This story is part of the Love Life. Om. Survivor Story Series. All names (except for the author’s name in this case) and personal identifiers have been removed and/or edited. If you’d like your story published, complete the Survivor Story Series Submission Form.

Life before DV was good. I had so much zest for life. I was hiking everywhere with my dog, taking martial arts classes, working on my business, crafts, and I owned two homes. I’m especially proud of owning two homes, because as a woman of color who grew up in a poor immigrant neighborhood, it wasn’t in the cards for me. Overcoming the racism, constant little jabs felt like running a marathon everyday but with no finish line. So having all of these accomplishments on my own with no help was something I could keep inside when things got tough. But it wasn’t long before I would lose my home and business.

In an instant, your life disintegrates, everything you built is gone.

My abuser lived in my building. He moved in a year after I bought my condo. He came off as goofy and dorky, totally safe and innocent especially around me.

The first red flag I missed was his love of guns. Back then as much as I knew about male violence, I really didn’t know it on the level I do now after years of research. We’re taught that guns are normal and a constitutional right.

So, we easily ignore the fact that a young white male would own over a dozen guns and rifles.

The initial attraction was loneliness stemming from my best friend Lisa’s battle with terminal cancer. Losing her left me wide open for the kind of male violence that crushes your soul for life. She was the only person in the world who could save me from it, and she did even in death.

On the first real formal dinner date, my abuser took me to a very nice Italian restaurant. When the tab came, he put it in front of me and pointed to the total. He had a contemptuous look on his face, and I was paralyzed from being momentarily stunned. He must have caught it and then pointed to the total again asking me how much he should tip.

That night I messaged my oldest best friend who told me to leave him. And I wanted to leave then too. But the conditioning I received from society, telling me that if he doesn’t hit you it’s not abuse creeped in, and I ignored my gut instinct.

His behavior that night was what I now know to be the precursor to a violent mentality. Later, I found it would lend itself to financial abuse. He was draining me dry and I didn’t notice until I was homeless with no food and a lot of people blaming me for what he did to me and my animals. On the surface, it appeared as if he was financially supporting me, and he never let me forget it. The constant reminders of his generosity got so bad I finally told him to send me an invoice.

Within three months, I knew the relationship was long over. I woke up with inexplicable repulsion at the thought of him. When he came over, I was very standoffish. He called me a bitch. Another red flag. I tried closing my door and out of the blue told him I was scared of him. What he said next chilled my bones.

“You have nothing to be scared of.”

As innocent as it sounded on the surface, intuitively, it was off the charts creepy. A normal person would have asked why or what they could do to make you feel safe, but his response showed a chilling lack of conscience–which I wasn’t able to articulate then, but now can after years of feminist advocacy.

My abuser also admitted enjoying rape play and ejaculating on women. I don’t judge couples who express their sexuality in these ways, but when he said his former sexual partner was gang raped multiple times, I knew the simple rape fantasy was anything but. He always framed it as if she was begging for it. But when he said she loved being serially raped in her home country, that was another level of violence I wasn’t able to put together before he did the same to me. It wasn’t long before I would wake up to him inside of me.

No one teaches girls about the many forms of rape, especially sleep rape. We’re told it’s not violent if we’re not conscious or if we’re in a relationship.

The first month we began dating, my abuser told me to remove an “ugly” picture of myself on Facebook, because I looked like shit and the biggest dork in the world. I was really embarrassed about posting such bad photos of myself, so I removed them even though the photos made me happy.

The strangest thing wasn’t his comments about the “ugly” photos but the way his eyes turned black as he assaulting me with his criticisms. I had only seen that happen in horror movies. Little did I know my life was a horror movie.

The worse abuse he inflicted upon me wasn’t the daily rapes. It was the animal abuse.

As cruel as he was, he had a knack for knowing my vulnerable spots. He knew I loved the animals more than my own life and used that to torture me. He never beat my animals in front of me. When they developed unusual ticks and started running away from him, I didn’t know what was happening. It was obvious to everyone else, but at the time I was experiencing a mental breakdown and unable to get out of bed. I was taking double doses of sleeping pills and numbing myself with over sleeping and over eating.

The final straw came when my abuser rubbed urine on my cats face. The look my cat gave me haunted me and was the jolt of reality I needed to plan my escape.

I was no longer paralyzed with inaction.

The second worst and persisting horror of domestic violence has been poverty, which I inexplicably know on an intrinsic level will be life long.

I could have saved my home, but I couldn’t live in the same building as the man who raped me and hurt my animals. Right after I left him,  the city made an official judgement to evict my dog based on barking.

He wasn’t an excessive barker. I asked every neighbor if he was a problem when I was away. I asked roommates, and they reported he rarely ever barked if at all. The animal control officials were able to lie and claim they witnessed it but they hadn’t realized I quit my job and was home when the claimed to have witnessed the barking. They also condemned my condo because I couldn’t afford utilities. Later, I lost my notary which was a small source of income because my abuser filed a DV order against ME, leading to a court record. When I failed to report that upon asking them to remove my address so my rapist couldn’t find me, they permanently banned me from being a notary for life. I was also terminated from a job.

Some of the worst abuse, however, came from social services, therapists, attorney’s, police, society, friends, the legal system, judges. In all honesty, they were worse than just one violent man.

Even a local domestic violence agency run by a woman of color hung up the phone in my ear and never returned my email. It seemed hopeless; I was not an ideal victim. I wasn’t passive, I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t sad, I don’t believe in God and I wasn’t nice. As victims we’re often painted into one stereotype, the Lifetime Movie version of a victim.

