Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be the girl to end up in an abusive relationship, especially because I did not grow up in an abusive home. Which is the stigma that accompanies abuse; we are expected to come from a broken home or be abused as a child. But I am here to tell you abuse can happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world. Abuse is neither prejudiced nor racist.
I am a survivor of Teen Dating Violence.
“She isn’t in love, she’s merely insane.” – West Side Story
Never once in those first six to nine months when we were dating did I ever think our love story would have had anything but a happy ending. We took care of one another. He grew up without a father and his mother was not the most nurturing, loving, attentive woman to her son. He needed me to be the loving, caring woman in his life, and I happily accepted the role. […]
I had no reason to believe he would ever intentionally hurt me because he loved me, right? Well, not until the first time I saw and experienced the other side of him.
To this day I can’t even tell you what we were arguing about. We weren’t in a lonely room or a dark alleyway; we were standing right in front of my apartment door. My parents were inside and it was a regular day outside. The sun was shining. Children were playing and birds were chirping. Then it all went black.
The slap hit me with enough force to send saliva flying out of my mouth like a boxer who was about to get knocked out. I felt like I could see cheeks conforming to the pressure in slow motion as my head jerked back and forced me to come back to reality. I was silent.
I couldn’t even react. I’m fairly certain I didn’t even breathe. I couldn’t move. I was frozen, not by fear, but by disbelief. It was like I knew for sure there was no way this moment was possibly happening in my world.
The shape of his eyes changed and he stared through me like a beast marking his territory. He didn’t blink or sigh. He just ripped through me with his eyes. His solid five-foot nine-inch frame towered over me, barely five feet tall, waiting for me to move, hoping I’d react so he could do it again.
“I hope you understand you just slapped me,” were the only words I could murmur. There was still no reaction from him. I’m sure the whole incident was less than a minute long, but I felt like I’d been standing there for hours when my mouth finally moved.
After several minutes passed he finally left. He did not whisper a sound. Inconspicuously, I opened the door and walked straight to the bathroom and locked myself in. My mind was racing and I was terrified of my parents finding out what just occurred outside the door. I washed my face with cold water trying to rid the imprint of his huge, calloused hand off my face.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I just looked at myself in the mirror and tried to understand what just happened between us. I couldn’t. Every good memory, every kiss, was wiped away with one swift slap. I closed the door to my bedroom and slept for as long as I could.
Allow me to share something important. I didn’t wake up the next day and resign myself to a life of abuse. I didn’t say to myself, “I love him and if I have to live with a slap here and there, so be it.” I woke up feeling sorry for him, telling myself he didn’t mean to do it. If his mother hadn’t been so terrible then he would never disrespect any woman especially me. I probably said something awful and I don’t even remember doing it. He was my first love. I’d already given my virginity to him and I wasn’t a quitter. We were in a real relationship and real relationships take work. I thought maybe if I love him a little more everything would be okay.
But everything wasn’t okay. As a matter of fact, the day the slap took place was the day our entire relationship took a turn for the worst. The man I first fell in love with no longer existed. It didn’t all happen at once, but day-by-day he’d take control of the little things in my life and eventually the abuse would occur more frequently. […]
When a person is experiencing any type of abuse the only thing they can do in the moment is do their best to survive another day. No person in their right mind wakes up one day and says my dream in life is to be abused. No woman in her right frame of mind makes a decision to marry a man who will abuse and humiliate her.
But still I could not leave the relationship.
I stayed because I was afraid. I stayed because I was full of shame and embarrassment. I stayed because I knew I would be judged if people found out the truth. I stayed because I wanted to save him. I stayed because I thought I loved him. […]
All of it became normal. The beatings were normal, life with him hiding and watching was normal. I accepted this was my life and I was simply waiting to die. I didn’t believe in the possibility of a future and every time I started to, he crushed those dreams with his fists.
“Abuse has a tendency to make you believe you don’t deserve to be loved and live a life of success and purpose. Abuse kills dreams. It almost killed mine.”[…]
It didn’t happen immediately, but one day I woke up and I made one of the most difficult and best choices of my life—I decided to end my relationship with him.
Read the rest of April’s story in Your Voice, Your Choice: A Story of Resiliency & Redemption…
Ending Teen Dating Violence
According to the Department of Justice, girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence — almost 3x the national average.
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This blog excerpts April Hernandez-Castillo’s Your Voice, Your Choice: A Story of Resiliency & Redemption. Buy the book to read April’s entire survivor story!
April Hernandez-Castillo is an actress known for her roles in Law & Order: SVU, Person of Interest, Elementary, Showtime’s award-winning Dexter, and MTV’s hit film Freedom Writers. But April is more than a celebrity. She’s a survivor of Teen Dating Violence who now travels the nation encouraging young women break free from abuse, claim their voice, and live their dreams!
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