‘I got a text from him saying, ‘What are you smiling at?’ And I froze. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Where was he?’

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“When I was 14-years-old I met and dated a 22-year-old man. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. I met him at the local YMCA where I went after school to swim and where he happened to work. It’s the perfect scenario actually, my mom trusted dropping me off to play at the Y would be a safe environment and the staff would take care of me. But I ended up gaining the attention of a man who convinced 14 year old me (and eventually my parents) he was in this for all the right reasons, he loved me and he eventually wanted to marry me. Now looking back, I realize he took advantage of me. He was a great con artist, I never saw it coming or even had a chance. I was too young to know better.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

He took a 14-year-old girl and distorted and warped what a relationship should be. He used the Bible to manipulate me, to tell me what we were doing was the ‘right thing’ and God had placed us together. He told me fairy tales of our future together; he would marry me and we would have a family. I was so young and so naive, I fell for it all.

He went away to college (14 hours from my town) and we kept in touch as much as we could. We didn’t have the internet or cell phones back then so he wrote me lots of letters and we spent long nights on the phone racking up my parents long distance phone bill. He kept in contact with me and kept stringing me on. He got married and had a family with someone else but he was always calling me, keeping in contact and told me he wanted to come back for me, we were meant to be together. He would come visit me all the while living another life, leaving his wife and family behind. He told me he had gotten married and made up stories of how she tricked him and forced him to get married. How she planned pregnancies to keep him in her trap and she was a horrible person, and once everything was in place, at the right time he would leave her for me. Now, I know better. I know he was the bad one, he was the liar.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

This relationship set me up for failure and unrealistic expectations in my future relationships. It caused me a lot of mental pain and trauma and made me feel like I would never be loved again. He made me feel like he was ‘the one’ and no one else would ever live up to him.

After high school I moved from the midwest out to the east coast. I lived on my own, got a job as a lifeguard, and met new friends. I drank and partied and made some absolutely horrible decisions. I had super low self-esteem and tried to find my self worth in men when and wherever I could. I thought if some guy would just love me- or even like me- I would feel better about myself. I was looking to fill some sort of empty void in my heart. I wanted to be wanted, needed, and loved. I tried to find my worth in what men thought of me. My self-esteem had plummeted so far, I was so confused, hurting and I doubted myself all the time. Even when I would meet a good, decent guy I would unknowingly sabotage the relationship because I felt like I didn’t deserve him. I pushed them away without even realizing what I was doing. I gained weight and never felt good enough or smart enough or I would ever BE enough.

I ended up in a relationship for seven years. He was great at the beginning when he wasn’t drinking. When he drank he was mean, so mean. He was verbally abusive and took his anger out on me. Everyone else saw him as this fun, amazing and outgoing guy but at home behind closed doors he was a different person. He lied, he was addicted to porn, and he cheated on me. A lot. I covered it all up to make it seem like we had this amazing, happy, perfect life. I stayed with him because I didn’t think anyone else would want me, I thought it was better to be in a relationship with someone than to be alone.

I ended up hiring a personal trainer and started to lose weight thinking that would help my self confidence issues. Well that bothered him and he tried to sabotage my efforts. He brought home food he knew I couldn’t eat, he would throw out my meal plans I paid a lot of money for and he would make fun of the workouts the trainer had me doing; telling me they’d never work. But, out of spite, I persisted, lost 30 pounds and left him.

Sadly I ended up falling right into another relationship. Except this time it was worse. He made me move in with him right away to get away from my ex. He was charming and wonderful at first, one of the nicest people I have ever met. He opened the car door for me, sent me flowers at work and told me I was beautiful all the time. He offered to take care of my financial issues, and made it seem like he was my knight in shining armor. Like he was there to rescue me and was going to solve all of my issues.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

Then almost overnight he changed. He became controlling, watching every move I made. He checked my phone every night to see who I called or texted that day and questioned every single thing I did. He put a tracking app on my phone, made me get rid of all my friends, made me unfriend every guy on facebook that wasn’t related to me. He limited contact with my family. He would never let me go anywhere alone except when I went to work. BUT I had to call him when I left for work, when I got to work, and again when I got home. I couldn’t run errands or go anywhere by myself. He was in control of the gas for my car and it was never more than a ¼ a tank full. He always was with me. He accused me of cheating on him and he actually convinced me I did cheat on him. He took over all my bills, my cell phone, my car title, my bank account, my access to my money…everything. He mentally manipulated me, confused me, he preyed on me knowing I was weak and I couldn’t fight back.

I was a prisoner and a slave in his home. He made me long lists of things to do while he was at work and if I didn’t get them done or do them to his liking he would come up with some sort of punishment for me. If I couldn’t read his mind and do the things he was thinking of, I was punished. The verbal abuse turned into physical, the physical abuse, turned into sexual abuse and it was constant. He made sure to leave bruises on my body in places people couldn’t see. He told me no one would believe me if I told. He said it looks like I am just clumsy. I felt trapped, like a robot in someone else’s body, like a shell of a person, and I didn’t know how I would survive. I felt so hopeless and lost, I contemplated suicide.

Then came THAT morning.

