The words of one of my bravest clients who shared with me a apart of her past, trusted me to create this beautiful and empowering experience for her, but most of all for bravery to share her just a small glimpse into her life.
I had this vision in my head the day I left my ex-husband of documenting what my body and I went through for the three years we were together. It took me exactly two years from the day I left him to gain back the self confidence and have the courage to finally make my vision a reality.
The process of finding a photographer to work with me wasn’t easy. I reached out to several photographers, who all denied me because my vision was outside their scope. However, one of the photographers forwarded my email, detailing my idea, to Rami. Immediately, Rami replied to me and was excited about producing my vision, even though it was outside her typical work. During the entire process Rami was personable, professional, and completely hands on. After my first in-person consultation, were I described my vision, Rami suggested a secondary location in an abandoned house to help truly capture my story. The secondary location was perfect! The house was able to project the mess that was my life, how I felt, and how I viewed myself. With Rami’s help, my story came to life.
My journey started out like a fairytale. My ex-husband and I grew up together, he was my first boyfriend, and throughout the years he became my best friend. He was the only person who wouldn’t judge me. Who I would spend hours on the phone talking to about everything I couldn’t say to anyone else. Our feelings for one another were always there, but we couldn’t be together because we lived in different states. So, we went in and out of each other lives for years until I was in college.
In college I was working full time and going to school full time. The constant fast-paced life lead me to become unhappy, exhausted, and feeling like I was killing myself for nothing. During spring break, I decided to take a vacation and drive down to South Carolina, and at the time my ex was stationed in South Carolina. Once I knew the dates, messaged him asking if he wanted to meet up and he quickly responded yes. We then set up a time and a day to go out on our first real date in almost five years of not seeing each other.
It did not take long for the feeling to rush back for both of us, and at dinner, he grabbed my hands across the table and confessed his ever-lasting love for me. At that moment we both knew we were meant to be together and within six months I moved down, we got engaged, and then we got married.
It was truly a whirlwind romance. He was what I thought, the love of my life, and I couldn’t have been happier. I had never experienced a love like this before, a love that had me crying because I was so happy. A love that wouldn’t allow me to find another man attractive. My eyes, my life, my soul, was dedicated to him. But the love quickly faded and my life became a living nightmare.
Early on in the marriage he asked me to go on birth control, and I did. Like most women, I had the typical side effects of weight gain (I gained twenty to thirty pounds), mood swings, and painful sex. During this time, my husband started going to other women asking for naked pictures. When I confronted him about it, he proclaimed it was no different than porn other than he knew the person. I shot back, saying the difference was that he asked for it from a specific person in mind. Once I brought up cheating, he quickly defended his actions by saying it wasn’t cheating since he never physically touched another woman. He said it was my fault that he had to go to the other woman. Since I wasn’t giving him what he wanted, he could go to someone else to get them. If I would have just done what he wanted then it would have never happened; therefore, if I wanted to prevent it from happening again I needed to comply with his requests. I tried to explain to him that I was no longer confident or comfortable in my own body because of the weight gain, but he didn’t care. It was still my fault, and I convinced myself that it was. I told myself that if I would have kept the weight off then none of this would have happened.
One day I saw a message to another woman and I confronted him for cheating again. It turns out I was wrong, but still the idea of having to go through this yet again set me off. I couldn’t look at him, I was disguised, and I just had to get out of the house. Get away from him. But he wouldn’t let me, and things got physical.
He grabbed my upper arms so I couldn’t leave, but I fought back.
We ended up on the floor. I wrestled him to get off.
Pinned down to the ground, I pleaded and cried for him to let me go.
It seemed to go on forever. . . . but eventually I got free.
I ran to the door, but I wasn’t fast enough.
This time I was pinned up against the wall.
I turned around to defend myself, and punched him in the face.
I could see nothing but rage in his eyes, and knew things were going to get bad.
As he advanced towards me, I kept trying to defend myself.
Until . . . his hands were around my throat.
As he squeezed, I could feel and hear the last breath I had leave my body.
Maybe it was hearing my breath or maybe it was the fear in my eyes, but he let go.
I fell straight to the floor.
Gasping for air. Hoping it was all over.
Until he got back on top of me, and again pinned me to the ground.
Now, we were both crying.
I pleaded over and over again to go.
He finally looked at me and said, “You can go.”
And I left.
