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I have pictured telling this story a thousand times yet, I never have. It's a painful one to tell, no question about it. But, I don't think that's ever really been the reason why I haven't. To be honest, it was never anyone's business to know this story in the first place, and yet it never stopped everyone from making up their own versions of the truth about it over the years. Today, 19 years later, I have decided to tell it. Not to appease those around me, nor to hurt anyone involved in the process, but because it will heal me - and I pray that it will finally set me free.

On this day, 19 years ago, I became somebody's wife. Something I am certain that most of you did not know about me. I rarely speak about it because it was a moment in time that's best left forgotten. Only, it never really was. It would go on to become one of the biggest mistakes (if not the biggest) of my life.

Before I go any further, I would like to say that I take full responsibility for knowingly walking into this situation. Aware that it would most likely lead to my demise and be the most devastating event of my life. I didn't have the heart or courage to walk away when I should have, and that was wrong. I was afraid and that fear took away my voice. Little did I know then that it was only the beginning. My voice would be forever lost for years to come. After a 9 year relationship, marriage was what was expected of me. He expected it of me, regardless of the fact that he spent those years hurting me, stifling my voice, changing me. He put his time in, molding and crippling me, into the exact version of me that he wanted. A version I allowed him to create. So I gave up. Beaten and defeated, I was willing to spend the rest of my life, lying in the bed I made for myself.

They say that marrying your best friend is the perfect recipe for love. I used to think so too. I mean, who better to spend eternity with, then the person who knows and loves everything about you. The person who knows all your faults, secrets, and fears but adores you in spite of them. Your biggest fan and loudest cheerleader. That is certainly the person you'd like in your corner, is it not? Normally, it would be and it's what we all hope to find someday. But, knowledge like that can leave you open to harm and vulnerable to wolves. Wolves who come to you in sheep's clothing. My wolf loved everything about me when we were friends and then hated every last ounce of me when I became his.

I spent the better part of 10 years with a man who was abusive. It changed me in ways that I cannot even begin to explain to you. Although I've been away from him now for 19 years, I still wake up some nights in a cold sweat, from terrible nightmares of that time. The dreams are always the same, he has found me and I am forced to share my life with him again. It takes a moment for everything to come back into focus but when it does, I break down into tears and thanking God that it was just a dream. That I am safe, in my own house, in my own bed, and living my own life - where he can no longer hurt me.

I tried so hard to be everything that he wanted, but I always fell short somehow. I wasn't pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, submissive enough, and never would be. And yet although I never measured up, he always seemed to be terribly jealous and possessive just the same. I never did quite understand that but then, everything between us was a complete and utter mind-fuck! He demanded to be in control of everything. Where I was at all times, who I spent time with, the music I liked, the places I went to. How long it took me to get home from work, the family /friend events I could attend, the color of my hair, the way my make-up looked. The clothes I could wear, the things I could say, what my thoughts and opinions should be. At first, being the rebellious, free-spirited girl I always was, I rejected this notion and fought him off at every turn. But soon it became pointless. Before I knew it, the girl I once was, was gone. He had killed her and any evidence that she ever existed at all.

There were many, many red flags about our "relationship". Any of which I could have held onto and rode out of there on but, I made the fatal mistake that all of us make in these situations - I thought I could change him. I thought that eventually, he would see that I did love him and that he didn't have to act this way. At the heart of it, he was someone I had known most of my life, one of my best friends after all. Surely he would wake up one day and remember who we were and all would be good again. But, it never happened and things progressively got worse as the years went on.

There was one moment, where things seemed to change. It was when he decided to come over one day and out of the blue tell me that he didn't love me, that he never did and wanted to break up. He said that he was too young to be tied down to just one girl and that he needed to get out there and "sow his oats" and be free. Of all the years we had known each other, he had too much respect for me to just cheat on me - so he left. My family and friends collectively did a happy dance, thrilled that this man was finally out of my life. That I was free at last. But by then, it was too late. I was devastated. He'd completely brainwashed me into thinking that I was nothing and worthless without him. That I should consider myself very lucky to be with a man like him because no one else would ever want me. It still blows my mind how easy it was to believe all of that to be true, and if I am being honest, I have to admit that there are parts of me that still believe this to be true.

Sadly, the break up was short-lived and we were back together again in 9 months. Within that time, I managed to go into a deep depression, gained 60 pounds, and was flunking my way out of college. My whole life was in turmoil, completely revolving around him. Years later, he'd look back and gloat about this time, that I was lost without him in my life. But that was untrue. You see, during those 9 break up months, he never really left me alone. Yes, he went on to date and fuck other women, but managed to follow me, call me and see me too, saying all the things that you want your ex-boyfriend to say to you when you're heartbroken - that no one compares to you. I fell for it, every time.

