My purpose to write you the most terrifying part of my life is to open a conversation about this very uncomfortable topic that unfortunately is so common among us, woman. I believe the only reason we go through pain and suffering is to share our experience with others and through time less and less people would repeat the same path. I definitely wouldn’t have chosen this for my life, but I have been through it and it has dramatically changed who I am as a person, women, professional, and as a Believer.
I come to the realization that no one has their life together, like some pretend. Life is hard and it sucks for everyone, one way or the other. The fact that I have problems and I am open about it, doesn’t make me less than others; in contrary, make me brave and courageous for being vulnerable by sharing. I want to use my ordinary extraordinary life experience as a domestic violence survivor to encourage, educate, and help women and girls to identity traits and patterns that are so easily missed in relationships, and to encourage empathy to our communities. I certainly wished I had someone long aside me and walk me through it, and that’s what I hope I can be for you. This article won’t miraculously solve all your relationship problems, and this is definitely not a “how to live your life” reading. We are very alike as women and yet so different as individuals and to place all in one box would completely misinterpret my intentions. What you decide to do with this information is totally your choice.
I used to believe there were nothing important or exciting about me. Everyone around me were so much alike, so much so, that I used to think if I disappear no one would notice I was gone. So much noise everywhere, so much has been said and done that when it was my turn, it wasn’t as important anymore. There was no uniqueness about life, there was always someone else ahead, who has done it and has taken all the credit, excitement, and curiosity away. Being born and raised in Rio de Janeiro – Brazil, has added fear and violence to my daily life. It’s sad, but Cariocas and most Brazilians have become used to violence. Unfortunately, growing up I was exposed to violence that I believe no one should, but it was beyond of our control. I was and still very blessed to have parents that invested heavily in my education, along with committed family members, who focused to shift the narrative from what it is to what it could be. I am forever thankful.
When I was accepted to the Au Pair program in the United States, it was no-brainer. Looking back, I was fearless and very ambitious to do it alone, without my family. It is not as easy as people think to leave abroad. I thought I could do it all, and when I realized that I wouldn’t have family and friends around for a long period of time, I got very depressed. It wasn’t easy to make friends in the United Sates. Americans are very polite and friendly but not to the extend to carry out a long-term friendship. My concept of relationship was and still is very different, I never adjusted to the concept of family in America either. I missed my family dearly and eventually I locked up all of those feelings in a safe box in order to cope and survive. Truthfully, I knew that was a band aid to a much bigger problem that eventually I would have to work on.
I finished the Au pair program, got into college, was about to graduate, and then what? I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. In the middle of what it seemed an endless nerve breakdown, I was starting to contemplate moving back to Brazil. But then, I met this guy. A 180-degree shift in my life! I will call him Viscose. Viscose was 20 years older than me, from Kenya – Nairobi, “divorced” in 1992, worked for Microsoft, and had his side businesses. Had two kids who moved to United States from Kenya few months after we’ve met (September 2013). “Single” dad who “lived” with his parents who helped him to raise his kids. A very proud “Christian”, involved in his African community and with his family.
I wasn’t looking for a relationship, I had more than enough in my plate. I shared all my frustrations, he listened and was very kind and patient; It was new to me which it lowered my guard, I wasn’t so defensive anymore. For a while all he gave was his patience and undivided time and attention, in return I gave my excitement and life problems. It was a great match at that time, he was “let me fix it” personality and I had so many projects. It seemed like he cared, I was very appreciative of his kindness. Few months later we were in a relationship, he became my number 1 person. He showered me with kindness, attention, patience, and “love” that even though I didn’t want it he would pour it out regardless. Viscose made me feel so important and I fell for him because of the “love” he had for me. This man would give me “all” he had while I was given nothing in return. How unselfish of him, right? This must be real love! I was so blind and in awe by all the wonderful things I was experiencing with him that I failed to notice all the signs that were right there from the beginning about his abusive character. Women were raised to nurture, to care, to forgive, to love and we do a great job. When we are faced with problems, we take care of it, we get it done! When there is an issue, we don’t just run away we stay and face it. And that was my biggest mistake, I stayed! I overlooked, I forgave, I made excuses, I hid, I ignored it, I took as a personal achievement to make it work. Looking back, I don’t see how I wouldn’t, I was “loved”, “heard”, and “cared”, and in love; I could handle his “small” temper, I used to tell myself. I was used to bad temper and violence; I wasn’t used to “love” and attention.
