FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Recently, I bumped into an old friend, and we started to talk about everything from our career goals to old times. Somehow the conversation shifted and we jumped on the subject of spousal abuse.

"Women who stay in abusive relationships are crazy and they should just leave," he said. After his comment, I took a deep breath and calmly told him about someone we both knew.

At one time, I felt the same way my friend did about women who are in abusive relationships until I was very close to someone who had been abused. At one time, I knew her very well and then, all of a sudden, it seemed as though I didn't know her at all.

The woman came from a strong family where both parents have been together for 27 years. Spousal abuse was something she never had to deal with while growing up. This woman was proud to say her father never laid a hand on her mother. She was always considered a strong individual, and yet, at one point in her life, she found herself in that situation.

At her first duty station she fell in love with someone she thought would be the love of her life. When he asked her to marry him, she didn't hesitate. It felt right.

Not long after they were married, the woman became pregnant with their first child. Everything was going fine. They began making plans for their child and the rest of their lives. But one day, all of that changed.

The woman was six months pregnant when it began. He never showed signs of being abusive while they dated, nor during the beginning of their marriage - until now. They got into a heated argument over who-knows-what, and she saw a side of him she had never seen before. The argument got out of control, and then he hit her. Not once, but several times - again, and again.

With every blow he took away the woman's pride, her inner strength and her dignity. She was in a state of shock. Six months pregnant with no family close by and no one she thought she could turn to, she couldn't believe the man she would spend the rest of her life with could do this to her and their unborn child. She didn't even fight back; all she could do was beg him to stop.
After he beat her, the woman left the house and took a ride. She had to give herself time to think about what to do. She had never been in that situation before.

She was ashamed to tell anyone about what happened. She didn't know what to do, so she did nothing. She loved him and she didn't know what went wrong. Was she to blame' She returned home and told him if he ever hit her again she would leave.

Three days later, she found out her unborn child had died. She felt more alone then than any other time in her life. She didn't think about the abuse; it was just her way of blocking it all out to get through her loss.

Life dragged on and her husband seemed to be a changed man. They still had their arguments, but he never let her forget about the one time she "crossed the line."
Six months later, she crossed that line again.

It wasn't like the first time; it was much worse. He attacked her on the front lawn. He dragged her across the yard and threw her to the ground. He got on top of her and began to punch and kick her. She managed to get away, but he caught up with her and threw her against the garage door.

During this torment, all she could see was his face. The way he looked when he did this to her was so scary. She got away again and called the police. Although she didn't press charges, she did keep one promise. She looked for an apartment the next day. She moved out of her house and into an apartment two days later.

He told her he was sorry and begged her to move back in with him. But all she could remember was his face and she decided it was best that she stay away from him. During their time together, she lost herself. The strong confident woman she once was no longer existed. She had allowed him to hurt her not once, but twice. She needed time away from him to figure out what was more important. It was her well-being, her happiness, her security and her joy. Not once did she have that with him.

She decided to get help. There were moments when she would remember the good times, but she had to fight that. She would just remember the expression on his face. She never reconciled with him again. She didn't even try.

Why' Because I didn't want to. But I do know why that woman who is abused won't leave, because I've been there. Her storybook life had turned into a nightmare. She feels ashamed, useless, and sometimes worthless. And so did I, once upon a time.