My name is Erica Chapin and I am a survivor of Domestic Violence. It took me a long time to believe those words and here I am, saying them aloud. I used to hear the term Domestic Violence and think only physical abuse. I thought that people who were treated poorly, but were never physically assaulted were just in a shitty relationship. It was not until my Junior Year of College when I took a Domestic Violence Course that I was able to fully comprehend what Domestic Violence means.
According to the United States Department of Justice’s Office, the definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Many forms of abuse are included in this definition: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, psychological abuse, threats, stalking, and cyberstalking. Victims can include anyone regardless of socioeconomic background, educational level, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.
After taking the course in college, I really thought I would be prepared and able to identify an abusive relationship within my social groups and definitely within my own relationships. But, like the definition says, it does not discriminate and a year later I found myself dating a perpetrator.
His name was A and he was seven years older than I. We started dating very seriously right away; seeing each other almost every single day. A had a child and I quickly took on the roll as a stepmother as well. He told me he loved me only two weeks after we started dating. I thought this was how a mature relationship worked and I became infatuated by him. He would tell me how beautiful I was, that I was the greatest thing that ever happened to him, that his ex was a horrible person and I was nothing like her, and that he had never felt this way before. His compliments were laid on thick and I believed every word of them.
About three months into dating, A and I went to the St. Louis Zoo with his son and my family. It was a busy day due to the drive, walking around, and my family showing up late. On the drive back to Columbia, I could tell A was agitated, but I left it alone. In Columbia, a few of my roommates had some friends over to play washers and hang out. A took his son home and came back… He decided that he had enough of me and decided I was a “dirty whore” and that I could “go fuck myself” as he then left and walked home. A few hours later he came back with an apology and tons of excuses about being tired and not meaning what he said. I forgave him almost instantly and put that day behind me, as this was not his typical behavior, I thought.
The next couple of months went by quickly, I was finishing classes at MU for the semester and A was transitioning into a new job. His new job required a lot of road-time, so I did not see him nearly as often. When we were together, his family and son usually surrounded us, so things were decently smooth. That summer I decided to move to Iowa to be with A while he worked on an eight-month long job. I would travel back to Columbia every other week to pick up A’s son and bring him with me to Iowa. We started sharing a bank account and all the money coming in was from A, as I was unable to work while I took care of his child every other week. A made sure I knew the money wasn’t mine. He would scream at me almost every week about money and bills and that I was useless because I wasn’t bringing any money in. After a fight, he would cry and beg for my forgiveness… I would quickly forgive and move on.
The first time A used physical force was at my cousin’s wedding, that same summer. My Uncle and A had gotten into it over something and A decided this situation was my fault. He came up to me after I had asked him to dance and said “you’re a fucking whore and I hate you, I am leaving you here” as he grabbed my arm and squeezed until the last words left his mouth, so he could push me out of the way. He then took my car and drove back to my father’s house, where he then called my phone multiple times leaving me voicemails saying the same things, saying he threw all my stuff in the yard and was driving back to Columbia. My father and his wife, at the time, then drove me home. I walked into the house and found A crying… once again, begging me to forgive him. I forgave him and we moved on.
Nine months after we started dating, A proposed. I accepted and we started planning our wedding. He had since moved back to Columbia and we were living together while I finished school. The fights were happening more frequently and he would often go out in public with me, just to leave me so I would have to find a ride home. He would call my phone and leave voicemails when he left me places about how much he hated me. And after every fight, he would cry and beg for forgiveness. Eventually, I joined a gym and became friends with a different group of people that A did not know. We would have social outings that A often times decided he did not want to come to. One night, I went out with a bunch of my girlfriends and did not make it home. I ended up waking up at a friend’s house around 6am and started walking home because I knew I was going to be in trouble. My phone had died around 12AM that night and I did not call A to let him know where I was… I walk into the house to see A sleeping on the couch. He woke up almost immediately and I tried to play it off as if it wasn’t a big deal… He started pushing me and throwing things around the house; throwing things at me while I cried on the floor and begged him to stop. I told him my phone had died and while I understood his concern for me not coming home, he knew whom I was with and how to get in contact with them. After this event, A started tracking me on his phone.
We went on a date a few days later and on the way home, A and I got into a fight over something. I fell into fetal position as he threw the ottoman my way, screaming that I was a whore and how much he hated me, that he wished I would fucking die, that I didn’t even love him, that I didn’t care about him or his son, and how horrible of a person I was. I cried, begged, and pleaded for him to stop… He said he was leaving, but I decided I was going to leave since both vehicles were mine. I got into the car and turned my phone off so he could not find me. Eventually I had to come home… and I found A crying and begging for forgiveness. I forgave him…
A and I tried to go to counseling after a few more escalated fights, fights that ended with him telling me to kill myself; or him leaving me somewhere after causing a very public scene. A told me that he did not want to be this way and that he was sorry and was hoping he could get help. The counselor gave us some tips, but nothing changed. The fights became more frequent; the name-calling almost a constant in our relationship, throwing things seemed to be a normal for A. We eventually had to move out of our apartment and decided we wanted to live in a bigger house. After we moved in, I started working three jobs to make-up for lost income due to leaving my job so I could fit more classes into my schedule. I had the summer left at MU and had an internship a few days a week as well. I was only sleeping a few hours a day; which meant I rarely saw A. I didn’t see A very much, so our relationship seemed to level out and things were finally looking up again.