We got back together, but nothing was ever the same again.

Over the years, his obsession with me got worse. His abuse became more frequent and more visible, to the point where people were commenting on his behavior toward me. This only made matters worse for me. The more they commented, the more I endured behind closed doors. But things became almost unbearable after we were married.

We were married for all of 18 months. A very short-lived marriage most would say but, not me. For me, every single moment of those 18 months felt more like 18 years - with no end in sight. A horrible statement, I know but, you did not live what I lived through at that time. The abuse became physical shortly after we were married.

My days had me preoccupied with work and my nights were filled with his battery. The shouting began almost instantly every night after I walked through the door. It took me too long to get home from work, so I must have gone somewhere after work without telling him. Ceramic plates filled with dinner, being thrown at my head because he believed that I wasn't putting much effort into planning meals for him and it certainly didn't taste like his mother's cooking. The T.V. remote being thrown at me because it took me too long to explain something to him. The cordless phone being smacked upside my head because I was on the phone too long with my family again. Taking my cell phone bill and going through every last number on every page that I had dialed that month and calling them just to make sure that I wasn't speaking to another man. Sending his buddies to the restaurants that he finally allowed me to go to with my friends (when he couldn't be there) just to make sure I didn't flirt with anyone. Calling me ugly, fat, worthless, useless, and that he just wished I would go kill myself, already. After which, he would force himself onto me, demanding sex. Because after all, that's what a wife was for - to cook, clean and satisfy her man. Most of the time, I was too weak to protest but there came a time when I just could not share myself with him anymore. How could I? How could I share a bed with a man that hurt me like this, every single day? Sadly, this happened more times than I care to remember. Which is when the threats began.

The last 5 months of our marriage were filled with him arguing with me continuously about sex and that if I refused him anymore, I would regret it. That he would take me back home to my family and divorce me faster than my head would spin. Or my personal favorite: "Look, I will let you go out and sleep with any men you want, just as long as I get a turn too - deal?!" Yup, this must be love, alright!

One faithful spring night, we were sitting at our kitchen table, about to have dinner, when he looks over at me and begins again with the same old song and dance. This time, I was not going to back down. This time, I was going to do what I had promised myself that I would do, the next time he started. He told me he wasn't happy and that it was all my fault. That I was not pleasing him. I politely stood up, grabbed my purse, and finally found the courage to tell him the four words I had wanted to say for years - I AM LEAVING YOU!

As I turned around and headed for the door, he began yelling, screaming, and throwing things - but I kept walking. My heart was beating too loud to hear anything that he was saying and I knew that I needed to get to that door before my knees gave out and I fell to the ground. I cannot tell you how afraid I was at that moment, but there was no turning back now. I made it out the door, ran to my car, and peeled out of the driveway before he could catch me. I made it out alive.

The next day, he called me and acted as if nothing happened, trying to make plans for our day. This really scared me, but I held firm to my decision. I was leaving him. In a moment of weakness, I did encourage the option of couple's counseling, to which he shouted: "You're the fuckin problem with this marriage, not me. You go get help! You're the one who's fucked up!!" I managed a smile and said a silent prayer. I knew that was God, my Grandmother, and Nick, fluttering around me like the amazing angels they are, letting me know that I had definitely made the right decision.

The year of our separation was literally more horrible than being married - if you can imagine that. The threats and abuse continued, even though we were no longer in each other's presence. There were many times that I almost gave in to him and went back because I was honestly afraid that he was going to go too far and possibly kill me. But, I knew that if I went back, I was never getting out alive again. He spent that time making life absolutely miserable for me, in every way possible. Continuously telling me that he would make me pay for leaving him and making him look like the fool to his family and friends. And pay I did. I gave him everything - our house and all my savings. I gave it all up and in the words of Tina Turner, all I wanted was my name. The rest he could have, if it meant that I never had to see him or this life we created, ever again. Some have said I was such a fool for giving up everything I had but, money can't buy you peace of mind, and that is all I wanted for myself - to live in peace and start again. But, it would be a very long time until I had any peace of mind again - he sure as hell saw to that!

Over the years, the mutual friends we had all turned on me, spouting hateful things whenever they saw me. His family cursed me and even those members that I was still close with were told to end their relationship with me. He went around playing the saint while casting me out as the sinner. He was the victim to everyone we knew and I was the villain. He was the one who loved and lost and I was the horrible person who left him heartbroken. I always found it odd how a person who loved me so much and wanted me back so badly, managed to find, impregnate and marry another woman - all before the ink on our divorce papers was dry. All the while, telling others that I was cheating on him and already dating other people, instead of working on our marriage. But, I digress. I am so thrilled he found her because it took his focus away from me. The new woman was my angel - sent from God and I am so thankful that she came along. Because of her, I was finally free.

