I thought it would be most appropriate to talk about the fact that at times I allowed my circumstances whether past or present to define who I was. Whether I had been in abusive relationships or have had addiction problems and/or other hardships, I would take on the stereotypes of these circumstances as my identity. For me, the biggest “identity theft” was when I was nineteen years old, and I finally came to my senses and realized that the relationship I was in was abusive. While most of my peers were coming into their own, I found myself trapped. The physical abuse I could take, but it was the mental abuse that had become the real prison.

After being told that I was worthless, that no one would want me, that I would be nothing so many times, I started to believe it. Everything he had said affected every decision I would make: Going back to school for my G.E.D; applying for jobs, dressing up to go out. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. Even around my own family, I felt like I did not belong. At times, it seemed like I would have been better off back with him, despite the real hell that he had made our home. I’m uncomfortable calling it “our home”. I made every effort to make the building we lived in our home, but the things he brought into what should have been our safe haven could never be negated by homemaker skills. No amount of cooking, doing the dishes or pressing his shirts was ever good enough. Every chance he had, he’d make clear to me that without him, I was nothing.

As time has put a great distance between myself and my past, I see my time with him very differently than I did while I lived it. I always thought he had built the prison with his cruelty. I thought every time he hit me, he was putting another bar on the cage. When he made me feel inferior, it was one more way he kept me where I was. What time has taught me is that every time he hurt me and I did nothing about it, I was barricading myself in more. I was suffocating myself, wrapping myself tighter and tighter into this cocoon. It wasn’t that he was taking my power, it was that I gave it to him. Eventually, I had given him so much control, he thought he had all of it. And so did I.

I finally realized one night that if I did not leave, I would never make it out alive. He had come home from work one evening and came into our bedroom. I simply asked, “How was work baby?” He then punched the wardrobe door. To avoid any form of confrontation I thought it best if I had got up and just left the room, but he disagreed.

He had grabbed me by my arm and pulled me to where I had fallen on to the bed. Like so many times before, he pinned me down and punched the bed on either side of my head. He said, “If you turn your head and I end up punching you it is your fault not mine.”

He got on the bed behind me and put me in a choke hold. I passed out.

I am not sure how long I was out. It could have been seconds or minutes but regardless when I came to, my head on his lap. He was sitting there playing video games, and when he realized that I was awake, he began to laugh and pet my head.

That was the moment that I knew I had to leave. It wasn’t when he hit me, when he abused me, when he hurt me. It was when he laughed after the fact. That was when I knew that if I didn’t escape this hell that night, I would just be another battered woman statistic.

When it was time for bed, he told me to sleep with my head at the foot of the bed. My rage boiled over.  “I ain’t your dog, and I will NOT sleep at the foot of your bed, either you can sleep at the foot of the bed or you can sleep out on the couch, but me? I ain’t moving. Good night!”

I found my voice again. He slept with his head at the foot of the bed. In something so small as getting the good spot in the bed, I felt this sweet victory. I got my power back. It was the first big stretch I took in my cocoon. For the first time, I had loosened my confines.

Somewhere inside of me, I knew that if I didn’t keep stretching, I would shrivel up and never escape. The next morning I woke up around 6:00 am. I quietly got up with my cell phone in hand and went to the bathroom to take a “hot bath”, but in reality, I was using the running water to hide my voice. When I looked in the mirror I saw his fingerprints on my neck. I promised myself this was the last time I would be muffled. I called my older sister and told her I had to get out of there. She said she was coming to get me and would call me when she was close. I got dressed and went back to the room to start packing. He was still there, sleeping heavily. I feverishly packed my belongings for almost two hours, just tossing everything I owned into trash bags.

I only had two more bags to pack or so when it happened. His eyes opened and he said coldly, “You leaving Shauna?”

I told him yes, that my sister was on her way and would be here at any minute. I was terrified. What was he going to do? He had threatened me so many times before that if I tried to leave both my legs would be broken. Even if he did beat me again, I promised myself it would be the last time. If I had to, I would claw my way out. I would drag my busted body down the stairs. I would be battered, but I would not be broken. He got up, got his towel and went into the bathroom. I continued to pack my things. He came back in the room. I waited for the rage I knew so well to come back to him. The silence was deafening. He got dressed, grabbed his keys and walked out the building. It was like all of a sudden, I had a sledge-hammer in this cocoon, and there was nothing left stopping me.

A few minutes later my sister called and was outside. I buzzed her in and we started bringing my stuff down. It took just about fifteen minutes for us to load up her truck and leave. In her truck, I was numb. I left. I actually had the courage and I left. Finally, after all of the pain and hurt he had put me through, I had broken free. The last pieces of my dead chrysalis fell off of me. My body was sitting in my sister’s pick up truck, but my soul, my spirit, my heart was soaring far above it. I was a gentle butterfly, floating on the wind. I saw the whole world ahead of me. My beautiful wings had spread, and no one was ever going to tell me not to fly again.

This freedom came with some caveats. It was like I was three people crammed into one. There was the person who had never met this man that treated me so brutally. She was happy, carefree and social. I felt her dying inside of me, screaming to get out. I wanted to just be her again so badly. But too often, I was the person I had been while I was with him. I was guarded, scared and shy. I ignored my surroundings, walking with my head down, because I was still the worthless person who lived with an abuser. Then I was this third person. This person who survived. She was brave. She was trying to be the before person and told the second person that she’d hold her head up high, even if she didn’t feel like it.

I have learned that it is not the circumstance that defines me but it is my attitude that shows who I am. It is the way I react towards the situation that defines me. The only way I will be a failure is if I allow the circumstance to defeat me. And I am the only one who can cause that defeat. To this day, I am a work in progress. Buddha says it best “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”  I learned to speak positively whenever I thought negatively. I learned self-love and self-appreciation. I learned to move forward and not dwell on what was behind me.

Being in this relationship I lost all my friends, but I was so blessed that my mom and sister stood by me. I was so grateful to them for being there for me, I couldn’t hurt them with my story, so I told them bits and pieces of what happened, but I never had anyone to fully tell the complete truth. I told myself I was just sugar-coating the truth, but the reality was that I was flat out lying. I’m not lying anymore, and it feels good to speak my truth.