Written by: VictoriGrace
Why We Never Tell: Part 3
It Never Seemed To End
My first experience in the Navy with sexual abuse/harassment as described in part two of my story would not be my last. As a female person of color in the military, I experienced a lot of sexual harassment, just like many of my female peers. I was an engineer, and since this field is usually dominated by men, women were not always treated with respect or as equals. Oftentimes, women were viewed as sexual objects rather than people. Because of this attitude towards women, many never spoke up or simply lied about their experiences of abuse or harassment.
After seeing these situations play out again and again, I decided to become a victim advocate. This meant that I was responsible for educating all military personnel about the definition of sexual harassment and consent. I also taught how to identify signs of domestic violence and explained why it was important to report any cases of harassment or abuse. There were also hours that I was required to be on call in case someone did need to report something, and I thanked God every night my phone was quiet.
I thought that I had come full circle during my time in the military. There was no way that I would fall back into the situations I had experienced in the past now that I was educating other women on how to identify signs of sexual abuse and harassment. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Years after being honorably discharged from the Navy, I found myself in back-to-back abusive relationships.
My first husband, Harry*, seemed like an amazing man at first. I had been a single mom for quite a while, and sometimes it can be challenging to find someone who loves both you AND your child. Harry did. After a whirlwind romance, I discovered I was pregnant. Harry and I got married during the pregnancy, and he even adopted my son.
Everything was falling into place, until I found out the sex of the baby. When I found out that I was having a little girl, it brought up a lot of those repressed memories from my past. I didn’t want to bring a child into the world who would have to go through the same things I did growing up. Of course, I would do anything and everything to protect my child- but I couldn’t shake the what ifs that kept popping up in my head. I couldn’t stop worrying about the world my daughter might have to face.
After her birth, I suffered from postpartum depression- but I didn’t know that is what was going on at the time. All I knew is that I felt worse than ever before. I was having suicidal thoughts, I was an emotional wreck, and I didn’t know what I felt so horrible. All I knew was that I was terrified of the thoughts and images that played over and over in my head. When I told Harry how frightened I was, how I was having thoughts of killing myself, he didn’t respond in the supportive way one might hope that their husband would. Instead, he turned it into some kind of sick joke. When I said I was thinking about killing myself, he told me he would provide the pills and the tequila to wash them down with.
This reaction to my experience with postpartum depression set the tone for the rest of my marriage to Harry. I couldn’t tell him my concerns any more. I didn’t trust him. I couldn’t confide in him. I was terrified of him. Nothing I did was right; nothing I did was enough. I felt like I was less than a human being, but I continued to put up with Harry’s behavior.
It wasn’t until my son felt like he had to come to my defense during one of our arguments that I finally realized enough was enough. My child shouldn’t have to grow up in a household where he feared violence and felt that he had to do something to prevent it- and I wasn’t going to tolerate it any longer.
When Harry and I divorced, I knew I was mostly free. Since he and I had a child together, I knew that he would always be in the periphery of my life- but at least he was no longer at the forefront. In the time after the divorce, I grew closer to God; to grew to love myself again. I was back to being a happily single mom. That is, until I met Bear*.
When I met Bear, I thought I might have dreamt him. He seemed perfect for me. His intelligence and his outlook on life piqued my interest. Just listening to him talk about his passions drew me in. Not only did I enjoy his personality- I liked the way he treated me and my children. I finally felt heard. I felt like my needs mattered. We both cared about our relationship with God and believed in living a Christ-centered life. He was my chapter in life. After feeling like Job for so many years, he was my Boaz!
We got married pretty quickly after meeting, and for while, everything seemed like bliss. He wasn’t afraid of my baggage or my past. He was great with my children. Like my grandmother used to when I was a child, he would wash my hair for me. When he hugged me, all the pain I had been carrying dissipated. When Harry started a legal battle with me for custody of our daughter- Bear defended me. I had never experience such support, such love before. I thought he was my safe place.
When the honeymoon phase of our marriage ended, I was in for an unpleasant realization. Bear wasn’t who I had thought he was. The first time we had a fight, he told me to “shut the f**k up” and raised his hand to me. I was so scared and shocked that I went to the bathroom and burst into tears. It took days before I didn’t shrink at his touch. He did apologize eventually, telling me he never meant to hit me- and that he only raised his hand because he had sat up too fast.
Three months into our marriage, I discovered that he had cheated on me when we had been dating. I immediately kicked him out of the house. The next day, we started marriage counseling. We also got a little bit of time apart because he decided to join the military to pursue his dreams. Between the counseling and the separation, I thought maybe everyone could go back to the way it used to be. When Bear graduated from his military training (though he still wasn’t living with me full time), he asked me to shower with him. He washed my hair, then looked me in the eye and without prompting said, “I’m sorry for everything and I am going to do whatever it takes to earn your trust back.” I was shocked. I didn’t see this heartfelt confession coming at all. My heart warmed and I felt confirmed in my belief that everything was going to be okay.
