‘He locked me in the basement for days. I asked him to help with baths for our kids that night. He turned off the power, so I went down to turn it back on – and he left me there.’

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“Growing up, I had a normal childhood. To onlookers, I was a happy kid. I had good grades. I got along with my peers. In reality, I hated myself. I’ve struggled with my self-worth for as long as I can remember. Because of my depression, my weight shot up rapidly. Kids ended up making fun of me for my size and then I ate more to ease my mind. It was a vicious cycle I didn’t know how to break.

I ended up dropping out of high school. I tried to commit suicide not once, but three times. I even ended up in a psychiatric unit for a while. I thought I had hit rock bottom.

I thought getting a job would help some of my depression. I went to night classes for my GED, but couldn’t even fit into the desks. That’s when I decided my weight needed to be tackled first. I was upwards of 450lbs at my heaviest. I walked – not much, but every step counted. I ate less. I worked hard to lose 50lbs while researching surgery options. I knew I needed a little help if I ever wanted to get to where I wanted.

I had gastric bypass surgery in 2005. My weight melted off. I loved to exercise. I got down to 200lbs. I felt like a new person. I ended up having surgery for the excess skin on my stomach in 2006. Although I felt good physically, I still struggled with feelings of self-hate. I had the mentality of someone much larger. I couldn’t grasp being closer to a healthy weight.

I received a GED and went on to enroll in college. It was then that I started dating T. He was charismatic and funny. But most importantly, he made me feel beautiful. He had me hooked. We got married about a year after we met. That’s when the abuse started. It began as calling me names and telling me nobody would love me because of how I looked. If I tried to leave, he’d take my keys, phone, shoes, and block the door. He made me question myself constantly. Then came the physical abuse. I felt like he had a hold on me that I couldn’t escape. I thought I had really hit rock bottom.

When you’re abused, it’s difficult to leave. During the good times, we had 3 kids. I had 3 different restraining orders. I had him arrested for assault. I filed for divorce. I tried hard to leave. I was told by the people at the women’s shelter that it takes an average of 7 attempts to leave an abuser before it stuck. I always thought I’d be different. I was always wrong. My weight shot back up to around 350lbs. I was eating my feelings again. I felt like I had no control.

Fast forward to our 5th year of marriage. We had a rough time when he locked me in the basement for a few days. He had been off his bipolar medications for two weeks. I always had to walk on egg shells, but when he refused his treatment, life was even worse. His anger ran together those days, and the smallest thing would trigger a blow up. I had asked him to help with baths for our kids that night. He turned off the power in the house, so I went down to the basement to turn it back on – and he left me there for days. I was hungry, and had nothing to eat. There was a sink down there that I used to drink water. I was so done dealing with things. I sat and hoped he was taking care of our children upstairs. I kept wondering how I would get out. He must have decided the kids were too much to handle on his own, and allowed me to come up to care for them. I tried my best to steer clear and not rock the boat.

Then, by some chance, he took his own life. I sat in ICU while he was declared brain dead and thought about everything that happened. I felt sadness, anger, shock. The biggest emotion I felt was relief. I no longer had to fight to be respected. I felt free.

It took a while to deal with the trauma I dealt with emotionally. I got myself into therapy. I spent a lot of time with my kids. I was actually happy at my job in surgery. I always loved what I did, but I had so much stress that it effected my work. I wanted to do even better for my kids. I enrolled in college for another degree. I started watching what I ate and exercising regularly. I found hobbies that brought me so much happiness.

It’s been over 2 years since my husband died. I have never felt better in my life. Through all the struggles I faced from within and then from him, I came out stronger. I finished my first semester of nursing school with a 4.0. I’ve lost 115 lbs in 9 months. I’ve worked hard at I job I love. I’ve continued to raise 3 amazing kids. I feel so much pride in how far I’ve come. I want my kids to do better than I ever could, and that happens with leading by example. I want them to see how much you can accomplish when you truly believe in yourself. I know that I’m nowhere near perfect, but I know I’m capable of amazing things.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley of Pennsylvania. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more powerful stories from abuse survivors:

‘It’s fine. It’s fine.’ His words replayed on a cruel loop after he left. I sat on a table in a dark room, bleeding and trying to make them mean something like comfort. This stuff did not happen to ME.’

‘No one will ever want a single mom with 2 kids, by 2 different men,’ he said. I loved him in a very dark and twisted way. Not following his rules would unleash what I began to call, Satan.

‘This orange long-sleeve blouse will work,’ I remember thinking as I picked the outfit I would wear to stare at the face of the man who raped me.’

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