My Only Way Out Was Through It

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I’m going to be bluntly honest here. This is my truth and some won’t agree, while others won’t want to read what is written because my truth hurts them, but neither will stop me from publishing the coming words. A warning though, there are triggers within this regarding abuse and assault. Read with caution at your own risk.

A faithful believer in Jesus, I’m also a survivor of domestic violence and struggle with mental illness, codependency, self-worth, and past drug abuse.

Being raised in the mountains and farmland of small town North Jersey made me a country girl. That didn’t stop me from growing up with the “Jersey Girl attitude” though, its settled a bit these days. Catch me at the wrong time and she can resurface for a minute, along with the accent I swear doesn’t exist!

Growing up in what most would call a “normal” childhood, my parents worked, we had a nice house, food in the fridge, clothes, and beds to sleep in. The same friends grew up with me from preschool through high school. I played sports, rode my bike, climbed trees, and fished.

My parents married when I was five, and now I can distinguish I wasn’t actually treated different. The oldest of four, I helped raise my siblings, the youngest 12 years my junior. I remember feeling like the “red headed stepchild” though, who often couldn’t do anything right. Isolation and rebellion became issues for me because I never felt like I fit in. Constantly, I acted out for attention, always the loudest, most opinionated and outspoken.

I lacked loving affection and support, connection and bonds you’d expect in a family. Instead, strict rules and consequences, along with disappointment, shame, and guilt for inabilities and deficiencies existed. It took a toll on me as a kid living with undiagnosed anxiety and ADHD. Anger was a weapon in the house. Dad was a yeller, who favored silent treatment when he was angry and could go days ignoring me. I feared him, more than actually respected him. I was closer to my mom, but her “realistic” approach in life made any issues involving my emotion feel like they weren’t serious, and instead I was “dramatic.”

From a young age, I developed poor habits and coping skills of covering up and hiding things, unfortunately they’d follow me into my thirties. Hurt people, hurt people, right? Partly due to fear of shame and guilt I’d experience when admitting to screw ups, I pretended issues didn’t exist, even when many were apparent. In our family it was “seen, not heard,” and issues were for our family to handle, not for outsiders to know.

I handled inner pain with self-mutilation by cutting my body where I could easily hide the marks. Then later switched to excessive alcohol use and inappropriate relationships with men significantly older than me, dating men in their mid-20s while I was still in high school. Predators who thought dating and partying with teenagers was acceptable. Because of a biological father abandoning me as a baby, and inability to get close to the man I call Daddy, severe trust issues with men developed, another habit following me til last year. A few days after I graduated high school, I met the man who’d spend the next decade abusing me daily.

Tall, handsome, and introverted, my ex-husband was not at all my type. Telling me he was against “hard drugs,” he’d later show how untrue that statement was. We met at a swimming hole in Oregon while I visited my “father” who had found and made contact with my mom asking to meet me. I attempted (and failed) to establish a relationship with him, ultimately terminating it the same time as our marriage because he was just as toxic. I would marry the same type of man my mother had, the kind who abused and abandoned me.

Beginning with a whirlwind summer romance, six months later I decided moving at 18 clear across the country to a city I didn’t know, with a man I barely knew, no family and friends to turn to, trying to create a brand-new life was a smart idea. What I didn’t know was just how tumultuous that life would become.

Hindsight is 20/20, many red flags appeared early on I shouldn’t have ignored. The first time he told me he loved me was following a blow-out. He broke his hand punching the window of my car as I attempted to leave our driveway. Holes in the house walls were a regular occurrence, as punching things was his favorite way to release anger. Cops were called by our neighbors after he flipped the coffee table during an argument. This wouldn’t be the last time, and I should have left then, but didn’t.

I gave birth to our first child, a beautiful daughter. We would move many times over the coming years, and the first was to Arizona where I had family, when she was a year. It was there I first his noticed issues with alcohol. I worked full time to support him and our daughter, while he sat at home playing video games with her. We came to a point of being unable to afford to live, so he made the decision to enlist in the Army. And I made a decision to begin an affair with his best friend. We moved again, and this time I drove across the country with my father-in-law and daughter in tow, pregnant with our second child, a son.

He physically assaulted me for the first time after returning from his first deployment. Having almost finished drinking a large bottle of rum while playing video games, we began to argue. His drunken behavior was annoying me. Police were called. Our kids were asleep in their beds and woke to see their father removed from our home in handcuffs. Young and naïve, I truly believed he hadn’t meant to hurt me. I was told by other spouses it was just stress from readjusting after deployment.

Angry, anxious, easy to overreact and lose control of my emotions, I had no peace in my life and constantly lived on adrenaline, always ready to fight him. I made a decision to free myself, and enlisted in the Army. My desire was to pursue a stable career to help assert financial independence and stability apart from him. I left our kids with his parents, he was preparing to redeploy. He did and I began my career, accompanied by military “norm” of partying with excess amounts of alcohol when I wasn’t in class. It was the college life experience I never had because I married and had kids at a young age.

