Disclaimer: This story contains details of domestic abuse that may be triggering to some.
“I was working as a residential caretaker and living on my own in New York.” Let me tell you something: the apartment was small, but it was all mine. When I say small, I mean small enough that I could poop and wash my hands at the same time. My company was having an event that required my attendance one day, and this is where I met him. He was attempting to contact me, and I immediately gave him my phone number. ‘Why not?’ I reasoned. I’m single and ready to have some fun!’ Who knew that night would change my life for the rest of my life?
We went on one date, and he won me over. When I say ‘date,’ I mean I ended up paying for my meal while he paid for his; I should have realized at that point that this was going nowhere. But it wasn’t difficult to persuade me. I hate to admit it, but I yearned to be wanted and loved. It was something I desired and would take it in any way I could. He swooped in, and he swooped in quickly. He said everything I needed to hear and made me feel fantastic. That, however, did not last long.
He gradually began to do things that should have made me run, and run fast. But, surprise, surprise, I stayed. I don’t think I ever questioned the red flags until I ended the relationship. It may sound strange to those who haven’t gone through what I’ve gone through, but it’s true. The way he spoke to me, the way he invaded MY space and made it HIS. He made it appear as if he wanted to hang out with me alone, but in reality, he was ensuring that I had less contact with my family and friends. I had to be a “stepmother” to his oldest son. The way he made me feel insane for certain things. It was all right in front of my eyes. I pushed them aside because I was so desperate for love.
Three months after meeting my abuser, I discovered I was pregnant with my son. When I was pregnant, he put his hands on me for the first time, and the abuse continued until I left the relationship. He began by pushing me, and then it became more serious. He began punching, hitting, and choking me. The most he could do was stab me in the hand. There was emotional abuse in addition to the physical abuse, and this emotional abuse still affects me to this day. Emotional abuse wreaks havoc on your mind for years afterward. It’s completely insane.
I had my son first, then twin girls two years later. My twins were born on October 13th, the same day as my son two years earlier. That day means a lot to me because those three kids were the ones who pushed me to get through my darkest days. I had two newborns and a toddler when I left the hospital. I was also doing it all by myself because my abuser was never present. I moved out a few months after the twins were born. I figured since he wasn’t going to be there, I might as well do it on my own. I was broken, but the main reason I found the courage to leave my abuser was that I didn’t want my children to grow up in such a toxic environment.
Raising the kids alone wasn’t easy. I cried a lot once the kids went to sleep. When people ask me what I did to survive, I really don’t know the answer. I just know three beautiful babies thought I was amazing, and I needed to keep going. I also took time to heal myself. I wanted to heal and start loving myself. If I didn’t love myself, no one else would. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone. I wanted to heal so if I ever met anyone, I would be ready and in a good spot emotionally and mentally.
At the time, I was working at a behavioral school and had a huge crush on one of my coworkers. Brian was his name. I honestly didn’t think he ever paid attention to me, a single mother with three children. I tried flirting for a long time with no success! When we were finally assigned to the same classroom, I went into overdrive with my flirting. I’m sure I had no idea what I was doing, but it worked. He began texting and Snapchatting me. I finally summoned the courage to ask him out for a drink after work.
My friend advised me not to tell him about the abuse and everything that had happened to me because I didn’t want to scare him away. I knew I was going to be honest with him the moment he walked into the restaurant. I told him everything and poured my heart out to him. I remember leaving with the thought, ‘He’ll never contact me again.’
He texted me after leaving, ‘I enjoyed seeing you outside of work. We should do this more often.’ Brian and I started hanging out every day after the kids went to sleep. I told him I didn’t want the kids meeting anyone unless I knew it was going to be serious. The kids were 4 and 2 at this time. On the third date, I told Brian I had a huge secret that might be a deal-breaker for him. I got my tubes tied when I had the twins. I knew Brian had no kids of his own, and this might be something he wanted in the future that I wouldn’t be able to do for him. He looked me dead in my eyes and said, ‘I want you, that’s not changing anything.’
We waited months for him to meet the kids, and when he finally did it was so great. The kids liked him, which made my heart so warm. What’s even crazier is everything we had in common. Brian has a sister named Kristi, I have a sister named Christie (just spelled differently). The kids’ birthday is October 13th, and his parent’s wedding anniversary is October 13th. He had a niece named Sydney; one of my daughters’ names in Sydney. Brian’s birthday is December 21st, mine is December 31st. The kids and I met his family and everything just clicked.
Brian got me. His love was so sincere and, most of all he, made us feel safe. During the beginning year of our relationship, my abuser stopped seeing the kids. This was a very tough time, and I couldn’t understand how someone can do that to their children. So, Brian was thrown into parenthood very quickly. That didn’t stop him from loving us.
