Thursday, November 09, 2006

breaking the girl

I fell in love with the wrong guy when I was 18. I had a crush on him for years - he lived down the street from me, he was on the football team in high school, a few years older, devastatingly good know the rest.

We started dating at a time I was feeling a bit lost - I was taking a few courses in college, working full time, and enjoying the lack of rules and structure. At first we hit it off famously. And we drank a lot. And then after a while I noticed that he drank a whole hell of a lot. By this time I was living with him, out of co-dependence rather than necessity. I NEEDED to be around him just as he needed to drink. I gave up my sense of self and climbed right down the rabbit hole. And in retrospect, that made me an awfully easy target.

It started off slowly - fighting, yelling, derogatory behavior, but again, youth and passion and drink all made that somewhat normal. And then it got worse. He started to endanger my life, driving while guzzling pints of vodka, threatening to run off the road into a tree, by forcing (yes, I know, no one really forces you) to drink much more than is a good idea, so much so that one night it almost killed me. And then it got even worse. He pushed me out of a moving car. He hit me. He forced me to have sex with him, once in front of his friends, once so bad it's not worth repeating, and some other times, too.

It's insidious, this type of abuse. Because by the time they wear you down to a point you might do things you never thought you'd do, you are confused and depressed and sure you are going crazy. And I was such a little girl at the time, with so little experience to draw on. I was trying to escape my childhood, and I ran straight into hell.

And the funny thing is I wasn't one of the women who truly have limited choices. I had a home I could go back to if I had to. I had friends I could talk to. But since I was enduring it, it shamed me and I had to keep it a secret. I could tell no one, because there was no one who would understand. I wouldn't have been able to explain it because I didn't understand it myself.

Slowly I began hating him and hating myself. I stopped talking to friends, and I lied to them when I did. I put myself again and again in a position to be abused. I remember feeling like I was watching a movie while floating on the ceiling. I remember being so upset I would throw up.

And in between the nightmare he worked a sick magic, proving and showing why I couldn't leave and why I could do no better. I knew he was full of shit, but I couldn't make my limbs move in the opposite direction no matter how hard I screamed inside.

And then one night I walked in the door and saw him sitting in a chair, a smoke in one hand and a pint in the other, and as he turned in his chair to face me and the face of pure evil looked back, I heard a voice inside that said you don't have to do this anymore. I dropped my groceries in the entry way and I turned and ran as fast as I could to my car, drove to a friend's house, and I never saw him again. I never went back for my belongings, I never spoke to him again. It was done.

And still, I never told anyone what happened. Yes, we broke up, yes it's over...yes yes yes. But never about what really happened, about the torture and abuse. Never because in my mind I had chosen to stay. I had CHOSEN to stay, and I had a CHOICE.

When I went back to college full time I switched my major to psychology. I wanted to learn more about how this could happen, and what I could do about it. The DV shelter came from this, doing good to replace something bad. It took several more years to focus that work inward instead of outward, but right before I had a nervous breakdown I did something about that too. That's a song for another day, this has exhausted me enough.

This isn't a story to incite pity. I realize there are much worse stories to tell. This is simply a glimpse into what shaped me - this cornocopia of bad choices sparked a life path I had might not taken otherwise. Or perhaps it was in me all along. But that would mean going back even further.


Anonymous said...

Girl, I can relate to you like I can no other.
That is all I can say. I almost cried just from the sheer understanding of some very key phrases that I never have 'heard' another human say. But ones that I've carried along with me for awhile. And you 'said' them. And I know. And you know.
Despite the fact that there is a huge 'void' of computer stuff and this little distance of one coast from another. I know, Jen. I feel it and I am in awe of the connection.
This might sound's not meant to be. I just am awestruck.
I tell myself everyday that my path, my roads were wild ones. But I've come so far. I was lost for so long. And I've found wonderful people like you along the way. How divine.

Anonymous said...

My husband has done a lot of work intervening with men who batter.

This is a brave piece of writing and I'm grateful you posted it.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Plenty stops me. I'm just not as brave as you and I don't often write about it.


Anonymous said...

There are those of us wandering this planet who have the right to use the term "survivor". You are one of them.

I believe that if we pulled the first couple of layers away from nearly anyone's existence, we'd find some history of bad choices.

My life would be very different today if I'd made different choices. My first b/f (like yours) was a 14-karat a-hole. I didn't know any better. He did. When that broke up, I met a very nice guy and abused him. Not physically. I abused him by refusing to be vulnerable, refusing emotional availability and by drinking myself into oblivion every day. He still lived with me for 4 years anyway. He's going to heaven one day.