Our first fight it was only 3 months in, right there was a glimpse of how the next 5 years would look like. I was so scared and in shock with his explosive behavior towards me. I promised myself not to go back to that relationship. So, I held my promise for 3 weeks, while I was out of town, but as soon as I returned the persuasion started. He was very persistent and very apologetic that I decided to give another chance. How wouldn’t I? He promised that he would never do it again. He was very convincing; I believed him. For few months he was the best man I could ask for. He was very present in my life, great listener, very affectionate, and natural at shower me with gifts. In 5 months into the relationship, I was all in and I thought he was too. He seemed and sounded very “honest” with his intentions. In our 8th month he asked if I wanted to move in to my own apartment. I hesitated, but after countless conversations, persuasion, and taking his reasons in consideration, I accepted and moved to my first rental. Viscose was generous, every month my rent was paid. Small flags were popping up though, on the same hand he was excited and paid the rent he started to show anxiety towards the money that was going out. I was very confused! Why did I move then? He knew I couldn’t afford; I was fine where I was. It was a really challenging year for me, I got very depressed by my inability to pay my own bills. The little I knew that I slowly starting to depend on him financially and in return he was gaining control over me.
I became constantly in fear of losing my home. During that first-year small destructive behaviors here and there started to become my everyday routine; He wasn’t as tolerant, he wouldn’t respect small house rules, and he would come and go when he pleases. I felt I couldn’t say no to him because all the money that was being invested in me. How ungrateful! He had a habit to remind me the things he had done for me and guilt became my roommate. My opinion and feelings were not heard nor respected, yelling, screaming, and name calling became normal. I can’t pin a point when it got worse, it was very settle, it was very smooth and slowly. How did I get it here? I used to ask myself all the time. After every fight he was extremely apologetic and it was the first time I saw a man crying out of desperation to be forgiven. Halloween 2014, I didn’t want to go out, we fought for endless hours because I wanted to stay home. I remember grabbing a knife to protect myself. A big missed flag! Have I mentioned Viscose carried guns? I found out later that my upstairs neighbor wanted to call the police. I was that neighbor that fights all the time! How humiliating!
After graduation in 2014, Viscose mentored me to get a contract job at Microsoft. His attention and care were admirable! “Why are you helping me to get this job? I could get any other one” I asked him. “I want the best for you and I know you can do it; you just need a little bit of help.” He would say. All those fights seemed so small compared to “our prospect to the future”. “It is a phase sweetie; all couples go through what we are going through.” He brought me books and books to read, I’ve watched so many videos on YouTube. It was intense! He set me interviews with folks he knew from Microsoft; he knew everything I needed to know. I listened, studied, learned and was offered the job. I could not be happier! I have a guy that is crazy about me, I got my home, my car, a contract job at my dream company, life couldn’t be better. But then…we were back in that abusive cycle of fighting again. Viscose was always so good with words and It was very frustrating to express myself when stakes were high.
