How The Hell Did I Get Here?
Written by: Staci Hissong – Staci is a gifted & compassionate Life Coach using her story to empower others.
Standing with my back against the wall, literally and figuratively, with his hands on either side of my shoulders and it struck me; “How the hell did I get here?’
Of course, that is not how my story started. That is not how any survivor’s story starts. Most stories start with glitter and rainbows, with affection and love, with gifts and adoration. And then it’s like a fucking switch flips and you are left standing in the dark with confusion and hurt. My story is not the exception. It starts when I was a 19 year old, college sophomore during “Welcome Week,” out with my friends and deciding to leap up and kiss a ‘friend’ that would turn in to so much more. It started innocently enough; a lot of flirtation, hook-ups, and laughter. Feeling carefree and understood, moving from the occasional hook-up to actual dates to staying the night with each other every night. Sleeping alone became a thing of the past, which is quite hilarious to me now that two full sized humans slept in a twin-sized loft each and every night because the idea of being apart was more uncomfortable than the actual closeness the beds provided. The first year continued with butterflies and unicorns and I did not believe it could be possible to be happier. Then summer hit. We were thankfully from the same hometown so we did not have to figure out distance in our relationship, but we did come from different socioeconomic situations. His Dad would write a check for his tuition each semester, and I sit here 12 years after graduation still paying off my loans. This meant I had to work every day that summer, so I did.
And that is when the switch flipped.
He no longer was the center of my life. I had to do what was best for me, and that was finding a way to sustain living through the upcoming year with work. He started getting angry at me all the time because I could not go to every party. I could not stay out all night. And I would say no to things, which was completely different from how the previous year of our relationship had been. The arguing started, and really never stopped. Everything was consistently my fault because I did not put our relationship first. He hated this and let me know with his words. Very loud and hurtful words at times which I will explain later. He then decided we needed to “take a break until we got back to school,” which I later found out meant he was sleeping with another girl from home but wanted to get back to our relationship when he had my undivided attention. I was devastated, heartbroken; but I figured there were only a few weeks before we went back to school, so it would all work out.
“Welcome Week” was upon us again and I anticipated things going right back to normal. But little did I know, that was not his plan at all. He wanted his cake and to eat it to. He invited this girl up to school, and SHE was the one to tell me she started sleeping with him. Are You Fucking Kidding Me? This has got to be a joke. All while he was telling me we were “working things out,” he “loved me,” we were “meant to be.” Well fueled by heartbreak and a lot of liquor, I walked in on him with her at this party and instead of being the stereotypical girl and going after the “other woman,” I went after him. I punched him repeatedly in the face and busted his nose. His very fit friend had to lift me off of him with such force I had finger bruises on arms from the strength he had to use due to my adrenaline. As I stood there, he just kept calling me a “crazy bitch,” over and over and over. A term he used quite often when speaking to me. A term that set something off inside of me due to my history with depression and anxiety, as well as self-harm behaviors. All things that he knew about me and used against me at the drop of a hat. Knowing that I was terrified that I may actually be “crazy,” he took every opportunity to reinforce that fear. Every interaction over the last few months between us had been toxic. Ending in screaming and crying and just plain ugly words being spewed.
At this point, I should of walked away.
That’s what you would have done right? He had finally made it apparent I was worthless and everyone else thought I was crazy, so why in the fuck would I ever even speak to him again? Well, because I loved him. Did you just say, “how?” to yourself? Don’t worry, today that is what I say too, but understand he had taken the power and control from me and from our relationship well before this situation happened. I was dependent on any morsel of attention and positive words he would give me. And without fail, two days later he called, we talked, worked it out, and went back to dating. The thing was, he continued to sleep with this other girl…for what I found out later was months. And I caught him many more times; and he managed to convince me I was the crazy one for driving by his house to see if she was there or going through his phone when he walked out of the room. So, I forgave him every time. Each time, losing more and more of me. I lost like 30 lbs in a month from the stress, lost friendships because I would not allow myself to see what they saw, and just chose to look the other way.
The thing was, if you did not know what was being done and said behind closed doors, you would have thought we were good together. Until we added the alcohol and my insecurity crept out and his vulgarity towards me crept out and we would cause a scene at every party. And then go home together afterwards like nothing was abnormal. He consistently told me what a worthless piece of trash I was and how lucky I was to be with him.
I stayed in this relationship until right before my 22nd birthday. Almost three years. Three years of questioning my sanity. Three years of him whispering “You’re crazy” to me in front of people where no one else heard until I would lose it and he would be like what are you talking about? Legit, making me look crazy!! In front of friends, at the bar, in an elevator with a stranger in Chicago. Any time he could. Three years of on and off toxicity. One time I followed through with ending the relationship. He called me 53 times in an hour without me picking up. He called my parents who told him I was back at school, when in reality I was not. I got a call from my roommate shortly after that he was at our door screaming and pounding on the door and she did not know what to do. I recommended she call the police, but that never happened because he left and started calling my phone again. Then he left me a voicemail stating he needed to talk because his mom was sick, and he needed me. I fell back in, and within a week, right back to the screaming and name calling. On my 21st birthday, I went hard as many people do on their 21st while away at college. He carried me back to his house, which everyone gave him so much credit for taking care of me. We went into his room and started having sex. Well I was definitely too drunk to do that, and the motion made me vomit down the side of his bed. He picked me up, threw me in the shower and left me on the floor in there for I could not even tell you how long. The next morning his roommate told me he could hear me crying through the wall; saying that I was going to die and he wanted to come in and help me but knew I was naked and felt like that would violate me. My boyfriend was upstairs, so the roommate went up to tell him he could hear me, and my boyfriend did not budge. He kept drinking and left me there. When he finally came to help me out of the shower, we went back into his room where he brought new sheets and stood there while I was made to change them since I was the one who got sick on them. I stayed with him still for almost another year!!!
