Today is the first day of Domestic Violence awareness month. I have decided to open up to my readers and essentially the world and touch on my history with domestic violence and economic abuse. I am sharing my story because of the silence that exists about this matter in our community. Women are suffering and surviving in silence, ashamed of their past. We tell ourselves we are weak if we’ve been in an abusive relationship. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

For a long time, I was extremely hard on myself, because unlike what I considered a typical survivor, I came from a middle class two-parent home.  My parents were committed to being great parents with the goal of rearing two strong, intelligent women and that’s exactly what my childhood entailed. I was a proud, confident military child with the ability to make new friends and was that kid everyone parents didn’t mind having around in hopes my manners would rub off on their kids. In the absence of excuses, I considered what happened to me to be my fault.

This was the Tonya he met

This was the Tonya he met

After graduating from High School and attending an HBCU in North Carolina for two years I decided it was time to spread my wings and move to Miami, Florida. My first year in Miami was amazing. I was flourishing in school, had become the only undergraduate research assistant at my job (a position usually held for graduate students) and my financial situation was impressive due to a mother who refused to let her daughter to have bad credit.

You never believe that it will happen to you. After watching scores and scores of Lifetime movies, yelling at the screen, it happened to me at the age od 22. He was a professional fighter and initially very charming. In retrospect he had issues written all over him, but at the time he was something different from what I usually dated and that excited me. The violence wasn’t immediate it slowly intensified. The first violent incident was him punching out my car windows with his fist. I broke up with him initially, but after a week of I’m sorry texts and voicemails accompanied with long apologetic emails I took him back. He hated Miami, so we deiced to move to his home of Cincinnati, Ohio together, where I would do my internship with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Once we were on his home turf things became worse. It was a series of terrible firsts. I will not go into all of the violent incidents, but it was the first time in my life I had my breath taken away from a punch to the stomach, it was the first time I ever had a loaded gun pulled on me, it was the first time I was choked until I was nearly unconscious, and the first time I received stitches (a result from a blow to my head which resulted in a permanent scar in my right brow). He began isolating me from my friends and family. My mother was barely speaking to me because she hated that I was throwing away my life to be with him. Everything in my life became affected. I was calling in more sick days than my usual and my grades slipped from a 3.85 average to a 3.3. In retrospect I believe I stayed because I believed in his ability to be a better person. I wanted to help him out of his darkness, but instead he was pulling me into his.

Along with physical abuse came economic abuse. We moved to San Antonio after my internship was up so that he could train at a Mixed Martial Arts facility located there. He basically refused to work. So the bills ended up falling on me. Being someone who believes in integrity and paying what I owe, I worked my ass off to keep us afloat. I took a job selling cars because the opportunity to make money was much better than other options in San Antonio. My entire income went to housing, groceries, and activities that he approved of. All of my money was spent staying afloat and I didn’t have excess to put away for my escape. He also began stealing money from me. He used my Best Buy account to concoct an e-bay scheme, which also included using my E-bay account because his was already in poor standing. (Sorry ebay). Almost 7 years later I am still sorting through the eBay mess and just paid off the Best Buy debt a year ago.

I found out I was pregnant around the time I found out he had a drug problem. He was using steroids and other drugs. These two factors are what finally pushed me to leave. I confronted him about his addiction and told him he needed to go home for treatment and that I’d go home to my parents and prepare for graduation and the baby. With 6 months left on a  lease I ended up having to break it. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve done more to document the abuse so that I could receive more legal help in reconciling my financial situation.

I called my parents and told them I was leaving him and ask if I could come home. Two days later I was on my way out. Driving from San Antonio to North Carolina I was numb. The gravity of what I experienced hadn’t set. It wasn’t until a call with a debt collector 3 days later that I broke. (Which we be covered in a future post). Once I was home and away from his influence I began to pieces myself back together. I changed my phone number and began to rebuild my life.  I rekindled old friendships and started living for me again. I did decide to terminate the pregnancy for personal, health, and finance related issues. Three months after leaving him I graduated with my BA. As I prepared for them to call my name the tears started pouring, not only because I was happy that college was finally over, but because I was proud of myself, for persevering through that situation and for not allowing him to take my education from me.

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Graduation Day

I may not look like what I’ve been through, but today I am a survivor.  When I look back on that part of my life I am astonished that I was me. It can honestly happen to the strongest of women. I realize that I am blessed. The statistics are startling:

  • One in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
  • Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults.
  • Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.
  • Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.

It breaks my heart to see young women being socialized to think that love is a struggle. That over protection equals love and that pain is better than being alone. I have spent the past 3 years of my life speaking to young adults about teen dating violence and helping women who were rebuilding their lives after fleeing form DV related situations.

To any of my readers if you ever need to talk, I am here. I am a living testament that you can overcome. I’m in a loving and fulfilling relationship with a man who loves me the way my father dreamed I’d be loved. I’ m almost complete with my Masters Degree in Urban Policy and I’m finally traveling the world. I told a friend yesterday that hands down, 2013 has been the best year of my life, and I know with out a fact that it would not have even been a possibility had I not decided to leave.

For more information on Domestic Violence, whether you are a victim or want to help, visit www.thehotline.org

Me in 2013

Me in 2013

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran

 

 

 

 

 

 

tonya

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Created by nationally recognized millennial money expert Tonya Rapley, My Fab Finance is a leading financial education and lifestyle blog for millennials who want to become financially free and do more of what they love.