Every year, during domestic violence awareness month, I try to muster the guts to share my story because I am a survivor. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse by an intimate partner. Sharing that I am a DV survivor is embarrassing because of the attached stigma. People treat me differently, and it has affected my professional life. I want people to see me for the strength it took to leave a man who tried to kill me and not as a victim.
I want to share some of the nightmares I endured daily. The details of what we experience remain hidden because many of our peers don’t understand why we don’t leave. After all, that sounds like the most straightforward way to safety, but once you find yourself in this position, you will see that leaving is the most dangerous thing you can do. It took me months to prepare to leave.
I am currently a professional Service Dog trainer, and I train dogs to help other survivors live like me.
How The Domestic Violence Began
The first time I saw any sign of violence, it came out of nowhere. I was pregnant, and the beating was so bad that I lost the baby. He beat it out of me, and I was not allowed to leave the house because of the damage to my face. Subsequently, the abuse would continue daily for years. It was not only physical; it was also emotional and sexual. The hitting happened over anything, from my head being in the way when we were in the car to me looking straight ahead while walking in public. His friends would give him money to come over and hit me; there was no safety for me.
I was not allowed to be online or to make phone calls unless he could monitor me, so getting help was out of the question. He broke my hand, fractured my arms, sliced me open with a knife, and brutalized me. Next, he pawned all my stuff when he lost his job to get money. One night I took such a beating that the neighbor called 911. Cops kicked in the door, sent me to the hospital, and took him to jail. For this night, he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
How I Escaped the Domestic Violence
I did not leave then because his parents came, got me from the hospital, and moved me to their house. At first, I thought I was safe and was relieved. but I was wrong. After he received bail, he also started living with his parents. The beatings continued while his parents watched, and I was in hell. How could parents help their adult son do these things to me? These people helped him keep me in a closet, literally. These people were sick. His mother would cover my bruises with makeup if I had to go out.
I was constantly scared but finally could contact my mom and convince her to rescue me. I prepared to leave when he had just beaten me over mayonnaise. The deadliest thing a victim can do in a domestic violence relationship is trying to escape. Next, he kidnapped me at gunpoint from my mom’s back porch, and I escaped by jumping out of the moving car. I could write pages and pages of what my loved ones and I specifically went through because it wasn’t just me affected by this man. I try so hard not to let him still control me, but it’s so hard because every time I look in the mirror, I see scars and a broken smile. So it’s hard, but sometimes I see that warrior that allowed me to survive my living hell.
What Came Next
As a consequence of this domestic violence abuse, I suffer from PTSD daily. I have right frontal lobe damage from a head butting that caused permanent damage, affecting my communication skills. I still need more dental work from all the damage to my face. My abuser remains imprisoned and has about ten more years left to serve. I continue to deal with so much aftermath. The most frustrating aspect is my brain damage. I used to be a high-functioning person with a photographic memory, and I permanently lost those abilities due to my abuse.
Two years after I survived that horror, I had a car accident. The collision crushed my legs below the knee and fractured my spine six times. I ended up in a wheelchair, and no one expected me ever to walk again. As a result, the doctors didn’t rebuild my legs for walking. Fortunately, I can walk to some extent but use a wheelchair regularly. To date, I had over 20 surgical procedures for my legs. I was in great pain from my injuries, and while I had good and bad pain days. Nine times out of ten, I have bad pain days, but they are much more manageable now with all my medication and device changes. My leg X-rays look like I dropped a bunch of screws in my legs.
My Next Chapter
Since my move to California, I have been able to find more pain relief. I found a pain clinic where we tried various pain management approaches. It started with different pain medication regimens and trigger point injections. Now, I have an implanted spinal cord stimulator, which has significantly reduced the nerve pain in my feet. I also switched to different pain medications. These two changes have improved my well-being and substantially increased my mobility.
As all of this was not enough, my seventh leg surgery resulted in life-threatening consequences and further complications. While intubated during the surgery, I contracted a lung infection, ultimately shutting down my organs only hours after discharge. My mom rushed me back to the ER, and the doctors told her if she had come 30 minutes later, I would have passed away. I spent the next two weeks in a medically induced coma: touch and go. They didn’t know if I would pull through. As a result of this lung infection and organ shut down, I ended up with a 30% reduced lung capacity and a cardiac disease called POTS, a form of dysautonomia.
I’ve been diagnosed with almost 15 disabilities. The newest one, POTS, stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which has shaken my life. The POTS causes me to lose consciousness during flare-ups. As a result, I lost a lot of independence. POTS is a newer subcategory of cardiac disease, and it took years to get the correct diagnosis. As it is a more recently discovered cardiac disease class, available resources are still limited. Fortunately, after moving to California, my boyfriend made an appointment at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute, where I found my current cardiologists.
Thorough testing identified my specific type of POTS and a common associated condition. In addition to POTS, I also have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), and MCAS essentially leads to allergy symptoms without having any underlying allergies. As a result, I received my second medical implant, a port for hydration, blood draws, and medication administration. The daily saline hydration at home and proper POTS and MCAS medications have made my condition manageable and restored more quality of life. In addition, I trained my service dog, Storm, to provide various support tasks that improve my days.
We Can Survive
I’m not sharing these details because I want sympathy. I am sharing them because I want to illustrate that we can survive domestic violence, move forward, get our lives back and be strong again. Because of what I went through, overcame, and still struggle with, I can now help others. I train service dogs for people with disabilities, giving me a purpose. I am an ambulatory wheelchair user, which means sometimes I’m in a chair, and sometimes I’m not. As a service dog trainer, my job is physical and hands-on; I can do everything from a chair, just like a non-disabled dog trainer.