SHARED STORIES: Domestic Violence; My Story from Surviving to Thriving

Please… please don’t do this. I don’t want to die.

I am barely able to whisper my words through the suffocating grip he has around my neck.

If it isn’t me he is trying to kill, it is himself. Twisting and turning a large knife into his stomach, I watch the blood start to run down as he is threatening me to stay, or his death will be my fault and haunt me forever. I believe him.
So many emotions run through me. I’m angry. I’m trapped. I feel so much pity for him. I’m.. I’m just confused. Having just turned 20 years old, finally getting into a deep relationship for the first time, instantly getting sucked into this guy’s web of lies, torment, manipulation, I become a victim of abuse.
At first it is emotional and mental abuse. The name calling, shaming, belittling, accusing.
But it doesn’t last long until it is normal for him to choke me, or dig his fingers into my flesh until it bruises, punch me in the head which leaves thick knots, rip chunks of hair by the handfuls, bite me, slap me, shove me, throw scalding hot water over me… I could go on.
Some days are ok though. Some days him and I even laugh. These are the days he is able to get high off of Oxycontin and mellow out. The days he can’t get it? These are the worst of it.
This quiet voice in my head tells me that because I let him do these things to me, I am weak. Because I am weak, I deserve to suffer, and I don’t deserve help. This causes me to lie, first to myself in that “it is normal”, then to my friends and family who show concern. I am full of reasons for why my eyes are black and blue today, or why I am limping. So much shame keeps me from looking in their eyes and admitting the truth.

How does this become normal? At first I don’t notice myself becoming numb. Physically and emotionally, I stop feeling pain… well, some of it. I certainly stop feeling other people’s pain. I look at my friends and the suffering they endure in their own lives, and I just stare awkwardly like a deer in headlights. I see it, but I don’t feel it. Looking at myself in the mirror, I see this bruised, weak, silhouette of a girl just staring back at me. Who is she? I don’t know her. She doesn’t look like someone I want to know.
Every now and then, I manage to get an idea in my head to leave. But how? One time I sneak out of the house when he leaves to work. I run to my friend’s house. Trying to enjoy life outside of my prison, and just be normal, I spend time with a few friends. That night I witness an argument escalate until a guy shoves another girl, and something in my mind just snaps. In an instant, I see ME getting shoved, and I see that this is absolutely horrifying and wrong! I scream this terrifying scream, run over, and grab my friend away from him.
Afterwards I call my parents to come pick me up. I’m ready to ask for help. All of the pain I have been pushing away from my body, now finds its way rushing to my consciousness. I have woken up. Wow, I am in a LOT of pain. I look in the mirror at their house and see my own face, and the suffering I am going through. But something interesting happens. I also somehow see through the suffering, to a strong, beautiful, valuable woman that is waiting to come forward. I reach my hand to this version of myself and invite her to come out.
It is the spark I need that helps fuel me through the next few years of school, seeing it through to the end to obtain a Fine Arts Degree. During this time, I create new habits, surround myself with positive people and even a few Professors who become important mentors. I start to see the world and myself in it in new ways. Having allowed the dishonoring of my body for so long, I feel this deep responsibility to bring it back to life. My obsession becomes my health; mindfully eating, breathing, stretching. It becomes exercise; learning about my bones, muscles, organs, working each area of my body out, paying attention to how they work together and propel me through physical space. Dance and music brings a grace and fun to my movement. With both the education and expression of creativity and art, I learn how to turn my darkness and deep mental, emotional, and spiritual pain and chaos into light and order. I see my feelings come to life on these canvases and I start to have a better understand who I am and what I am capable of. It is therapy.
Today, people know me as a fashion model and actress that cares deeply about the health of our planet, and specifically marine biology, something that has been a part of my early childhood, growing up around the ocean. Some people might say I carry a pure heart that laughs with love and happiness. They wouldn’t be wrong, but I feel this authentic love, happiness, and appreciation for the gift of life, because it is the furthest away from that dark, death grip of despair he once had around my neck. I feel blessed, not only that I survived, but that each day I have an opportunity to thrive.
 

Thank you for taking the time to read a piece of my story. For 8 years I have felt a crippling shame and embarrassment around opening up to share it, until today. Today I realize my story isn’t just about me. It is about the many women suffering from similar abuses today. It is about the many other women who also feel the shame I have felt and who haven’t yet had the courage to open up and share. If this story reaches just one other woman, it was worth it.
Please feel free to share this to create more awareness around domestic violence.
This week I am walking down the runway to support Runway To Freedom, an incredible organization that is helping create awareness around domestic violence, and directly supporting Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter for women, children, and famlies. Learn more and get involved here: http://runwaytofreedom.org/
Thank you so much to Lauren Grinnell and Ava J. Holmes for letting me be a part of RUNWAY TO FREEDOM 6. Also thank you to my friends, family, professors, and mentors who have been instrumental in my recovery and growth, I couldn’t have done it without you! A very big thank you to Colin Christianson for encouraging me to be my own woman.
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