WILLOW’S STORY: Doors closing. Suffocating me. I could see the outside but yet it seemed too far to reach. Not sure how my life got this way. I was strong and independent and even though life was never easy for me…I was always my own person. So how did I get here? Where did I go wrong? Educated and beautiful…I never felt less than but that’s the thing no one tells you….this can happen to ANY woman. It doesn’t matter your race, educational level, nor economic status…by the time that first hit occurs, we were all groomed. He was charming yet not the normal physical attractiveness I liked in a guy. But there was something about him that made him seem irresistible. Maybe it was the way he smiled at me? His name was Tom and we met in New York. Tom appeared in my life at a time I had damn near given up on love. My family life had always been rough. We weren’t close at all so I put my everything into wanting to create a family of my own. Tom wasted no time telling me he loved me and begged me to move in with him. It was all happening so fast but shouldn’t true love sweep you off your feet?! I held on to my independence for a while because I had been burnt by love so many times before. Tom became my Prince Charming! He wined and dined me to the point where I was convinced that this unconventional man was the one for me! Finally, I accepted his invitation to live with him. The wining and dining stopped but I figured in serious relationships things can’t feel like the honeymoon period did. We were growing as a couple. His behavior became controlling now that we were living together. I couldn’t talk to any of my male friends and could only spend a few minutes on the phone with my female friends. Tom expected my focus to be on him 100% of the time. As time went by, he barely allowed me to hang out with friends and family. Everywhere I went, I had to check in when I got there. If I went to my sister’s house, I had to put her on the phone with Tom as soon as I arrived to prove that I was actually at her house. At first, I thought he was concerned for my safety but as the months went on, I realized he was tracking everything I did. I swear to you, I don’t know how my life got this way. But there I was…evolving into a person I no longer recognized. Tom made sure I went straight from home to work and back. Soon he convinced me to move with him to Florida where the cost of living was cheaper and so we could be closer to his family. After the move to Florida, I started to slowly see a different side of him. He didn’t want to work so I was the only one working. My first job in Florida was the “Steak and Shake!” I only worked there for one hour! Just hearing myself say “Welcome to Steak and Shake” made me want to lose it! After all, Tom was home watching television while I was surrounded by grease! Then one day he came home with a puppy without even discussing it with me. Looking back now, the dog was a blessing. Animals and children tend to expose sides of people that you would not see unless you had to care for someone else. We argued all the time about the dog. Tom bought the puppy but he was my responsibility to walk, feed, and clean up after. Not to mention, after a long day at work (I got a job at the bank but Tom was still not working), I had to have Tom’s dinner ready for him…even if he had been home all day! Our arguing got worse! Sometimes he would call me out my name and tell me that there was nothing I ever did right. Yet, I tried even harder to make it work! I believed in love and I loved Tom. I know you are reading this and are thinking how could I not see the first hit coming…but I didn’t. Tom had already isolated me from everyone I loved and made me feel like his love was the only thing that mattered. He had gradually mind fucked me to the point where he took a strong and independent woman and made her seem weak, easily controlled, and uncertain of the world. If I felt trapped, I couldn’t imagine how the women who had to depend on their spouse for financial support felt. Scary! I was in a nightmare and didn’t know how to get out. One night we got into a very intense argument about who was suppose to be taking care of the dog. I expressed to Tom that he needed to help out with the dog and he didn’t like it. Tom had always been short tempered but on this particular night…he was enraged. He came towards me and knocked the dog’s leash out my hand and punched me in my face. It felt like I had flown a couple feet as I was about 120lbs at the time. Before I could land on the ground, it seemed as if our entire relationship flashed before my eyes. This is the moment I thought….the moment I could get up and fight back or the moment Tom would fully own my soul. I had always heard…if you stay after the first hit…there will be more where that came from. I got up, somewhat shocked, and started to fight back. The neighbors heard the fighting and called the cops. Tom wouldn’t say what happened when the cops got there but one of us had to leave our apartment. So I spoke up. To my surprise, I was put in handcuffs! The cops said that if there is a domestic violence incident, they have to take one person in and since I opened up my mouth, they took me in! I don’t understand the legal aspect of what happened and later on had to get an attorney to expunge my record from ever having the charge show up. The next week was a blur. Charges were dropped against me but the physical and emotional scars were still there. Shortly after, my uncle drove down and helped me move all my things from the south to the north. I never returned Tom’s phone calls nor accepted his apologies. The lump on my face showed me just how much he loved me. I can’t tell you why some women stay and why some of us instantly leave. It isn’t for me to speak for all victims of domestic violence. I can only tell you that I knew I was in danger and had to get out. Tom definitely groomed me before the first hit happened but the one thing he didn’t bank on…was my inner strength! He had only known me for two years but prior to meeting him, I had survived so much on my own. This relationship was one of the hardest ones I had endured. No one likes to be a battered woman or even admit they have allowed this type of behavior. But I don’t hide in shame…for hopes that my story will serve as a warning sign for someone else out there. I’ve always heard…“you are only as sick as your secrets.” That’s why I’m coming forward today. If you are in a domestic violence relationship, get help and get out! If you are an abuser, seek help as well! No one should have to live in fear with someone they claim love them. God bless! Willow? ABOVE WAS MY FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF WOMEN (Willow and my Aunt Jennifer) WHO WERE GROOMED TO RECEIVE AND ACCEPT PHYSICAL ABUSE AT THE HANDS OF A MAN WHO CLAIMED TO LOVE THEM: Today I shared one of Willow’s past relationship experiences with domestic violence. Domestic violence is an issue close to my heart as I grew up around it. Out of all the women in my family, I watched my Aunt Jennifer’s abuse from beginning to end. I was very close to her when her abuser (who later became her husband and now ex husband) was grooming her. Whether we know it or not, abusers typically choose their victims and they groom them before the first act of physical abuse ever takes place. Often we miss the warning signs. From seeing other acts of violence committed on the older women in my family, I knew my Aunt Jennifer was in trouble before the first punch! I knew before she knew! Thank God both her and Willow made it out alive. Above I spoke in the FIRST person so that you can get a better idea of what grooming looks like. It is important to note here that (1) I’ve never personally been in a physically abusive relationship, (2) I’m mixing some of Willow and my Aunt Jennifer’s experiences though this is really Willow’s story, and (3) Willow fought back and left when the first hit occurred while my aunt stayed with her abuser for over a decade. Two different women and two different outcomes yet there were some similarities in their grooming period. I hope today’s blog resonates with someone out there and saves a life. ~KJM on Flashback Friday. One Love?