My name is Heather, and I wanted to share my story with you.
I am a sister, daughter, friend, dreamer, student, pianist, future radiologist, full time customer service rep, woman, and a hopeless romantic. I’m also a survivor of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
I could spend a lot of time sharing my horror stories, sharing my history of assault, abuse, and torture but I think it’s important for me to skip that part of my past. Most of you reading, are here because you or someone you know was affected by domestic violence. That being said, I’d like to share my experience, and hope that you can take something away from it.
Xander and I met, on a crisp October day in 2002, at a certain university, where I was a college freshman. We sat by the fountain, and started the first conversation of many. We had a lot of common interests, and his blue eyes drew me in. Tall, lanky, and everything I had ever dreamed of in a person. We began spending a lot of time together, and in January 2003, we began dating exclusively, consummating our relationship on the night of my sorority’s formal, in Chicago. That night started the series of ups & downs, the roller coaster that was Xander & I’s relationship. My family & friends loved him– He was your “All American Boy”, the one guy that everyone wanted. My parents thought he was “just what I needed”.
And he was until about a month into our relationship.
We began living our lives recklessly, with no abandon to anyone else, including each other. Drugs became the center of our relationship, hard drugs. We tripped, we rolled, we got high, we shot up, we did anything to keep our feelings out of the equation. Until one night, in a drunken, messed up stupor, Xander hit me. Hard. I wish I could tell you I got up and left that night. I wish I could tell you that I was strong enough to walk away, after that one hit. I wasn’t.
One hit became a million more. And when that wasn’t enough, he started raping me. The emotional, physical, and sexual abuse I endured with him, was something that even now, 6 years later, I am still directly dealing with. The emotional scars are so much bigger and deeper than the physical ones. The drugs became an escape; the alcohol became an escape, for both of us, until April of 2003 came to a screeching halt with a plus sign, and numerous bouts of nausea. I was pregnant.
He swore he’d stop. He swore he’d get help. He swore a lot of things that day, and we vowed to start anew, together. We could do this, right?
On Mother’s Day 2003, I lost the baby. We don’t know why, and quite frankly, it was a blessing in disguise because I never wanted my child to know the hurt of what Xander put me through. But the miscarriage was enough to drive that final stake in between the both of us. He began cheating, drinking, and stuffing pills down my throat, and his. He put the bottle in my hand, and I gulped it up. We were a combined mess of disaster, destruction, and a swirling mess of emotions, bottled inside.
On May 30th, 2003, my 19th birthday, he asked me to marry him. He promised a new beginning, a wedding, babies, graduation, sobriety for himself, and I stupidly, said yes. And then, on June 16th, 2003, he agreed to get help after he almost killed me. One too many blows to the head knocked me unconscious for almost 11 hours. I tried to leave then. I remember that feeling still, to this moment, I can feel that fear, that unbelievable fear that living in abuse causes. I walked to a shelter with my purse, $15, and a pair of flip-flops. I checked myself in. I remember sitting in the corner of the shelter, in a plastic chair, and telling myself that being in the shelter was better than being dead. And that night, that first night, as I stretched out onto a cot, I thought of how lucky I was to be alive. It lasted 34 hours until I went back.
On July 23, 2003, he ended his life by swallowing a bottle of vicodin, and drinking a gallon of vodka. My life was destroyed on July 24, 2003, when I received the phone call. I can still remember that sick feeling of relief and agony that I felt in my stomach. Relief that he was gone, he was out of my life, I was safe. Agony that the one person I loved, as sick and twisted as it may be, was gone.
A week later, a letter arrived in the mail. A letter that ripped me to shreds, blaming me for his choice to end his life, for my choices in ending a life, and his actual hatred for me was revealed.
I know the horror that each of you is feeling, the conflicted feelings on whether or not you should go back, or how to help the person you love, how to keep them from going back. Some of you have left everything, some of you have been here before, some of you are here for the first time. All of you have the power to change your life today. You have taken the first step in becoming a survivor, the first step in leaving the word “victim” behind.
