve struggled—for multiple reasons—with whether or not to share this, to reveal something so personal which is still incredibly painful for me. After wavering back and forth and conferring with those close to me, they helped me to see that there might be a chance—a hope—that my experience can, in some way, be used to help others. And for that alone, I am choosing to share this.
One likely realizes, after reading my books, that I adore happily-ever-after’s. Sure, I’ve included talk of cancer, abandonment, miscarriages, PTSD, and most recently, domestic abuse in my books but I don’t tend to delve too deep into these topics. Because I’m an individual who doesn’t want things to be too dark or too heavy. I want all the puppies and rainbows type of feelings to show people the light at the end of the tunnel. However, with this last book, it stirred up some thoughts. Thoughts of something that happened to me long ago.
There was a time in my life when I thought I was in love, thought I was loved in return. I changed jobs and moved to a different state (away from everyone I knew) to be with this person. What I didn’t expect was for the changing to continue.
He would proceed to change me.
He became manipulative in ways which still boggle my mind. He found those tiny cracks in my self-esteem (and let’s be honest, we all have them) and began to chip away at them. With a sledgehammer.
My hair shouldn’t have highlights in it.
My contacts should be replaced with glasses.
My laughter was too loud. [Note: I’m Italian. We have no clue how to be quiet.]
I talked too much. [See above note.]
I was too friendly to others. [Again, refer to the above note.]
My clothing was slutty.
The list goes on and on. It didn’t take long before things turned physical. I remember the bruise on my upper thigh that was a gorgeous array of blues, purples, and greens from the Yankee Candle lid he hurled at me. [If you’re not familiar with those, think of a large, heavy, glass paperweight and you’d be pretty damn close.]
He was careful to keep all the bruises where clothing could hide them. And I hid them. Why?
I was ashamed. And trapped.
How did I get myself into this? I mean, I managed to graduate with honors from college, not to mention I have multiple graduate degrees. I’m no dummy. Well, I learned super quick that abuse/an abuser doesn’t give two shits about your level of education.
I had taken a job that was grant funded and didn’t pay nearly what I was used to making and this meant I was financially dependent upon him.
I had played right into his hands.
The night he accused me of flirting with the waiter at dinner when I thanked the guy for refilling my water was the turning point.
It was the night he pointed a loaded gun in my face.
I’d managed to escape the house and ran to a nearby neighbor’s home—in my bare feet, no less—and they consoled me and convinced me to call the police. The police took my statement and escorted me back to the house where I collected my belongings (my neighbors had offered me their spare bedroom for “as long as I needed”). Much to my surprise, he wasn’t home. He’d already fled.
I’d found a temporary save haven, signed the necessary paperwork for the restraining order. The day I had to appear in court and face him across the room was far more intimidating that I could’ve ever expected.
I finally disclosed things to close friends, all while tears of embarrassment rolled down my cheeks. Because I felt ashamed of my situation, of the fact that I allowed it to come to be in the first place. I confessed to my parents and, upon them loaning me some money to secure an apartment, I began to make the necessary plans for my escape.
I uploaded my resume to the district and the stars aligned because I was called in for an interview and offered a job on the spot. That job wouldn’t just be my saving grace—my principal and coworkers would end up changing my life—for the better. Best, even.
That Monday morning, I knew he had early meetings at his office and would be gone all day. A dear friend’s husband showed up with his truck to help me move my belongings into my new apartment—my new safe haven.
Safe being the operative word.
Since there’s a lag period for paychecks—for three to four months—I had no couch and no TV. My breakfast was a cup of coffee and a piece of peanut butter toast from home; lunch at my new job consisted of one peanut butter sandwich, an apple and water; my dinner was often a bowl of cereal or a container of yogurt with some granola sprinkled in for good measure.
The days when we had meetings at work and food was provided? I always eyeballed the leftovers and snagged some things to wrap up and take home because they could serve as another meal.
While none of that sounds thrilling, it was embarking on what ended up being some of the most memorable moments of my life. Because, although the struggles were still present financially until I could get back on my feet and begin to see my paychecks from my new job, I was free. Free from consistently hearing someone put me down. Free from living in constant fear.
I grew more as a person in the months to follow. I made lifelong friends and eventually decided to date again.
I’ll say that last part again in case you thought it was a typo of some sort. I eventually decided to date again.
Believe it or not, just about a year later, I met a guy. He seemed too good to be true. But something deep down said to give him a shot.
He made me laugh again. Like, really laugh. You know those laughs that come from way down deep? Those kind.
He made me smile. All the time. He’d send flowers and a note to my work when he was deployed clear on the other side of the world.
He made me feel whole, beautiful, worthy, and simply … enough.
He made me fall in love with him. Except this time, it was different. This love, this man, everything about this relationship was different.
It was real, genuine love.
I heard the worry in his voice, the fear in his eyes when I was preparing for another surgery to remove growths from my breast tissue. A surgery during which he would be deployed.
He held me in his arms as I cried before the surgery—because I was so afraid—and after the surgery, once he’d returned home when I feared he’d find me less attractive or lacking.
The day he told me he loved me was magical. Because he planned it that way.
Our relationship was—and still is—pure and even when we have a disagreement, there’s no put-downs, no disrespect. No fear.
The day he asked me to marry him was both hilarious and beautiful.
Because he planned it that way.
The day he vowed to love me and be with me forever was incredible. Because I was the lucky one who was going to spend the rest of my life with him.
I type this, as I wipe tears from my own cheeks, because I want others to know this:
*If you should find yourself in a situation similar in any way to what I described above, please, do everything you can to get out.
*You are worth more.
*Don’t settle. Ever.
There’s someone out there who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Who will love you for you—not the you they want you to be.
Stand up—even if it feels like you’re a new foal trying to get your legs to work—and take pride in who you are and everything that makes you you.
Take back that control.
Above all, know that you’re not alone. Some of us may choose to keep our stories to ourselves while others may share; some of us might have high-paying jobs while others may not; some of us may have a college education while others do not. None of that matters. What matters is that you are important.
Reach out to someone. Help yourself. Rid yourself of the toxicity so that you can truly be free and experience the joy and happiness life has to offer.
I see you over there, toeing the line, wanting so badly to take that first step.
I’m right here—along with everyone else—with an outstretched hand, waiting for you.
You can do this.
I’m living proof.