Disclaimer: This article contains violent content and graphic descriptions of abuse. Reader discretion is advised.October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For most, the purpose of DVAM is to become educated about the warning signs, prevention, and treatment of domestic violence. For one woman, though, DVAM serves as a reminder of her own heart-rending experience as a survivor of domestic violence.I met Brandy Sloan when I was stationed at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. I was looking for a piano teacher for my daughter and a quick internet search returned her studio as the top result. On our first visit, she swung the door to her studio open with a warm, welcoming smile stretched across her face. She spoke in a melodic lilt that demanded the attention of young ears. Within months, Brandy ignited a passion and appreciation for music in my daughter.After learning more about Brandy and her path to becoming a music teacher, however, I realized that her entry into our lives would not have been possible if a violent ex-boyfriend had succeeded in taking her life eight years earlier.Brandy is one of nearly 12 million people affected by domestic violence each year. At the outset of their relationship, her ex-boyfriend’s behavior gave no indication of his potential for aggression, intense anger, and violence.In fact, Brandy described his early behavior as gentle, sweet, and romantic.“He was the man of my dreams,” she said.As their relationship wore on, the fairytale façade eroded and gave way to extreme emotional outbursts, attempts to control every aspect of her life, and verbal abuse.“I felt like I was always walking on eggshells,” she said.As her ex-boyfriend’s need for power and control escalated, Brandy became isolated from friends and loved ones. Her sense of shame kept her from reaching out for help, afraid to reveal that her picture-perfect relationship had evolved into a prison of fear and intimidation.Brandy had become financially dependent upon her boyfriend and was afraid she would not be able to survive on her own. She made attempts to appease her boyfriend’s demands, but the verbal and emotional abuse only grew worse. The abuse turned physical, starting with pushing and shoving, and graduating to punching and kicking.After each violent episode, Brandy would notice a dramatic shift in her ex-boyfriend’s behavior. She saw the reemergence of the romantic, thoughtful man who had initially swept her off her feet. He sent flowers, and pined for her return during phone calls.When Brandy returned to the relationship, this surreally peaceful state became filled with tension that would eventually culminate in abuse. This pattern of events is known as the Cycle of Violence.“I felt trapped in that cycle,” said Brandy.On the night of Aug. 22, 2010, Brandy summoned the courage to break the cycle by telling her boyfriend the relationship was over.Enraged by her announcement, he picked up an aluminum baseball bat and began striking her, fracturing Brandy’s skull and breaking numerous bones in her hands.He concluded his rage-filled response by strangling Brandy until her body grew limp.With life-threatening injuries and near death, Brandy lay in a pool of her own blood. Her sense of self-worth was shattered.Fortunately, Brandy was discovered by paramedics and transported to the hospital. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested, charged, tried, and sent to prison where he remains today.In the aftermath of this life-altering event, Brandy has used therapy, survivor support groups, and her unshakable faith as part of her healing process. Most notably, she finds solace in playing the piano, a gift that was nearly taken from her.Brandy said that although her ex-boyfriend is in prison, she has not yet overcome the fear he instilled in her all those years ago.She has used her painful experiences to educate others facing similar circumstances. She works tirelessly as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence in San Antonio’s civilian and military communities. Her accomplishments include starting a music program at Women’s and Children’s Shelter run by Family Violence Prevention Services.Brandy’s mission, as she put it, is to “ensure that survivors never feel alone.”If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence please call the 24-hour Safe Line at 808-624-SAFE (7233) to connect with a local advocate.