When I was turning 16, I fell in love with my first boyfriend. He was 6 years older and I was so excited; I was dating someone who was 21 years old and “an adult.” He was different than boys my age; he seemed more mature. He was also aggressive, which I thought made him look like a bad boy and I found attractive. Little did I know back then!
We dated for 3 years; our relationship had its ups and downs. We fought a lot. He would regularly break up with me for silly things. He wouldn’t address any problems directly. Despite not being responsible for the break-ups, I would always return. He would call, and I would go running to him. I lost all of my friends and close companions during that time, spending all my free time with my older boyfriend as a result of his displeasure with me going out, or hanging out with my friends.
When I turned 18, he began pushing for a child. He wasn’t in school. He had his own business. It was because of these things he felt he was ready to start a family. I, on the other hand, was finishing school. I was an excellent student and was getting ready to go to university. I wanted to study. It was my dream. He assured me, however, that I would have all the help I needed if we had a child. I would be able to attend university and complete my studies. I love children. I thought it would be amazing if I could do college and start a family. And I believed him. So at the age of 19, I became pregnant and gave birth to my first son.
My boyfriend and I had many problems up to that point, but I wanted to believe that a child might fix the situation. The truth is, many more problems arose after the birth of our son. My boyfriend became even more aggressive and tried to keep me from attending university, but his father insisted that I finish my studies. Despite this, my boyfriend was verbally and emotionally violent whenever I had classes to attend. He would yell at me while taking me to the train station, calling me names and cursing at me. And I would cry during the entire train ride to class.
I had become a victim of domestic violence and didn’t even realize it. Every time he yelled at me, hit me, or called me names, I would find a reason to blame myself and feel guilty. My closest relative was my mother, but she lived in a different country and was unaware of my situation. Every time she called I pretended everything was fine, that I lived a happy family life because I didn’t want her to worry about me. The only people who knew what I was going through were my boyfriend’s parents, but they were of no help. All they did was try to convince me that his aggression was a result of work-related stress and that he would eventually calm down.
But he didn’t.
After finishing my studies, he wanted to have a second child. Again, I thought having a child might fix everything. I thought our relationship would magically become normal. And so, I gave birth to our second son. It was around this time that we were married.
My second child, however, did not improve things. Life became much much worse. He had me working in his company where he could keep an eye on me, he wasn’t spending any quality time with myself or the boys, and he was always unpleasant to be around, always unhappy with something. I ended up living a life where I was working from home without pay and not allowed to have any fun. The only strength I had to carry on was found in my two boys.
Desperately needing to do something for myself, I turned to working out from home, looking up and working through various programs I found on the internet. But he didn’t want me to do anything like that during the day: I was supposed to be too occupied with work. So, in order to work out, I had to wake up at 5 am, finding time and space to do something I wanted without drawing his attention or displeasure.
For a time, fitness helped. But it wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I began to find it possible to turn my life around. It was through yoga that I learned I could rewrite my story.
I created an Instagram account for the purpose of finding more fitness stuff when I discovered yoga. And it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it. I was a complete beginner, but jumped in anyway and started participating in yoga challenges. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know if it was okay. But I did it. And in sharing my practice on Instagram, I found that people were so supportive! I could hardly believe there were people who were caring and helpful and happy with what I was doing with my practice. I wasn’t being chastised for doing something I enjoyed; I was being celebrated! It was something that had been missing from my life.
This couldn’t be discovered, though. I had to find time to practice when I was at home, slipping in practice time between my various chores whenever he was away. I would often climb to the roof to do my practice. I had to hide because I was afraid of him—he would never ever let me practice or participate in challenges or even have an IG account if he knew. In fact, I had to shut down my first account for this reason. It was a risk, but it was worth it: being able to connect with people and share a mutual love with others for something like yoga was giving me my sanity back! I made the time despite the consequences because it was that time that helped me change my mind about myself. I was rewriting my story in my muscles and my cells, in my movement, in my flow. I was empowering myself. My time on my mat became sacred. It was “me” time; it was something I finally did for myself.
By the year 2017, despite my attempts to empower myself, I was more miserable than ever. As time progressed, he became more aggressive, not less. Though I tried so many times to talk with my husband, he never wanted to listen. We had zero communication. When he wanted to say something, he would yell. When I wanted to talk, he would clamp his hands over his ears and leave. Whatever needed to be said, he would say, had already been said by him. My love for him had faded long ago, replaced by fear. Because of yoga, I had tasted a better way being. I knew I could do better for myself. My misery, however, stemmed because I chose to stay. I did it for the boys. I thought I could hold out until they turned 18, hoping things would improve in the meantime. But things kept getting worse. At the age of 8, my son was yelling at me and trying to hit me. When I asked him about his behavior, he said he did what his father did to me.
That was the breaking point. That was when I understood that staying was making things worse, not better. I knew something had to change, but I didn’t know how to change it or what to do. I was all alone in this country and had only my two boys. So I started slowly revealing things to my mother over the phone. She connected the dots, having already figured some things out. Though she didn’t know how serious things were, she was incredibly supportive, advising me to consult with a centre for women who were victims of domestic violence. It was good advice, and I wanted to go, but because of the situation I was in, I wasn’t able to go physically go there. I did, however, make the time to call. They helped me understand my position as a victim and coached me to avoid blaming myself, that the feelings of guilt were part of the psychological make-up of a victim of domestic violence. They also gave me legal advice: I had access to a free lawyer if I wanted a divorce. I took advantage: toward the end of 2017, I found a lawyer and proceeded to file for divorce. I then moved to a town nearby with my boys. After a few court proceedings, my new life began.
It has been a year since I moved out and I can say I am now starting to feel that I’m finally finding my old self. My first few months were really hard. I couldn’t shake off all the things I had been through. I was still scared and feeling unworthy. I’d been carrying a lot of emotional baggage and it took time to replace all these negative feelings, with positive ones. Healing has been such a long process. There are days that eveything is perfect and other days when I feel that I haven’t done a zero progress in healing. But I know it’s happening! The process of rewriting my story is ongoing, and slowly, but I’m making progress. I have to remind myself that one year of healing to combat 12 years of domestic violence is no time at all, and having the patience with myself, I keep writing and healing.
I can only accept my situation and start working towards correcting all of the mistakes I’ve done so far. It’s just so scary when you see how many things you’ve been doing wrong, and realize that yes, you were not always right … that although you think you are a good person, you still manage to somehow hurt someone you love … being willing to roll up the sleeves and do the work to repair your damages is the hardest part.