I opened my eyes and looked around confused that the scene was different than it had been just a second ago. The lights were off, and my husband was sound asleep, comfortably wrapped in the layered bedding I had recently purchased. I was sitting on the floor next to his side of the bed wondering how, in the middle of a heated conversation, did I fall asleep. As I struggled to stand up, I noticed a strange sensation. My face hurt. I walked toward the large mirror in the room and turned on the lights.

At first glance, I saw a woman with blood covering her face, a slow flow of blood streaming from her nose and the beginnings of a black eye; at second glance, I realized it was me. I remember saying in a quiet whisper not wanting to wake my husband “What happened?” As I stood looking at myself in the mirror, I realized I had not been asleep but unconscious. I screamed, “What happened? Did you hit me? Did you hit me?!” He never moved; just continued to sleep. The next four years of our marriage hold many stories of violence, worse than what occurred that night. He was just getting started.

I do not remember a day passing without being slapped, kicked, or pushed; a week without attempting to cover bruises or swollen features; a month without a bruise or broken bones. Many times I thought I was going to die; many times I wanted to die. I simply moved on when employers questioned my stories of clumsiness, vehicle, and hiking accidents. I had this dream of being married to the same man for the rest of my life, of my children not having to face the pain of divorced parents. I thought if I held my tongue and continued to be the “good wife” my husband would realize that he had a good life, but that day never came.

My children were aware of the abuse; my efforts to hide the truth were often revealed by my screams. I remember cooking dinner for them attempting to ignore their father’s growing need to vent. As we laughed and talked about their day, he decided to pick up the hot pot of ravioli I was cooking and throw it in my face. Ten years later remembering my three children screaming and crying while attempting to wipe the hot food off my face still makes me cry. That event proved to be the last straw for me.

I began to plan for my future. I started saving money and wrote a state grant to begin my own company enabling me to provide for my children on my own. The day I was awarded the grant I told my husband I wanted a divorce. True to his nature, he broke my nose and I for the first time called the police. He took out his gun and threatened to kill me before they arrived but changed his mind when my son entered the room. When the police arrived, he resisted arrest and injured the officer. He spent a short period in jail and four years on probation.

Freedom from him was not easy. Although I had survived four years of physical abuse I now needed time to mentally recover. The years that followed were filled with self-discovery and self-love. I eventually forgave him, not caring if he deserved forgiveness. Forgiving him was for my healing. The hardest part of my recovery was forgiving me. How could I let someone hurt me? How could I put my children through this experience with me? How could I not love myself enough? The “how could I’s” go on and on. I do forgive myself, and I thank God for being with me through my experience with abuse and my discovery of self. When I look back and see that woman in the mirror, her shocked expression, desperation, and need for love I wish I, the person I am today, could have been there to tell her “You deserve to be treated better than this. Pack your bags and leave him now.”

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