After Xander died, I went back to college and tried to act as if nothing had happened to me. I started drinking even more, sometimes I’d drink a fifth of vodka just to make it through half of my morning classes. Then I’d go back to my dorm, crawl into my bed, and cry myself through a nap. When I’d wake up, I’d drink another fifth of vodka, swallow some pills, smoke a joint, and then, only then, when I felt like I was numb enough to handle it, would I call someone to see if they wanted to hang out. I spent most of my time self destructing, and finally, after being there for almost 7 months, I left college. I continued to abuse myself, continued to abuse my relationships with those who truly cared about me, and it wasn’t until I hit rock bottom one night, that I realized that I had completely stopped dealing with what had happened to me.
Not only had I lost someone I loved, but I had been sexually and physically abused to the point that, honestly, I didn’t even look at my body as mine anymore. It was as if anyone could own me. I was in a bad place. I abused myself more than he did, in the end, by ignoring how much I was hurting. Instead, I shut it out by drinking, by getting high, by having sex with random strangers. Anything to numb the pain or shut it out. But, then, after hitting rock bottom, I realized just how important it was for me to fight this, for me to get better, for myself. I stopped the drugs, I stopped drinking, and I put myself into therapy.
I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, and tell you that therapy is a cakewalk, and now I’m healed, mainly because all of you know that fear and hurt don’t magically go away, and also because I know how frustrating it can be to hear “You can do this,” “Well now that you’re out of that..” and “Move on from this, work harder in therapy,” etc because let’s face it, that’s fucking bullshit. It’s hard. Therapy hurts. It works, but it’s not easy. I’m still, 6 years later, learning how to deal with some of the nightmares that haunt me in my sleep. There are certain smells that take me back to an exact moment when he hit me, or raped me. Certain songs cause me to hit the floor and curl into a ball. The month of July is a long, and emotionally challenging month, even 6 years after his suicide. But therapy, it’s the best way to start with those baby steps, those steps towards healing and growth.
How do I cope? Even now, music and writing have healed me the most. I listen to all different types, and just write. I started my online blog 5 years ago, to deal with the pain that I felt in losing Xander, and as I started to remember more and more about what happened to me with him, it evolved into a blog where I could write, and heal. Let’s face it, as a survivor of sexual abuse & domestic violence, sometimes, it’s a lot for people to take. My friends didn’t know what to say—They were 19, 20 years old, and enjoying themselves at college, partying, and living their lives. My parents were completely unavailable for me, emotionally & physically, and I had no one. So I just started writing, as a means to just let it out. And it worked. 5 years later, I have started to tell my story to many more people. I am not healed, but I am certainly not where I was 6 years ago. I don’t pop pills, though there are some times I am tempted. I haven’t used drugs in over 4 years. I’m still in therapy, sometimes as many as 3 times/week, and even though I want to give up sometimes, I know I have to stick it out. I am engaged, I’m getting married in January to the most incredible man I’ve ever met in my 25 years of life, and I cannot wait to start my life with him, to truly start over and have a new beginning with this new me that I have met through all of my hard work & dedication in therapy. It was a long road, my relationship with my fiancé, learning to trust him with my heart. And learning to trust him with my body. For once, sex wasn’t just about control, or grasping at straws. It has become so much more than that to me. My fiancé taught me that love doesn’t have to hurt, that we can scream in anger at the top of our lungs, but I don’t have to cower in fear, even if that is still my instant reaction at times. He treats me how I deserve to be treated, he is patient with me, he is loving, tender, and caring. He is my rock, my strength, the first person in my life to love me unconditionally, and I am blessed because of it.
If I could go back, I would have walked out the night that Xander hit me, but you can’t live life on regrets, so I try to focus on the positive, I try to focus on the fact that I made it out alive, the fact that I was strong enough to keep fighting, to keep pushing through my healing. There are so many women who don’t ever get that option. WE are their voices. WE are the ones who have the power to change this. WE are the ones who can speak out, even when other voices have been silenced. We all have a path in life, and a purpose. With the right amount of therapy, the right amount of healing, and the right amount of support, you or your loved ones will find it. Have faith.
And with that, I will close this by giving you my favorite quote of all time, by Maya Angelou, the one quote that keeps me going on the darkest of days, even now.
“I can be changed by the things that happened to me; I refuse to be reduced by them.”