No woman wants to be in an abusive relationship nor live in constant fear, unaware of the next time she will be physically, verbally and mentally abused. However, this is the reality for one in three women who’ve experienced some form of violence at the hands of a partner. For years, I was one of those women. Looking back, I ask myself, how did I get there? How and why did I stay for so long? The answer: I was in an uncomfortable, dysfunctional situation that I’d grown comfortable with.
I was 17 years old and living in an abandoned building when I met my ex. Since the age of 14, I’d been a runaway. I decided that living in a vacant property was better than putting up with my home life. At that time, he was so charming. He told me how beautiful I was. He told me that he was going to take care of me. He said he’d move me out of the abandoned building and he did. He even helped me get a job at the same place he was working. There were times when he would raise his voice, but I didn’t think much of it early on. However, as the saying goes, before a dog bites…he barks.
I recall being three months pregnant the first time he hit me. He smacked and threw me against the hood of his car because he didn’t like something I said. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that the man who said he loved me and promised to take care of me would hurt me. So I left and went to my grandmother’s house. Not long after that, he showed up at her front door crying and pleading for me to forgive him. He said that he would never hit me again. I believed him, but it would be the first of many violent episodes.
The circumstances of his abuse didn’t matter. He hit me so many times I lost count. He would hit me while I was holding my children in my arms. On one occasion, he choked me until I almost stopped breathing. When I was pregnant, there were times that I had to fight him while shielding my stomach. I recall times where I thought, if this man doesn’t kill me, then I’m going to kill him.
But I continued to stay with him and bear the brunt of his rage. Why? I was scared, but it was much deeper than fear. The state of confusion I was living in became my norm. I was uncomfortable with my circumstances, yet at the same time, I was comfortable. I knew what to expect. I knew that he would hit me often. I had become okay with being abused. What worried me at that time was the uncertainty of what would happen if I left him for good. Sure, I did walk away a few times, and even went to stay at a battered women’s shelter. However, I would always go back. Studies show that, on average, it takes a woman seven tries until she leaves her abuser for good.
Like many women in my shoes, my main concern was my children. All I could think about was who was going to help me with them? They were all under the age of five. I never had a job outside of the one he helped me get. I only had a high school education and like most abusers, he made sure to hammer in my head that no one was going to want me. I felt trapped and scared. There were times that I thought about ending my life because I felt there was no way out. My reality was painful, but the thought of leaving my children was even more agonizing.
The abuse didn’t start with him, though. The truth is, I was more vulnerable to abuse because I had come from abuse. I had been sexually, verbally, physically and mentally abused growing up, which bred low self-esteem and brokenness. He saw this when he met me. He saw a young, vulnerable woman and preyed on my insecurities; a pattern many abusers follow. In fact, women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most commonly physically harmed by their partners. My ex picked up where my previous abusers left off and kept the cycle going.
One day, I was sitting at my kitchen table reflecting on my life and everything that I’d endured. I realized I’d aged drastically. The depression coupled with the paralysis of fear allowed me to stay in this cycle for years. However, it was time to make a change. No, it was not easy. It was hell, but my children and I deserved better. At 23 years old with five children, I ran for my life and for my children’s lives and made the choice not to look back. What I left with was a lesson: love should not hurt. People who love you will not abuse you.
The stories of abuse I endured in that relationship are countless, but what I’ve gained is the opportunity to share my experience. I’ve been given the opportunity to give hope to women who may be going through this same cycle; women dealing with the same uncertainty. Sadly, the reality is that some women don’t escape it. Some don’t think they can. However, there is help, there is hope, and there is a way out.
Shayvonne Anderson is the Founder of Healing Her—a personal development organization dedicated to restoring the confidence of women of color following survival of their traumatic experiences. Through Healing Her, Shayvonne promotes healthy connections with women from various backgrounds as a confidence coach and keynote speaker leaning into her personal experiences overcoming anxiety, low self-esteem and self-doubt. Healing Her strives to inspire driven women to become free from their baggage of abuse, by pursuing faith and wholeness, so they can lead purposeful lives with confidence.