Too Young to Get It

by C.
(Orange County, CA, USA)

I was only 16 when I started dating my abusive ex boyfriend--I will refer to him as "R." At that age, conflict was normal and even kind of exciting, so when we fought... I almost enjoyed the drama. Blowout fights in the middle of parties, etc. were the norm. He was a senior and I was a junior in high school. I was 16, but he was 18 when this all started. It began with very public fights at parties and in front of friends. He got mad over things that either didn't exist or literally made no sense. Once at a high school party, I was sitting in a room with a girl friend talking and he burst in screaming and yelling and accused me of making out with her. It was genuinely the most bizarre accusation ever made against me. He later punched a door over it and just generally made a scene. For whatever reason, I stayed with him. We were together for about 7 months or so at that time.

Then it turned into calling me names in front of people, controlling who I hung out with and what I wore. He told me my friends were all "whores" and argued with me anytime I wanted to go out with them. For my 19th birthday he threw a cocktail party for me and I bought a nice black cocktail dress. When I showed it to him, he yelled at me and said it was too revealing, that I couldn't wear it, and ended with telling me how disgusting I looked in it. I honestly still remember how ashamed and ugly that made me feel.

I broke up with him often--I have a strong personality and wanted to have fun, but I always found my way back to him. This is part of why I blamed myself for the abuse or believed I deserved it. Whenever he talked down to me, I stuck up for myself. This falsely led me to believe that I wasn't a victim because I still had a "voice."

Fast forward to when I was 20/21--R had an apartment and I stayed with him almost every night. We fought constantly. He would say the crudest things to me, put me down constantly and I would yell back in defense... or sometimes just cry. The police were called probably 4 times a week. It was embarrassing and scary. He pushed me and pinned me to the ground often. Specifically one evening, I wasn't tired so I left our bed and walked out onto the balcony. Maybe a few minutes passed when R got up from bed and found me sitting in a chair out on the balcony. I was messing around on my phone, but apparently he thought I was texting "dudes" so he pulled the chair out from underneath me.. then he dragged me into the house where he pinned me to the ground and proceeded to punch the floor next to my head. He said, "I could fuck up your face so bad that no one would recognize you." I don't remember a lot of his threats verbatim, but I will always remember that. I was obviously freaking out, crying, hyperventilating. He started to choke me but not with enough force to really keep me from breathing. I think he just intended to scare the shit out of me... and he did. Instances like this happened often until he moved back in with his parents.

Thats when the physical abuse subsided, but the verbal abuse grew out of hand. R constantly called me a bitch in front of his parents or woke me up in the middle of the night to yell at me for some bizarre reason. He really enjoyed playing the victim so it always my fault somehow. His complaints would be something like I let my friend look at him the wrong way or make him feel uncomfortable or my friends are whores and by virtue of our friendship, I must be too. Also around this time I thought I was experiencing some depression, perhaps anxiety--I wasn't sure, but thought I should seek some help. I was diagnosed with anxiety and referred to a psychiatrist for evaluation and prescription drug options. In retrospect, I know these issues were brought on by my horrible relationship. I haven't used medication since and I'm perfectly fine now. Because I decided to see a psychologist/therapist, R told me I was weak and stupid. He said my anxiety was bullshit and psychologists don't know anything. This is so many years ago now and while I can't remember his exact words, I remember the helplessness and blinding anger ... and every other emotion I felt ... so clearly. It's hard to share exact instances of conduct because they are so many and so very generally the same. It's easier to describe overarching behavior, i.e. the things he often did like name call, push, put down, etc. If I could find it within me to recall all of the details (which I would rather not) I think this story might really hit people.

While all of this was going on, I was attending junior college and playing softball for the school team, of which I was the team captain. R didn't attend one game. He always told me I was stupid and made demeaning comments regarding women. Specifically he would say women can't make good decisions in the workforce, they're not as intelligent or reliable as men, women aren't good at sports and aren't worth watching, etc. I was preparing to transfer and was somehow carrying a 4.0 GPA for my third semester in a row with an overall 3.8 GPA. Despite him saying I wouldn't get into any schools, I got into UCLA and UC Berkeley. I chose UC Berkeley and from that point on until I moved to Berkeley, he would talk about how stupid Berkeley is... how everyone there is a worthless hippie and they're all pseudo intellectuals... that anyone who goes to Berkeley is a loser. Believe it or not, his father would say the same things to me and tell me that I am abandoning their family (this is obviously another part of the story that I just can't get into--if I explored everything with you, this would be much too long).

My story has a happy ending, but not because I decided to be strong and leave--at least not totally. He broke up with me shortly after I moved to Berkeley. We were together for 6 years. I still let the relationship linger and when he tried to get back together a few months later, I refused, but I would visit him back home and still engage. After I graduated and moved back home, we still talked and he still tried to get back together. I was obviously opposed to the idea but for the last 8+ years.. this is the only guy i'd really been involved with--I dated in Berkeley, but I didn't have a significant relationship with anyone. It wasn't until I met my now husband that I completely cut myself off from R. I have been with my husband for about 4.5 years--married for 3 months. R is now dating a girl that we went to high school with. We share mutual friends and from what I understand, he is doing the same things to her. He actually sent me a text message around 3 AM on New Years day. I responded because I didn't know who it was. He followed up with short, incoherent texts and thats pretty much the end of my story with him.

I realize that even while trying to share this story with others, I am compelled to underplay the true extent of the abuse I suffered. I reasoned with myself throughout virtually the entire relationship and found myself thinking it wasn't THAT bad. This is why its important for me to confront my experience--so that I can learn to acknowledge what it really was. I am 29 years old, an accomplished athlete and academic, I graduated from UC Berkeley, worked in the legal field for several years, and I am now finishing off my 20's by graduating from law school and becoming an attorney. I don't think I look like a victim. This can happen to anyone--the strong, the smart, the beautiful, the rational--it doesn't matter. Abuse wears so many faces and creeps up on you. For me, it started out as extravagant high school drama and developed into full fledged physical violence, but it didn't happen over night.

No one deserves it... and if you're asking yourself if it's really that bad.. it is.

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