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I Swore I Would Do Better: A Domestic Violence Awareness Month Reflection

Growing up I experienced relationships with domestic violence from many people surrounding me. Watching the hurt and destruction that domestic violence causes I always swore that I would do better. I swore that I wouldn’t allow that to happen to me. Unintentionally, it did.

During high school I had a crush on one of the football players. He was popular and cute. One of my friends set us up. It started out as a dream relationship. He was sweet, funny, caring and we were always together. As time went on his demeanor changed. It started with small things like encouraging me to not wear make up in public, suggesting I wear something different or getting upset when I wanted to hang out with friends. Over time those small things turned large pretty quickly. It escalated into more control, more violence, seclusion and mind games.

The first time he put his hands on me he apologized profusely. He bought me red roses. He swore it would never happen again but it did. His anger seemed to grow and nothing that I did was good enough. At this point I believed when he said that I couldn’t do better. I believed that this was just how “love” works. Due to what I witnessed as a child this seemed normal.

After high school we moved in together. At this point all of the violence had grown into a frequent occurrence. He didn’t want me going to family events. He didn’t want me going to work. He didn’t want me to have friends. He didn’t want me to do all of the things that make a woman feel beautiful like dressing up or wearing makeup. I quickly found out that he was continuously cheating on me. He would always try to make me believe that the infidelity was my fault.

Shortly after moving in together I found out that I was pregnant. I wanted to have the family that I always dreamed of. I tried so hard to stay to create what I had envisioned in my mind. When nothing changed, my daughter gave me the courage to finally leave.

When my daughter was born he pulled out all of the stops to get me back. I wanted a family so bad so I let him move back in. I prayed that what he said was true, that he had changed. When he moved back in things escalated yet again. I knew that my baby and I deserved better. I was making plans to be done with him for good. Four months after having my first child I found out that I was pregnant again.

I did everything that I could to make my family work. I wanted that for my children but this time the violence wasn’t just towards me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally walked away. What most people don’t realize is that once you leave that is the most dangerous time. He would show up at my house and my job. The last time that he put his hands on me I was pregnant and I was a centimeter away from dying. I had to stay at my mom’s house for months until my face healed and I was well enough to work again. My parents helped me to gather all of my belongings from my apartment and I never looked back.

When I was ready to start dating again I thought that I knew all of the red flags to look for. I had lived and learned or so I thought. I met who I thought was my soul mate. He was so much more thoughtful. He was funny. He cared about how my kids and I were doing or if we had eaten. Our relationship advanced quickly. Since he didn’t put his hands on me the relationship seemed like a dream come true. Sadly, I had landed myself in another bad relationship. This time the mind control and isolation was on a whole other level. Since the emotional abuse had started so slowly I didn’t even realize what was going on until it was a major problem. My friends and family kept telling me that I needed to get out which infuriated me. I thought that they just didn’t like him and I only wanted to be happy.

He convinced me that he was the only one who had my best interest at heart so I followed him to another city where I was completely isolated. Once we got there he removed all of the control that I had over my life. He didn’t want me making enough money to support myself or my children. He didn’t allow me to go out. He would get extremely mad if I wanted to go visit my family. Over time I felt like I was going crazy because in my mind I had concocted this wonderful person with whom I was sharing my life. In reality, my friends and family were right.

Throughout the years I became completely isolated. I was told so many negative things to make me feel like I couldn’t leave. I ended up pregnant again. This time I was done. I refused to have my children witness what I did growing up. I refused to have my children believe that this is what love is. We deserved better! I left and didn’t look back.

As I started regaining control over my life and my independence he quickly started spiraling. He was spying on me. He would pop up randomly inside of my house. My belongings would go missing. He would show up at random places that I was at and cause a huge scene. He would take my car from outside of my house so that I couldn’t work or take my children to school. My friends and family were in constant fear for my life.

Several times he took my daughter and hid her from me for months at a time. I was a single mother trying to rebuild my life so I did not have much disposable income. I was devastated. I spent days researching until I figured out how to take him to court and represent myself. My mom helped me tremendously with her experience and knowledge. It was hard though because my family was hours away. We went to court, I pled my case and I was awarded all that I was asking for. Leaving court I thought that it was finally over. I felt like I could finally breathe. Unfortunately, the new custody papers didn’t phase him.

I went through so many life altering battles with this man. From months without my daughter to years of court appearances. The problems and drama seemed never ending but I stayed strong and I persevered!

I stayed single for a couple of years, went to counseling, worked on my career and worked on myself. I found my calling! I became a successful business owner! I moved my children into one of the top school districts in the state. My kids started thriving! When I wasn’t looking love found me. Healthy, calm, understanding true love. It really does exist and you deserve it!

I often reflect on my life. The things that we went through feel like a different lifetime. It feels unreal but far too many people understand just how real it is. I am so proud to be a woman who made it out! I am so proud to be a woman that despite my horrific journey I made something out of myself and I created a beautiful life for my family! I am proud to be someone that my children can look up to!

When people hear the words “domestic violence, they often relate that to only physical abuse. Domestic violence is so much more and it has many forms. Some of those forms include but are not limited to emotional/mental abuse, financial abuse, isolation, brain washing and then it often grows into physical violence.

One thing that I want everyone who has experienced domestic violence to know is that you are not alone! You are worthy! You do deserve better and you can do it! The road out isn’t easy but it is so worth it!

Ashley Horner is a Financial Representative and Key Leader Financial Representative and Key Leader with Retirement Education Partners, Inc.