A Picture of an Abusive Relationship – Part 1

young adult male covering mouth of scared young female

If someone had taken a picture of me during my time in an abusive relationship – there would be just me, a smiling, young coed, trying to find her path to success at a nationally renowned university. There would be no outward signs of the abuse – no bruises, no scratches, no external marks of any kind. The picture of an abusive relationship can take different forms.

The Background

People who knew me since childhood would have no reason to think I was in an abusive relationship, and certainly would not have thought of me as being at risk to fall into such a situation. I met my abuser in 7th grade – we attended the same school and were great friends. The summer before our 10th-grade year we started dating. We dated on and off throughout high school. Then, we were admitted to the same elite university and started our Fall semester as Freshman together.

My abuser was a normal, popular boy. He played football, basketball, and track. He was in gifted and took advanced classes, he was Prom Prince. His mother was a teacher, his father a police officer. They were an intact family, with three high achieving children. They attended church every week. It was a truly picturesque family.

The Change

The change occurred in our freshman year of college. The summer before we started college, he started taking Accutane. This article is not a comment on whether this is a safe medication or provide an excuse for this behavior. His parents were warned to look for signs of depression, aggression, compulsive behaviors. I wasn’t worried, I had known him since we were 12 years old, he was my best friend. This history was exactly why I didn’t see where we were headed until it was too late. Our history wasn’t the picture of an abusive relationship.

The other problem was my background – as a high achiever myself, I didn’t like to fail – at anything. It was foreign to me and shameful. I was embarrassed at where I found myself, and it took way too long to enlist help and find a way out.

This is my message to parents – pay attention, speak to your children about what is abnormal or controlling behavior, and do not enable or ignore the poor behavior of your children. If you have suspicions your child is showing abusive behaviors, keep digging, and find your child help.

How it started

My abuser routinely broke into my apartment, ripped the phone out of the wall (pre-cell phone times), and would hold me down and prevent me from leaving. There were so many nights of sleep deprivation – where he would not allow me to sleep. The initiating cause of these episodes could be anything. I might have received a higher grade than him on a test; a male student may have taken the seat next to me in an auditorium of 300; I might have refused a sexual advance. I was made to call him and leave messages on his answering machine every five minutes while he was in class. If I did not have lunch ready for him after class I didn’t love him. If I received a better grade than him, I didn’t deserve it, because I didn’t work as hard as him, therefore it didn’t count.

At first, no one knew what was happening. I was very good at hiding it. And his pedigree and popularity kept anyone from realizing what he was doing. Slowly, he became much bolder in showing his behavior. His roommates were long-time friends of his. They were shocked the night it took three of them to get him out of my bedroom after breaking in through the window. One of my sorority sisters was the first to figure out what was going on. She tried to help me, but at my insistence never outright intervened. The thought of losing my friendship with her scared me. But I knew he would force me to end it once he discovered she had found out the truth.

The Hospital and the Police

His father was a good man, loved his son, and clearly wanted to protect him. He saw the changes in his behavior but didn’t investigate further. He would joke about his “moodiness,” but never asked me if everything was ok. One night in my dorm, my boyfriend started raging again, and this time, he punched a window, shattering it. After, he rode to the hospital on campus. I stayed behind and secretly hoped someone would put it together. The hospital did – they contacted University Police. My boyfriend told the officers his father was a cop. Instead of going any further, they called his father. His father got the incident swiftly swept under the rug.

cracked broken glass window

I was devastated. I believed that incident was my best chance to get people to see what was going on, to have proof of how different a person he had become. His father promised the officer he would see a counselor. He went twice. After the first visit, he told me the counselor said his behavior was normal. But, it would help if I could be more considerate of his needs. I am pretty sure that is not what the counselor said. But it did make it clear to me that the counseling was not going to be a viable option for help.

Ending It

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I had several co-workers who had witnessed his behavior and were willing to help. We waited until he had returned home for the summer (I was staying on campus to work). Then, I phoned him to end the relationship. I let him know he is was not to come near me. The phone began ringing incessantly. Even his father called and left a message for me to call him and talk to him. I immediately left my apartment, and stayed with friends, moving every couple of days – I knew he would drive back to campus.

And he did…..Read more in my next post. 

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