Around 6 a.m. I got up, made his lunch for the day with a happy little ‘I love you’ sticky note he required me to put inside his lunch box and sent him out the door off to work. I had the day off so I went back upstairs to go back to sleep. But I quickly checked Facebook on my phone first and smiled at a picture of us a friend had commented on. Almost instantlyI got a text message from him saying ‘what are you smiling at?’ And I froze. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Where was he? I was too scared to move or even look around. I kept my eyes straight, trying not to look panicked. I thought maybe he has video surveillance on me, or something. I texted him back, right away saying, ‘what do you mean?’ Then I looked over into the dark hallway…there he was, standing still, glaring at me, his eyes stood out like two bright lights in the night sky. I was petrified. I took a deep breath and said ‘Oh, hi, I thought you left for work.’ Before I knew it he snatched the phone out of my hand and started to hit me.

Everything from there is a blur. I vaguely remember being pushed down the stairs and honestly can’t remember what happened from there or maybe I don’t want to remember. I’ve never been so terrified in my life. He finally stopped hitting me, told me it’s my fault he is late for work and left. As he walked out the door he said to me, ‘Stay here, do not leave the house today. I’m not finished with you.’ I will never forget those words. Ever. I knew if I stayed there when he came home he was going to kill me. I sat there frozen, crying, shaking, not knowing what to do.

I was scared to use my phone because I thought maybe he could tell I was calling or texting someone, but I HAD to do something. My life was in danger. The only person I could think to call was a lady I worked with. It was so early in the morning and she didn’t answer so I left her a panicked voicemail. I’m pretty sure all I said was ‘I need help.’ She called me back almost immediately and told me to start packing. She came over with a truck, boxes, and another friend to help us. We started packing up my stuff and we were going to bring it to her house.  But in the middle of packing I broke down and started crying. I was too scared to leave and too scared he would find me. My friend stopped packing, hugged me, pulled me into a corner and prayed for me.

Everything seemed so very still and so calm. After she said Amen, I looked up at her and knew instantly I needed to move home. I needed to get home to my mom and my family. I knew he wouldn’t follow me there. So we rented a U-Haul and attached my car to a trailer on the back of it. I started on my way back home to my mom’s in the midwest. I drove that U-haul over 600 miles home in 2 days all by myself. I kept praying (I wasn’t even a praying person at the time, I didn’t even know if I believed in God, or if He was real) but I prayed, please, please just get me home safe. I made it home. I was safe. I could finally breathe.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

Fast forward just a few short months later, I moved in with my cousins in my hometown who let me stay in their home as I got back on my feet. They invited me to church and I went, reluctantly at first. But soon realized it was God I was missing in my life. God was what I needed to fill that void, that empty feeling in my gut, that low self esteem, that lack of confidence that hole I had tried to fill with men, with alcohol, with food. It was was never going to work that way. I needed to accept and know God made me and God loves me… all of me. Even the broken parts of me, even the parts I don’t love. I joined a singles bible study, I was baptized, I began intense counseling, and I met an amazing man who I married 10 months later. crazy right? I know!

Courtesy of Janet Steward

My hubby is such a patient, loving, kind soul. I’ve often asked him, why me? Why didn’t you choose someone else? And he always tells me God saved me for him. That I was exactly who he needed. He taught me how to trust again. He taught me how to be open and loving. He taught me what a real relationship looks like. He made me realize it’s okay to be vulnerable and he wouldn’t hurt or take advantage of me. He encouraged me to grow in my faith and learn more about Jesus. He pushed me to get more help from a counselor and a psychiatrist. He has supported and stood by my side in anything and everything I have wanted to do. He doesn’t always understand it all, he doesn’t understand my pain or my hurt, or my feelings, but he supports me anyway. We have been married for 6 years and have a 3-year-old spitfire of a little girl. She is strong, stubborn and oh so independent. She reminds me of myself when I was little.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

I’m now a thriving work from home mama. I get to use my past and the lessons I have learned over the years to help other women with their physical, mental and spiritual health as an online health and wellness coach! Life isn’t perfect. I still have my ups and downs, I still struggle with depression, anxiety and PTSD from my past. I still see a counselor and a psychiatrist as needed. But I’m working on myself every day and I’m so thankful of how far I have come.

Courtesy of Janet Steward

God has placed a huge calling on my heart to share my past with hope of helping and inspiring others, especially women. I want to use my story for good and show people no matter what you are going though, there is a way out. I don’t share my story so you will feel bad for me, I share in hopes you will be inspired. If I wouldn’t have experienced some of these tough times in my life I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be the strong survivor I am; I wouldn’t have the faith in God I have today.

Almost 8 years have past since I left my abuser. After years of therapy and healing I’m finally okay with my past. I have accepted it as a part of who I am. And If sharing my story is able to help someone – even just  one person- then going through all of that pain and trauma was worth it.”

Courtesy of Janet Steward

Read more from courageous women leaving abusive relationships: 

‘He claimed he was going to leave his mark on me for my next boyfriend. I had a scar wrapping from cheek to cheek, now known as the ‘girl that had her lip bitten off.”

‘I spent nearly 12 years with a man I never should’ve married. He never touched me. We fought about my weight. I was immune to anything but pain. And then I met Adam.’

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Janet Steward. Follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories. 

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