Completing training, I was then injured in a field exercise and put on medical hold. Told I would be medically retired and losing my military career, the small relationship I had built with God suddenly became angry. My passion and goals were being stolen from me. I couldn’t understand, so I turned my back on Him. My ex spent this time trying to “win me back.” Bribing me to get back together, he gave me the wedding we’d never had. Not his first offense, I’d discover infidelity with a military wife a short month after. At least this time didn’t result in another child he had no contact with. The child’s mother was also soldier’s wife.

I was discharged. His contract complete, he was barred from reenlistment due to his behavior record: a failed drug test and two assaults, one mentioned against me, and another against his best friend after discovering our affair. We returned to Oregon together. However, my lowest point would still not come for another 6 years.

At this point, I had a minimal relationship with God. To be honest it barely existed at all, despite my strict Catholic upbringing. I went through the motions as a kid because it’s what was expected of me. I never felt any real connection to Him. My children were baptized in the same church I grew up in because it was what my parents and family wanted. But it would be awhile before I stepped foot into church again.

This time was a Christian church back in Arizona. My best friend began her own sobriety and walk back to faith. Wanting to share during my visit, I attended a recovery meeting in support of her. But I didn’t need recovery, or so I thought. Five years would pass before I realized I actually did. I supportively walked by her side and half-heartedly attempted to reestablish my own relationship with God. Sitting side by side during service, I was in awe of worship. It felt like a rock concert! My first time crying during a service, I felt connection with the sermon spoken by the pastor. Having separated for the third time from my ex, I finally began to look at my happiness as priority. I left the visit with a desire to continue chasing my relationship with God, and began attending the local fellowship church back in Oregon. Every Sunday for the next three years, I attended but always alone, or with my children only, never accompanied by my ex-husband, except for once.

Our youngest daughter was born and given the middle name “Grace” because she’s MY saving grace. She has saved my life many times. Put on medication due to suicidal thoughts late in her pregnancy, I continued to battle mental illness well after her birth. To be honest, I still battle it daily, but today is nothing compared to then.

Extreme loneliness set in and I started pulling away from my life and marriage. My ex was fired from yet another job, one providing health insurance and the ability to afford life with three kids. In college, attempting to finish a degree I still have yet to complete, and working full time job, I was unable to juggle it all. Caring for three children on my own, abuse, and his disappearing and drunkenness daily, life became too much to handle. Holidays were always rough for us, but that year would become the final undoing. I would leave for good six short months later.

On the first day of 2016 I should have predicted how poorly the year would continue. He spent New Year’s drunk and tearing our house apart, this time so maniacally he terrified our oldest daughter. I cannot forget the look of horror on her face as she watched him, and then confusion as he slept the next three days away on the couch. He claimed no memory of what had been said or done. But we sure remembered. He managed to convince me these were PTSD episodes, which was only a half-truth. I would spend months attempting to get him treatment at the VA domiciliary, with minimal help or improvement.

During our last year in Oregon, I felt like I lived either at our children’s school or the hospital and doctors’ offices due to their health and behavior. My oldest daughter took a turn for the worst, and I spent weeks in and out of the hospital with her, almost always alone again. My youngest kids again stayed with my ex’s parents, and I never knew exactly where he was. Mother’s Day was spent alone in the hospital with our daughter.

I discovered his truth: my ex was not only a drug dealer, but an addict himself. The memory of the morning I found out still haunts me. The dead and cold look in his eyes. My own addiction soon began with cocaine use and alcohol to cope with his behavior and the stress in our home. He used the drugs as a way to control me because I had stopped physically intimate contact between us, and he knew he could get what he wanted this way. Our oldest daughter is traumatized from hearing it night after night during those last few weeks.

June 15, 2016 was a turning point of my life, a day I will never forget. The day I took my freedom back, escaped that life, never to be a slave to it again. Trust me, life by no means became easier, but I was free to choose my own way without consideration to him. I spent six hours that evening tormented emotionally, physically, and sexually assaulted. Thankfully, two of our kids don’t have the night in their memory. They weren’t home to witness, and I am grateful God chose not to allow them to be. Bruises on my body and the second hand accounts would be overheard in the months to come. It was enough. A final moment on our front steps, I’d heard God’s voice tell me to “GO!” after being hit in the face. My ex finally came down from his high and crashed in our closet, same as he had many times in the prior weeks. I grabbed what I could for my children and quickly shoved it into my trunk. I grabbed my sleeping toddler from her crib and ran. As fast and as far as I could. I retrieved our son from his grandparents’ house. My father-in-law gave me his phone to take as mine had been taken and broke. My mother-in-law told me to leave with my kids and not look back. I drove to a friend’s house where my oldest had spent the night. I began my journey south into California. I knew he’d awaken eventually to find us gone, and wanted to be as far as I could before it happened. I got clean cold turkey that morning.

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