living in fear.

I’m not sure how to start this post or how to put into words some of the things that I went through… all I know for sure is that I am ready to tell my story.

I’m ready to tell my story because I realize that my story is also the story of many other women and men around the world. This post will cover some sensitive topics such as addiction, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, maniuplation and stalking. I have generalized some of the events and changed some details to respect the people I am writing about and to keep myself safe. If you or someone you love may be in a serious or dangerous situation, please see the links at the end of this post to get help.

…….

When I look back at my four years of high school, I can’t help but smile. Those four years were filled with happy memories and so many great friendships. I had my close-knit tennis teammates, I held all A’s in my honors + AP classes and I was spending my after-school time working at the local mall. I was also involved in science olympiad, environmental club, my local youth group and any volunteer opportunities in my community. Basically, I was your textbook “good girl”: always smiling, surrounded by friends in every social group and involved in a little bit of everything school-related.

In the middle of my high school career, I met my first boyfriend. He was the first of many: first relationship, first kiss, first date, first love… all of those things and more. Things started to get complicated pretty quickly and certain things in his past alarmed me but I brushed the red flags off quickly.

About a year into our relationship, he had informed me that he had had a pretty serious drug problem. After reassuring me again and again and again that he had been sober for months, I took that as complete fact. Who was I to know the truth or recognize the reality of the situation? I grew up in a stable, supportive and loving household. I was never exposed to addiction or anything remotely close to it. He simply told me that his problems had been solved at rehab and he was a completely changed person.

Over the next few months, I caught him using numerous times and caught him lying to me countless times. He would break down, beg for me to not leave him, promise me that it would never happen again and then shower me with words of love. I stayed. This would be a reoccurring pattern throughout our entire relationship but I loved him and I didn’t recognize that how he was treated me was wrong.

“He would break down, beg for me to not leave him, promise me that it would never happen again and then shower me with words of love.”


Despite the red flags I brushed off, the most intense period of our relationship didn’t start until we both parted for college and decided to do long distance. He moved across the country for school while I went to a small Christian school about an hour away from my house. My transition into college life was fairly easy for me but my relationship with my boyfriend was destroying me in every way possible.

I was diagnosed with anxiety around age 10 – specifically separation anxiety. Anxiety and depression had run in my family so my parents created a great support system and I went off of my meds in high school since I was rarely (if ever) experienced anxiety at that point in my life. That all changed quickly as my mental health was declining rapidly during my first year in college. I was having intense anxiety attacks almost daily and crying myself to sleep every night. I bet that none of my classmates would have even noticed but I was going through hell.

My boyfriend and I would fight constantly and the same vicious cycle would start again. He would scream at me through the phone, calling me crazy, threatening to break up with me and blocking my number after hanging up the phone. A few hours or sometimes days later he would call back crying hysterically and begging me to forgive him. And I would. Every time.

My friends and my family were starting to pick up on the abuse and would tell me again and again that this is not okay. I would make up excuses for him and for myself. My self-esteem was basically non-existent and I could not look at my situation in a rational way. I was hanging on to every bit of love he would give me, even if it was fleeting. I was desperate for attention, for his acceptance, for his “love” but after a while you start to break down. You get burnt out. You realize that love isn’t worth if it causes this much pain.

My friends and I were on spring break in Florida when I finally ended it. My boyfriend and I had been fighting… again. He was screaming obscenities over the phone and I had reached my breaking point. I had known for MONTHS that I had wanted to break up with him. If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t have the confidence, self-respect or strength to leave him, but that day I did.

Things had finally started to look up for me. I was healing from my breakup but if I’m being honest, I was not healing from any of the abuse because I was still not aware that what had occurred was abuse. I was walking around deeply broken but with him gone, I could see the light. Little did I know, that spring break conversation was not the last time I would speak to him.

A couple months after that last phone call was when the stalking began. First it was phone calls from blocked numbers and emails from numerous accounts. Then it was the letters and packages to not only my home, but to my school. The language he was using was erratic, unhinged and alarming. At this point, I was scared.

I had made it very clear that I did not want to speak to him but he did not take no as an answer. In fact, in a lot of the text he would guilt trip me by saying how much pain I was causing him and how I ruined his life, etc. He kept saying he was going to get me back, that he would stop at nothing and that we would be together forever. At this time, I actually was dating someone new and he must have seen a photo online somewhere but knowing that I was with someone else angered him even more. He had even threatened to harm my new boyfriend.

This period of time is hard to talk about because it was a challenging for me especially because I was dealing with serious issues outside of this relationship at the same time. I was scared, I was terrified, I was always nervous to open my mailbox at school and there was constantly a pit in my stomach every time I opened an email or got a call from a random number. I was being harassed constantly and I wanted it to stop. My family had even seen him outside my house and he hand delivered a package to my house so I knew that his behavior was escalating. If he would come to my house to try to find me, I had a dreadful notion that he would show up at my school, and he did.

I was doing homework on a Sunday morning in the art studio when my roommate called me. She told me to sit down and take a deep breathe. She told me that my ex-boyfriend was on campus and he was waiting for me. Almost immediately, I had an anxiety attack. I ran to the bathroom and fell to the floor. Then I called the campus police who then in turn called the local police. The local police picked me up from the studio and drove me to where my ex was on campus. Thankfully, I never had to talk to him. I could only see him from a distance as I was sitting with the cops answering questions. I was shaking, I was broken and I was in shock.

