Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Overcoming Abuse, Trauma, and Self-Doubt - A Guest Post By Gillian Fuller

We are taught to fear strangers, but most victims of violent crimes are victims of people they know – assaulted or murdered by friends, neighbors or family members. Most of the violence related injuries to women in this country are inflicted by their husbands and boyfriends.” -Portland State University

If I’d known the signs to look for, I’d like to think that I would have run in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I hope so, but the reality is that the girl I was back then was probably not strong enough or confident enough to run in the opposite direction even if she had known how he would treat her. 

For the sake of privacy I’m going to call him The Lawyer since that was and still is his career.

The Lawyer seemed like a genuinely good and charismatic guy at first. He made me feel like he cared about me. Of course, I barely paid any attention to the fact that he usually peppered his comments with little insults at my education (I was a university student and he was already finishing law school by the time I hit my sophomore year). He liked to point out the fact that I didn’t go to a high ranking school like him.

As time went on, the little insults became less and less subtle. He would treat everything I said like it was the illogical ramblings of a toddler. Every serious opinion I expressed was met with, “Oh, you’re so cute” or “Well if you had enough education, you’d know that…”.  

It escalated when I moved in with him. He would tell me how disgusting I was for wanting to eat certain foods (because they were fattening) which led to an eating disorder I suffered from becoming severely worse. He would scream at me if I ever decided to go out without my hair or makeup done. To him I existed for one reason- to show off and make him look good in front of his friends and colleagues, not unlike a new car or toy. I was always expected to wear heels but he would yell and curse at me in front of his friends if, God forbid, the heels made me taller than him. 

He would tell me that no one could love me the way that he did, and that all of my guy friends weren’t true friends because "they all wanted to sleep with me".

The Lawyer would pressure me to work out 6 to 7 days a week, wear designer clothes and look like a Barbie Doll at all times. I was treated like I was little more than a wallflower. I was forbidden to go to my favorite hair dresser because The Lawyer was sure he’d been hitting on me. I had to cook all of his meals although I had a stressful job at a cosmetic company as the executive of sales and had to get to the office early during the weekdays. If I didn’t make him his lunch before I headed out to work, or lunch got too repetitive, I had to listen to attacks on my “work ethic” and I was told that I was lazy. He often compared me to his mother, which in itself was pretty odd.

After working on several successful major projects within the company, I was promoted. Soon I found myself being accused of sleeping with my boss, because how else could an idiot girl like me get promoted so quickly?

The mental abuse, even when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, did get worse. It got to the point where he took my phone from me, forbid me from contacting my family, and basically trapped me in this surreal world of pain, misery, self-hatred and loneliness.

He’d moved me to a state where I had no family or friends, no car, not even a bike. He made sure that I was totally reliant on him, and that was when he started to get physical. I often went to work covered in bruises and did my best to hide them. 

Some of my coworkers noticed the hand prints on my neck and arms, and offered to call the police. I begged them not to, though, because I feared retribution.

Eventually, the police were called because neighbors had witnessed some of the abuse. Again, I refused to press charges, and The Lawyer told the police I was delusional- that he was trying to “calm” me down because he believed I was suicidal. This wasn’t the case, but I was terrified of him. The police informed me that if The Lawyer pushed it and believed I was a danger to myself he could have me thrown into a mental hospital. A mental hospital? For what? 

I wasn’t suicidal. I was afraid.

Having people treat you like you’re a nutcase when you’re a victim of assault and mental abuse is extremely jarring, and it ruined my heroic image of police. After they left, I was punished by being locked out of our home, and forced to sleep outside.    

Later on, I suffered through a painful abortion that left me mentally and emotionally drained. I decided enough was enough. I made two attempts to escape that life and him by fleeing across state borders but he always went after me and he always found me. 

He lured me back with promises that he would do better. That I was the only woman he could ever imagine himself marrying. He would say anything to get me to come home with him, going so far as to blackmail me. Young and naive as I was, I went back to him. Both times.

It wasn’t until I had an emergency appendectomy that I realized what a truly horrifying situation I was in. While I was vomiting and crying and barely coherent on the surgery table he was yelling at me and accusing me of wasting his time with my “drama”. Apparently having my appendix burst was a major burden to him (though he didn’t have to do anything but wait with me in the hospital for a day and a night).

I called my family. My mom, dad and two brothers dropped everything they were doing and came to Salt Lake City. They must have known I needed them more than anything. It was when I was surrounded by love and warmth that I gained a strength I never knew I had. With my family there to support me, I broke up with him, moving across the country to Virginia.

It was scary. There was a lot of crying and emotion. What would I do now? Go back to my old life? Was there even going back to my old life when I’d suffered what I did? Had he broken me?

I was severely underweight from over exercising and eating very little. I barely recognized myself. My skin squeezed tight over bones that protruded sharply outward and I couldn’t do much physical activity for very long because I would get dizzy and sick from exertion. I had purple circles under my eyes and often stayed bedridden for hours. I felt empty. Broken.  

My family was terrified. They’d never seen me like this. Since I was a little girl, I’d been silly and upbeat, friendly with just about everyone. Not anymore. The quiet skeleton that drifted about the house wasn’t much more than a shade of the girl who’d once been.  

For all I knew, I was ruined goods and no one would want me and the emotional baggage I carried.

I can’t imagine what my family went through during that time. I have four younger siblings and two sets of parents with very traditional Christian and Catholic beliefs. My mother had never been exposed to abuse and I don’t think she knew how to deal with it. It wasn’t a subject we broached when I came back home since it was uncomfortable for the both of us to talk about. My father, a gentle person who’s shown my brothers and I nothing less than tenderness since childhood, didn’t handle it the same way. Instead, he blamed himself for what I went through.

I used to believe it was one hundred percent my fault, but what I went through was no one's fault. It wasn’t the Lawyer’s, my parents or my friends who introduced me to him. I made a bad decision, but I was young and I suffered from the aftereffects of sexual assault during my teenage years. The Lawyer himself must have had his own set of problems he was dealing with, although I refuse to give him excuses for his horrendous treatment of me.  

It’s taken me three years to deal with what I went through. I still suffer with severe PTSD (from that as well as the assaults) and I see an amazing understanding doctor right now that is helping me work through my disability and helping me manage the effects it’s had on my life.

I met an amazing man who I love and adore and has been one of the biggest and best support systems I’ve ever had. 

We got engaged this year, and he doesn’t talk down to me or treat me like “ruined goods”. We have a comfortable life with two amazing, sweet dogs that fill me with constant joy and we are excited for the future.

Finally everything is back on track. There have been bumps in the road, of course, but that’s life.

If there’s one thing I’d like to share with women who have also been in abusive situations, it’s this: You are important. You are amazing. You are strong, even if you don’t feel like it. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they do, know that they are a very dangerous, very toxic force. Take control of your life. It’s too short to let others rule it and make it miserable for you. Time is one thing we can never get back, and all that time spent with an abuser is stolen time.

If you’re in a relationship that is abusive in any way, get out as fast as you can. Not just for yourself, but for the sake of your family and friends who love you.        

If you are involved in an abusive relationship please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.