A liked to brush his teeth in the shower. He would often misplace his toothbrush on the sink after getting in the shower and have to jump out to grab it. One afternoon, A misplaced his toothbrush, but did not want to look for it himself. He started yelling for me…, which then became yelling at me… which escalated into coming after me… I ran into our room and moved the dresser in front of the door so he could not touch me. I stayed this way for hours, buying my time. Once I finally came out, A pretended he had no idea I was hiding behind the door and dresser and thought I was just taking a nap. He acted like nothing had happened at all. He was getting very good at making me feel like I was making things up; like the fights had never happened.
A and I eventually split up when he left me 3 hours from our home. He left me a voicemail almost every single minute for the entire 3 hours he drove back to Columbia without me. My dad decided I could no longer see A and drove me back to Columbia to get my things. I went to the house and A acted as if he was devastated and begged me to stay, but I told him I could not. I told him we could still date, but I needed to move out while he figured things out. I moved in with a former coworker and talked to A almost daily while I was gone. I was horribly sad and did not know what to do. I started seeing a counselor and became more open with a dear friend about my relationship. One night I went to my old house to get another load of my things and A was acting very strange. He seemed almost euphoric. He started asking me questions about my whereabouts; what I had been up to the last few weeks. He asked me if I had slept with anyone else and I stood dumbfounded as he asked me if I could tell him a story about sleeping with another man. He said it turned him on. A grabbed my arm and pulled me back into his room, where he laid on top of me as he masturbated on me. He kept saying that he would be so turned on if I had sex with someone else and he watched… Once A finished, I left. I drove my car up and down a road contemplating how fast I would need to go to kill myself.
My life with A ended a few months after the masturbation situation, but the feelings did not just vanish. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt sad. I felt guilty that I left A. I felt like he needed me and I left him when he was at his worst. I thought that maybe if I would have kept his toothbrush in the shower or if I would have ditched my friends to be with him all the time, that maybe he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. I thought that if I could have been a better girlfriend, then he wouldn’t have had to be the way he was. BUT that is what abusers do. They tear us down to make us feel like we deserve to be treated horribly and inhumanely. They tear us down and take away all the feelings of self-worth we ever had. They use their tears and fake apologies to get us to stay and feel sorry for them, just so they can turn around and do it all over again. They make us think we are crazy and make us fear telling anyone what is happening. They take us away from our families and our friends and make us dependent on their money and housing. They make us feel ashamed to tell anyone, that we are overreacting and making the abuse a bigger deal than it is. They rip us to pieces so they can gain more control over who we are. People who use power to gain control over someone else do NOT love. They do not love you, they do not love me, they do not love anyone. They love power and control. No matter how often A told me he loved me or how many tears he cried, it was NOT love. He would wake up in the middle of the night and try taking my clothes off while I was sleeping; saying he was just dreaming about sex and didn’t realize he was taking my clothes off. THIS IS NOT LOVE. THIS IS ABUSE.
I am sure some of you think it didn’t take long for me to get to this place, that maybe I overcame this trauma quickly because I am can blog about this only 5 years later. But, I want you to know that I am not over it. I still have nightmares about him. I still hear the word “whore” or “slut” and the hair on the back of my neck sticks up. I get into an argument with my husband and I am afraid to state my opinion because what happens if he doesn’t like it and decides to hit me? What happens if I don’t have sex with my husband whenever he wants, will he try raping me? I fear that I am now happy and it’s all going to come crashing down because I am unworthy of that happiness. I have to see a counselor every month because I still have PTSD. I still feel guilt. I still feel unworthy… But I am get stronger every single day.
Everyday I get another chance of healing. I have really worked on extending grace and forgiveness to A. I know that I might sound strange, but God has given me grace and has forgiven me over and over, even though I will never be deserving of it. For me, if I do not extend that same grace and forgiveness to A, I will never be able to heal fully.
Today I am not angry or mad at A, I am sad for A. I am sad that he is a broken person who does not know God, a sinner who will not admit his own sins, and a child of God who has turned his back on the only person who can truly renew him. If I stayed angry, I would still be giving A the power and control over me. Only I have the power to forgive him and he cannot take that away from me. He will not take that away from me. I hope that sharing my story has opened the doors for others to share theirs. I hope that if you are in a relationship that is based on power, that you know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED LIKE THAT. There are organizations, people, friends, family, and a God who will meet you where you are and help you get out of it. It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be stress-free, and it is certainly going to come with a lot of tears, fear, and heartache. BUT I believe we can live in a world that does not promote male violence or power over women. We have to stick together and raise awareness and eliminate stigmas. We have to raise our children to know what a healthy relationship is, and we have to teach our children how to get out when it’s not.