Sticks And Stones: I Stayed In A Verbally Abusive Relationship Because I Refused To 'Give Up'

by Jess Torres

In the wake of the Ray Rice domestic abuse news, brave men and women have come forward on Twitter to share their stories. They created the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.

Their heartfelt, poignant and powerful stories contain hope in a hashtag. Below is the story of a female survivor who left an abusive relationship after realizing that verbal abuse can slice just as deeply as the physical does. She bravely — and beautifully — shared it with Elite Daily.

There’s this misconception that domestic violence is some relic of the past, outdated and irrelevant in many of our Millennial lives. We imagine a frustrated husband coming home from a long, stressful day at the office, unbuttoning his pressed, collared shirt and beating his wife because dinner wasn’t warm enough.

But if we stop looking for bruises and just listen, we realize that some of our closest friends and loved ones -- regardless of what they look like or where they’re from -- are really struggling to figure themselves out in relationships that are stifling, controlling and abusive.

I grew up equating strength with how much you tolerated with how much you could overcome. When I was younger, I watched my mother get slammed into a chainlink fence by her ex-husband as we were walking home on Gun Hill Road. I clutched the door handle of a car door nearby, absolutely helpless in my innocence.

Because I’d grown up thinking domestic violence was something married folk who had money troubles grappled with, I never thought I’d end up in an abusive relationship. I went to college to get away from many of the pathologies that have come to identify Latinas, like myself, from the Bronx. I wasn’t my mother, and I thought that I knew enough to avoid whatever traps she must’ve fallen into to get there.

But then I met the man I thought was the love of my life. We were obsessed with each other. We spent every moment outside of class and practice with one another, clawing at each other between the sheets and laughing at things only we seemed to understand.

But things were -- more often -- painful than pleasant. He became controlling, I became jealous. We would fight louder and more aggressively, hurling insults and saying seemingly unforgivable things to each other.

But for me, it was never how loud we yelled at each other or how much his words cut me; it wasn't the throwing things, punching walls.

Instead, it was having to walk away from these episodes with my head held high; it was holding it all together in public as I ran off to volleyball practice or prepped for student group meetings I’d be leading that later evening.

His voice would boom with anger as he’d come tearing through the dorms, slamming doors and demanding explanations from me about things I couldn’t explain.

Eventually, the only way I could share my thoughts comfortably with him were through words I’d scribble on sheets on paper, sliding them to him as he tried to calm down.

I was effectively living two lives, one as a woman who cowered in the presence of her boyfriend when we were alone, and the other who defiantly roared in the face of any type of woman-related issue I could find.

“He has potential,” I would tell myself. Soon enough, making excuses became too easy.

Eventually, I felt too self-conscious around my neighbors who overheard everything and folks in the dining hall who would gossip about our last big public blow out. It was so embarrassing that I felt like we had to stay together, we had to prove there was something worth saving.

To numb my frustrations, I finally began going to therapy. But I wouldn’t tell the whole story. Once I got a prescription for my uncontrollable anxiety, I’d nervously tear at the bottle and swallow as many pills as I could, often during fights so I could coast through the anger and fear.

“You don’t understand. He’s my best friend,” I’d say to friends.

He was so charismatic and ruthlessly charming, so the incessant fighting had to be my fault, right? I was too volatile; I pushed him too much. I wasn’t worth it for anyone else, so we were stuck together. These are the things I convinced myself of.

But I grew tired of making myself vulnerable in a relationship that wasn’t helping me grow into a better person. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I finally left him.

I realized that I was the only one responsible for the type of love I brought into my life. But that was a long and painful process. Without the support of patient friends with open hearts, I don’t think I would’ve ever left him.

I wrote a lot. I wrote myself into existence, as a vibrant, passionate woman determined to find love that felt nourishing and full, not swollen and painfully penetrative.

Dating in my early 20s is far from easy; I’m still soft and unsure of many things. But looking back, I remember how heavy the burden of loving yourself is, especially after being told you shouldn’t. But one day you wake up and realize you’re strong enough to be alone.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abusive, please do not hesitate to get the help and safety you need. The following organizations offer support — emotional and legal: The National Domestic Violence HotlineHelpGuideSafeHorizon and the Center Against Domestic Violence.

You are not alone and most importantly, you do not deserve this.

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