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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

And still she rises
Photo illustration by Debby Huntley ([email protected])

Somehow, I thought this would be easy — to write about my life of abuse at the hands of my husband and calmly report what happened to me. I figured that I would be that detached person who doesn’t feel what she is writing about. I would share my story with others to show them that they are not alone, they can overcome a life of abuse and become a strong and fearless person.

Yet somehow as I write, I become that scared woman again — afraid of what people will think of me. Afraid of showing the world how stupid I was to stay in my marriage so long and to accept so much pain and violence.

Like many of us, I thought of abuse as only being physical violence — a black eye, a punch, a push, or a broken bone. I never thought about the sneaky forms of silent abuse that break your spirit or bruise your heart. The kinds of abuse that find you walking on all those proverbial eggshells with sharp, pointed edges that cut to the core.

Every day I wondered: Would I be in trouble today? Would I be safe? Abuse is like water dripping on a piece of granite. Over time, those small drops will eventually wear a large groove in that rock. And drop by drop, he wore me down.

I began dating my now ex-husband shortly after my first marriage ended. I was so grateful to be wanted and that he accepted my daughter. I didn’t see it as abusive when he began tossing little put-downs at me, like telling me how wrong I was to feed my daughter white bread or to allow her to go outside to play without telling her exactly where she could be.

He told me I was too tall, my hair was too short, that I hogged the bed and decorated my house too much. All I could see, or rather wanted to see, was a man who loved me and wanted to be with me. I was proud of myself for being what he needed, and I was determined to show him how much I loved him by giving him all that he wanted. And so I married him.

Married life was good in the beginning. We did all the things he liked to do, and I worked hard to be just who he wanted. We got pregnant before he left for six months overseas with the U.S. Navy, and I was so happy! When he got home to eight-months-pregnant me, he continued doing the things he loved, like going to car races out of state instead of attending our Lamaze classes. I asked him not to go. He told me how selfish I was to try and take something away from him that he loved, and off he went, leaving me to go to classes alone.

While I was pregnant with our son, he told me in no uncertain terms that my food cravings were a ploy to get what I wanted from him. He would go out of his way to make sure I wasn’t eating what I desired. I once asked him for a piece of strawberry pie with whipped cream. He bought a whole pie and “accidentally” dropped it as he gave the pie to me. The cold look he gave me as I bent over to clean up the mess told me it wasn’t a mistake.

He also repeatedly stated that women who screamed and moaned during labor were doing it to get attention and that I was not allowed to make any noise when in labor or giving birth. I had a natural childbirth and not one sound came out of my mouth as he sat in the room with me, and I delivered our almost 10-pound baby boy. I screamed inside, but he never heard a peep from me. I was proud that I had been strong and had done what I was supposed to do.

The abuse got worse when he got out of the Navy and we moved to Sacramento, away from my family and friends. He used more than venomous words to hurt me; he manipulated and intimidated me into believing I had no value because I didn’t have a paying job. He had so much disgust that I was just “sitting around, eating bon-bons and watching soap operas all day” and demanded I get a job.

Our son was only a few months old, and my daughter had been ripped from all she knew. I wanted to stay home and raise them myself. I tried so hard to explain that to him, begging and pleading to let me raise the children. After being pushed into the hall walls, repeatedly hit in the chest by his fist and being told he was afraid to get mad because he didn’t know what he would do, I gave in and found a job. And still, I took care of the children, the house, cooking, cleaning, groceries, etc., because his work for the day was done.

For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone about all the abuse. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to let others know what I was going through. I lived in fear. My inner thoughts raced. “Do this so he won’t be mad. Don’t do this so he will be nice to me.” I constantly thought that if I just said the right word, he would get it. If I just did everything right, he would love me. He would care. He would stop hurting me.

Finally, I told my mother what I lived with. Adding to my pain, she made excuses for his constant abuse, saying that his “childhood had been bad.” She told me I was overreacting and what was happening couldn’t be that awful. I mentioned it to a friend who only asked me why I didn’t leave. What I needed to hear, and what she didn’t say is, “He has no right to do that to you. Let me help you.”

I kept believing I could save our marriage. I tried to stand up for myself over the years, explaining what I needed or what I was doing. Sometimes he listened and was nice to me. Other times he became infuriated and abusive. The times I went against his “wishes,” I paid dearly for it.

I began to think it was my fault, that I somehow deserved the abuse. I stopped telling anyone about the raised fists, the put-downs about my mothering or the fear I felt when his face contorted with anger. I began to question my self-worth, my intelligence and my meaning in life. I thought about suicide and even attempted it by taking too much Vicodin. He found me vomiting the pills and walked away.

There were times I called the police to help me when he seemed close to violence. They would show up, talk with both of us, and only tell me to leave if I was scared. I would cry and beg the police to help me — he would speak calmly and say he hadn’t done anything wrong. I learned not to call the police because they were of no help to me, and he used that against me, too.

