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Please allow me to share with all the women out there (and the men who interact with us) about the impact of domestic violence. I am talking to the women who are in the midst of or have gone through such abuse. I am also addressing my comments to those women who have not experienced these terrors but need to recognize the signs before they themselves become future victims. My goal is to save at least one of you from a lifetime of hell or worse.

Domestic Violence

Surviving Domestic Violence—Denise Cahill

I was born in Roswell, New Mexico. My father had taken off to California for several weeks without my mother’s knowledge of where he was. She was pregnant with me during this time and gave birth to me—all along without a husband at her side but with three other very frightened children—two sisters and a brother.

My father finally resurfaced and sent for us to start a new life in California. Of course, as an infant, I was completely oblivious of what was going on.

Once we settled down, I believed we had a normal home life. My father always worked two jobs to take care of the family. However, when my father was not working, he was always away, drinking with his friends. He was what you would call a functioning alcoholic. Unfortunately and because of that, I never had a relationship with my father though I still wanted to love him because he was my father.

My mom was very hard-working, cleaning houses and then taking care of her family, which had grown in number by then. She was a very good mother, a very loving mother--always there for us when we needed her.

I have lots of great memories with my brothers and sisters, lots of fun with our cousins too. We have a large family so there was always something to do. Lots of memories. I grew up very sheltered and so was very naïve. My older brother was always very protective and watched over me. He warned me about boys and, in particular, to stay away from his friends.

But I was 14 and very naïve! I developed a crush on one of his friends and the feeling was mutual. We dated secretly. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that he was always drinking and smoking weed.

I had never really had an example of how a man should treat a woman. At home I witnessed my father mistreating my mother, showing no respect and never treating her in a loving manner. When my family learned of our dating, all hell broke loose but we continued seeing each other anyway.

I should have listened to the warnings because by the time I was 16, he slapped me for the first time, busting my lip, and having to lie to my family to explain how that happened.

I should have listened to their warnings because by the time I was 16, he slapped me for the first time, busting my lip, and having to lie to my family to explain how that happened.

The next time it was another slap—each one much harder than the one before. Sooner than I realized, his abuse was getting out of hand. Soon he hit me so hard that I wound up in the hospital and needed 100 stitches to repair both split lips. He offered my mother a “plausible” excuse which she somehow accepted, but I was not able to eat for a month—drinking only out of a straw.

Despite all this, he gave himself permission to be even more abusive—it became easier for him. I know you’re thinking, What in the world made me stay with someone like that?! But I was in love. I knew his behavior was wrong and yet did not know how to stop it.

During our five years of dating, we broke up many times. During one down time, I met a really nice young man. I got pregnant and the father was elated, but I was devastated because I still loved my ex. My new man offered to marry me, but when my ex heard about this, he begged me to return to him with the promise he would never hurt me again. I fell for his words. I had an abortion for which I have never forgiven myself (I have begged God to forgive me for killing my baby but the pain will never go away). I told both men that I had a miscarriage—a lie they were willing to accept.

Incredibly, on September 13, 1981, I married “the monster.” Immediately I knew things just didn’t seem right. I knew this marriage should never have taken place because not long after the wedding, the bruises began to appear. There were welts on my head and black eyes that I tried to hide. I was afraid to lose my husband despite all the violence. I know my decisions seem incredible to you and certainly to me now—but not then.

Like my own father, he was rarely home, especially over the weekends. He was always with other women and his friends. Arguments would ensue. One time we got into such a bad fight that he hit me repeatedly and banged my head several times against the door jams.

Six months into this so called marriage I realized that I had had enough—it was an unhealthy marriage. I knew I had to leave, so I moved out. Ironically, I found that I was pregnant again and felt I had to return to the man who was guilty of so many abusive acts against me.

Despite all this, I have to admit that I had a good pregnancy. It was a happy time for me. My husband was not physically abusive during that time although he did lash out at me verbally (but not physically). When my son was born, that was one of the greatest moments in my life. He was just beautiful.

Yet not too long after the birth of my son, the cycle began again. It started with verbal, mental, and, yes, finally physical abuse. It seems that all that goes hand in hand. Two weeks after I delivered my son, he kicked me so hard that my tail bone was fractured. I screamed so loud from the pain it caused me, but no one seemed to care. I could not sit or walk properly after what seemed like forever.

I know what I am about to say makes absolutely no sense, but I wanted another child so desperately. We planned on it because we wanted the two to be close in age. This time, however, when I got pregnant, the physical abuse did not stop.

We would argue so much, especially over his controlling and meddling mother. She had become a thorn in our lives. During one such argument, even though I was pregnant and holding our young son at the time, he hit me so hard that my left eye burst open--the blood just sprayed out everywhere. I could not see out of my eye. My eye lid just hung down.

It gets worse. He called his mother to take me to the hospital. She picked me up and drove me there and then just yelled, “Get out!” I was on my own. The injury was so bad that I thought I was going to lose my eye or at least my eyesight.

The police were called to file a report and my sister was contacted. When she arrived at my room, she didn’t recognize me. I can still hear her screams of outrage and pain. It is still hard to grasp the magnitude of the ugliness this man had put me through during all that time. And yet I was still there to receive his punishment.

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I lived with my sister for many months and when my old boyfriend heard of this, he wanted to come to my rescue. He even offered to take me back and raise my children. Incredible as it sounds, I decided to return to my husband. This cycle of constant pain and torture seems to be the definition of what domestic abuse is, and part of that pattern is the return of the abused to the abuser. For me, I wanted to do anything that could keep my family together.