Throughout it all, I never said a word. I never told anyone what had happened and why our marriage ended. My own family was left in the dark because I didn't want them to hurt for me or worse, go after him for the abuse. There was no way, I was going to let anything become of my family, over a situation I put myself in. So I kept silent. I kept silent through it all and went through years of anxiety and depression all on my own.

At the time I got a divorce, things of this nature were still very much taboo, and my family was having a very hard time dealing with it all. So, I couldn't take the time to heal myself because I had to make sure that they were ok. Sadly, my parents went through much mockery of their own at the hands of some family members. Some aunts, uncles, and cousins began poking fun at them at the time because their daughter's marriage fell apart. Oh, what a scandal. I left them very vulnerable and for that, I am truly sorry. Both my parents and brothers didn't deserve that. I feel awful for all they had to go through - fending off the family vultures. But, I did what I thought was best at the time, and stayed silent as to why I left my husband. After all, it was no one's business anyway.

What hurts me most are all the rumors and made up stories that some of them have told about my ordeal - and still continue to do so today. At a recent family wedding a few years ago, my parents had to sit through dinner, while some of my aunts went on to them about knowing the "real reason" why I got divorced. That I had lied to them and that he in fact left me - over the fact that I was fat. My parents said nothing and the night ended. When they told me what had happened I tried so hard not to let it get to me, but it was a lost battle. Perhaps now, should they ever dare read this, they will finally know the truth and hate themselves almost as much as I do, for all the years they have spent ridiculing me, my family, and this entire situation. Yet somehow, I'm sure they will find a way to spin a tale or two about this also. After all, wonders never cease. After reading this, they will finally know that I have always known all they have said about me. How they laughed and mocked me. How they pretended to care to my face when behind my back all they did was poke fun at me. They will now also know that in spite of it all, I still always managed to treat them with respect and kindness throughout the years - because that is the kind of lady my parents raised. Originally, it was the hatred I felt for them but now, all I feel is pity. How pathetic one's life must truly be that after 19 years, you have nothing better to talk about than why I got divorced. But like everything else, I leave it to Karma - that has already been at work in their lives. Today, they deal with their own battles of divorce and dare I say in a less noble way. I could say that now, It is my turn to smile but, my heart is not that way. So again, I leave it in God's hands, as there is always a place for certain types of people.

Today, I still deal with the aftermath of this relationship. But, I am getting better. I would like to say that I am back to my old self again, but sadly I am not. This is what abuse does. It leaves you broken in ways you may never be able to repair again. All the therapy and love in the world can never truly mend you back to the way you once were. I honestly feel this way most days. But, I am still open and have much faith that will change someday and that girl I once knew will be back. I see glimpses of her sometimes. She manages to shine through more and more each day. In fact, it was her idea for me to share this today, and take my power back.

Many ask me why I never got remarried and the truth is I am afraid of failing at it, yet again. I'm also afraid of giving myself that fully to anyone ever again, for fear of the same thing happening. But, I know I must try. I am a hopeless romantic after all and believe very much in the sanctity of marriage. I hope that God heals me enough to make someone a great wife, someday soon. The wife I knew I was always meant to be. As scared as I am, I am willing to try. I just hope that the man he brings me will be patient and strong enough to break down the walls and armor that I have built around myself, and around my heart. That he will know how to love me and understand that only a coward, not a man, would ever lay his hands or hurtful words on a woman.

I share this story today again for many, many reasons. But, the main one is for all of us who have suffered at the hands of an abuser or toxic relationship. The world is filled with them, so please be careful. If you or someone you love is being abused - speak up and tell someone. You may not be strong enough to get help but others can be if you let them in. Do not live in silence. Do not think that if you stick with it, it will get better. Do not think that they will change. Do not believe that you can mend everyone that is broken. These are just all simple little lies we tell ourselves. Lies that can kill us. Lies that will kill us, if we stay.

To him. I forgive you for all of it, not for you, but for me. Today, I tell this tale of ours as a way of shedding my skin, never to look back again. Perhaps I brought out the worst in you, but know that you did the same in me. I am not the woman you once knew. Not the happy, free-spirit, nor the weak or cowardly. But, I am done blaming you for all I've lost. I refuse to give you that power over me, anymore. I wish you an incredible life.

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