“Karly, did you hear me? I said Amy was murdered.”

I remember when I got the call. I was in the middle of hosting a work event. To this day, I still don’t remember who called me. I only remember what the voice on the other end said.

Amy died at the hands of domestic violence.

Earlier this week, on the anniversary of her death, one of Amy’s friends posted a beautiful message on his Facebook page to remind women that we’re all stronger than we think. Reading his post immediately made me long for this message back when I was in high school.

I always wondered how anyone could “allow” themselves to be abused. Even before high school, I would judgmentally scoff at the TV when I’d see even the smallest clip of a woman talking about her abusive relationship and how she was planning on going back to him. I’d laugh out loud, call her an idiot, and keep on flipping the channels. Empathy clearly needed time to age and mature for me back then. I just couldn’t believe it. How in the world would that ever happen to someone? It was unbelievable to me then, until it wasn’t.

It happened slowly – like growing out your nails or gaining weight. You don’t realize it’s happening until one day when you scratch yourself too hard or look down and think, “Holy sh*t, I can’t see my pant’s button!”

Abusers pray on weakness. Once they have your attention, they start to tell you small lies in order to breed fear. Fear makes you weaker, making it even easier for you to digest more lies and increase your fear. The cycle is then set in motion and it continues until you’re no longer able to recognize yourself.

I was already emotionally battered, having just endured a gross public humiliation at school. A story for another time. The smell of blood was in the air and I didn’t even realize how bad I was hemorrhaging.

Initially, I thought he just wanted to be friends. I was looking for someone to talk to and confide in without any of the drama. I appeared, momentarily, to have found just that, until he said, “You can’t hang up the phone until you go out with me.” I was shocked and somewhat flattered. Wow! After what happened at school, you still want to date me? That thought was what drove my next decision. Don’t try telling me thoughts aren’t powerful. Instead of telling him to go f*ck himself, I hung up the phone and had a new boyfriend.

Abusers will isolate you from the rest of the pack. It increases their power and diminishes your self-worth. A lose-lose if you’re the abusee.

In the beginning, I liked the “positive” attention. It was a welcomed distraction from the before-mentioned school incident. He’d pick me up for school, walk me to practice, watch my practice, drive me home, and then call me when he got home. He was everywhere. Soon, it mutated into a lack of freedom over every second of my day, my attire, and overall appearance. No meeting up with friends to watch a girls’ volleyball game because surely there was a different boy there I liked. No dress up clothes (even when they were required for away sport matches) because of this so-called other boy. No makeup because who the hell was I trying to impress anyway…and I’m sure the imaginary boy played a role here too. If one of the “new rules” was broken, an embarrassing public fight would ensue during school. Sadly, the fights seemed like the worst part of it, so I attempted to defuse the situation as quickly as possible. Eventually, I simply complied. And since I previously managed to isolate myself from all of my old friends, I didn’t know who to turn to. It appeared all I had was him.

The first time he pushed me, I thought he was goofing around, so I gently pushed him back. When I ended up on the floor with him towering over me, screaming in my face, I realized we weren’t playing and I was in an entirely new hell. I found myself on the floor or against a wall many times after that, and it was always followed with one of the following statements:

“Why would anyone want you now – you’re nothing!”

“I can’t believe you think you’re worth a sh*t!”

“Just look at yourself – you’re worthless! You’re lucky to have me!”

It’s hard to remember your own strength when you’re drowning in the belief of someone else’s lies.

I tried breaking up with him a few times, but he made me feel even worse about myself than I already did, which was saying something. I just wanted the pain to stop, so I got back to together with him and stayed in the relationship…just like the “idiot” I saw on TV.

I’m not sure what changed. All I knew was I woke up one day and I had enough. I didn’t want to keep living like that, but I had no idea how to jump from the moving freight train I was on. All I knew was I needed him to break up with me. If he did that, I knew I could muster the strength to say “no” if he asked me to take him back.

My plan consisted of borrowing a boy’s football jersey to wear at the homecoming game. Word travels fast in a small town, and once he found out, he dumped me. I couldn’t have been happier! He must have known the gig was up, because I left with the biggest smile on my face. He chased me into the parking lot and immediately asked me to take him back. I continued smiling, said no, and drove home alone. He even brought flowers to school the next day, apologized, and asked me again to take him back. The memory of walking up the stairs, leaving him standing behind holding those flowers, is still so vivid in my mind. I felt empowered. I was finally free.

After years of therapy, self-improvement, and reflection, when I think back to this relationship, I wonder just how horrible his life must have been to treat someone like that. I can’t even imagine. Regardless, it taught me a lot about myself. While I still accepted boys treating me poorly afterwards (those wounds took well after my college years to heal), I never put up with physical abuse again. So when a college boyfriend was drunk and pushed me, I dumped his ass on the spot and never looked back. I found my strength, and that was the most beautiful and empowering thing of all.

I didn’t realize I was strong enough then, but I’m happy that I do now. If you’re reading this and you’re feeling less than, unworthy, or weak, I’m here to tell you that there is light still flickering inside you. You are strong enough. You are worthy. You are loved.

If you’re currently in an abusive relationship, there is still hope. I pray that you find the strength and get the help you need to free yourself; there are many wonderful resources available now that didn’t exist when I needed them. I believe in you. I deserved better back then, and you deserve better now.

National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233

 

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