Breaking the Cycle Breaking the Cycle

After a whirl-wind courtship, I began living with a man who seemed perfect at first. We did so much together and we were always the life the party. He seemed to accept me just the way I was. Everything seemed perfect until our tempers clashed for the first time.

One night while out bowling and playing pool, I told him that I was ready to go home. He became enraged and accused me of being a sore loser. I was not shaken by his hostility at the time. As we walked to the car, he began calling me names. Being a feisty woman by nature, I responded with my own insults. Then he stormed over to my side of the car and started choking me. I fought back as much as I could and he stopped. We got in the car and proceeded to drive home.

My heart was racing fast. I'd never experienced anything like that. I'd always said that I would leave if a man ever put his hands on me but I was so torn. We'd just moved into an apartment that I could barely afford on my own and to top it all off, I was in love.

He was such a loving partner when he wasn't angry. I didn't just receive flowers after an incident; I received flowers, cards, and poems all the time. I forgave his temper and hoped that things would get better, and they were for a short period of time.

In addition to buying my clothes, he started picking out what I should wear each day. We began to argue more and more about finances. While he paid the bills, he was financially irresponsible in other ways. He spent money like most people drink water.

One night he came home and I knew he would be drunk and want to have sex, so I locked our bedroom door. While I put up with a lot of verbal and emotional abuse, I had never experienced extreme violence from anyone. He kicked open the door and my legs, side, and face were on fire from the carpet burns as he dragged me through the hall and into the living room. He pushed me out of my home barefoot with only panties and a t-shirt on. I walked to the convenience store about two blocks away and called the police. This time he went to jail.

After I let him come home, he promised to enroll in anger management clases and we planned a trip to see his family. This vacation was supposed to be a rebuilding journey for us. The trip was amazing at first. While I was there, two significant shifts in my clarity occurred. First, his mother and father got into an argument and it was as if I was watching myself being talked down to. Only the roles were reversed, his mother was verbally abusive. She said some of the same hurtful things to her husband that her son said to me.

Later on that evening, my ex got into an argument with his sister. His language was so abusive that she left the room visibly shaken while he and his mother went on conversing like nothing happened. I followed his sister into the kitchen and tried to comfort her. She told me that he always got away with talking to her like that and hitting her. She said he could do no wrong in their mother's eyes. The light bulb went off. I realized at that moment that I could not help him. He'd learned this behavior at home. Unless he made a commitment to really get help, I'd always be his victim. I made a commitment to leave if he ever hit me or called me out of my name again. I am alive today because I kept that promise.

I was one of the lucky ones. The months after a woman leaves a violent relationship are very dangerous. My ex never stalked or harassed me. When I reflected on the ways he had controlled my life and the escalation of the violence, I realized that I could have easily been one of the thousands who die at the hands of the men they love each year. I kept my ordeal secret from my family for years.

I have learned that love does not hurt and that I am worthy to receive it. As a Domestic Violence Counselor, I tell my clients who are dealing with abuse those same words all the time. I hope that some day they will believe me because it has taken many years for me to believe it myself.

Artist's Note: There are many variables when it comes to why a person abuses another and how one deals with the abuse, but a common denominator is learned behavior. Children model their parents. Although the abuser is the one to change, the survivor MUST draw the line in the sand and follow through. Breaking the cycle is more than just severing ties in a toxic relationship; it's internalizing the newfound knowledge of self worth and setting boundaries for healthy relationships in the future. This survivor learned and listened to her intuition that love isn't enough; she could not help him change his behavior. For this reason, she chose to have the third-eye chakra symbol on her gold necklace, which represents the spiritual intuitiveness that saved her life and continues to guide her today.