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By Gabriella Lee
If you know me at all, even just in passing, then you probably know about the heart-wrenching break up I went through last February, on Leap Day to be exact. If the black eye I sported for a month didn’t tip you off, then the gloomy cloud that hung over my head for months after probably did. Yes, I was in a long-term, abusive relationship. Yes, I stayed way longer than I should’ve. And, yes, it still hurts today.
I want to start this off and say if you are in an abusive relationship, whether verbal, physical or emotional, please, please, please end it. The fact is that people don’t change. Especially when you keep going back and essentially telling them their actions are acceptable.
So. Since this has all happened, or really since it has all become public knowledge, I have been bombarded with questions. The first, really, has been how long was this going on. Honestly? Too long.
We were together for four years, and he had been physically abusive to me for about three of those years. Before he was physically abusive, he was verbally abusive. Not all the time, not at all. But when we fought nasty names were said and harsh words that I could never forget came out of his mouth.
People also asked why I stayed. I have many quick answers: I thought I could help him, which is true. I loved him, true. The real answer is way more complex.
Yes, I truly thought that by staying by his side and loving him so completely that I could somehow fix this issue. But also, the first few times it happened I just believed it wouldn’t happen again. This was the man I had loved more than anything, my first love. I trusted him with everything I had. This couldn’t be a permanent thing; he would get better. WE could get better.
Sometimes I blamed myself and said that I need to learn to back off when we fought. Other times, I downplayed it so much in my mind, “It wasn’t really that bad, he just lost his cool but it could’ve been worse.”
I justified his actions because that was what he grew up with, and he truly didn’t know any better. When it comes down to it, I was so utterly afraid to walk away from the one person who seemingly loved me no matter what (though looking back, those were just thoughts in my head).
And yes, he had some amazing qualities. Would I have stayed without the good times? I don’t know. I’d like to say no, but I was so addicted to the drama of our relationship, of trying to save him from himself. I believed for a good portion of our relationship that he would change for me the way he promised. *People don’t change for you, they ONLY change for themselves.* I stayed because I loved him, and the idea of our relationship and our future, more than I loved myself.
I want to make this clear: There is absolutely, positively NO reason to abuse anyone, and especially the person you are in love with. All those excuses I told myself to make up for his behavior…well, they DON’T. Can I be a frustrating person to deal with at times? Absolutely. Does that warrant any kind of abuse? Absolutely not. This goes for every single human being on the planet.
Another famous question being asked is why I didn’t tell you what was going on. If you are someone who asked me this, please don’t take it personally. I couldn’t admit it to myself that I was in an abusive relationship, let alone admit it to you, no matter how close we are. For those of you who have understood without asking, thank you.
Now we get to the fun part. The day I actually left. Or, rather, made him leave.
We both weren’t feeling well, my ex actually didn’t go to work. I came home from a meeting and we got into a trivial argument. I told him that it isn’t a big deal and he needs to stop being so dramatic. That simply angered him more and he said he was done with me and taking his stuff and leaving.
At this point, I honestly don’t know what was going through my mind, but when he was leaving, I asked him to leave his key. I was done with the bullshit. He started to take the key off the ring, but instead of giving it to me, he punched me in the face. Hence the black eye. I don’t want to get into the graphic details after that because this isn’t about putting him on trial.
The only thing going through my head this time was, “He is going to kill me.” I had never truly believed that before. There had been times way worse than this, and I still never thought he would kill me. Until then.
The next thing that ran through my head was, “I want to have a family. I can’t let my kids go through this!” I don’t have any kids, yet, and I was already thinking of them.
After he left, I locked the door immediately. I didn’t look in the mirror, but I could feel it was bad. I called my mom and sob-talked my deepest darkest secret, “He hit me.” It was one of the only times I admitted it to another person, let alone admit it to myself.
My mother, my amazing, saint-like mother, left work and came straight to me. I tried to hide my face from her, I’m not sure why, shame, perhaps? After hugging and sobbing more, my dad arrived. I debated about calling the police.
“I don’t want to ruin his life,” I said, “He isn’t a bad person.”
But my mom said something that really struck a chord with me, “Gabriella, this could help him. This could stop him from doing this to you or another girl again.” She was right. I called the police, and then I went to the hospital.
Going to work as a waitress with a black eye was a test to my strength. It didn’t hurt a lot so mostly I could forget about it, until I walked by a mirror, or a customer looked at me, concerned. I tried to give the generic answer, “Oh, it’s not as bad as it seems,” when someone asked what happened.
To speak of the breakup caused me to get so choked up. Having a black eye as a constant reminder, not to mention three fractured ribs, definitely helped me to stay strong and not retreat back to him, that, at times, I so desperately wanted to do.
So, why did I leave this time? Sure, some of it was because I couldn’t hide a black eye. Some of it was because I was scared for my life. But mostly, it just felt time. I can’t put a finger on why I really felt this time was it. There were previous times that were way worse, albeit slightly less obvious to the public, that didn’t cause me to leave. I suppose, I was just ready. That’s the best explanation I can give.
So, here I am. 11 months later. My heart still hurts on occasion. Sometimes, I still miss the amazing guy I knew. It was hard to let go of all the dreams I had resting on him, and our relationship. But, it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It was also the absolutely hardest thing I have ever had to go through. It tested my beliefs in everything. It challenged the strength I had. It stressed every relationship I have. I came out of it so much stronger, so much more aware of the power I have over my life. My true family and friends outshone all others. I now believe in myself. I’m not the young, naive teenager that fell in love with this man. For the first time, I am an adult on my own. And you know the craziest part? I’m OK.