Opinion

Finding strength — a personal account of domestic violence

Walking away from a relationship is hard. It’s even harder when the person you are walking away from makes you believe that you are the problem.

I believed that I was the problem for three years.

The first time my ex-boyfriend hit me, it was because my younger sister, who was six at the time, spilled water on him. He wanted to shove her. He hit me instead. That was the beginning of my hell.

I could have, should have, would have walked away right there.

But the apologies, they worked. The tears and the “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” “It’ll never happen again,” were quite convincing.

After about eight months in the relationship and for years to come, things went downhill and never went up.

My dad noticed changes in me first. I had stopped joking around, even when my dad set me up perfectly for a sarcastic remark, which I never passed up on.

I spent a lot of time alone or on the phone talking to my boyfriend/prison warden because he always wanted to know where I was.
I had become extremely withdrawn and depressed.

For a while, my boyfriend and I lived far apart. He would send me text messages about girls he met, asking me why I couldn’t be more like them. He asked me to act “girlier,” not to dye my hair or get tattoos and piercings. He said that I looked fat in a picture I sent him.

I thought the only way to keep him and to be happy was to change myself.

At first the changes were subtle. I threw out some low-cut shirts so he would be happier about how I looked to others. He wasn’t satisfied. I acted “girlier.” I wore dresses and perfumes. But he told me I looked too provocative — and I was never allowed to wear them out.

The final step I took was to lose weight. And boy, was I good at that.

I became anorexic, something for which my family was predisposed.

My boyfriend approved of the dramatic weight loss, until he moved to my city and heard the arguments I would have with my family. They wanted me to live; I wanted to die. I felt as though if I couldn’t make my boyfriend proud, then no one would ever be proud of me.

In my mind, my family was required to love me — it wasn’t a choice. Maybe if it was a choice then they wouldn’t care for me at all. My boyfriend had a choice, and so I had to make myself good enough.

My disorder reached a point where my life was in danger. I was 16, a minor, so I could not refuse when my parents and my doctor said I needed inpatient treatment at an area hospital. They said they would take me forcibly if they had to.

When I told my boyfriend, he exploded. He said I had to get out of it, arguing he had just moved to be closer to me and now I was “leaving him.”

While in the hospital, I was placed on suicide watch. I was diagnosed with a depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and minor bulimia. I didn’t care about the diagnosis. I didn’t care about anything, except for pleasing him and his constant requests for me to change my behavior. (Which he denied he was doing the whole time.)

According to him, my eating disorder was my own fault. He insisted that all he did was suggest that I could “lose a few pounds” and he wouldn’t mind, and that this wouldn’t have pushed me into this, unless I was trying to impress somebody else.

If I had to leave and he was at home, he would make an argument so that I wouldn’t leave. If I did try to leave, he would grab me by my hair, drag me back into our room, bang my head on the wall and then lock me in from the outside.

Or he would throw something at me to leave a bruise. I wouldn’t want people to see, so I wouldn’t go.

But, according to him, he was being jealous because he loved me, and the fact that I wasn’t like this meant that I didn’t care for him.

This only lead to more things being thrown at me, more hair dragging, more insults to me.

And then, shortly after, it led to threats to people I cared deeply about if I ever tried to leave him or call for help.

I became suicidal again, and I took so many pills that I couldn’t count them. I just wanted him to care.

I made a real effort to leave him after almost three years. I was unsuccessful. I was so lost in the fact that I had been with the same person since I was 15, I figured there must be a reason I stayed, and he must love me at least a bit if he’s still here too. He cried and begged me for another chance. As he was packing I told him not to leave. He promised that if it ever happened again he would leave on his own.

For about a month and a half things were OK. I left to work across Canada in the summer, and asked him if he would like to come out there and work with me. He agreed, not liking that he couldn’t monitor my actions and attire.

It was the worst decision of my life.

My boyfriend, the person who I had hoped changed and would keep his promise not to hurt me, couldn’t handle seeing me care for and spend time with other people.

He was there for less than two full days.

I got into an argument with him one night and left the room to be with people who cared about me. When I went in to check on him he locked the door behind me and stood in front of it.

That night he straddled me, ran a knife along my stomach and choked me until I couldn’t see, saying that if I screamed then whoever came in would die first.

It was in a moment of suffocation when I first looked him in the eyes and choked out “do it.” He let go in shock, and I gasped for air.

I was in that room for about two hours, reliving that moment over and over again, before I was actually allowed to walk out and he packed his things.

It was one of the hardest, scariest, strongest things I’ve ever done, and I have never loved myself more. And I have never felt more loved by family and friends and the supports I had on that night. I probably never will again.

I came out of this stronger than I ever thought possible.

I will never be free of the experience or the mental health issues that stemmed — in part — from how I was treated. But I know that I am not alone, and neither are you.

I was never the problem. You are not the problem.

Name of the author withheld.