Brian proposed to me on December 24, 2016. We were so excited to plan our lives together. I never thought in a million years I would get married. We got married on March 24th, 2018. The wedding was nothing short of amazing. Brian said vows to the kids, and we left for our honeymoon the next day.
During our honeymoon, we talked about the goals we wanted to accomplish in our first year of marriage. Brian was one of them, adopting the children as his own. In June 2018, we purchased our dream home and then hired an attorney to assist us with the adoption. We made adoption a big deal for the kids. We hired a talented videographer to accompany us on the day of the adoption. That day, my emotions were completely overwhelming. On January 10th, 2019, the adoption took place. Brian, like the kids, was overjoyed. We had finally arrived at a point where we felt complete.
The procedure was lengthy and stressful. My abuser tried to avoid signing over his rights. We had to hire a private investigator to track him down and get him to appear in court. I can assure you that the process was well worth it. With the adoption completed, I felt like we could finally breathe and enjoy our new family. The court made the kids’ day extra special. Brian was thanked by the judge for his efforts. He thanked him for making the decision to step up and show this love to the children, and that’s when I burst out laughing. I began to thank God for bestowing this love upon me. It still feels surreal that it all happened. The love I discovered in Brian, as well as the love the kids discovered in him. I couldn’t stop crying because this story is so unique and amazing. When I was in an abusive relationship with their biological father, he used to tell me that I would never find someone who would love me and my three children. As I sat in court, I realized how foolish I had been to believe that.
My son Noah went through the most. He was older and did not have many good memories from the period we were with this evil man. He always tells stories about remembering the yelling and how this man was so mean to his mommy. I remember when we made the decision to introduce Brian to the kids, Noah said to him one day, ‘I like you around my mommy. You love her and make her smile, and you do not yell and scream at her.’
This year since the adoption Noah has made so much progress toward just being a kid again. For a long time, he felt he had to protect me from being in the environment we were in when I was being abused. Since Brian has come around, he can be a kid again and that’s so, so amazing. He used to get very uneasy when Brian would work late or if he had a work party because he thought he would not ever come back. Trauma has a crazy way of playing out in your behavior. This year Noah has been amazing. I went to Vegas and he was fine the whole 5 days I was gone. Barely even noticed I was gone and that is because we worked hard to show Noah that it is safe and no one is leaving him.
Brian has been amazing. He never once thought this was way too hard and gave up. He never made me feel like I came with too much baggage. He looks at me like I’m an angel here on earth. He doesn’t know he is truly an angel. Brian is everything I ever dreamed of. He laughs at my jokes, we laugh so much together, he cries with me when we talk about important moments in our lives, the list can go on. What’s most important is when I have terrible dreams about my abuse, he wakes up with me and talks me through them. He is never annoyed. That’s so important.
We had talked about having surgery to reverse my tubes, but I needed emergency surgery in October 2019 that made bearing any more children impossible. I remember feeling so bad, but he was there through the whole thing. After I healed from surgery, he reminded me of the wedding gift he gave me.
On the night before our wedding, Brian gave me envelopes labeled for certain things we would experience in life together. One of the envelopes was labeled when we have our first kid together. I opened the letter and knew he was my everything, and I was going to be okay for the rest of my life. The letter stated, ‘If we didn’t have kids, the kids we have now would be fine.’ The letter made me feel so good because, at that time, I was feeling pretty down.
We decided to add another dog to our family after the surgery to round out our pack. Brian brought one dog into the relationship, and I brought three children. After the surgery, we decided that we needed another dog. Every year, we mark significant anniversaries for the family. For their adoption anniversary, we take the kids away. On a daily basis, we demonstrate to the children what true love looks like. I’ve learned to accept myself exactly as I am. Brian has been extremely helpful in this regard. The love and confidence can be seen in the photos. If I hadn’t had a husband like Brian, I would never have been able to be happy in my own skin. A husband who accepts me exactly as I am. I snort and laugh uncontrollably, and he enjoys it.
I want everyone reading this to know you can go through hell and still see light and be happy. I still struggle some days with my trauma. I have bad nights where I have nightmares; I can even smell certain smells and it triggers me. I’m so happy I was able to find love, and I’m so happy Brian and the kids found each other. I am also happy I was able to open my heart to love again after being so hurt by my abuser.
I will always be grateful and thankful for my journey because it led me right where I need to be! To anyone struggling with domestic violence, you’re not alone. Leaving is the hardest thing to do, but you can get through it. I know how scary that move is, and it’s not easy. But you’re not alone! I wish someone would have told me that while I was going through my battles. I am so glad fairy tales aren’t just for the movies; I’m living it, in a small town in Antioch, IL. Open your heart and heal. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”