I got in my car and drove away. I didn’t know where I was going, but I kept driving down down a road until the tears filled my eyes to the point I could no longer see and I pulled off into a vacant parking lot. I laid in my car, balling in disbelief of the events that just took place, until he called me to say he left and I could go back home. I called him to say I was home. He apologized for what he had done, but said it wasn’t entirely his fault. If I wouldn’t have hit him then he would have never choked me, and if I would have just stayed and talked to him none of this would have happened.
I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my head at this point. I was in disbelief, the person that I loved was capable of doing this to me. I didn’t know how to handle it. The days that proceeded I was in pain, left alone in an empty house, and left to my thoughts to manifest. I couldn’t handle it. So, I turned to the one person I could talk, my mother in law, but she took his side. As I explained everything that happened, she proclaimed it was my fault because I hit him. Neither of them understood that my actions were in self-defense, except for the victim’s advocate that I was forced to speak with.
Instead of being helpful in the situation the advocate made it worse for me. The advocate was hell bound to label me as a victim. As she was telling me who and what I was, I became angry. Here was this woman, who didn’t know me from Adam, that was treating me like a was a glass doll. I told her “I wasn’t a victim. I didn’t lay there and take it, I fought back even though I had no chance of winning.”
Weeks later, she signed off to vacate the protective order and my husband came back home. And once again, he said “I promise never to do it again”. And once again I believed his manipulating ass. I don’t know why I believed him. Maybe I just wanted to prove the victims advocate wrong that this wouldn’t happen again, maybe I believed him and his mom when they said it was my fault, maybe that I didn’t want my marriage to fail at such a young age and go back to living with my parents, maybe I did truly believe him. In the end, it was all the reasons above, and that love had me so blinded that I couldn’t see him for whom he truly was.
Months would go by before I would experience another phase in the vicious cycle of my marriage. This time, he was back to cheating again, not with just one woman but four. Call it a woman’s intuition, but when things were constantly going good and I was becoming happy. I knew a storm was brewing, he was hiding something. And my intuition was right.
When I looked at his phone, he was sexting four separate women at the same time for the past two months. He was saying how much he missed them, how he longed to be with them, what he would do to them if they were together, and yet I, his wife, laid next to him in bed every night. What hurt the most was when one of them said, “I’ve never done this with a married man before” and he said, “Let’s not ruin it. Let’s keep having fun.” Not that reading all the sexually explicit message hurt, but seeing him blatantly disregard and disrespect our marriage when another woman questioned it, killed me.
I felt ugly, worthless, and defeated. Everyday, I came home to him and that wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough. Here I was working full time and sometimes picking up a few shifts at a restaurant to help provide for us and going to school full time to better myself, killing myself. And after work and when I wasn’t home, instead of helping me out with the house or dog, he would be sexting them. I felt so unappreciated for doing everything I could, and yet I couldn’t even get my husband to be faithful to me. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t even keep my own husband satisfied.
When he got home, I asked him if he had something to tell me. At this point, he knew if I asked this question, I already found it.
Crying, screaming, I asked him why?
“Why wasn’t coming home to me every night not good enough for him?”
“Why was he with me if all he was going to do was cheat on me?”
“Why was I not good enough?”
“Why?” When I was the woman he swore he wanted to marry ever since he was five, that all he wanted to do was break me.
He answered that he did it when our marriage wasn’t good because I couldn’t get over what had happened months prior. That he loved me and when things were starting to get better he stopped. At this point, I finally kicked him out.
After a few days, I finally made up my mind I was going to divorce him. I called him and told him to meet me at a public place to discuss who would get what in the divorce. When he showed up he was disheveled, wouldn’t look at me, and when I started to talk about divorce and what I wanted and what I thought he would wish to have, he said, “I don’t want this.” Still, I kept advancing with the idea of divorce, and he kept saying, “I don’t want this” and asked if we could talk. Eventually, I gave in.
We went back to our apartment. Again I was asking all the questions I had asked before, and all he could do was apologized over and over again saying the issue wasn’t me, that it was him. It was something that he needed to fix, and I said, “He needed to fix it without me because I couldn’t take it anymore.” But he still pleaded for me to stay with him, saying, “He loved me, and couldn’t leave without me.” I held my ground for a while that we were getting a divorce, but as I watched him break down crying in front of me, his hands covering his face, tears streaming down his face as he repeating the muffled phase “I’m sorry, please give me another chance.” My heart broke. I couldn’t stand seeing him like that, seeing the man I loved, the man that I took care of, the man I would do anything in that condition. So once again, I gave him another chance. He promised with our move in two months that it would be a start of another life for us. We would leave this state and leave all of the problems behind with it; cheating, abuse, and unhappiness. And I swore if there was one more woman that I would leave.
