‘He swears he won’t do it again. He’s broken over this. I deserved it. It’s okay. My jaw isn’t bruised that bad.’

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“I remember one time standing in the shower with my head against the wall, the tears streaming down. I was broken in half, the months upon months of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, constant diarrhea because my body was screaming to get out. The two images stuck in my brain included the tiny mole on your pinky finger and how I hated to think of another woman loving it as much as I did. The other image flickering through my mind was when you punched me so hard I couldn’t close my mouth for a week. That hand with the sweet pinky mole brought me frozen peas and broccoli to try and bring the swelling down and I don’t know how to process the dichotomy of those two extremes in one human being. The two extremes of how you loved me so gently, and also tore my soul to shreds so easily. How could you be both those things in one man – and how could I love someone who healed me, and hurt me, all in the same movements.

Carly Wells

It’s hard to put into words how difficult it was to learn why so many people don’t leave when the two images in your brain are such polar opposites that it rips your heart out of your body and also shames your heart out of your own being. I’m a strong, confident, established woman, yet here I am, under blankets, with ice on my face being held by the man I was going to marry. One thing so beautiful, one thing so frightening. The choice isn’t as easy as you may think it is. I wish I could say I left right away – but I didn’t. Those profound bonds that make you cry in the shower months later over another person possibly loving the human attached to a pinky finger, are the same bonds that make you call your best friend on the floor of your closet, crying, saying, ‘He swears he won’t do it again. He’s broken over this. I deserved it. It’s okay. My jaw isn’t bruised that badly. I’m sure a liquid diet will be good for me… right?’ That bond is scary. You hate the abuse. But you hope… endlessly, recklessly, that the man you love, will wake up one day, changed. And that hope can be powerful in staying. Even when your friends, your family, your therapist, even your body and the physical signs of back pain, a horrible digestive system, and no desire for sex with that person, tell you to get out. That smoke and mirrors hope, distorts it all.

Carly Wells

That same pinky finger I had such a soft spot for was also the one that came together with four other fingers and made itself into a fist that left my jaw bruised and never quite the same. I was never quite the same. I wrestled with myself more than I did with him. He didn’t mean it. I made him angry. He had been drinking. He was stressed. I stayed. But, ‘love isn’t supposed to hurt’ I thought. I stayed for months after, waiting for another blow. Waiting for him to be gentle, kind and safe.

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Neither came. And it didn’t take another blow for me to wake up one day, and realize the hope I’d had for him, for us, was nothing but a delusion. I was sitting at work, reading through 500 pages of training to start volunteering at a domestic violence shelter. And I could feel the tears coming. I could feel my face reddening. I felt exposed.

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This is me. These are the lies I’ve told myself. These are the cycles. These…women…. are me. So, I left. And stumbled out. I saw him again. I kissed him again. I picked up his calls and his texts and tried to forgive him. It wasn’t a clean break, I didn’t know how to do it any other way. But I slowly walked myself out and picked up the pieces of love and anger and all the juxtaposition inside of myself regarding what love, and being hurt, and abused looked like. And I sifted it like sand. Terrified. Screaming. Crying out for what had been stolen in my love and my confusion of hope for him. Strong women held me together as I felt like I was being ripped apart. They showed me gentleness and that sometimes rage was necessary. They kissed my jaw and head and didn’t judge. They listened and even when they didn’t understand, gave me more compassion than I deserved.

Carly Wells

It’s so easy to judge until you’re there. So easy to misunderstand until you’re there. I remember hearing women’s stories of domestic violence and being like, ‘Come on! I’d leave SO FAST.’ And then it was me, with cold packs, and peas, and a straw to drink from. Then it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be, from before my jaw was unhinged. It’s easy to have an opinion until its real life standing in front of you. It’s easy to know what you’d do, until you actually have to make that choice.

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I work with domestic violence victims now, I see my own reflection in their eyes far too well. I know the desperation for peace, the desperation to simply be loved easily by their significant other. I have had that ache. I remember that place of crying out in the shower, clawing at your own skin wishing you could tear yourself out of your own body of confusion. And I have lived through what it feels like to leave, rebuild and still once in a while, feel that jaw pain, that’s never quite healed.

Carly Wells

Be tender with each other. Have grace for the ones whose journeys don’t make sense to you. It probably doesn’t make sense to them either. We all need more love than we even know how to admit. I hope this experience has softened me, maybe that’s the most beautiful piece available to you to take for your own after something unjust and painful and unfair – a deeper level of softness, towards yourself, and others.

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I struggled to write this. Feeling like my story wasn’t bad enough/traumatic enough/violent enough to warrant my voice towards it. But I also know that there is room for all stories at the table. No matter what, it changed me, awakened me, scarred me and softened me. Your story is yours – with its horror, with its sadness and beauty and redemption and softening – don’t exclude yourself from telling it. It needs to be heard, even if you wrestle with its value the way I did. Maybe, just maybe, one person will hear it and not feel quite so alone.”

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Read more stories from courageous women leaving abusive relationships:

‘I ran 2 miles, barefoot, to the police station, with my husband chasing me. It was 28 degrees outside. I ran those two miles for my life.’

‘My boyfriend closed-fist punched me in the face, knocking me off my feet. My 230-pound boyfriend split open my face. The past 6 months of my life have felt like a slow torture.’

[If you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carly Wells. Follow her journey here and here. Have you survived an abusive relationship? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best stories here.

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