By Melissa, Women & Infants Hospital

The first time he hit me was 6 weeks into the relationship. At the time, I didn’t ‘count’ it. I was 17, how could I have known? The only thing I knew about abuse was what I saw on the afterschool special we watched in health class. It wasn’t like that, it wasn’t a slap, we weren’t alone, it didn’t happen in a shadowy room with dramatic camera angles. We were at a party, we were messing around, tickling each other, playfully bumping each other. I accidentally grazed a more sensitive part of him and I saw his face change, he yelled and shoved me, hard. I fell into the couch behind me and moved it across the floor. I landed on my side and hit my head on the ground. By the time I got up I saw him storming out of the house. Everyone was staring at me. I ran after him with a string of apologies. At the time, I thought it was all my fault. I found him outside getting into his car with his friend. He was going to leave me there. I just kept saying how sorry I was and begging him to stay or take me with him. He allowed me to sit in the back of the two-seater car while his friend rode in front. I remember feeling relieved that night.

It took me years to admit that I was being abused. My ever draining bank account didn’t convince me, he needed those things. Of course, I had to buy him a car, pay for his weed, loan his mother money that I knew I wouldn’t get back. I wanted him to stay after all.

He threw our cat against the wall, but it didn’t feel like a red flag then. He was passionate, and at least he wasn’t hurting me that night.

He would trick me into drinking his urine by peeing into the cup I kept by the bed so in the middle of the night I’d take a swig unassumingly. Even that I accepted as an accident and didn’t want to notice the pleasure he got out of it.

The knuckle shaped bruises on my thighs didn’t convince me because those were just jokes. He called them ‘donkey punches’ and would give them to me if I enjoyed sex too much.  One night, he head butted me and gave me a black eye because I wasn’t enjoying having sex enough.  How was I supposed to act? How could it be abuse when I was so convinced I deserved it, that he loved me?

I remember bleeding a lot after sex, too. My young mind made up this theory that my body was bringing on my period as a defense mechanism because that was the only time he wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I had no idea that I was being torn apart down there. I mean, I knew sex hurt, but it would hurt, then I would bleed and it would feel ok. By the time he started raping me, my mind had gotten so good at disassociating that my memories of the rapes are mixed with  images of me dancing in the snowfall like that girl in the Edward Scissor hands movie.  This image comforted me at the time, but now I cry when I see light snowfall in a street light.

I remember wishing someone would just ask me. No one asked me. I felt like I was going to explode inside, but I felt like no one wanted to hear about it because no one asked. The black eye got questioned but people took my weak excuse of, ‘I got up too fast and hit my face on his forehead.’ It felt like no one wanted anything deeper than that. The feeling of being alone and being ‘other’ is so powerful. No one talks about it; no one is comfortable with it. I still hide it from men I date now because I don’t want to ‘scare them away.’ I wish I was braver then, and I wish someone had been brave enough to ask me. I wish my providers had more questions.  I wish I was more ok with saying that I’m a survivor. But I am. I survived.

I made it through and am still making it through all of the baggage it gave me, all of the questionable life choices I’ve made because of past hurts. But I still survive. And now I have the chance to help others because now I can use what I know, with the work I do here at Women & Infants, to help find others. Recognition is the first step and together we’re making strides to make this world a safer place and help others survive, too.

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence operates an anonymous helpline that is open 24 hours a day. For help, call them at 1-800-494-8100. Victims can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Women & Infants also offers support by calling (401) 274-1122, ext. 41360.