He was banned from campus and I was told that if he was seen on campus again that he would be arrested. That gave me a small feeling of comfort but all in all, I did not feel safe. I actually received a letter and a few more emails from random accounts after that. The fact that he showed up at my school shook me to my core. I had no idea what would have happened if my roommate didn’t recognize him and had not call me right away. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had run into him on campus alone.

The bottom line was that I did not feel safe. I was in a constant state of anxiety at school and when I went home on weekends. Every doorbell ring, every package, every man I saw that remotely resembled him caused an anxiety attack. I needed help and I wanted to feel safe. I decided to try to get a restraining order. I went to court a few times and even presented about 50 pages of evidence against him but it was never granted. I could write an entire post alone on how the courts fail to protect victims of abuse but that will have to be done another day.

“I needed help and I wanted to feel safe.”

I wish there was some resolved ending I could provide for that part of my story but sadly, life just went on. The contact finally stopped but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t experience fear from that entire situation. The reality is that abuse breaks you. Trauma changes your life and sometimes it is hidden deep which makes it challenging to heal. Also, the reality is that there are a lot of people out there who are master manipulators and know how to control people who are broken.

Shortly after that relationship, I met another guy who I fell hard for. He was incredibly charming, charismatic and said all the right things. At first glance, he seemed like the complete opposite from my first boyfriend. From the outside looking in, he was an amazing guy. He was an old-fashioned gentlemen and he showered me in compliments. I thought I had finally met a respectful, caring guy who would treat me right. That all changed in what seemed like an instant.

After my first relationship, I knew the signs. I was educated on what red flags to look for. I started to realize that this man had deep trust issues and had intense anger issues. The thing is, I recognized these red flags, but I didn’t leave. I rationalized every alarm bell that went off in my head. I made excuses for everything. He doesn’t trust me at all – oh, but he is just very protective, and wants me to be safe. He doesn’t want me to go out without him because he wants to make sure that other men don’t do anything to make me feel uncomfortable. He doesn’t want other men to flirt with me – that is innocent enough right?

Like my first relationship, the vicious cycle began. The good times were so so so good and the bad times… those were bad. It was a very unstable relationship that lived on extremes. The relationship would be picture perfect and then plummet into a burst of anger. The anger was always directed towards me and I always felt like I was inches away from an explosion. I was constantly walking on eggshells, unsure of how to express my emotions, terrified of using the wrong words – scared of setting him off.

His anger was more intense than anything I ever experienced and I was scared. The anger always involved screaming outbursts or him punching a nearby object. I had a moment where I knew that the next time he got angry, he would physically take his anger out on me. That is the moment I realized I needed to get out.

And I’m not going to say that in that moment I stood up and walked out, because I didn’t. I fully realized that this was getting dangerous but, again, I stayed. I was scared of what he would do if I left him. I started to doubt myself. I started to doubt that certain things ever actually happened. I started to doubt my own intuition – even after every bone in my body told me something was very wrong. After that specific incident, I started to rationalize things in my head: He always tells me how much I complete him, how much he loves me, he would never hit me right?

This is what abuse does. It destroys every part of you. Abusers take your independence and your worth. They dig into your insecurities, your weaknesses, your breaking points. They manipulate you to the point you doubt your every thought. They break you down. They want to control you. They want to control your power, your freedom, your individuality, your sense of stability. But that does NOT mean that you cannot get those things back.

You never think that you would ever find yourself in a toxic or dangerous relationship until you are in one. Your family and friends can be consistently laying out the reality and you still won’t come to terms with it. The reality is that abuse runs deep and it takes time for the abuser to manipulate and gain control. When they do gain control, it is very hard to break free. The fear that can be held over the heads of victims can be debilitating. When you are in fear for your safety and your life, that can really mess with your head.

Abuse is extremely complicated and that is why it is not easy to escape it or understand it if you have not experienced it. Trauma runs deep and it consists of many layers, and numerous factors. Abuse can even be difficult to define or identify, but it is very real.

Thankfully, my story ended with me breaking free. However, it took time. My first relationship was about 4 years while my next was about 9 months. Although both periods of abuse happened years ago, it still affects me to this day. The reality is that I am not healed. I have a long road to recovery. I honestly have to go back to therapy to really work out some of these deep-seated issues. I still hurt and the worst part is that there are days that I still live in fear. But, there is hope. I am learning how to take back my power, my freedom and my independence. I am putting in the work to heal the deepest of my wounds. I am building my confidence, my self-worth, my self-esteem and my self-respect. Healing in a process and it is one that can change everything.

Peace & love. – Kendall


Dating Abuse Resources:

Types of Abuse
https://reachma.org/6-different-types-abuse/
Signs of Mental Abuse
64 Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse: How to Identify It, What to Do
Domestic Abuse Resources
Resources
Domestic Abuse Resources by State
Resources by state on violence against women | womenshealth.gov
Domestic Violence Resources
Resources | The National Domestic Violence Hotline

*all photos used in this post are from Unsplash