| This is the 232nd story of Our Life Logs |
I grew up in Arkansas in the 1970s, always searching for someone to love me like a father. My own passed away when I was just six months old. Years later, I hoped for that love from my stepfather, but I soon figured out that this dream was as fleeting as the sun in winter. My stepfather didn’t show love to any of us, especially not to my mother. My young heart always thought marriage was supposed to be about love, but I never saw it. He would get drunk most nights and abuse her. I was one of six kids living at home and my older siblings tried to shield the abuse from us younger kids, but they couldn’t hide our mother’s screams echoing through the halls, flooding our ears as we tried to fall asleep. It was too, too loud.
One day when I was six years old, I heard a commotion going on inside. I ran in and saw my stepfather on one of his drunken rages, screaming abusive words at my mom who was on the floor. I saw his legs flail to kick her over and over. When my 17-year-old brother yelled at him to stop, my stepfather grabbed a knife and started toward him. My brother was calm as he reached above to the gun rack and took down a 12-gauge shotgun. My brother told him to stop, but he kept coming with his knife raised, and so my brother pulled the trigger. Blood started spurting out of my stepfather, going in every direction. The sound of the gun still echoes in my ears.
My mother ran towards my stepfather and yelled, “Get her out of here, get her out of here!” referring to me. They tried to push me out the door, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my stepfather sprawled on the floor, motionless, blood pouring from his head.
After that night, I was never the same. I became withdrawn and it was rare to not to wake in a cold sweat from night terrors. I felt so lost.
For years I walked around in a desperate haze for the love that I never knew. Still harboring feelings of inadequacy, I married a man who was 13 years older than me when I was 18 in 1989 (you do the math). He was a family friend who knew all that I had been through, so I thought he would be good for me. I wouldn’t have to worry about airing out my dirty laundry because he knew everything. I thought because he still married me that he must truly love me.
Things seemed okay at first, but after a while he used his fists to release his anger and shut me up. He once hit me so hard that I blacked out. When I asked about what had taken place, he was like a pot boiling over, triggered by the question, and he started beating me again. I found out later that after I blacked out, he raped me. I had fallen into the abusive cycle I knew too well from my childhood. His family knew and did nothing, and I was afraid to tell my own. I felt alone, scared and helpless. After two years, I finally left him and got an annulment.
Free of my abuser, I tried recovering from all I had endured. But just like in my childhood, the moments of abuse were imprinted in my head, haunting me.
A few years after I left, I fell madly in love with a guy who helped me forget the nightmares of the past. It felt like our souls were somehow intertwined, and I’d never felt that before. We dated, moved in together and for so long, he was the most loving, considerate, tenderhearted man I had ever met. He would stop on the side of the road just to pick me flowers. He would be silly, just to make me laugh. When we got married I was sure I had found my happily ever after.
Well…I definitely have a type. He was kind at first, but it’s very possible that he acted that way to trap me. He saw a broken person and pounced. The abuse was subtle at first, and I was so madly in love with him that I refused to see any flaws in him. Even when he told me that he would “cut my pretty little face up to where no man would ever want me again,” I tried justifying it. The abuse continued until one day he told me to get out of his sight, and we divorced in 1994.
After the divorce, we always found our way back to each other. For many years, we were on and off, getting back together, swearing it would be better this time, only to get abused time and time again, each time worse than the last.
After a few years, I held my head high and cut ties with him. I told myself that if he really loved me, he would change just to have me back in his life. I walked away, and this time, I told myself that I would stay away.
Nine years later, I got into contact with him again in hopes that we had both grown (yes, you read that right, and yes, I know it was crazy). I guess my heart still believed he could change back into that sweet guy I had known, who would take me out to eat and treat me to anything I wanted. The guy who would buy me expensive jewelry and give my hand a reassuring squeeze when I got nervous. Despite the warnings from my friends and family, we got married a second time in 2011.
After only six months, I realized that I had fallen into the abusive cycle again, drawn in by my desperate desire to be loved. The abuse this time was worse than ever before. At one point, he even put a gun to my head and told me that if I ever left him, he would blow my head off. The name calling turned into accusations. He needed to know everything, where I would go, what I would do, who I talked to, what I said, how much money was spent. He would show off my bruises like they were his trophies. He would say, “This is what happens when you try to ignore me.”
He told me I couldn’t speak unless I was spoken to. I had to ask permission to use the restroom. He’d tell me things like, “You’re the reason I don’t have any money because you’re always blowing it. If I was single, I could save money because I wouldn’t have you to feed.” If I asked for anything, I was trying to take what he had worked for. And despite all the support I had, I couldn’t get out because I told myself that I deserved it. He was the best I could get so I would just have to deal with it.
He was taken to jail many times for the abuse, but I could not make myself realize that I had a life other than being with him. He was my whole world, what I prayed about, what I thought and dreamed about, and I was blinded by those feelings.
The days turned into weeks, then months, and eventually, years of abuse and torture.
Finally, after about seven years, something shifted in me. I started to dread his coming home from work. I hated crawling into bed with him at night. I couldn’t stand to feel him touch me or even hear his voice, because even in his best behavior, I realized that it was a manipulation strategy to keep me in the same cycle that bound me for so long.
Reality struck, and I realized what I had done to myself. I had spent my life gravitating toward abuse and thinking these kinds of relationships were healthy because of what I experienced growing up. I never learned anything different. I never got to see a better life from the outside because I was almost always on the inside. When I thought back to those times I had left him, I remembered the safe, warm feelings from those moments. That’s when I knew, that I had to get out and actually leave this time, no looking back, no coming back ever. I knew something better was waiting for me out there, and I had to break the chains of abuse to find it.
With the support of my family I managed to get away from him, for good this time. Sure, I missed him at first, but that life was not what I wanted or needed, and I understand that now. All the men I married were people who didn’t love me for who I was. They wanted to puppeteer how I lived my life to fit their desires. I allowed them to do this because I never truly loved myself.
And so, after years of looking away from the mirror, I hold my head up and see myself for who I am—not what I have been through or what others say about me. I just see me, and I am happy.
I learned to put myself first and to not take anything less than what I deserved. When I stopped relying on other’s love, everything changed. I began to dress differently, walk with more confidence, and be my true self without any fear. I decided with whom I go around, talk to, and what I can and can’t do. I can be the vibrant, compassionate person that my abuser tried to suppress. For the first time in a long time, I am happy and I am free.
I hope my story will help someone else see that there is hope and even when it seems impossible, you can get out and find your self-worth so you never want to go back. The world is so much brighter when you learn to love yourself.
This is the story of Rose Higman
Rose now lives a life of pure freedom. After witnessing abuse and her stepfather getting shot in front of her at age six, Rose was traumatized and didn’t learn to love herself which led her to marry abusive people. It wasn’t until 2018 that she got out, and she got out for good. She’s now living a happier life. From her experiences, she is able to see and feel the pain of others which has aided her in writing books. With the newfound confidence, Rose likes to dance whenever she wants without judgment. She loves to write poetry about her abuse and how it has affected her. Away from the abuse that clouded most of her life, she feels alive, vibrant, worthy, loved, wanted, beautiful and needed again. She has published three books and is an evangelist. In learning to love herself, she’s vowed to never go back to the person she was in an abusive relationship.
This story first touched our hearts on December 16, 2018.
| Writer: Rose Higman; Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |