So -- I don't normally do things like this. But I've written something that I want to share. And I wanted it to stay my words and not have to edit it down for publishing. So I thought -- I'm gonna read it out loud -- and I'm quite nervous, so bear with me.
I am a survivor of domestic violence or IPV intimate partner violence -- which is something I never in my life expected I would say -- let alone be broadcasting into the ether.
He was a magnanimous person who didn't really give you a choice not to be drawn to him. He could be charming, funny, manipulative, devious. He was younger than me and his immaturity obvious and for a period of time I wasn't interested.
I was newly single and gaining my bearings in a period of change in my life. Making dumb decisions. But in the midst of that, he became a friend. A friend that made me laugh and feel less alone. Made me feel special and worthwhile.
And then once we started dating, it was a zero-to-sixty catapult. And I wasn't just a rag doll letting myself be swept away into a relationship I didn't want, but I was unsure about what I was getting into from the get-go. As strange as that might sound, it's still hard for me to dissect what I was thinking and feeling that kept me from stopping what felt like a runaway freight train.
But the most logical deduction I've come up with is I was a child from a non-violent but broken home. And the ways in which the effects of my parents divorce manifests in me were varied. But sheer terror at a failed relationship in my own life was one of them.
I also hadn't figured out that I could say no and disappoint someone and still be okay. It didn't matter that I had misgivings; whether or not he was the one at the time, it felt very good how much he coveted me. How much he seemed to treasure who I was. He loved me. I thought I loved him and I was going to make it work.
The abuse was not violent at first. At first, it reared its head at me under the guise of common dysfunction coming from his insecurity and depression. He confided in me the tragedies he had experienced the injustices and insecurities he had been dealt.
It was all very real and easy to sympathize with making it alarmingly easy to excuse when the damaged man that I felt for became too wounded to control himself.
There was a lot of jealousy. He was snooping on devices. He was angry when I spoke to another man. I had to change clothes often before we went out because he didn't want people looking at me.
On a birthday, I spent working I was criticized because I had to dance with a co-worker. Work in general was a touchy subject. He didn't want me ever kissing or even having flirtatious scenes with men which was very hard for me to avoid.
So I began turning down auditions job offers, test deals -- friendships -- because I didn't want to hurt him.
None of that registered as abuse because I was worried about how he felt at that point. To even comprehend how it affected me in retrospect, I see that each red flag followed a very clear path on the way to things becoming violent. Because violence is so often preceded by mental emotional verbal and psychological abuse which were all very sneaky things.
It started about five months after our relationship began. And the violence escalated just as quickly as the relationship had. So quickly. I didn't know how to respond the first time that happened. He threw a smoothie at my face. It smacked my cheek and exploded all over the floor and the sofa.
I ran to grab paper towels rushing back because I was so worried about cleaning the couch than the fact that it was all over my face, my hair, my clothes, and that my cheek was painful painfully throbbing.
I was more worried about the furniture than I was about the fact that I had just been abused.
It wouldn't be easy to describe in detail the physical arguments that occurred more after that. It's hard to even articulate, not just because of the anger and the pain that surfaces, but because the memories feel like they took place on a different planet where I was breathing different air and could never tell anyone what I had seen.
It had to be secret for shame, for a fear of more attacks, for reluctance to actually admit any of it was happening. The stark truth is I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly. Punched so hard the wind was knocked out of me. Dragged by my hair across pavement, head-butted. Pinched until my skin broke. Shoved into a wall so hard the drywall broke. Choked.
I learned to lock myself in rooms but quickly stopped because the door was inevitably broken down. I learned not to value any my property as irreplaceable. I learned not to value myself. Most vividly, I remember how the arguments would usually end. There would always be a click of reality snapping back into place when he would see what he had done.
And a wave of guilt would wash over him. And I imagine in a subconscious effort to wash the both of us clean after what had just happened, he would carry me and put me in an empty bathtub. Throwing the faucet on. And leave me while he gathered himself and I would sit in the tub as the water inched up my body surveying the damage.
Insert the typical abuser's apology speech here.
He'd kneel next to the tub crying self-hating tears with me. He never made me feel like he thought I deserved the beating which I guess eased my mind. And internally, I still held on to the sympathy and the empathy I felt for his brokenness he admitted to. Having his apologies were heartfelt and effective in getting us back to sanity and a semblance of a loving relationship.
But deep down, I never believed he would change. I just fooled myself into believing I could help him. I thought that I could love him enough to make him see a way of life where violence was not the way you handled emotions.
So I consciously deluded myself into thinking that forgiveness would heal him enough to make it stop. Someone had to let him know that his behavior wasn't okay. Who better than the one he was taking it out on? So I pull down the drain in the bathtub and down the pipes the argument would go with its indecency, humiliation, sorrow, rage, and myself.
I went down that drain every time he put me in the tub. My fortitude. My worth -- that he had begun to define my blood, my tears. He once jokingly told my mother she cries enough water to end thirst in a third-world country. Months and months of this routine passed. sometimes there wouldn't be a physical argument for a month or two. Sometimes, I would distrustingly rejoice in the peace thinking maybe it's actually different now.
