The Courage to Walk Away

Domestic violence has always been a touchy subject. When someone brings it up in conversation, eyes automatically cast down and people shift uncomfortably in their seats; it's the hot topic that's always in the news, but rarely ever talked about. In light of recent events (looking at you, Ray Rice), I've decided to finally come clean with my experience with domestic violence. I've been quiet for quite some time now, and I hope that these words are read as more than just an argument and call to action; I hope that I can provide comfort and instill hope in those who are going through what I did (or even worse.)

When I saw the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft trending, I immediately contributed to them. I felt comfortable sharing these on twitter because my voice would be clouded amongst other domestic violence victims--people wouldn't really know what happened to me. I've had this article in mind for a long time, and up until recently, I was going to publish this anonymously. But, I've come to terms with what I've experienced and I realized I had a choice: either hide behind the mask I put on long ago, or take my walls down and tell my story

I don't really remember how and when I learned about domestic violence. It must've been some quick disclaimer in high school sex-ed: "If a man hits you, that's abuse. If you have bruises and scars, that's abuse." For the longest time, I thought that abuse was just physical. While I always heard people mention emotional and verbal abuse, I never really understood it. I never understood how much words can hurt and manipulate someone until I experienced it myself.

When I first started dating my ex-boyfriend, I was on cloud nine. He was a total gentleman at first: he paid for dates, opened doors, picked me up and dropped me off. But even when we were dating, before we agreed on being an official couple, he would subtlety manipulate me. When I was offered an internship with the Washington Post that summer, he gave me an ultimatum: him or the internship. And he made a compelling argument--I was young and I could get all the internships I wanted, after I came home for the summer…for him. Being young and naive, I listened. I followed his instructions. I went home.

The more time we spent together, the more we fought. And the more we fought, the more emotionally manipulative he became. When we fought, he would threaten to breakup with me. He'd tell me that he could get any girl--I was lucky he deemed me worthy to date. Throughout the duration of our relationship, he would always say, "I could drop you any minute and forget you. That's how much I don't care."

I begged. I cried. I screamed. How could someone do that so easily? How could this person, who said he loved me, tell me that? But I stayed. Even after he threatened to forget me, I stayed because I had no self-esteem. He began telling me that he was doing me a favor by dating me, that otherwise, no one would ever love me. I listened. I believed him.

The verbal abuse was more gradual. It started with calling me "stupid" or "idiotic" when we'd fight. About five months into it (and the rest of the time after), it got worse. I was a "fat cow," a "pathetic loser," a "fat fuck," a "disgusting bitch," a "psychotic cunt," a "stupid whore." There were times when I made him so angry, he wished he was there so he could "punch my face in"; he'd tell me he wished someone would "teach me a lesson". A few times, the fights and the abuse escalated to the point where he'd tell me that he wished I'd do him a favor, put him out of his misery, and "kill [myself] already."

These words came from the same person who told me they loved me, who told me they wanted to marry me, who told me that their future was me. The more abusive he got, the less I believed him but nevertheless, I stayed. I stayed because I was hurt and scared, confused and angry, and most of all, I was afraid. I was afraid that leaving would mean I would be completely alone. 

He became very controlling. I wasn't allowed to drink or go out with friends, I wasn't allowed to not text him (even in class) and I wasn't allowed to be friends with guys. I had to delete every guy's number in my phone to "prove" I was faithful. I had to isolate myself from everyone and everything to "show that I really cared." But he was still free to drink, he was still able to go to parties and be with girls, sometimes threatening me that if I acted up, he would cheat and forget all about me. 

I didn't know what to do. I was confused and lost, I felt completely hopeless in a situation I felt that I should've had control over. I knew that what I was experiencing wasn't right, that relationships like this were not normal. But the more abusive he became, my embarrassment grew. I barely mentioned what I went through to people--even my closest friends didn't know the full extent of what was going on. I was embarrassed because I felt like I should've known better. I should've dated someone who wouldn't treat me this way, I should've been strong enough to walk away at the first sign of abuse. For a long time, I was weak. I was fragile. I was broken. 

After a year and a half of abuse, I finally walked away. I deleted and blocked him from everything. And though I still get the urge to call him and check-up on his social media, I know that with time, those feelings will fade. 

I hope that you've taken my story to heart. I hope that, if you're a victim of domestic violence, you have the courage to stand up to your abuser and walk away. It was the scariest thing I've ever done, but that was the first step that I took, and that opened the door to the rest of my life. I don't cry myself to sleep anymore. I don't hear terrible things anymore. I don't wake up afraid of what the day might bring. I left because after a year and a half of abuse, I finally realized that someone who wishes you were dead doesn't really love you. I left because I needed to learn to love myself before I let someone really love me. I left because I needed to take control of my life and my feelings. 

Domestic violence is not an easy thing to swallow. This story was nowhere near easy to write, let alone share with the entire internet population. But this needed to be done. Not only did I need to tell my story to get closure, but I needed to show others that abuse isn't just physical. It shouldn't take a woman getting knocked out cold in an elevator to shed light on a terrible, terrible issue. It shouldn't take countless women being brutally beaten to make a credible call-to-action. Name-calling and manipulation is just as hurtful. Name-calling and manipulation are verbal and emotional abuse. If you are in a verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive relationship, please seek help from the counseling center or any other outside source. 

This article is dedicated to my abuser. You will always be a victimizer, but I am no longer your victim.

Gabriella Salazar is a junior at American University studying Public Communication and Marketing. She hails from sunny, sunny Los Angeles, California and her proudest moment is meeting Ryan Gosling at the Gangster Squad Premier in January 2013. She's a lover of ballet, wheat thins, food, music and cats; a hater of all things dumb and annoying--like traffic.

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