But the unhappiness didn’t leave; in fact, it manifested in me. He had finally stopped, but instead of having a chance to breathe, everything caught up to me. I played everything in my head over and over again, wondering where I went wrong. Why was not good enough for my husband? He was my best friend, the one I could talk to about everything, everything except what happened.
To him everything was done the day after it happened, because that’s all it took for him to be over it. Also because he was so stressed out at work that he couldn’t handle the stress of talking about what he had done. I couldn’t turn to my mother. Not only did she disapprove of my marriage, but she disliked him for things he done in his childhood. She said, “I would never amount to anything but being a military wife. I would never finish school, nor have a career.” The one day I called my mother for advice, she ended up berated me to the point I completely shut down.
My husband came home to me crying. He asked what was wrong, but I refused to tell him, so he went upstairs. I was so frustrated and upset that the only release I could get was throwing a glass. With the sound of the glass hitting the wall and shattering about the floow, he ran downstairs. I was backed up against the counter in the kitchen, when he put his hands around my throat, shaking me, screaming in my ear to tell me what was wrong. Eventually, I gave in and told him. But after this I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to.
So I bottled up everything inside and let it eat me alive until I became the living dead. The days became as cold and as dark as night. Every day I would put on a mask to go to work, so no one could see how truly dead inside I had become. I hated looking in the mirror. Not just because I let myself go and gained weight, but because I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. The dreams I once had were now dead, the light that once filled my eyes was gone, the moral and values I once believed in were long gone; I hated the person who stared back at me in the mirror.
My best days were the days I didn’t have to look in the mirror or go outside. The days my husband was gone and I was home alone. The days I no longer had to pretend that I was happily married or even happy at all. These days, my best of days, I never got out of bed or off of the couch. I would lie there crying to the point I couldn’t any longer breathe, to the point my insides hurt. Eventually I got to the point I became numb and couldn’t cry at all.
Still, during it all, I took care of my husband, went to work, took care of everything, and went to school. At this point, my husband would tell people that I was nothing more than his bitch of a wife, but I was good looking and good in bed as if it was the reason he stayed. How he felt about me truly came to light on the days that he would come home from work stressed out, and would just want sex in order to destress. At first I would deny him. I couldn’t be intimate after everything he put me through and feeling the way I did. Sex is supposed to be an expression of one’s love, but I quickly learned to see it as just act to get through the day without confrontation.
Not having sex led him to become more stressed, which lead to volatile fights. So, I learned to be his stress reliever. I would lie there . . . just taking it as the tears streamed down my face. Eventually I became numb. I would fake it and do anything I could to make it end faster. All while, he would think we were good, and I would lie there wholly numb wanting everything to end. Things weren’t always like this between us. There were good days but they were few and far in-between. I no longer knew what happiness was, because I had become trained that if I was happy then he was cheating.
I remember one day we went out for a date night. The entire drive and about halfway through the date the only thing I could think about was what he put me through. Halfway through our date, I let my thoughts subside, and we had a good time. Later that night he kept asking me what was wrong and why I ruined the first date night we had in a long time. Instead of telling him I pleaded with him to hit me. I started screaming “Hit me!” Over and over again because I didn’t know what happiness was anymore. To me, happiness was fighting, having him pin me down on the floor or against the wall as he proceeded to tell me how much he loved me and didn’t want me to go. I could no longer identify what a healthy relationship was or what love and happiness actually felt like without alternative motives.
One day I realized that I didn’t want to live like this anymore that I wanted to be truly happy. I started with myself in hopes that it would marinate into my marriage. For so long I put my health on the back burner with school, work, and taking care of everything. Everyday I was on the verge of passing out from not eating right or at all from all the stress I was handling. The first step I took was to find a program that would teach me how to eat correctly, and then I would start back at the gym. My hope was to gain the self-confidence that I lost with my husband constantly cheating on me, but I also hoped he would find me more attractive and never cheat on me again. In about seventy days I lost all the weight I gained, toned my body, and was no longer on the verge of passing out daily. I became healthy! I took back some of my self-confidence I lost with my husband cheating on me. Most importantly I lost the desire to fight with my husband, for the sake of mental health.