Viscose loved to go out to night clubs, I enjoyed too until it got old and I was ready for settling down and spend time with his family. As part of any relationship, I shared my expectation to meet and spend time with his family and kids. We were so engaged and he wouldn’t stop talking about marriage. I was introduced to his kids as a friend from work, which at that point we were both working for Microsoft. But he never liked the idea of introducing his parents; Another missed flag. There were so many excuses; my culture, his culture, his parents, his kids, the season, his business, not feeling like it, his kids trust and so on… Some months would pass and I would mention again, and his speech would change to “my tribe culture is not as forwards as yours, so you can’t meet them” some other times the excuse was “you are younger and it won’t be seen as good” then the speech changed to “my dad is a hard to sell and he prefers someone from our tribe – Luo. You are not dark enough” later on, it moved to “you are too overbearing; you would overwhelm my family. I am protecting you so they don’t treat you bad.” At this point in our relationship, I was so frustrated and angry, I lost count how many times the thought of leaving him came to mind. But how ungrateful will I be to leave this man after all he has done. I was stuck! It was like I signed an invisible contract without reading the terms and can’t afford to get out. He would change his apology strategy from time to time, I got used to see him crying and begging for forgiveness so then he escalated to playing with faith to keep me around. “Please find forgiveness in your heart. How many times God has forgiven you? How many times does God ask us to forgive?” and just like that I would forgive and stay.
Viscose used to have the key of my apartment and a pattern to show up in the middle of the night, unannounced. In the beginning, I used to love to see him and spend time together but then his visits patterns slowly started to change. He would only come with one purpose, to have sex. I realized it was a problem when I was robbed the opportunity to choose. That’s right, he was my boyfriend and I was engaged in activities that I didn’t want. He had endless explanation to excuse his abusive behavior. I asked for the keys and tried the best I could, what now I know it was setting boundaries. However, it wasn’t successful. It took months to get the key back and of course he would ask again and again to change my mind, always very persistent.
3 years has passed and we still in that love and hate relationship. I haven’t met his parents yet, I felt that we were moving forward but then we were stuck. Correction, I was! Fights were quickly instigated by my feelings and/or comments and rapidly escalated to physical fights. He wasn’t shy to show his character anymore. He started by raising his voice, then slamming doors, then throwing things around the apartment, then pushing me here and there, holding my arms tight, name calling, until the day he held my throat. I was terrified and in shock! I spent days moving furniture to block the front door, out of fear he would force his way in.
Few weeks after that event we would do our vicious cycle dance again, this time was different he escalated his persuasion to contemplating suicide like his longtime friend from Nairobi. “My life has no meaning without you” “You are the love of my life” “You are the best thing that ever happened to me” “I love you Livia, I never loved a woman the way I love you!”, so he said. “You make me mad and It’s your fault we fight so much” “If you weren’t so difficult, we wouldn’t have so many problems” “I have more experience than you and if you just do what I tell you, things would be better” “The bible says that women should submit to their husbands, you should just submit to me.” “You need to work in your insecurity” “Trust is a grown-up word and takes a lot to understand or practice” There were endless remarks from him, I didn’t realize how toxic and abusive those words were. I heard so often that I started to believe in them.
For few weeks after he held my throat, he would leave food at my door, he would bring random gifts, and then started stalking. He would stay in the parking lot countless hours, he would check on social media my whereabouts and show up unannounced, it seemed like he was always few minutes away. I was always looking over my shoulder and sure enough, many times I would see him, watching me from far. All those fights increased my depression and I started eating my feelings.
Year 2018 I was tired and exhausted and knew it was time for me to move on and be on my own again. I was a walking bomb ready to explode at any time. Something had to go and it had to be him. I realized the bad outdid the good. I have made poor decisions while with him and I take full responsibility, I am not a saint! He won’t change as he said he would, and It’s up to me to move on because he won’t. I’ve read books, we tried counseling which he only showed up few times, we did couples workshop and the domestic violence didn’t stop. I have decided that I would pay the price to confront him and end this 5-year relationship. “I have done it before; I know I can be on my own. There was a life before this man.” I used to say to myself. So, I did it! I told him I am done and that was final. By now, you can guess what happened after…He wouldn’t let me go that easy; He would go through phases: resist, denial, anger, rage, threats, regret, apologize, acceptance and repeat. He would go through those phases’ multiple times a day, several times a week. It was exhausting! He has suck life out of me throughout the years and the little I had left to fight it was drained by the roller crosser it was to leave him. After 2 months, I would accept to go back. Then the cycle comes back and I would break up again… you got the drill by now. It took a lot to keep up with all that energy against me and I just wanted to stop. It was often hell with him and it was constant hell away from him, I picked often.
