How Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors Saved Me from Domestic Abuse
My life has been filled with personal triumphs due to my embracing healthy habits at an early age. With an upbringing in the Englewood community on Chicago’s South Side, like many African-American women and girls, I struggled with obesity, leading a lifestyle of physical inactivity and poor nutrition. As a teenager, my mother inspired me to exercise and eat better, which allowed me to take charge of my health and completely distance myself from many negative peer influences in order to pursue a long and productive career in exercise science and nutrition (click here to read more about my personal story). However, with such triumphs I rarely share the darker side of my past, which healthy lifestyle behaviors also allowed me to conquer.
For two years I was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of my partner. I met him early in my 20s and, like most young ladies this age, I was very much into my physical appearance—so was he. This man was significantly older than me and, questionably, more mature. In the beginning of our courtship he wined and dined me like most gentlemen do, but pretty soon, the wining and dining was replaced with verbal, mental, and, eventually, physical abuse. I should start by saying that I was not raised in an abusive environment. As the youngest of five children, I grew up surrounded by a whole lot of love. Sadly, this upbringing is probably why I was a tad bit naive when faced with someone who would eventually become an abusive partner.
The first signs of a problem began when I started personal training at a popular gym--you know, one of those gyms housing all the "pretty" folks. Needless to say, like most physically fit women, men flirted with me daily. Having noticed, my partner began frequenting the gym much more than necessary. In the beginning I thought it was kind of cute, thinking, "Awww, he's just a little jealous." This subtle jealousy reached a breaking point when it became intrusive. He began to interrupt my personal training sessions with male clients and started to intersect any correspondences I had with my male coworkers. Eventually, he began to “encourage” me to start my own business, which I did, not realizing that his number one objective was to stop me from going to this particular gym.
Months turned into a year and he was practically on my heels for the 16 hours he wasn't working. When he did work, he called me nonstop; so much that my earpiece became a part of my daily wardrobe. It was also during this time that he started to criticize everything I did. When I started bodybuilding with a group of males he accused me of cheating. When I got a couple of body piercings he said that I was doing this for another man. Eventually, I just stopped leaving the house unless I had clients. My young mind did not make the connection that these behaviors weren’t normal.
Eighteen months into this thing that I thought was a relationship, I realized that my face was full of acne and I had begun developing excessive amounts of belly fat due to the stress. Then he started calling me “fat." My eyes were always puffy because I cried all the time. The few friends who knew what was going on couldn't stand to be around me and they absolutely hated him. I was totally in hiding from my family. But, of course, I didn't think that this was abuse because he hadn't hit me, yet.
Why did I stay? Ask me now and I can’t believe I did. However, then, his verbal and mental abuse ALWAYS ended with a flourishing of flowers, gifts, and praise.
Fast forward. As the second year approached he started pressuring me into motherhood (not marriage). It was at this point that I had been accepted into graduate school. During this time he started saying things like, “You think you're better than me because you're getting a Master’s.” The critical point in this abusive relationship came when I told him I needed a break. He gave me a break all right. Less than a week into the “break” he started following me everywhere I went. On multiple occasions I found my car with all four tires deflated or completely emptied of fuel. In addition, he called me excessively at all times of the day and night with emotional rants.
Eventually, he told me that he just wanted to talk to me in person. I obliged, so he came to my apartment. During the conversation, I emphasized that we should remain friends. He didn't like that so he became enraged. I told him to leave and handed him a bag full of stuff that he'd left at my apartment, including a large pad lock. He took the bag and began to heavily criticize me using words that are too vulgar to repeat. The more I ignored him the worse he got. Once he saw that I was no longer fazed by his rants, he proceeded to push me again and again. The last push was so hard that the bag he held swung towards my face causing the lock to hit me directly on my mouth. There was blood everywhere.
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