By Carolina Quijano
I never imagined I’d be where I am today. When I was younger, I had lofty dreams and high expectations, imagining I’d go to school, get married, and have kids. The schooling happened, and I found my niche, falling in love with writing. I realized I was destined to put words together, to share my thoughts with others, and to express myself as clearly as I could in plain black and white. But when I was 27 and living in Oakland, my long-term job ended, and I found myself lost and drifting through life. I decided to visit a college friend living in North Carolina, taking an extended vacation in hopes of finding clarity in my life. I found something else instead: love.
We became close really fast. We talked about marriage and kids; we integrated each other into our respective families; and we started to build a life together. Little did I know that this so-called love would be one of the most painful and challenging experiences of my life.
After a year of dating, I moved to North Carolina, where we found the perfect apartment. I was so excited about moving into this place just for us. The day we got our keys would forever change my life, but in a different way than I expected. It started with an argument. We were yelling at each other, and suddenly it escalated; he grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wall. I was so scared and shocked, unable to believe that this crazy monster was the man I was dating, the one for whom I moved 2,000 miles away from everything I knew and loved. He released me and profusely apologized, but I was too shaken up. As scary as that was, I didn’t leave. I believed him when he said it wouldn’t happen again. What I didn’t know then is that once a relationship escalates to physical harm, it’s that much easier to reach that point again. After that day, more and more of our fights got physical, each time increasing in intensity.
I was in an abusive relationship.
It’s hard to fathom why anyone would stay, and more so after each following time, but love isn’t logical. You start listening to your heart and emotions over what you intrinsically know you should do, and all reason fails. At least it did for me. I stayed with him even though he hit me. I stayed even though he would pin me down and make me beg for him to stop. I stayed even though there were days I couldn’t leave the house because I couldn’t cover my bruises.
I stayed with him even though he hit me. I stayed even though he would pin me down and make me beg for him to stop.
I firmly believe my ex’s unresolved issues from his childhood elicited rage. He grew up in an extremely abusive household where his father beat the shit out of him and his mother. Only after many hospital visits did his mother finally leave. She abandoned him with that demon, leaving him to celebrate his 21st birthday in the hospital getting his jaw rewired, a gift from his father. He never learned how to show emotion without hitting, kicking, punching, and choking.
Domestic violence is a cycle that goes from aggression to a loving honeymoon stage and then back again. This was our relationship to a tee: we would fight hard-core, and then he’d be extra-nice in an attempt to earn forgiveness. He’d say the right words and do the right things, and life would be great for a bit. This up-and-down situation weighed heavily on me, though. I was slowly going crazy. I was filled with such shame and embarrassment that I kept silent. There was no way I could tell people that the man I loved was really a devil who was physically and emotionally hurting me. But I didn’t have anyone to tell, anyway; I was isolated and alone.
I was filled with such shame and embarrassment that I kept silent. There was no way I could tell people that the man I loved was really a devil who was physically and emotionally hurting me.
Still I knew I didn’t deserve this, and that was the first step in leaving him. I made the wrong choice by being with him, but it was time to rectify my mistake. I thought, if he’s going to hurt me, I’m going down fighting. This wasn’t life; this wasn’t how anyone should live. It definitely wasn’t how I wanted to live. I vowed that the next time he laid a finger on me, it would be the last.
I packed my bags, but I didn’t leave.
He convinced me to stay, and the cycle started again. Even though I didn’t leave right then, I was done pretending; I couldn’t keep the facade going. I grew stronger with each fight, gaining courage and a voice I never knew I had. As I was growing braver, he was growing careless and more violent. I was scared for my life. I had to save myself.
Almost a year after the day when I moved to North Carolina, the time came. We had our most intense fight. He beat me senseless, choking me for so long I started to lose consciousness, which scared me shitless. It wasn’t going to stop; it was do or die and time to admit my dirty little secret and release my burden. So I did the only thing I knew to do and called my mother – my best friend, the woman who gave me life, the one who could always tell when something was wrong. She could hear him yelling at me, and I finally found the words I’d been searching for: the man I loved was hitting me, and I needed help.
I made the wrong choice by being with him, but it was time to rectify my mistake. I thought, if he’s going to hurt me, I’m going down fighting.
The next few days were an emotional flurry of changes. I quit my job and broke my lease, detailing my ordeal and my need to leave. I called the police, but instead of my ex being taken to jail, they threatened to take me in if I pressed charges. My ex’s (white) skin showed scratches and bruises way more than my (darker) skin did. He also grew up in this area, and his family was known by everyone. I was the ethnic girl, the outsider. I was the problem. I couldn’t allow them to take me to jail, so I packed what I could into my Jetta and got the fuck out of Dodge. I returned home to the Bay Area to a life full of love, friendships, and acceptance. I was free.
I had given up so much: friends, family, my safety, and myself. Never again. After leaving, I finally realized the magnitude of what had happened. I knew the road to recovery would be tough (and trust me, in the beginning it was HELLA rough), and I knew I couldn’t deal with the aftermath alone. I ended up finding two therapists through John F. Kennedy University at Oakland’s Center for Holistic Counseling.
The first therapist wasn’t a great fit, but the second therapist was amazing. By talking to her, I realized that I had stayed in the abusive relationship because I didn’t love myself. I had low self-esteem. I was the perfect prey for this predator. I allowed myself to believe his lies: I couldn’t get anyone better. I was too fat and ugly and unlovable. I started thinking that I deserved what I was getting since he acted out of love. In his fucked mind, this was love.
My therapist taught me how to love myself. She gave me the strength to tell my story at City College of San Francisco at its annual domestic-violence speak-out. As I told my story, I was barely able to contain my tears. As painful as it was to share, it wasn’t as traumatic as my past or what others who were still in abusive relationships were enduring. I realized the importance of speaking out. It helped me not only to release the anger, blame, and pain I was holding on to but also to encourage others to speak up and potentially break the cycle. From that point onward, I vowed to share my story any chance I could.
I vowed to share my story any chance I could.
It’s been five years since I left the relationship. My recovery’s been a long yet enlightening one. I learned that nothing is more important than caring for yourself, and that if something feels wrong, it probably is. Abuse is difficult to recover from, but it helps to talk to someone. Without release, your thoughts can become obsessive, and you can end up torturing yourself. During my first year of recovery, I learned I suffered from PTSD. I was encouraged to wear a rubber band around my wrist so that whenever my thoughts turned to that situation, I was to snap the band, refocusing my mind. More often than not, both wrists would be raw and red, but eventually, I didn’t need that band anymore. Eventually, I learned to forgive myself, to forgive him, and to just let go. But most importantly, I learned that I wasn’t alone. I can finally see the light at the end of the road, and it’s shining brightly.
I am a survivor.