There are times during the month of October, without fail, that I am reminded of my first marriage. At times it all seems like a lifetime ago, then at other times I can still feel the sting of abuse.
I am a survivor of domestic violence – this is my story.
I grew up on Army installations in Germany and stateside. My parents sheltered my siblings and I from the many realities of this world including domestic violence, so when my young naïve self met my ex-husband, I was oblivious to the many warning signs he exhibited. My father had just been reassigned to a station in Germany, and I was a bored 18-year-old looking for adventure.
He was nearly as young as I, fun, exciting, handsome and a little possessive. At first the possessiveness seemed endearing – I now know it was a warning.
As time progressed, I became pregnant, we married, and his manipulation and aggression grew. The verbal abuse – belittlement and disrespect – followed quickly. I was confused. I had never experienced such behavior. How could this man, who claimed to love me, treat me this way? He would often apologize and promise to change – those promises were lies.
I cannot remember when the hitting started, but I do remember becoming a master at hiding the evidence from everyone, especially my parents. My mother was a faithful Catholic who raised her children in the Church. Although I should have left and divorced him at the first hint of violence, looking back it did not instantly cross my mind because of my upbringing. He would twist events to convince me that my actions caused him to react violently. At the end of an episode he would typically apologize, promise to do better – those promises, too, were lies and part of the manipulation.
Soon enough he got orders for Fort Campbell. I left my support system behind and moved with him. His aggression came in cycles, and I did all I could to keep the peace. I was ashamed and embarrassed by his terrible behavior but still could not bring myself to tell anyone. The manipulation continued with his attempts to convince me that I was to blame for his actions.
His deployment to Desert Shield/Desert Storm was the beginning of the end. In his absence, I began to plan my departure.
Then a call from him brought everything to a halt. He had been medically transported to Landstuhl, Germany, for an injury. He claimed he had time to think and promised things would be different.
After his medical retirement, I felt stuck in a hopeless situation. I was working three jobs because he had none.
I do not know where the idea came from, but one day I stopped at the Army recruiting office in Clarksville. Eventually, I enlisted – against his wishes, of course. The more he was against it, the stronger my resolve became. He tried to convince me I would not make it through basic training, but with each negative word from him my resolve grew stronger.
About a month before my ship date, he emptied our bank account and left. I signed over custody of my daughter to my parents and went to basic training anyway. What I know now is that he had lost control of me.
He resurfaced just as I was finishing advanced individual training, and my mother – who still knew nothing about his abhorrent behavior – guilted me into giving him a second chance and we moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Thanks to the Army, I found much of what I had lost – independence, confidence and courage – and now I was unwilling to suffer his foolishness any longer. Surprisingly enough, for about a year things were peaceful – until things weren’t and the time had come to end it.
I quietly took my daughter to my parents in Tennessee, finally told everyone what had been happening, and returned to Fort Polk. With my first sergeant on stand-by, I went to our apartment to tell him I wanted a divorce. I thought his reaction would be violent, but instead he weirdly was shocked. How could I throw our marriage away so easily, he asked? After all this time it was all still my fault. I now know he was wrong.
Being a single parent was not always easy, but my child and I lived in peace and that is all that mattered to me. To this day, it is hard for me to talk about my experiences. Sudden, loud noises or someone walking up from behind still startle me. Stressful situations easily irritate and anger me.
Posttraumatic stress disorder, I now know, is not restricted to war. It also can be caused by trauma in your very own home where you should feel the safest.
Domestic violence happens to women and men of every socioeconomic stature. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 women and men in the United States are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute of the day – some 10 million people each year. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report more than half of female victims of homicide are connected to domestic violence. My hope in sharing my story is to help those who may be experiencing similar situations.
Here on Fort Campbell, the good people with the Family Advocacy Program, Army Community Service, are here to help. You can find their office at 1501 William C. Lee Road or call them at 270-412-5500. The domestic abuse victim advocate hotline, available 24 hours a day, can be reached at 931-980-5787. To report domestic violence or child abuse, contact Blanchfield Army Community Hospital’s Family Advocacy Program at 270-798-8601 during business hours, 270-798-8601 after hours, or call 911. If you need protection or help, Clarksville Area Urban Ministries operates a SafeHouse that can be reached at 931-552-6900.