Every year, around this time of year, I stop and celebrate. I celebrate being in a verbally, physically and emotionally abusive relationship for seven years of my life. Yes, you heard right, I celebrate this. It will be nine years, this year, that I made it out of a very dangerous and addictive, abusive relationship.
This is the first time I publicly have spoken about this chapter of my life. I am finally in a place, both mentally and spiritually, to reach out and help other women who are suffering. I made it to the other side, I closed the chapter, rewrote the ending to my story, and so can you. I have always been a super strong woman. I have always been a leader, an outspoken and confident woman. I loved life. I hopped on planes and trains. My favorite motto was, “Let’s just wing it, we will figure it out, we always do!” I had zero fear, and I loved trying new things. I played ice hockey my entire life. A weakling, I was not.
Fear came into my life when I started dating a guy I thought would be my forever guy. We were inseparable and in love. It took only a few weeks into the relationship for things to start becoming unhealthy, something I was not used to. The cycle of abuse isn’t something we learn about growing up as adolescents. Most of us are not taught to be on the lookout for certain types of behaviors that might lead us into this kind of relationship.
Let me describe my view from the inside of this cycle: You live in constant anticipation and alertness, waiting for the next attack to occur. You used to have rational thoughts and ideas and you used to be able to count on your own gut intuition all the time. You start to think you are going crazy and your reality is distorted. You think you are the one that caused him to hit the windshield and crack it again or smash through the glass front door. You think you deserved to be spit on in front of all of your friends. You deserved that drink to be thrown in your face. You know that none of it is right, you pray he will change and he does. He changes long enough to keep you in the calm phase. It could last a month or three or even close to a year, but the incident will always come, it always does, and you just wait. The bad news is that when you are in this cyclone, you can’t see any of this. Why can’t you see any of this? Gaslighting is blinding and is defined as the ability “to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. “
I was lucky to be 26 with no kids when I left my abuser. I was lucky to be alive. One minute you’re in love and the next month you are wondering who is this crazy person on top of you waking you up at 2 a.m. to hit you in the face as hard and as many times as he can. The next month you think it’s all going to be OK, and he will change because he said he would, and you are in the calm stage, ready to start fresh. Then, you wake up again only to pray he will apologize for last night’s episode, but he tells you if you disrespect him again he will hit you harder next time. You lose hope – again.
I want women to know my story. I was stuck in a very dangerous addiction. I made it out. My last straw? I had a friend of 25 years tell me I wasn’t allowed in her home again – with or without my boyfriend – unless I left him for good because her family’s safety was at stake. She was right. Her family’s safety was at stake, and I put her in that vulnerable position. I was staying at her house and she was nine months pregnant and had a 3-year-old sound asleep in the other room. This is what it took for me to leave.
I spent years in counseling making sure I didn’t go back, couldn’t go back. I spent years in counseling trying to figure out how I had gotten there and how I would never get there again. This wasn’t how my story was going to end.
Now, I am the CEO of my own company, I married an amazing husband who came with two amazing stepkids. I am a dental hygienist and I’m an amazing friend and mentor. I broke the cycle of abuse, and I won’t let my stepdaughter fall into this cycle. I will do my best to educate her and everyone around me.
I’ve done crazy-hard things in my life. I’ve run multiple ultra-marathons in 120-degree temperatures; I’ve skied places most people wouldn’t hike; I’ve built my own company. To this day, everything in my path is easier because nothing is as hard as breaking this addiction and leaving an abuser.
To all of you out there going through this: You are not alone. Reach out to your loved ones, stop hiding in shame. Stop isolating yourself, don’t let the addiction win. You weren’t put on this earth to just make it through life, nor were your children.
I celebrate the fact that I am a survivor and I have firsthand experience to share with women who are going through this. I left with zero money in my wallet and fear for my life. I still watch my back every time I am alone. Every time I get into my car at night, every time I travel alone, I look over my shoulder. I made it to the other side, and so can you.
Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others. Choose life, choose you.
If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, call 1.800.273.4673
Lee-Anne, known by her friends and family as “LA,” is the CEO of OneinaMil, a culture-driven recruiting firm. She and her team specialize in scouring the software industry for top talent. LA graduated from Fitchburg University in Massachusetts and went to the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to become a dental hygienist. LA has been included in the “40 Under 40” and “Charlie’s Most Progressive” lists. In her free time, you will find her playing hockey at the Ice Palace or spending her days on the boat with her family.