I went into survival mode to endure the physical harm, manipulation, intimidation and financial control. I didn’t trust myself or my perceptions of what was happening. My soul had lost its light as he established control over much of my life, one cold stare or raised voice at a time.

The abuse continued. And I took it, not knowing what else I could do.


When our son was in middle school, done with the pain of my marriage, I was ready to divorce my husband. One evening, I told him that I wanted out. The next morning, my husband said he was taking our son “to school.” They disappeared. I had no idea where they had gone. I thought for sure I would never see my son again. I was terrified and frantic. I begged and pleaded with my husband, willing to do anything to have my son back. After a week, he came back home and brought our son with him. 

That shut me up for a long time.

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He said his paycheck was his, and I had no right to spend it. But when I earned money, he told me it was still his money, and I had no right to spend that money, either. One time I asked his permission to buy a $19 frying pan. He was immediately enraged. “No!” he screamed at me, spit flying out of his mouth. “You don’t even know how to clean it right!” Two weeks later, out of the blue, he told me I could buy the frying pan. Sometimes I would ask to buy something and he would tell me I didn’t need to ask him and I could make the decision myself; other times he put me against a wall for spending his money without permission.

One morning he walked into the kitchen and began yelling at me that I didn’t buy granola for him. I never knew he wanted granola because he had never told me he even liked it or wanted some. Twenty years later, I still don’t know if he meant granola cereal or granola bars. Or even what set him off.

He constantly accused me of being with other men because I didn’t give him an exact accounting of what I had done that day. I wasn’t allowed to take naps because that meant I was lazy. I was in trouble for not keeping my car as clean as he wanted me to, yet his cars had trash strewn inside and were filthy. I wasn’t allowed to drive his truck, his Jeep or his car because they were “his.” I wasn’t allowed to use his tools or put anything of mine in “his” garage. I was frequently in trouble for taking up room in the garage with “my” washer and dryer and food pantry.

I would feel somewhat safe during the day while he was gone. About an hour before he came home I would start to feel stressed. When the front door opened, my stomach would tie itself up in knots. My body would tense, my hands become fists. I never knew who would be coming in the door — Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

For over two years, I often woke to him sexually assaulting me in bed. He raped me as I slept. I told him repeatedly to stop — begged him to stop. He knew I hated it. He raped me while I slept so I “couldn’t tell him no.” One awful night, he threatened to burn the house down with me in it.

And still I stayed. And endured more abuse.


Somewhere along the line, I heard about Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE) in Sacramento. I gathered what little courage I had left and went to ask someone at WEAVE questions to better understand what was happening to me. Through WEAVE’s counseling services, I learned about the different types of domestic abuse and how it tears a person down one word, one hand flinch, one glare at a time. And I learned to stand up straight again.

One morning, after nearly 30 years of marriage and abuse, I woke up and told myself, “Enough.” I went that morning to a law office and started divorce proceedings. I can’t point to one thing that finally got me to do it — rather, it was an accumulation of years of pain, sadness, anger and despair that finally pushed me to declare, “No more.”

Filing for divorce was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I thought it meant I had given up, but instead it proved to me how strong I am. How brave I am. How smart I am. I’ve been divorced for almost two years now. It certainly hasn’t been easy. I moved from the home and neighborhood I knew for 28 years to a new place that has taken two years to feel like home.

If my new house makes a noise that I can’t pinpoint, I tense up, thinking it’s him coming home. I thought I saw him while I was doing errands – I had a panic attack, couldn’t breathe and tensed up so much my muscles hurt. I lost some of my family over my decision to divorce, including my mother who made it clear to me that she would stay in his life because of ‘his bad childhood’.

The first year was the hardest — part of me wanted so much to go back to him because I didn’t know any other way to live. I begged him, my abuser, to take me back. I’m so lucky he said no. Today my life has its ups and downs, good days and bad days, but every day is so much better!

I’m finding my strength and living my way. I take naps, buy things I want, drive a great truck and have a fire in my fireplace on cool evenings — things I could never do without criticism in my married life.

I’m back to school at Sacramento City College and will transfer to Sacramento State in the fall to finish my bachelor’s degree and then pursue a master’s in social work with a minor in administration of justice. I am going to use my education and personal experience to help people who are going through what I went through to find their personal power and to rise above the abuse they live with.

I’m proof that my abuser didn’t win — that I am stronger than all the bad done to me. The Maya Angelou quote tattooed on my arm says it all:

“And still I rise.”

If you are in crisis and need help, please call one of the following toll-free hotlines (open 24/7) or one of the several national hotlines that are dedicated to helping you, or contact your local police or emergency services. All hotlines are free. If this is an emergency, please call 911.

WEAVE: or 916-920-2952

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: or 800-799-SAFE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

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