Homie Picks a Fight With a MMA Fighter
I Was An MMA Fighter — And a Victim of Domestic Abuse
If you have an image in your mind of what a domestic abuse victim looks like, it's probably not me. In my 20s, I was extremely outgoing and had a lot of friends. I was a strong woman, a fighter. No, really — I was involved in the martial arts community, and was training to become an MMA competitor. A fit girl with muscles.
And then I met my ex.
I met Dave* through mutual friends. We moved in together almost immediately after meeting, mainly because I just happened to need a roommate and he needed a place to stay. We became really great friends, but it wasn't long before our relationship turned romantic. We just clicked. I saw him as this amazing person who loved the same things that I did.
In the beginning, he was very loving. I was working a lot — I had two jobs in fitness and another at a restaurant — so he would try and take some of the load off of me by helping out around the house. We loved to stay in and cook dinner, and every morning we ate breakfast together (usually oatmeal; we were both really into our health). I wish I could say that routine lasted for years before the abuse started.
It lasted for three weeks. I was in front of a fitness studio that I trained at, talking to a guy who also worked out there. When Dave arrived to meet me, I introduced the two of them, but didn't use the word boyfriend to describe him. He got extremely angry, and after the guy left, he pushed me. I pushed him back, and he smacked me in the face. I don't really remember what he said, but he apologized and I decided to let it go. I'm a nurturer, I like to help people. I felt like staying with him would bring out the good in him. Deep down, I think I knew it would happen again — he had exposed this controlling, temperamental side of his personality, and I knew it wouldn't just go away. But I guess I didn't want to see the abuse for what it really was. I liked him. So I told myself it would just be that one time.
I felt like staying with him would bring out the good in him.
It wasn't. The abuse escalated, and it wasn't just physical. It was emotional and mental, too. Dave knew exactly how to make me feel worthless. We were in a terrible cycle: He would hurt me. Then apologize. I would believe him. Sort of. And then he would hurt me again. It's weird, you almost feel like you're dealing with two entirely different people.
The emotional abuse cut through me in ways that only I could see. But when he hit me in the face or head and left marks, I blamed it on my martial arts training. I didn't tell anyone what I was going through. It felt like no one could possibly understand. I was a trained fighter, someone who defended myself against competitors all the time. How could I explain that I was allowing someone to hurt me? I felt humiliated and ashamed.
Six months into the relationship, I became pregnant.
I know when you find out you're pregnant, you're supposed to be happy. And I was happy, at least, happy to become a mom. But I never thought it was an experience I would share with someone like Dave. I was really at a crossroads and debated leaving him. But he begged me not to go, and I decided to give him one more chance. I wanted so badly to keep our growing family together.
But the abuse continued. And the one chance turned into many.
Once, we got into an argument. I don't even remember what it was about. Here's what I do remember: I could sense that the fight was escalating, so I tried to leave and go for a walk. Dave wouldn't let me go. He picked me up and slammed my body down to the ground. I remember being thankful that I landed on my back and not my belly, so the baby wasn't hurt. Another time, when I was 6 or 7 months pregnant, Dave and I were arguing and I got so scared, I went into our bedroom and locked the door. He punched the door open and it hit me right in the belly. It left marks. There are plenty of other examples I could give of times when he physically abused me or mentally broke me down — but there are so many, it sort of just all blurs together now. I worried about the baby all the time.
I know what you're thinking: Why would you stay?
My self-esteem was shattered. My spirit was broken. I no longer felt strong in any aspect of my life. By that point, Dave had so much control over me. He didn't want me to have any friends, an opinion of my own, or even a job. I was no longer working because I wasn't "allowed" to. Once, I offered to get a job because we were really struggling financially, but Dave got so angry he kicked a cup of water across the room and accused me of wanting a third party to raise our daughter. I never brought it up again. He created a divide between me and my family by telling me that my sisters hated me, and that they were jealous of me. He never wanted them to come and visit. I felt isolated, alone, and embarrassed that I had allowed Dave to put me in this situation. But I was absolutely terrified to leave him. He was volatile and I didn't know what he was capable of. I feared he could kill me.
When my daughter was born (healthy, thankfully), Dave had a new way to hurt me — through her. And he did. He was horribly manipulative and made me feel like a terrible parent. He would tell me I was a bad mom. Once, he took all of his clothes and disappeared with our daughter. He called me on the phone and told me he had a gun. I didn't know if he was going to use it on himself or me, and I felt helpless and terrified knowing that he was driving around with our daughter in the car while he was in a state like that. Another time, I went to visit my mom in another state without telling him — that was a big deal, because I never did anything without his consent or permission. When I got back, I discovered that he had taken my name off of our lease and given away all of my clothes and belongings.
It was in that moment that I no longer saw what we had as love — it was abuse. You have to reach a point when you decide, I'm not going to let this person do this to me anymore, and I was there. My daughter deserved a healthier way of living, and this was not it. So I started fighting to get my life back.
My family knew what was going on at this point — they figured out that something wasn't right before I could even tell them; on phone calls, my sister could hear the fear in my voice. They knew how badly I wanted to keep my family together, but would voice their concerns about how unhealthy my relationship was. I know they meant well, but I would get angry at them for not accepting Dave.
I was a trained fighter. How could I explain that I was allowing someone to hurt me?
Thankfully, they never turned their backs on me, and they were there for me when I was ready to see my relationship for what it was. My mom would pay for me and my daughter to stay at hotels, but my ex would find out where I was staying and would stalk and threaten me. He would say, "Don't think everything's going to be OK when you come back." He was in denial that I would actually leave him for good. He would trash me on social media and spread gossip about me. He would tell people I was homeless, and that I was a terrible parent.
I started using every resource I had to move forward and away from him. I called a crisis hot line, and after a few days of waiting for a bed to open up, I ended up at a domestic violence shelter. I was so grateful. I was staying in a hotel at the time, and I only had enough money to stay for one more night. With a safe place to stay and people who were advocating for me, I also got a protection order. That's when I first started to feel safe again.
Nothing was fixed overnight. I suffered through the abuse for years, so there was a lot to deal with, like custody issues and emotional baggage. I didn't trust anyone for a long time, and I lived on edge, constantly worrying about where Dave could show up. I still have to deal with him when it comes to custody visits, but we never see each other — we communicate through court-appointed supervisors.
My daughter and I have a nice apartment in a safe neighborhood. I'm working again — as a personal trainer and as a server at a sports bar. I volunteer at the local domestic violence center teaching self-defense classes to women who have been abused. I feel strong again.
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