As told to Hannah Hickok by Amy Daumit
We started dating when I was 16—high school sweethearts who got married when I was 21. He played football and was in the school band, well-liked by kids in all different groups, both popular and unpopular. He was smart and charming, made me laugh, and was nice to everyone. Looking back, I always sensed there was something off with our relationship, and that not everyone’s boyfriend guilted them when they wanted to spend time with their friends or family, or picked fights and threatened to break up if they disagreed. There were small signs of control from the start, but I ignored them and made excuses for him. I never imagined that sweet teenage boy would turn into the man who made me fear for my life—and then made me stop caring about life entirely.
The violence started out “playfully.” I remember the first thing he destroyed of mine: A Disney Beaker doll that he ripped the head off of because he knew I liked it. He liked to hold me down even though he knew I hated to be restrained, and would practice martial arts skills on me—like arm bars and wrist locks. When I complained, he would get upset and guilt me into continuing. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like it or that it caused me pain. I couldn’t tell you the first time he hit me out of anger. Sometimes I wonder if I blocked it.
When he said it was my fault, I believed him.
It got much worse as time went on. I’ll never forget the first time he put his fist through the wall of our first bedroom, months after we got married. His anger escalated from verbal and emotional attacks to all-out, hate-driven fits of anger that included hitting me, holding a gun to my head, and threatening murder and suicide. The trigger could be anything from dinner not being to his liking to the cat throwing up in the house or forgetting something at the store.
I didn’t leave because I couldn’t—or didn’t want to—believe he was being mean to me, so I made excuses. No matter what he did, he was the love of my life in my mind, so I never thought of leaving. I never saw people who loved each other being mean just for the sake of being mean, so I would tell myself he was having a bad day or that I had done something to hurt and anger him. “Look what you made me do!” he always said. When he said it was my fault, I believed him.
It’s the feeling of being hated by the person you love most in the world.
I tried to be a better person, one who would make him happy and not bring out this side of him. Looking back, I see that the more he took, the more I gave, and the more I gave, the more he took. I can still feel the emptiness in the pit of my stomach when I recall him hurting me. It’s the feeling of being hated by the person you love most in the world.
Things got worse when I started law school. At first, he encouraged me to go, but I now think that was just him building me up in order to tear me down or see me fail. There were so many “normal” people around me and he got more aggressive, controlling, and physical than he had ever been in the past. Eventually, I became deeply depressed and no longer cared about anything—whether I lost him, if I made it through school, or even if he killed me. I was miserable beyond anything I could have ever imagined. When I saw myself in the mirror I saw a tired, defeated soul. I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
I stopped caring about anything, even whether he killed me.
The only motivation I had was getting through school so that if I survived leaving, I had a chance at taking care of myself. My parents figured out what was going on when he threw me out of the house, my mom drove from Pennsylvania to Florida to be with me, and he showed his true colors. She left because she was terrified and begged me to go with her, but I stayed. I finally ended up leaving a couple months later.
I’ve been out free eight years and still struggle with functioning as a survivor instead of a victim. For years after my marriage, I grappled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was angry and bitter, and needed people to understand that you don’t just get better after what I went through—even though I didn’t fully understand it myself at the time.
No one can save you but you.
I’ve recently had some things happen that make me feel out of control and like my hard work has been for nothing. I’m struggling to move forward and not allow myself to spiral into depression and giving up. It isn’t easy but I tell myself constantly that I refuse to be a victim. Instead, I will survive and love the life I have.
For women going through something like this, please know that the abuse is not your fault and it is not OK. No one can save you but you, so find someone you can trust, seek out therapy, and get yourself out of the situation. Know that it doesn’t end when you walk out the door. Admitting you are being abused is the first step, and getting help is the second. Dig deep and find the strength to start the journey to the beautiful and happy life that you deserve.
Amy Daumit is the author of Forget Me Not: Learning to Live With Me and For Me.
Originally published in October 2016. Republished October 2017 in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.