While my heart was aflutter, Bear was grooming an already groomed girl. He knew exactly what he was doing. Because he had convinced me to trust him, he knew all of my triggers, he knew my past. If I had felt that my childhood had been a mixed up mess of dissociation and terrible flashes of horrible memories, my marriage to Bear would make it seem like paradise in comparison. I remember the sexy all nighters we would pull and how impressed I was he could literally go all night long. I didn’t care that he choked me to the point of passing out. I’d never tried any sort of BDSM before- and if he went too far, he always apologized. He asked me to do all kinds of things I had never tried in the past- strangulation, suffocation, smothering. I was uncomfortable, and yet, it was now the only time he treated me in any sort of way that could be considered nice.
He Verbally and Physically Abused Me
When we weren’t being physically intimate, Bear verbally abused me. He'd tell me I was psychotic, a bad mom, a crying b*tch, a draining force in people’s lives, and so many other terrible things. He told me I deserved the abuse I endured as a child and that I deserved the feelings of abandonment that had followed me my whole life. I begged him to stop saying these things to me, and because he was my husband, I trusted him to listen. I told him his words and actions were triggering my PTSD and causing my mental heath to spiral, but he continued to berate me.
Eventually, the verbal attacks began to physically affect me. I had panic attacks daily, I was suicidal, and I began cutting myself just to make sense of the pain going on in my head. I was seeing a counselor, but the weekly sessions couldn’t cut through daily pain I was enduring. Somewhere in the middle of this, the abuse stopped coming from just Bear. His family started to join in. My inlaws insulted me in my own home and intentionally left me out of family events. Bear’s mother often poked and prodded, trying to get me to open up to her about our marital problems. When I explained that I was uncomfortable speaking with her about what was going on, she was insulted and held it against me. Whenever I thought about leaving the relationship, Bear made it clear that things would only be worse without him- if I could even manage to survive after leaving. He even threatened to help Harry win full custody of my children if I attempted to move on.
When Bear moved back in with me full time after finishing his military training, the abuse turned from verbal to physical. He pushed me into walls; he stood nose to nose with me and screamed in my face. After one evening of fighting, he just disappeared. After all I had endured in an attempt to save our relationship, he just walked out.
It was after that night I started to learn the language for what I had been experiencing. I found out that Stockholm Syndrome wasn’t just something that existed in the pages of a psychology textbook, but a real thing experienced by victims of domestic abuse.I finally had words for how I was feeling at the time- an explanation for why I couldn’t leave Bear no matter what he did to me, why I continued to protect him when that was the opposite of what he was doing in return. I learned that I had been living with a narcissist and sociopath for two years of my life. Most importantly, I learned that just because you don’t say the word no ,doesn’t mean that you are giving your consent for someone to touch you in a way that makes you uncomfortable- and that even if you do say yes, the second that you have to fight someone to get their hands of your neck to speak, that consent is revoked.
I Never Realized My Life Wasn't Normal
I had never realized that the life I was living wasn’t a normal one, but I was finally starting to learn. I wasn’t psychotic, I wasn’t a b**ch- I was in an abusive relationship. Bear was never going to stop- he needed control. It wouldn’t have mattered what I did, he would have always found a way to punish me, to regain control, and to make my life a living hell. That’s what abusers do.
When I finally mustered the courage to explain to police in grave detail the horrific acts of violence I experienced at Bear’s hand, things I hadn’t realized were abuse at the time, it was too late to press charges. In the United States, 34 states have statutes of limitations on filing rape or sexual assault charges. Some are as little as 3 years. One a charge is filed, police arrest rates are variable, depending on the place the charge was filed and how that place determines what is considered domestic violence. Studies done in the early 2000s found that arrests for domestic violence charges ranged from 3.2 to 12.2 per 1000 people. Of those who are actually arrested, 63.8 percent are prosecuted.
This is yet another reason why people who have experienced domestic violence never tell. The judicial system is not set up to defend people who don’t immediately come forward- it doesn’t matter if they knew they were being abused at the time or not. This is also the reason every man and woman MUST tell! We cannot make needed changes to our judicial system without coming forward and fighting for our rights. We deserve to live as survivors instead of being forced to live as victims.
This is a very small, but important piece of my story. Like WodBottom, I also use fitness as my platform for telling my story. The good news is, if you are someone who is experiencing domestic violence- there is help and hope for you! During Domestic Violence Awareness month, come forward! Get educated! Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
You ARE loved and you ARE worth more than what your abuser tells you- and even more importantly- you are not alone!