The cycle of mutual abuse broke when I decided to get sober. It demanded every internal resource I had and a kind of honesty that few of us have to call up to make it happen.

Hopefully, we do our best to cull the good out of it and create a life worth living. It clearly seems you've done that.

I only know you through your words but it apparent that you have a wisdom beyond your years. You didn't earn that by having it easy.


Thailand Gal

KC said...


I don't know you very well. But I feel I know enough to say that you have touched lives in deep, lasting ways. And in your writing and candor and passion and goodness, you will touch so many more.

This is important work.

Momish said...

Thank you for bravely sharing yourself here. I too can relate to such bad choices which put myself in physical danger, compromised positions and at a complete loss of myself. I too have kept some aspects of this past to myself, so I know how tough it is to just lay this out there. This is why I want to thank you. You are not alone. It took me almost 6 years to build myself back up to where I am and should have always remained if not for my own choices. I too take full blame for my past and where it put me mentally. But, after 6 long years of rebuilding and never quite getting myself back entirely, I was finally able to forgive. Forgive myself. I can tell you have already done that, or at least I hope you have. There are many quiet nights I sit and wonder where or who I would be if not for that rough time in my life. For the most part I feel it has made me better and my life richer. But, there are plenty of times I mourn for the person I would have been instead. The one I lost, because I chose to throw her away when I stayed.

P.S. I studied psych too in an effort to understand. And, I do understand!

flutter said...

I wish I could say something 1/10th as eloquent as what you wrote. all I can say is, you are amazing

meno said...

And out of the ashes of that hell, a phoenix arises.
Thank you for that story, because we can never have enough reminders that it's you and it's me who experience these things, not just some "other" women whom we don't know.

Haley-O said...

Wow. You are brave. I cannot believe this happens. I don't exactly have the words right now. I'm shocked. Thank you for sharing this. I hope writing this here (and, sharing it finally) helps you understand yourself even better, and helps you release this ugly but important (because, as you said, it shaped who you are) time in your life.

Anonymous said...

I think with life.....whatever happens in it.....we can look back....remember and use what was it joy or pain, guilt, etc...and USE it...without doing the 'if onlies'

It is soo easy to kick ourselves over paths not taken or wrong turns.....but as you said, that all shapes us and makes us who we are and we also realize that we continue to change and grow as we go along.

I look back at me young and it is a stranger.....but it made me what I am today.

At least some good can come out of the horror right?

s@bd said...

Every single one of us has made a wrong choice, an 'I know better but' choice, an 'I'm worth more than this but' choice, a 'what the hell was I thinking?!' choice.

And not every one of us is willing to face our bad choices.

good on you for writing this.

J Fife said...

The courage that you show in sharing this experience is amazing. It would be easy to hide the past or to hide in the past - to let this experience take from your core. The girl might have been broken, but the woman is strong.

Joker The Lurcher said...

there are so many echoes here, its hard to know where to start.

only yesterday i was talking to someone about abuse like this and how none of us tell people because the abuser makes us feel it is our fault. she had "outed" her sisters abuser and brought it to an end.

by sharing this stuff it gives other people the courage to tell someone when it is happening to them.

i've been there too and at the time only told a very close friend. but now i tell people (not all of the stuff but the general gist). i think the more we speak out, the more people can see it is possible to come out of the other side pretty much in one piece. i am very fond of saying that what doesn't break you makes you strong and nowhere is this more true than in this context.

it was only when i started to tell people about this stuff (quite a while after i got out of it) that friends disclosed their own experiences. one of my lawyer friends had sat her legal exams with her jaw wired up from a beating and she had never mentioned it before.

another lawyer and journalist who i knew was regularly injured by her partner and yet i had never guessed. i once spoke at the same conference as her. it was summer and really hot and i had to wear a polo neck to hide bruises on my throat. i was so embarassed to be so sweaty. if i had known she had been through all that too it would have been so much easier.

so we must all speak out about it. sure it was choices we made but the corrosive effect of the behaviour of abusers is well known. we are not to blame for it - they are.

acumamakiki said...

Mirrors sister. I did very much the same thing ~ stayed in an abusive relationship with an addict because of my damaged self. Everyone knew he was a bad choice for me, I even knew it. But I was lost and blinded by what I thought was love, and it wasn't until he dumped me, that I was able to turn myself around and find someone that was GOOD for me, rather than allowing myself to be with people that treated me like the shit I thought I deserved.
I didn't start college until I was older as well.....I know now, that I have a strong self-reliance because I was still able to save myself time and again, when the situations I allowed myself to be in, certainly could have gone another way.
But I don't regret any of it, seriously. I think that it makes me a better mama today, so that I can guide my girl towards self love and self-worth; knowing that she deserves what her heart desires and that no one should ever be allowed to kick her self confidence down that hole.

