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What Happens When You Leave an Abusive Relationship

Why I Left . . . and How It Was Just the Beginning

I never wanted to be a statistic. I never wanted to fear for my life. I never wanted people to look at me like a victim. And if I never dated Jordan*, these things wouldn't have happened. Too bad life doesn't come with a crystal ball.

There were plenty of signs that I should have ended things earlier. He banned me from hanging out with other guys. He lost his temper over the tiniest things. He broke up with me whenever we fought. But being young and (what I thought was) in love, I just made excuses. He's just jealous because he cares. He had a bad day and needs to blow off some steam. This is just what couples do. Let's be clear, ladies — this is not how normal couples behave.

The breaking point for me was actually quite literal. We were at my 20th birthday party when the topic of an ex-boyfriend came up, and Jordan just lost it. He threw a beer bottle toward me, stormed out of the apartment, and slammed the door. Always the hostess with the mostest, I fought back tears, swept up the dark green shards (lucky for me, the boy had horrible aim), and put a smile on my face. But I knew I couldn't keep this going. Not if I wanted to be happy.

Of course, it wasn't that simple. We met up the next day, my actual birthday, and he scolded me for bringing up my ex. Not wanting to get in a fight, I nodded my head and told him he was right. We drove back to his apartment, where he begrudgingly wished me happy birthday and threw a card at me.

"Not that you deserve it," he said as I read the sweet Hallmark sentiments. A few weeks and some serious pep talks later, I ended things with Jordan. Like all breakups, it was filled with screams, tears, and promises of change. Despite a slight urge to stay, I stood my ground. "Finally," I thought. "I'm out of the hell." Little did I know, I was just entering the terror.

Jordan started showing up in places — the cafe at my journalism school, the parking lot near my gym, the studio where my dance company rehearsed. Sometimes he would just sit and stare, a red-hot rage burning beneath his baby blues. More often than not, he'd follow me and shout that I was either a slut or the love of his life. I guess it depended on the day of the week.

Every time I stepped on campus, my anxiety grew. If I heard him behind me, I'd pick up the pace and hope he'd lose steam. If I didn't sense his presence, I'd stare at the ground in search of his shadow or use my cell phone's camera as a rearview mirror. I'd walk with keys clutched between my trembling fingers in case I needed to defend myself. Once I reached the door of my padlocked apartment, I felt safe. Until he took that away from me too.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I was getting ready to meet friends for a movie. Shortly after jumping in the shower, I heard loud banging from the front door. I stepped out to investigate and immediately regretted my decision.

"Leah," he shouted. "I know you're in there! Get out here now!"

I continue to carry the weight of that relationship on my back. But each day the load becomes lighter, and hopefully someday it will cease to exist.

Knowing he was on the other side of the door, I hid behind the couch, thinking that the cushions could keep me safe. As I rocked back and forth, wincing at the sound of his voice, I prayed that I'd remembered to lock the door. All I could think was what would happen if he found a way in. Would my last moment on Earth be one of torment and tears? Would I really be found dead in nothing but a bleach-stained towel? Would this have happened if I sucked it up and stayed? Luckily, I never found out.

"You can't hide forever," he screamed before banging the door one last time. An hour later, when I finally felt safe, I crawled out from my hiding spot. Still damp from the shower and cold from the fear, I decided to do something I should have done months before — call the cops.

Almost a year after that incident, I stood in court to testify against Jordan. Over the course of several hours, I had to relive every hateful phone call, threatening text, and hellish encounter. In typical fashion, Jordan bounced between apologizing and blaming me. And for the first time, I realized that this wasn't my fault. Seeing him lash out at a judge without worrying about the consequences, I knew that he was the one with the issues — not me.

This November marks the three-year anniversary of freedom from Jordan. Of course, it isn't total liberty. I take medication to cope with the anxiety that resulted from his abuse. I see a psychiatrist once a week to work through the trust issues he caused. I freeze every time I get a call from an unknown number. I walk a little faster if I hear someone behind me. I continue to carry the weight of that relationship on my back. But each day the load becomes lighter, and hopefully someday it will cease to exist.

Women who leave have two ways to cope with the aftermath. We can constantly look back at the relationship, analyze every mistake we made, and wonder what if. Or we can leave the torment and tears in the past and move forward with strength. For me, I'm putting one foot in front of the other and never turning around.

*Name changed

If you or someone you know is in danger, there are resources available in your state, as well as the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Know that you are not alone and that staying is not your only option.

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