Last month marked the 14th anniversary of my move to the Carolinas. It’s always such a strange marker of time for me because it requires an acknowledgement of the truth. The truth of why I moved away from my hometown and not the glossed over version of a simple move post graduation. The real reason I moved four states and nearly ten hours away from my family and the home I grew up in was to escape an abusive relationship.
I was 19 years old and a freshman at a university in my home state when I first met this boy. At first I couldn’t stand him and in hindsight I wish I would have listed to my intuition and steered clear. He could be very charming and over the course of a year we eventually began dating. In the early months he continued to be very charming despite early warning signs.
Grand gestures in front of other people meant more for how it looked to his audience and less for my benefit. Gas lighting me by starting fights or behaving terribly and turning each and every situation around so that it was somehow my fault. Controlling behavior and needing to have access to me at all times and going ballistic if I wouldn’t respond to text messages or answer his calls. I vividly remember one night having to disconnect our phone because he would not stop calling and leaving horrible, abusive messages. There were multiple incidents where he broke into my house. Near constant attempts to start fights with my friends to leave me isolated and dependent upon him.
This went on for three years and progressively escalated to the point where if I had not got out when I did, I know with utter certainty the verbal, emotional and psychological abuse was going to turn physical. And most people who know me today have no idea that this is part of my story. I don’t talk about this time in my life because I feel ashamed; ashamed of what I tolerated, of turning into a person I hated and didn’t recognize. I feel shame over things that were done to me and for allowing someone so small to steal that much of myself and my power. That shame is what has kept me quiet for over a decade and shame is probably what keeps the women in your life quiet too.
The last few weeks have been hard for so many, particularly those who have survived abuse and trauma and suffer in silence. They stay silent because deep down they have convinced themselves that whatever happened to them is somehow their fault. They stay silent because they don’t want to hear “It wasn’t that bad”. They stay silent because they know more often than not they simply won’t be believed.
I recently shared a story with my husband of something that happened to me when I was in high school and he was shocked that in the fourteen years we’ve been together I’d never told him. There’s a lot of stories from my teen and early twenties that I haven’t told him or anyone. It’s too painful as a grown woman to wish with all your heart you could go back and rescue a prior version of yourself. While I can’t time travel and save a younger me, I can reclaim this chapter of my story and the power I give it.