And things were different, but not for the better. I've changed and I'm not proud of how I changed. I became --
A person that I never could have imagined lurked inside of me because I was livid at what was happening and the fact that I was allowing it to out of fear of failure.
I experienced firsthand that violence begets violence. I started fighting back because rage is contagious. I had an astonishing poker face, but inwardly I was the ugliest version of myself I had ever known.
I became unreliable. Unprofessional. Sometimes unreachable. There were stretches of weeks where I wouldn't get out of bed for more than two hours a day.
If you met me at this time I was most likely friendly -- just to the point of getting too close -- and aloof to the point of being cold.
It was as if I split into spinning plates to maintain a false image versus the truth. I was living another performance of sorts. Melissa in public put on a happy face and purported a healthy life. Whereas Melissa at home dropped the veneer and lived the nightmare in the middle of one never-ending dispute. Battle wounds and all.
To my closest circle I just plain lied. I made up stories of how bruises and scratches were born. I did this at photo shoots at work with my family -- all to shield myself from my own anger, protect myself from more arguments -- and of course, to protect him.
I knew how he was treating me was wrong but I thought the consequences he would suffer if I exposed his behavior outweighed suffering through it.
And then he threw something at my face again -- only this time, it was significantly worse. It was a blow to my face with his iPhone.
The impact tore my iris. Nearly ruptured my eyeball. Lacerated my skin and broke my nose. My left eye swelled shut. I had a fat lip. Blood was coursing down my face and I can remember immediately screaming at the top of my lungs.
The next morning I was due to work on reshoots for a film. After it happened, complete stillness blanketed the room. We panicked. He put me in the bath time, but this time that wouldn't be enough. This wasn't going to be easy to hide, let alone fix.
And something inside of me broke. This was too far. I couldn't flush this one down with the tug of the drain. We made up a flimsy story together.
I had tripped and fallen on the stairs of our deck and hit my face on a potted plant. We called our mothers, all of our representatives, all of my representatives -- who then had to call producers and directors I was working with.
He drove me to the hospital. When the ER director doctors made him leave the room and cops came to question me at my hospital bed, I told them our transparent story that I'm sure they'd heard versions of before.
And then we laughed together when he said my face was cute and looked like Squirt from FINDING NEMO because my eye had become bulbous.
This is an injury that's never going to fully heal. My vision is never going to be the same.
And emotionally after that I was done. I felt that whatever I thought love was, it certainly wasn't what I had been going through.
I was so tired of living the way I'd been living, but it felt too late to get out. Would it be safe for me to leave?
I had ostracized myself so completely in my life that I made myself believe I had no one to turn to if I did. And I was ashamed. But abuse doesn't just affect the people. It's better in its chokehold.
However -- and unbeknownst to me -- many people in my life suspected and feared exactly what was happening. A friend visited me where I was working. My abuser wasn't there so she had a rare opportunity to talk to me without his looming presence.
She sat me down and said she wanted to talk about something important and I immediately knew where it was going. My heart pounded. She was nervous. Shaking. Afraid that it would ruin our relationship.
But she bravely asked me if I was a victim of domestic violence. It was the first moment I spoke about the abuse to anyone.
And I can't describe the amount of relief and solace. I felt she held me. And she said, "You know what you have to do now. Don't you?"
Here's the irony about enduring an ordeal like a violent relationship. Inevitably, while terrible and irreparable damage is done to you, you build an impenetrable strength without realizing it.
Finally utterly uttering the words that I had muted for so long inflamed that power in me.
I had to get out and I took careful steps to leave him as quickly as our relationship had sped into my life. Leaving was not a walk in the park. It is not an event, it's a process.
I felt complicated feelings of guilt for leaving and for hurting someone I had protected for so long -- and yes -- mournful feelings of leaving something that was so familiar. But luckily, the people I let in, the more I was bolstered.
And I never lost the sense of clarity that kept telling me, "You do not deserve this." None of this is salacious news. It was my reality. What I went through caused a tectonic shift in my outlook on life. It taught me what love is and isn't the strength I'm capable of.
The violence I endured and yes, even tolerated -- the lies I told -- the protection I gave my abuser -- these facets all paint the dark and sinister portrait of that time of my life.
But recusing those habits and breaking that cycle was the most rewarding and empowering choice I have ever made for myself. I feel an enduring strength and self-assurance that has dug its roots deep within me.
I will be healing from this for the rest of my life and that's okay. And I've discovered that healing is a constant maneuvering and fidgeting to find what works and what triggers. But it is possible.
Sadly, IPV is one of the most chronically underreported crimes in the country according to the US DOJ, it's estimated that one in four women in the US ages 18 and older will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
And while it affects men as well, the numbers clearly show that it is a more prevalent women's issue and it's wildly intersectional in its reach. I want those statistics to change and I hope that telling my story might help prevent more stories like mine from happening.
I choose to love. I don't choose to minimize my life out of fear. I choose to love myself to know that love does not include violence. And to let victims know that there is a way out in which you will be protected.
If you are enduring what I went through and you see this, maybe you will find this tiny straw that will break the camel's back. Or at least you might begin to think of your freedom --
In which case, I am here. I am with you and you can and deserve to live a violence-free life.