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We're almost at the end of Domestic Violence Awareness month, and in honor of that, I want to tell my story—no matter how hard it will be. If I can help just one person leave an abusive relationship, it will be worth it. I am a 53-year-old woman, happily married to my second husband and mother to two, but it wasn't always this way.
In the 1980s, I married a man who I thought was a handsome, kind, charming, sweep-me-off-my-feet kind of guy. You see, I grew up in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when little girls believed that knights in shining armor would come along and provide a fairy tale kind of life. Well, that wasn't meant to be for me—at least, not until later in my life.
This so-called knight, whom I will call Dick (a name that I feel totally represents his personality) in order to protect his family, came along when I was in my mid 20s. For some reason I was desperate to get married and have children. I thought he was handsome—a true gentleman with a great personality—and we had a whirlwind romance with candlelit dinners, flower and vacations. I was a flight attendant and he was a pilot, so I thought it was the perfect combination—we could fly all over the world together for free. A year later, we were married.
When I started on this journey with Dick, I had a soul, and was full of self-esteem. I thought I had a huge heart. I thought I was pretty. I thought I had a great personality. I was healthy and proud of myself. This changed slowly and steadily—yet all too quickly—over the next three years. Dick started to subtlety break down my interior. At first, it was things like, "You're getting kind of fat." "Why do you play with your hair?" "Why do you walk like that?" "When you drink coffee, look how it drools all over the cup!" Dick was also sexually abusive, saying things like, "You would do that if you really loved me."
Somewhere deep down inside, I pulled the courage and strength out of what used to be me and said, "Enough is enough! I'm done!"
Slowly, I started losing myself. I no longer knew who I was and I no longer was sure of myself. I thought I was fat and ugly, and that I couldn't do anything right. Dick would say horrible things to me, cutting me down at every turn. My belief back then was that I was not being abused because I wasn't being hit—and he would remind me of this every day.
I came to love it when he would have to fly and I was home alone. These were the happiest times in our marriage. Things got physical for the first time when he grabbed me by the neck and pulled me into our condo. He would corner me in a room with his arms against the wall and me pinned beneath. I felt like a caged animal. I never knew what his mood was going to be—happy, sad or mad. I felt so alone, and thought that none of our friends believed me, so I finally quit sharing with everyone. I started to believe I was actually the one causing the abuse, since all our friends thought he was so kind and wonderful.
The final straw for me came in our third year of marriage, in the beginning of September—when it's very, very hot in Southern Florida. We were in our new little boat, and got into a verbal argument that soon turned physical. He told me to shut up, that I talked too much, and he picked me up and threw me in the small cabin. There were two side windows for a vent, and one hatch. He closed all of these and locked them from the outside. I have to take a moment here in the story to try and breathe, and let the tears fall...
He locked me in that tiny cabin for four hours, until we got back to our dock. A neighbor was sitting there and I screamed for help. I called a friend and they came and got me.
Finally, I'd had enough. Somewhere deep down inside, I pulled the courage and strength out of what used to be me and said, "Enough is enough! I'm done! I can't do this anymore! I'm leaving you!" I didn't want to be treated that way anymore—I knew that I deserved to be treated with kindness and respect, and that I deserved a better life for myself. That was probably one of the proudest moments of my life.
Thank goodness we didn't have children together. But if you're in an abusive relationship, whether or not you have children please know that you have to get out. Tell someone—anyone who will listen—and don't give up. Watch for the warning signs when dating, especially the controlling nature. And if you find yourself in trouble, get out. Go to a shelter, a friend or family. Please know there is hope at the end of the tunnel.