It finally ended,
It finally ended one night when he picked me up from the bar after a bar crawl and he was yelling at me and I just did not care anymore. I had no reaction. He yelled more, I just did not have it in me to fight back. He said it was over and I said ok. (He was also sleeping with a mutual ‘friend’ of ours by this point as well). I felt free. I was ready for it to be over. I finally was done, relief! But it again would not prove to be so easy. He had expected me to fight to keep the relationship as I always did, and when I did not, he became infuriated. He began calling me repeatedly again and telling me he wanted everything he ever bought me back. I finally just said fine and threw up my hands. If that would end this, then I would give it all back. I walked over to his apartment, which by this point we only lived like seven minutes apart on a walk and gave him the bag of stuff. He said he was going to give me back everything I had bought him. I stated repeatedly I did not want anything back because that was not how gifts worked and he got so angry. He began screaming and yelling at me that I was going to take it all. Upon refusal again, he picked up the DVD player I had bought him and threw it at my head. Now I don’t know if you all remember how heavy DVD players were, but they were not these lightweight things like Blu-ray players are today. I moved and did not get hit, but I remember being completely frightened for the first time of him in that moment. He emotionally hurt me, verbally abused me, spiritually broke me, but he had never laid a finger on me. But in that moment, I felt that possibility upon me. He lunged at me and I flinched. I will never forget what happened next. He backed me up against the wall in his dining room with his hands on either side of shoulders and said “You think I’m going to hit you? You really think I am going to hit you? If I was going to hit you, I would have done that a long time ago!” I moved out of the way and left the apartment. That was it, it was the moment, the breaking point. I knew we were completely over. On that seven-minute walk home, he called my phone numerous times and left me four voicemails. The final voicemail stating I was a “fucking cunt who should’ve killed [myself] a long time ago” and would “never amount to anything and be poor” and would be “worthless without [him] because no one else would ever want [me].” I got home, locked that apartment door as hard as I could and sat in my room and sobbed.
We saw each other out in public regularly following that. There are only so many bars in a college town after all, and we had many of the same friends. Many more ridiculous exchanges, or avoiding one another, for the final two months before graduation. I saw him a few months later back in our hometown. I broke down and slept with him only to find out he was still seeing that mutual ‘friend’ of ours and made sure to let me know after we had sex that he was glad he was done with such a “whore” like me. And that was that. We were over, ties cut. Until three years later when he was at a bachelor party I think, and he called me and begged to see me, still with the same girl from the end of college. He had nothing but negative things to say about her and just showered me with words of affirmation. He just kept saying we were too young when we met and the love he had for me was just too intense for that age. And even then, there was a part of me that believed that to be true. I refused to see him though so at least there was some progress on my part.
The Journey to Myself
Fast forward to five years after graduation, I was beginning an internship for my Master’s degree in counseling at a domestic violence shelter. Before you can work there you have to go through an intensive 40-hour training course. The first day of the training they defined domestic abuse. HOLY SHIT! I had been in an abusive relationship? Are you fucking kidding me? But he never laid a finger on me! How is this possible? But it all made so much sense. I cannot be around men who raise their voices, I had severe trust issues in relationships, and I felt pulled to this internship for some reason. I had been going to therapy for about four months at this point and I walked in to my next session and said, “Did you know my college relationship was domestic abuse?” My therapist threw her hands in the air and said “Oh, thank god! I have been waiting for you to get there!” I suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following this relationship. My view on a relationship was so fucked up it made sense why I could not make one work and I kept choosing the wrong men.
So here I am.
Twelve years removed from the relationship, seven years after realizing that I was in an abusive relationship throughout college. This is the first time I have ever put pen to paper about it, or more so fingers to keys. I actually just verbally told my story for the first time last October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to do my part in spreading the word that not all abuse looks the same. I can tell you in writing this, I still cannot believe that was me. I am such a different person today than I was then. First of all, I am older and wiser and the regular grey hair I have to color proves that. But more than that, I have grown as a person and as a woman. I was so quick to judge when I was younger, and I can guarantee if someone else told me this is how their relationship was I would ask them what the hell was wrong with them to stay? And now, I understand there are so many underlying factors to an abusive relationship that others will not understand. And yet, almost all of these relationships are the same at their core. It is about power and control for the abuser and stripping you of who you are.
This process has taken a very long time for me. This is not something that I got out of magically found glitter and rainbows again. Um, fuck no. It did not happen like that at all. It is only over the last year that I can share this story without shame; still not without anger but I am working on that. It took therapy, self-reflection, and a lot of personal development to get here. And where is here? Well I now own two of my own businesses, I have a Master’s degree and am a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I can finally say that I can see some good in the world. I am mindset coach now for women to help them build their confidence and learn how to move forward in life.
I love that I get to empower women each and every day. If you find that you are still in a toxic relationship, YOU ARE WORTH MORE! I know nothing I say to you can make you fully believe that, but I hope that in reading this story you can see that you are not alone and there is a strong network of women who will help uplift you when you are ready.
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