I was leaving my support group behind

This Next Door Solutions client agreed to share her story with us for our 50th-anniversary Survivor Story series.

Contrary to what the song says, love should not hurt. Not in these ways.

As I lay on the cold tile floor, which did not dull the pain on my back and shoulders, I thought about how easily feelings are manipulated. How twisting a fact can drive you to doubt what you see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, think with your own mind, and feel with your own muscles.

My boyfriend had violently shoved me onto the refrigerator door during one of our daily arguments. I have blocked out so much I can no longer remember exactly what started it. I will never forget the moment, nor can I stop thinking about how he blocked the door when the neighbors knocked. They heard the commotion and feared for my safety. I was a hostage, and my captor was the person I thought loved me the most.

The classic traits were there from the beginning. I was 18 years old, in college, and he was ten years older. He was charming with me but did not connect with my friends. My parents never liked him from the start, which he used as ammunition to convince me that his request-to drop out of school and move to Oregon, hundreds of miles away from my family-was somehow the right thing to do. I was leaving my support group behind, a tactic used by abusers to reinforce their control.

The bickering was constant, and the psychological abuse became commonplace. The verbal attacks were now frequent, like a predator circling its prey before mounting its strike. His methods now included sexual coercion, turning what should have been an act of love into one of dominance. He then added the final piece of the puzzle. Having established control, he crossed the last boundary by hitting me.

I cannot image the thoughts on my father’s mind as he drove all night to Oregon. Luckily, I went home, bruised and battered, with my dad. I wish that had been the end, but it wasn’t. My boyfriend convinced me to return and soon I became pregnant. Physical violence, it turns out, was not the final step. “Chaining me” to him, through the connection of a child, was the master play. He thought I would never leave him, not with another person to forever bind us.

The abuse continued. My parents called 911; my dad drove to my house and along with the police, escorted me out of hell. My mother researched shelters and found Next Door Solutions; it was truly a gift from heaven. I was lucky I could stay with my parents, but I know others are not as fortunate. Next Door Solutions would have provided me shelter if I needed it, but in my case, the critical need was obtaining a Restraining Order against my boyfriend. They walked me through the steps and explained the process while my mother comforted me. It’s no exaggeration to say they may have saved my life.

The restraining order was essential to keep him away, even though he attempted to re-connect. He even tried to come to the hospital where I was giving birth to our son, but the staff (and the police) told him the only thing he would accomplish was to be arrested. Sadly, my father passed away shortly after my son’s birth, but my mother is still here. I have full custody of my son, though my ex-boyfriend sometimes sees him. I have taught my child to recognize the signs of abuse and to tell me if anything happens.

My story may seem like the epitome of an abusive relationship; the typical script you hear. The worst thing is how commonplace the situation is. People in my situation need to know that is not love; it’s assault. It’s torture. It’s sadism. It’s inhumane. And above all, it’s a crime. 

You should never fear to feel your feelings. They represent the reality; they are true, unlike the fairy tale your abuser is telling you. Like fairy tales, you believe them, until you realize they are not true. But unlike fairy tales, an abusive relationship can sometimes be deadly and it’s always damaging.

You may feel alone but know there are people willing to help. They can be your family, friends, or acquaintances. Or they may be people connected to them. Do not be afraid to understand your feelings and to reach out for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength, just like an abusive relationship is not a sign of love, but rather one of hatred.