Animal control did everything in their power to discredit me, make accusations, they even dispatched the police. The only saving grace was that the police officer who, coincidentally, patrolled my area was a compassionate woman. But other police officers weren’t. I knew I couldn’t count on them to help me. One officer threatened my wellbeing; he even threatened to lie to place me in prison. And the neighborhood police officer for the city colluded with the condo president to harass neighbors.

You don’t expect to find this level of corruption in a sleepy but very progressive modern city near DC. But I guess you never discover the worst until you are left broken and battered.

When I left in 2011, there was no help for pets. I called everywhere. There was a kind woman who offered to watch my dog but she lived 3 hours away. I had no money, home, or car and my dog needed me. I couldn’t let him go even if everyone else thought

I should. Social media wasn’t what it is today. It was so feminist adverse that I was one of the first to use the term rape openly and frequently. I lost friends, the ones I didn’t lose acted like I didn’t exist, because they’d prefer I didn’t. I suppose I reminded them too much of their own experiences with male sexual violence.

In my case, I was forced through agony to let my wounds bleed in front of the world. But others never had that luxury.

DV isn’t the worst trauma in the entire scope of what happens during and after, it’s one of many random traumas that come your way when men you trust terrorize you. During this time, local officials legally banned me from the city I had lived in all my life. I was unable to live within city limits which made finding housing almost impossible. Without a job, car or money I was left to consider returning to the man who raped me or be forced to move in with family who weren’t much kinder. I wish I had been able to fight back, but my ultimate goal was to find safety for my animals. In this lifetime, the only justice is often finding peace. Raped women don’t get to ask for more.

The day I left, I stopped eating for nearly 3 years. I got down to under 90 pounds. My IBS was unmanageable and made it near impossible to work or take public transport.

I planned my suicide more times than I can count.

But my animals forced me to live against everything telling me not to.

Even 6 years later, working is impossible. My migraines are 24/7. I have ten different kinds of anxiety, and my depression makes it impossible to go out. I snap at everyone. And even when I don’t, I’m snapping in my head.

I try to avoid everyone to spare them.

No one would believe it now but I used to be a very strong athlete. I even had elite training. And now I’m constantly in pain. Being athletic was very much a part of my central identity; being disabled changed that.

The stress is unbearable. It got to the point where I almost died and no one knows why.

The hospitals didn’t take me seriously, refused pain management, and as a result, I collapsed ten days later in agony. After I was released from the hospital, a male social service worker cut off my food stamps and became aggressive when I wasn’t able to recall details he needed (to this day my cognizance has diminished to the point that I have similar symptoms as dementia). When he heard me cry, he apologized.

None of this is any one person’s fault. The system is designed so that each person in each agency causes a little harm without realizing the cumulative impact on the individual they were charged with helping…ironically. Even if they could realize the big picture and their individual contribution, they’re powerless to change protocol and offer effective help.

It turns out that the Health and Human Services in my county requires adults without children to have a job to receive food stamps. So you have to work for the benefits you put into when you were working and you also have to work in a job that pays so little you qualify for assistance. It is an intrusive process where you essentially give permission to be stalked. They monitor income and force you to obtain a letter signed by an employer which means, people at work would be aware of your circumstances.

Your dignity is stripped as soon as you ask for help.

I was able to get pro bono therapy from a non profit agency. It was very helpful but the therapists are volunteers with little experience in diagnosing or treating trauma. Due to enduring poverty, it’s nearly impossible to get further treatment. Even on medicaid, the only psychiatrist I found on my plan has an office next to my rapists home. And the male receptionist lied to me multiple times in an attempt to change my perception. The same exact thing my abuser used to do.

Being gaslighted by a psychiatrists assistant is not the path to healing. I also have a right to not want to deal with men in my healing process.

In my naiveté, I thought pain and recovery improved over time but the grief worsens. My health has deteriorated. It was shocking to discover that time can and does make the impact of DV worse. I learned a lot about the grieving process through this experience. I now know what so many trauma victims before me knew and said until their faces were blue.

But no one wanted to deal with me. No one wants to value women who don’t heal, who need constant support.

Solidarity among women is essential. We are so isolated. We’re so alone and keeps us from learning from each other, supporting each other and comparing notes.

I’ve completely eradicated most social constructs from my pre conditioning. We don’t have to worship men, be with men, wear makeup, be feminine, be sweet or anything else society demands of us. We don’t have to let men, religion or politics force us into roles and stereotypes. Most of all, I learned to never allow anyone else, man or a woman still programed by male dominated society, to change my voice.

We don’t have to soften our voices to be accepted.

When I first started speaking out, everyone gasped. I was outcast.

I wasn’t allowed to say the words “men” and “rape” in the same sentence.

I wasn’t allowed to talk about those things. I was a drama queen or sensationalist or baiter if I did. And especially as a woman of color—we’re never supposed to get uppity or live beyond our stations.

But somehow, somewhere, my words got through and hundreds of thousands of shares and views of my work show that the people who tried to shame me into a dark corner lost their power. Sometimes I will randomly go online or watch TV and find my quotes or work presented.

Regardless of how little power and support you have never stop talking. The only time I am put to shame is when I testify to the pervasiveness of male violence.

Those who shame me are scared. Being scared means they’re not invincible.

I want to thank one of the most special people I know, Lisa who saved my life. She is a warrior beyond measure.


(Photo by William Randles on Unsplash)

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Paula Reeves-Carrasquillo

Mindfulness Coach at Love. Life. Om. Mindfulness
Paula is a passionate and innovative author, educator, and mindfulness coach.
Paula Reeves-Carrasquillo
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