Anonymous said...

You already know i've been there - just reading this gave me chills and memories. I am just thankful in this life that one bad choice doesn't have to define us negatively. It takes a lot of courage - something you have in spades.

I am thankful every day for the chance to live life free from abuse.

Lucia said...

I really believe our intuition kicks in at a very high scale at moments of crisis--moments when it's time to make a split second choice to drop the groceries and run or to enter the room to who knows what. You're a wise woman to listen to your intuition.

Your post is incredibly courageous and powerful...just like you. n

penelopeto said...

thank you for telling your story.

ecm said...

I must echo that I too think this is a brave piece of writing. I admire you straightforward honesty. As I read, I kept thinking how young eighteen is...

Anonymous said...

You are very brave. For telling your story, for facing it all the time when you are helping others with your work.


Jenny said...

I read this and feel cold fingers in my heart. I wish I didn't relate to this post but I do.

I'm so glad for both of us that we were able to escape.

PunditMom said...

Thanks for being brave enough to share this story. It's funny, I don't think about writing these stories down.

Your story sounds eerily similar to mine. I consider myself lucky to have gotten out, the crowning moment being when my ex came after me with a butcher knife. Later, friends told me they could not believe I stayed with my ex as long as I did. But when I asked why they didn't talk to me about it, they said, "We knew you wouldn't listen." I guess that was really before the days of interventions.

I'm so glad you were able to leave and find yourself. For me, I also could not believe I found myself in that position, but looking back on how things were as I was growing up, it should not have been a surprise. But that was many years ago (20+) and I have come a long way, though I am still careful not to let my past tendencies to rise again.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Wow. That was really brave to share, Jen. I hope that this post might help someone else to free themselves from a bad situation.

Anonymous said...

Gawd, you are smart; you are a great writer; a strong humanitarian; and a kick-ass survivor. You have used your power for "choice" well in this world Jen. I know it is cliche to say (but these expressions become cliche for a reason): what doesn't kill us makes us strong.

Thank you once again for your candour and the fine craft of your writing.

Penny said...

I ran straight into hell a couple of times, too. Your story is so eerily similar to mine. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I believe that it takes an incredible amount of courage to leave a situation like you've described ... and to go on to thrive and bring light into the world.

Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's the kind of story that gives people hope and the strength to believe that they can change their lives for the better. You just have to take that first step.

Anonymous said...


sunshine scribe said...

It took great strength to share this story. I work at an agency that helps women who are living with abuse. We always tell them that they are not to blame and understand that there are so many valid reasons why women stay. Your's is a story of surviorship and I bet your words will strike a cord in everyone who reads it.

Sending enormous hugs to you.

Deezee said...

I love your ability to honestly reflect, the courage to see the positive outcome of the bad, which is a sense transform the 'bad' to something else. Great writing. Amazing story.

Ginnie said...

I'm so glad you had the courage to get out of that situation. I'm sure your re-telling this part of your life will be an inspiration to others.

Lillithmother said...

Ok, I've typed about 7 different comments, and everything sounds so trite after re-reading your story (I had to go away and think about it the first time).

Like others here, your experience has triggered my own bad experience with bad relationships...would that we could be the person we are today without all that pain though...

It takes so much courage to share such pain Jen...thank you sister, because look at all the love that you receive in return.

*hugs* Lil

scribbit said...

Good for you, that's a brave thing to have done, brave in many ways. I love your stories and your writing.

Anonymous said...

Holy shit. I'm so glad you're here.

Deb said...

Add me to the list of survivors, married my high school sweetheart drug addict and stayed for 10plus years....
So many of us wounded healers out here, so inspiring to hear this about you.
I agree it is vital to our connection of healing to speak our stories, it is so healing for you and for all of us.
Thank You,
as always...

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Jen. You are a great woman. All you ever do is help people, and speak for those who can't speak for themselves.

Do be sure you care for yourself as much as you do for others too.

crazymumma said...

And what a beautiful shape you have taken. I believe with certainty that some of us have to stumble over some of lifes biggest and most shameful and painful hurdles to become what we have. I am so sorry that you had to live that hell, but I read about you, your life, JDog and M, and I like to think that there is a reason.
At least that is how I have to look at the many mistakes I have made that have brought me to Now. There is a reason for your survival, and you are living it.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your sharing your story. I had a similar experience being abused by someone that I trusted, and I can't even imagine in your situation - because I'm still attached to the person that I loved in my teens. You give me hope.