In the meantime, my children were growing up, witnesses to abuse. The pattern was not only repeated but came to seem normal. There were not any good role models—neither the father nor the mother. Years later, my own son became an abuser and is serving time for that. We women must break this awful cycle, if not for us alone, then certainly for our children. lives.

A week after my daughter turned one, I told my husband that I wanted a divorce. At first, he agreed but then proceeded to beat me so brutally that neighbors called the police. When they showed up, my children and I were hysterical. The police removed us from that house of horrors.

This event occurred before the current laws were on the books, so (believe it or not) they did not arrest him (and quite stupidly, I never filed a police report on him on any of those occasions—except when the police came to my hospital bedside). Somehow, through all this, I had always thought my husband would and should be there to protect me, yet all along he was the one I needed to be protected from. All I can do now is shake my head in disbelief over my foolish ignorance.

My family tried to convince me that I was a human, a person of value, and needed to demand that kind of respect. They also reminded me that my decisions needed to be the best for my children as well. I was finally convinced that I needed to file for a divorce. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. In the middle of the night, he had come over to where I was staying with my parents and took my car. How would I take my children to school or go to work?

Finally, the hearing for our divorce approached. But one night as I was getting out of my car after work, he came up from behind me and covered my mouth so I couldn’t scream. He whispered in my ear to give him my son in the divorce or he would kill me. I believed he would act on his words—I was so terrified.

On that dreadful court day, I was alone while he had his entourage with him. Of course, his family was there in great number. I relinquished my rights to my son on that day. I felt such hate for him and for the family that was laughing at me and my suffering. I just wanted to die from the pain of having to give away my son. I realized that if I had made the reports that I rightfully should have, the court would never have allowed this to happen. On the other hand, I truly believe I would not be alive today to share my story.

Over time, my ex-husband would ask me to come back home. My first and continued reaction was to reject this awful offer. But at length I could not take being separated from my son. The family was in distress, so, yes, I chose to return to him for my children’s sake.

It soon became apparent to him that I no longer had any love for him and that I would cringe at his attempts at intimacy. Not surprisingly then, the abuse started again. I tried to hide the abuse form my family (who worried so much) and from my co-workers. Yet, there was the occasional black eye and dislocated arm and broken knee which required surgery (when that incident happened, it sounded like a pencil breaking).

The worst part of all of this is that my children suffered from the time they were in the womb and continuing through the violence they heard and witnessed as they were growing up. It can be no surprise that our children, filled with emotional and psychological pain, grew up to be angry adults. My son, as a teenager, literally had to pull his father, his paternal grandmother, and his aunt off of his mother when they were trying to hurt me.

No son or daughter should ever be put into that kind of repeated predicament. My son is now serving time in prison for domestic violence, and my daughter is the hostile and aggressive one in her relationships. My poor babies. As children, they were always so scared. He would not hit until they got older. Our son got into fist fights with his father and that same father threw my daughter out of the house when she was only 16. Our house was literally not a home, and yet what did I do to help?

One time, he tried to hit my grandchild whom I was holding. As I tried to protect the baby, he began hitting me. Once again my left side was under attack. My eye was so damaged, I could not see and to this day, I see white flashes and black floaters in that eye.

Finally, my daughter talked some sense into me to leave him. It was 2011. That was when I finally got up the courage to do so.

We left. I found a job. I was scared but committed to making a permanent change in our lives.. It was the best decision I could have ever made. Now we are so happy in our new apartment, our sanctuary, where there is such peacefulness each morning when we wake up. This is the happiest I have been since I was a young teenager before all my joy and happiness were stripped from me.

I am now enjoying life to the fullest. I actually have friends. I am enrolled in a Community College in order to get a better job. I am doing all the things I was not able to do over the past 40 years.

Interestingly enough, my former husband still doesn’t understand what he did that was wrong—the thought process shared by so many abusers. It is mind-boggling how they blind themselves to reality and refuse to take any responsibility. My ex-husband had stripped me of all my dignity as a woman. He made me always feel no better than a child—not worthy of the respect any adult (or any person) deserves. He would say I could do nothing right, that I was a stupid moron, that I was stupid, fat, ugly, disgusting--among other disgusting words. He convinced me that no one would ever want me. He made me feel worthless and unable to control my life.

I am so grateful for my faith which is what ultimately saved my life. I survived a 35-year “prison term.” I had become a broken woman. I had allowed myself to be the victim for so many years. But not anymore!

During all that time of abuse, I thought I felt a sense of security because I had the house, the cars, the successful business that my husband had started--all the material things that one could want and that money could buy and it was at my fingertips. Ask me, Would I change my life to get all that back? Absolutely not!

The fact is, I have a man now that loves me with all his heart and soul. God has blessed me with such a beautiful man (someone who has also had his 35 years of hell), but someone with whom we have so much in common. He is a tender, sensitive soul. If you have ever read a fairy tale love story, here is another one to add to your list.

There is hope for all of you out there. I never said it would be easy because it won’t be. However the peace you and your children will come to know will supersede all the struggles you will experience while finding your way to freedom.

Some of us do have the good fortune to be able to escape. However, there are far too many of us women who never make it out alive. That’s the reality and the tragedy that is just too prevalent throughout our nation.

That is why all women (and men) must fight to educate about domestic abuse, to prevent it, and to penalize it when it does transpire. My heart goes out to all the women and children that are going through any form of abuse. I pray that sharing my story opens the eyes of all who read this column and move them to do something about it.

Denise Cahill