My new found mental state didn’t last long. As work got harder for him, the more stressed he got, the more fights we had. After another fight that led us to sleep in different bedrooms, he asked for a divorce. This time I fought for him. I pleaded for him not to end our marriage, divorce wasn’t an option in my mind. After hours of going back and forth, he finally agreed to work on our marriage. We consummated the agreement the only way we knew how to, by having sex. A few hours later, he said he wanted a divorce. He lied to me, saying he would work on the marriage in order to just have sex with me. I became infuriated being treated as someone who was used and thrown away that my emotions took control of me, and I slapped him in the face.
Just like before, I knew I was in trouble. This time he balled his fist, but he held back from hitting me then just went upstairs. I went outside to cool down. After a few minutes, I went upstairs apologizing to him about my actions, and asked if we could talk. But he refused to speak to me. I refused to back down from getting an answer. Then the vicious cycle began again. Things got volatile.
He pushed me hard into the guest bedroom door frame.
I fell to the ground.
Immediately, I got back up in his face.
Sat back down on the bed, playing his game, refusing to talk to me.
I grabbed the game then ran downstairs.
Then outside with his game.
He picked me up, then proceeded to tackle me to ground.
I tried to resist it, by standing up.
When my leg made contact with the ground a sharp pain shot up from my heel to my ankle.
He picked me up again.
I screamed “My leg is broken!”
He carried me inside, put me down in the chair.
He said, “You got what you deserved.”
I pleaded to go to the hospital.
I grabbed my phone to call a friend, or a taxi.
He took my phone saying “If you need to go that bad I will take you!”
I said, “You’ve done enough,” as I reached for my phone.
He took my phone away again, yelling “I will kick you in your leg if you don’t let me take you.”
I refused then he physically forced me out the house, into the car.
In the car, he said we need to talk. “I hope you know this is your fault.”
I said, “I will make you a deal. Get me to the hospital, don’t go back with me when I get called, and I will say I fell down the stairs.”
We got to the hospital.
He carried me across the threshold of the hospital.
I said, “How romantic. You never even carried me across the threshold the night we got married.”
He waited with me in the waiting room saying, “I’m sorry.”
I just reminded him of our deal.
I got called back.
I left with crutches from a sprained ankle, sprained knee, and wrapped from my upper thigh all the way down.
I had nowhere to go. No one to call.
So I called him.
Pissed off from waking him, he picked me up.
Brought me into the house.
Dirty from being on the ground. I took a shower.
I fell in the tub.
I started banging on the wall, hoping he would hear me.
Pissed off, he help me out of the tub saying “I was dramatic.”
Finally I got into bed.
I asked what was going to happen with us with him going out to sea the next day.
He said, “If you act the way you are suppose to, I will stay.”
Three hours he got up, and went to the boat.
Fifteen minutes later I get a call asking if I could bring him some stuff he left at the house.
All wrapped up, I got up, grabbed his things then went to him.
He wouldn’t even meet me to grab his things.
Instead he had his friend meet me, then the boat left.
I got an email saying we will work things out.
The next email he wanted a divorce.
A few weeks later, I got an email from the phone company saying he was almost out of data. He wasn’t talking to me, come to find out he was talking to another woman. He texted his mom saying we were getting divorced, and he was in love with another woman. Finally. I had enough. Crying hysterically, I called my parents told them everything with the physical altercation and his cheating. The same night, they came up to move me back. I called him to say I was leaving. When he said, “What for this time?” I told him I knew he was talking to another woman. He didn’t care about me leaving until I told him my mom convinced me to report the incident to the cops. He then threatened to kill me if the police report caused him to lose his job. I filed the report anyways.
The next day I quit my job, packed up my house, and moved back home. The next few months were hell between the cops, divorce lawyers, two victims advocates calling me all hours of the day to hear what happened or to ask me how I was. I couldn’t eat, losing fifteen pounds in a week and a half, couldn’t sleep, nor could I find the energy to even get out of bed. In the shower, I would fall to the floor, lay there crying, hoping that the sound of the water would muffle the sounds of my cries. Later, he would be arrested, and a non-contact restraining order would be put into place. The order stayed in place for almost three months before it was lifted. Right after the court lifted the order, he contacted me right away to tell me he was sorry and regretted everything that he did. I told him during the process of talking to a victims advocate; they had asked me to say what were some good qualities that he possessed. I pondered that questioned for a while and responded that I couldn’t think of any, but when they asked for his negative attributes, I was able to give them an entire list quickly. Even with blatantly telling someone else how bad of a person he was, I still allowed him to be in my life.
