Updated: Nov 3
Disclaimer: There are only 8 days left in October, which means that I've debated posting this blog on my business website for quite a long time. My reason for doing so, whether you agree or not, is simple. My vision is to help women. In order to do so, I must practice what I preach. I myself must be vulnerable, transparent, truthful, strong in the face of adversity and true to my own self, as well as my vision.
This story is not easy to digest and reader discretion is advised. I do not leave the most terrifying moments out because society needs to understand the terror women live through, and because women need to know that they are not alone.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Here’s part of my story. [Edited to fit blog length. Many details have been left out.]
I was 19 years old when I made the choice to divorce my husband. I had been married for 6 months and he’d cheated on me with at least four different women. I spoke to them myself. In fact, I’m still friends with them to this day.
Right around our one year anniversary, the divorce was final.
My confidence was at an all time low. The religion I grew up in had all but excommunicated me for my decision to file for divorce. People I’d known my entire life gossiped about me and threw away lifelong friendships.
My college GPA was suffering, and I was vulnerable. That's when I stepped into my first MMA gym.
Over a short period of time, my coach began to single me out - and made advances. He’d take me out to eat, he was nice to me, and he spent extra time training me for free. Love bombing feels nice, in the beginning. Then, it snowballs.
He started showing up at my apartment unannounced, calling only 5 minutes before arriving, and asking if he could stay the night. I’m a generous person and would always agree.
Slowly, he moved his way into my apartment. He’d constantly ask for money, and made me feed his three children when he was too short on cash. If I didn’t help him out then they’d go hungry that night, he said.
He started controlling my every movement, telling me when I could go on a run (he was my Strength & Conditioning coach so he said that he would determine what I needed), when I should train, and even what I should eat.
He would using my social media accounts to terrorize his ex, and mother of his two daughters. Any way he could try to control her or stay in his life to punish her, he did. He withheld child support payments, which the courts eventually got involved with.
When I got pulled over for (accidentally) running a red light on the way to my first MMA fight, he made me lie to the police about his real name. There was a warrant out for his arrest, due to unpaid child support. If I didn’t, he said he wouldn’t corner me for my fight and that I would have to go into the cage alone.
As things escalated, he wouldn’t put his hands on me himself… at first. He’d control something in my life and threaten to have my male teammates spar hard with me during stand-up training the next day. At first he didn’t follow through, but then he did - and he went for the jugular.
One night, in particular, sparring rolled around and he had his star male fighter, who we'll call AB, spar with me. AB was instructed to “go hard with head kicks,” and he listened to his coach as we all do. I was flash-knocked out and physically brought to my knees. This was the first of many threats and follow-throughs from my abuser.
Over time, things kept escalating. He liked to terrorize me at nighttime especially.
“If you ever leave me I will take a dull knife, gut you like a fish and f*ck your insides while they’re still warm.
I'll bury your body in a shallow grave, where no one will ever find you.”
He’d repeat this over and over and over, while tracing the path of the knife on my stomach, directly into my right ear as I lay terrorized with fear.
When I would argue or fight back, he’d block doorways or hold me down on the bed to assert how much more powerful he was over me. He'd press his hand over my nose and mouth until I stopped fighting.
I couldn’t speak to another man without facing some sort of punishment. Even speaking to the front desk attendant at my college gym ended in my cell phone being forcefully taken from me and threatened to be crushed under a car tire.
Yes, I had bruises and black eyes but they all came at the hands, shins, knees, elbows, and feet of my own teammates. He was the coach and he controlled everyone and everything around him.
That is, until the day he took it one step further and threatened to kill my parents. He’d realized that I’d take a pretty unprecedented amount of abuse and needed to take the torture a little bit further.
“If you ever leave me, I will tie up both of your parents with their hands behind their backs and murder them in front of you. If you close your eyes, I’ll cut off your eyelids. You WILL watch them die.”
That was my line. Clearly, it was an unhealthy line that went way too far but at the time, I did the best I could with what I had.
I hatched a plan to get rid of him as quickly, but as safely as possible. Men kill their intimate partners at alarmingly high rates. In fact, 44.8% of women who are murdered die at the hands of their own intimate partner. I had to be smart, strategic, and play the long game.
I waited until my parents were out of town to break up with him officially, once and for all. I barricaded my apartment door with a 2x4 which was pressed against the middle of the door (right at the height where he’d front kick it) and the steps that led to my kitchen. In case he figured out how to get the garage door open, I locked the inside door and placed a reinforcement beam that direction, as well.
I then left the apartment and went to my parents house, which has a perfect view of my apartment’s front door. I locked all of the doors and windows… and just waited.
Sure enough, he showed up and the scene played out exactly like I predicted. He tried kicking down the door 3-4 times, but the reinforcement held. He tried opening the garage door manually, but that held as well. Next, he circled my parents house and tried every single window and door to try and break in. I already had my escape routes planned (I’d lived in that house for 18 years, nobody was going to outsmart me inside my own home) so I remained calm.
Eventually, he gave up and walked away.
I left immediately and went to Michigan for the first time where I couch surfed with friends for two weeks. When I came home, I packed up all of his belongings and dropped them off in trash bags at his parents house.
He tried contacting me countless times but his hold had been broken. He had no power over me anymore and the distance between my hometown and my new home in Michigan saved my life.
I lost a lot of friends at that time again and felt like I was starting my life over in Michigan. But, I’d done it before when I divorced my cheating husband and I knew I could do it again. I can do anything. I finally knew that. I began to remember who I was, who I’ve always been, and I started the long journey of becoming that woman.
It’s still deeply ingrained in us and in our culture that women suffer alone in silence. It was Freud himself back in 1890 who discovered how common domestic and sexual violence against women truly is. Not even he could handle the truth, negating much progress he’d made in the beginning of his studies.
Trauma used to be defined as what happens when humans experience unusual traumatic stimuli. What we now know, is that violence and sexual trauma against women is not uncommon. It’s all too common, and the perpetrators of that violence are not spoken of. While men abuse women at astounding rates, society shames women into silence.
The beauty of all of this is that WOMEN who stand together, who raise their VOICES and SHARE THEIR STORIES have the power to incite real and lasting change.
If you’re someone who’s confused as to why women stay silent, why we don’t come forward for decades sometimes, why women don’t do this and that and the other… ask me. I’d love to talk to you.
And at the end of the conversation I’ll ask you one question back: “Why do we, as a society, not speak of the men who perpetrate this violence upon women and hold them accountable for their actions?”
I am thankful for the women who became my allies during and after this entire 2+ years of hell. I’m friends with his ex and have been since the day I officially cut ties with my abuser.
When I asked if I could share my story, with her and her children as part of it, she said: “I trust you. I’m okay to be in it.”
HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT?
Even after I became a vehicle through which he continued to terrorize and abuse her… SHE TRUSTS ME.
Why? She knew all along what I was going through and she welcomed me with open arms the moment I reached out to her and apologized in every way that I could. That is the true outcome of women supporting women. That’s real and it’s POWERFUL.
Sisters, raise your voices. Tell your stories.
Your pain is not in vain. Turn it into a catalyst for change. If not for yourself, for your own daughter and the generations coming after her, too.
National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims, survivors of domestic violence. Call 1-800-799-7233.
Note: This blog was posted for the first time in 2019 and has been since updated to protect the identity of my former MMA teammates.