I Survived Domestic Abuse. Here Are the Warning Signs I Wish I Had Known About.
The doorbell rang, and the most beautiful bouquet of three dozen red roses was tottering in the arms of a delivery boy, who seemed to be dwarfed by the massive, fragrant collection. Everything started off beautifully that night, but the more drinks he had with dinner, the more belligerent he became. I tried to calm him down, but he was getting louder and louder. I had to go to the restroom, but as I stood up to leave the table, he grabbed my arm and forced me back into my seat.
“Everyone is looking at your dress. You would think you could have worn something a little longer!” he said. I didn’t think much of it; he had gotten to be very protective, and even though he liked for me to look nice, he really hated it when other people, especially men, looked at me. I told him that I really needed to go to the restroom and that I’d be right back.
As soon as I got back to the table, he grabbed my left wrist and squeezed it. “If that guy looks at you one more time, I’m going to f**king kill him!” I whispered that no one was looking, and he squeezed much harder, but quickly let go as a couple from his golf club stopped by the table to wish us a Happy Valentine’s Day. He paid the bill, and we left quickly after.
I was relieved to be out of the restaurant and begged him to let me drive home. He refused briefly, but then tossed the keys to me. I fumbled and dropped them, and he laughed loudly at me, as he climbed into the car. By the time we were home, he was apologizing and telling me how beautiful I was. Then he went into the same old story of, “I’m just so in love with you and so protective of you that it makes me so mad when anyone even looks at you.”
As we got out of the car, I just kept walking. Outraged, he grabbed my right arm hard from behind and jerked me around so I was facing him. He was holding me by both of my forearms, and I tried to free myself from his tightening grip. “I was talking to you; didn’t you hear me?”
I started to answer, but he slammed me back against the garage wall, hard. The back of my head bounced off the concrete, and I could instantly feel the back of my head start to throb as the pain radiated down my temples. I closed my eyes tightly, and he laughed as he walked away from me.
That was the first time he ever actually hurt me. He had pushed me once or twice or grabbed my arm, but this was the first time that I was ever really scared. I sat there on the garage floor in my dress and heels, my head throbbing, thinking he could have really hurt me. I think he was actually trying to hurt me. The tears burned hot as they ran down my cheeks.
Sadly, the verbal abuse was nothing new. I was used to his drinking too much in recent months, and his comments seemed to be getting meaner and more aggressive all the time. And then he charged in screaming, “Why are you still out here? You’re fine! Get your ass up! If you ever try to tell anyone, you know that no one will believe you. They’ll just think you’re crazy! Do you think that, for even one second, anyone would believe you instead of me? I’ll tell them how crazy you are. Wouldn’t they love to know that you are so pathetic that your own friends don’t want to see you anymore and the only reason your family is ever around is to see me. Your own family loves me more than they love you, your own f**king family, you should be ashamed to even be alive!”
Thankfully, he had too many drinks that night and stumbled off to bed, leaving me there, on the garage floor that Valentine’s night.
According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Valentine’s Day typically shows a slight decrease in reports of domestic violence. However, stories like this happen every day and have been happening since the beginning of time. Sadly, domestic violence is a silent killer. It’s a topic that is avoided and not discussed, and we must start to break the silence in order to make a change. Fostering an attitude of empathy and acceptance for domestic violence victims and taking a stand against abusers will be the beginning of putting an end to an epidemic that has existed for centuries.
There are many reasons why victims are afraid or ashamed to speak up, leave, or share their story. Abusers often plant fear in their victims from a very early stage, in the grooming process. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence sites that on average, 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. So, this means that you more than likely know someone who is a victim, and you also know an abuser. Do not be fooled into thinking that domestic violence discriminates based on race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. It is not uncommon for abusers to appear to be kind, successful, and happy to the outside world.
I am Brielle Cotterman, and I am a domestic violence survivor. I survived attempted murder-suicide at the hands of my late husband in 2012. Sharing my story has not been easy, but I am speaking out so that others might have a voice. I grew up on a farm, in an idyllic way. There were no major traumas. I was a classic overachiever; good student, class president, on the homecoming court, beauty queen, and champion equestrian. However, as I was growing up, I collected a long line of limiting beliefs: people pleasing, perfectionism, equating love with accomplishments and praise, and always seeking to make everything be perfect.
As an adult, I found myself in an abusive relationship that nearly cost me my life. Again, everything looked nice on the outside, but as time went on, the mental torture, emotional torment, verbal and sexual abuse, and ultimately physical violence, were quickly becoming a part of my everyday life behind closed doors. I kept thinking that if I could be better or just be more perfect, then things would have to get better. I knew that my life looked right on the outside, but it felt like I was living in a dark prison that was growing increasingly torturous.
I had no understanding of domestic violence other than what I had seen in movies and on TV. I also had no idea of the warning signs of an abusive relationship or that the man I was in a relationship with fit the description of a potential abuser, in every possible way. I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was abuse until it started to become physical.
The process of wrapping my mind around the man I had married, the life that he created, and how I had come to be in this type of a relationship has been a long and hard battle. But the process has changed my life forever, for the better! I now know and understand how to love myself and how to set boundaries that protect my feelings and my heart. I have learned how to comfort my inner child and that it’s okay to actually feel my feelings. I am no longer controlled by guilt or shame, and I work daily to overcome my tendencies to “people please.”
Below is my list of warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship. Please review and share with everyone you know. In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, please share this article with a teen. If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs as a part of a relationship, I urge you to reevaluate your relationship and get help immediately.
Brielle’s Warning Signs of Domestic Abuse:
- Embarrassment or humiliation of the victim in front of others
- Saying hurtful things and then claiming to be kidding or teasing
- Demeaning the victim either privately or publicly
- Always having to be right
- Debating every decision that is made by the victim and constantly claiming the victim is wrong
- Harassment of the victim at work
- Putting the victim down regarding any source of pride or accomplishment
- Turning victim against friend or family
- Gaslighting, calling victim “crazy”
- Coercing victim to do anything immoral or demeaning
- Extreme jealousy
- Bad temper
- “The world revolves around me” mentality
- Rules do not apply to them
- Controlling behavior
- Controlling all the finances, preventing victim from making an income
- Requesting or demanding things be done their way
- Following/stalking victim
- No freedom for victim
- Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships
- Forced sex or disregard of their partner’s unwillingness to have sex
- Sabotage of birth control methods
- Blaming the victim for anything bad that happens
- Sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school
- Abuse of other family members, children, or pets
- Accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair
You can reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also urge you to examine why any of these behaviors would be acceptable to you and reevaluate your relationship with yourself and your capacity for self-love. These are signs of abuse; not a rough patch, hard time, or a relationship that needs work; ABUSE.
Because I survived, I choose to speak.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Last modified on February 15th, 2019