As the time went on all we could talk about was the past, and all he could do was try to sway me to go back to him. Eventually, he succeeded because I was his wife and he was my husband. It didn’t take long for his old ways kicked in again. The day after I told the judge I needed more time to decide on the divorce. He started paying woman over the internet to video themselves doing all the explicit things he sexted them earlier to do to themselves. It didn’t take long for me to figure it out after he quit answering my phone calls. The day I found this out, was the day I called the court, and got my divorce date for the following week.
That day in court I was so nervous that I had a panic attack. When we finally got to the right court, the judge called for a lunch break. We waited outside the court until the break was finally over. As I got up to leave, my husband persuaded me to go through with the divorce. Finally he could see the pain that he was causing me. He was afraid that with the stress he was putting on my heart he was going to kill me. He told me I deserved better and to be happy. He convinced me of my own worth and what I truly deserved, and finally I agreed and we went in. We sat in the courtroom patiently holding hands with him telling me this is the right thing to do while the tears were streaming down my face and I was shaking. Once our name was called, he did all the talking. I couldn’t speak, the tears were flowing down my face, but in the end, I went through with the divorce. The divorce process was so stressful that my heart became under extreme stress that it felt like I was having a heart attack. Two months after my divorce, during my routine cardiologist appointment I was told due to extremely high pulmonary hypertension I could die at any moment. The solution was to refrain from undue stress on the heart, and to prepare for open-heart surgery. Thankfully two months later, I would find out the doctor was ignorant in my condition, and I am truly alright.
Confronted with my own morality, like many others, I reflected on my life. All I could think was that I wasn’t living; in fact, up to this point, I only existed. I couldn’t remember a time that I was truly happy. My life for the past few years were the worst days I have ever had. The only thing I had to show for it all was being faithful to a man who did everything he could to break me down and drained the life out of me to where I had nothing left to give him or myself. From that day forward I vowed to live life, to be happy, take risks, and live life for me and no one else. It wasn’t easy though, it took me a year after my divorce to realize I was still holding onto the past. My unhealthy ways were holding me back and creating an unhealthy mindset and relationship with not only myself, but with others to. Finally I sought help by attending my first domestic violence support group. Here I found refuge with a group of woman who all been in similar situations. Through our shared experience we were able to help one another heal and help identify what issues we needed to work on. Here we shared our stories, our progress, and our struggles with one another. We can easily lie and convince ourselves about how our exes are/were, but saying it outloud to other women and seeing their reactions; you could no longer deny the abuse. Many women, including myself, believe the physical abuse was easiest to get over. In time the wounds would heal and the pain would go away, but the pain that never went away was the emotional and mental abuse. It was the awful words they said about you, how terrible they made you feel everyday, and the constant manipulation that you were crazy and everything was your fault. This is the hardest part of the abuse because we allow ourselves to believe them. We believe in these false statements of ourselves, and began to punish ourselves because we believe them. I finally became free from my own self abuse, when I finally opened up about my past. I learned from my group that it wasn’t me who wasn’t good enough, it was him.
These past two years after my divorce has been a journey to rebuild, reinvent, and find myself after the physical, emotional, and mental abuse I was subject to. This shoot, although it primarily documents the past, it is also a testament to how far I have come in my journey. Today I am the happiest, healthiest physically, emotionally, and mentally than I have ever been in my life. I allowed my mother’s comments to fuel my ambition, by not only finishing at the top ten percent of my undergraduate class. But now I’m at the top of my Master’s class with a full-time career. I continue to find myself through fitness. Fitness has allowed me to be in the best shape of my life, but more importantly, it has allowed me to gain self-confidence. I learned to push my body and mind past my limits no matter how hard it got. Most importantly, I was able to trust in who I was and not who I thought I was. This is not to say that one
I hope that you know you are beautiful just the way you are, that you deserve happiness in its purest form, and you deserve a love that is unwavering and free from abuse.
Know if you are not alone, and if you need anyone I am here.
A Domestic Violence Survivor