Like I’ve said before I was raised and used to violence, but there is one thing that I would never be able to ignore or live with which is betrayal and cheating. “We were” at the same page regarding cheating, as we had several deep conversations about being in a monogamous relationship. Until the day I found out he had another girlfriend and was married to the mother of his kids. That was the last draw! That was it! “I left him for the last time” Duffy (2008, track 2). I “just walk[ed] [my] fine ass out the door” Lizzo (2019, track 15).
The aftermath of leaving an abusive relationship is a subject to a whole new conversation. In summary, leaving him was the hardest time of my life, but I am making it through. “I finally stopped avoiding fires long enough to let myself burn, and what I learned was that I am like that burning bush: The fire of pain won’t consume me. I can burn and live. I can live on fire. I am fireproof” (Doyle, 2020, p. 51). After I decided to leave him, the bondage that held me hostage weren’t as powerful compared to the fight I had for my life. I filed a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). I reached out to a local agency that advocates for domestic violence against women, and was matched with the most caring advocate that I could ask for. I didn’t know how strong I was. I was homeless for 3 months. We know we have friends when they are put to the task, and bless to be God, I had friends. I no longer fear anything…the worse has happened; I have been betrayed by the man I loved and have been homeless in a foreign country. The DVPO was denied after an excruciating 2:26 hours trial. I appealed, got an amazing team of lawyers and an outstanding attorney who defended me on the appeal court hearing. On September 28th 2020 I was granted the DVPO – no contact order.
My story unfortunately is very common. Women and men mostly women, have been abused in their life time, some longer than others. What I am learning after this experience is that we [women] have been misled, gaslighted, controlled, manipulated, and raised to be an easy prey for abusers. We are taught to go along with other people and ignore our instincts. We were taught to be positive all the time and we don’t know how to cope in sadness, depression, anxiety, pain and so on. I wouldn’t never be able to notice Viscose’s evil deeds from the beginning. I didn’t have the tools nor the knowledge to notice and identify the abuse. However, I am thankful that even this sad event can be used for good. Nothing is wasted. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Genesis 50:20, NASB). I am a living example of hope in the midst of the most terrifying experience that women and girls could relate. I made it through and I am still navigating the ongoing healing process. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible. I know how much energy is involved to stand up and face pain, fear, shame for our own sake. We supposed to put others before us and we take that out of context and leave ourselves for last. I didn’t know my worth by allowing and submitting myself to the “care and attention” of a man who lost his privilege to be in my presence when he married his wife. I understand now that I am the one responsible for my choices; not my culture, not my neighbors, not church, not my parents, not the government, not my partner and specially not my circumstances. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). In the same instance, I also have learned that I was not created to experience hardship alone, my community was the key to my survival during crisis. I am no longer subject to this world of unknown alone. Being alone and isolated is a choice that I no longer would choose. At the same time “I am not afraid to try it on my own, I don’t care If I’m right or wrong” Walton et al. (2002, track 6). I used to feel that my life was like a bag in the wind; it has not direction, it’s lost, confused, and insignificant. I know who I am now, I know where I am going, and I know Who is leading me! “I might be singing out of key, but it sure feels good to me” Stone (2004, track 1).
My relationship with Viscose was a wakeup call to knowledge and discernment between good and evil. I have learned a lot and I will never be the same girl as I was before I met him. I have gained a good knowledge on traits and characters that I will filter in all of my future and current relationships. We learn from our mistakes and I learned a lot from him. I always knew there were something more than what I had; “Love” wasn’t enough and was in fact blind. I was content not happy. I was great on hiding, pretending, and getting along for the sake of “love and attention.” I was so longing for connection and belonging that I invested and believed in every single lie I was told. I ignored my dreams, my friends, my intuition, my opinion, and my faith with hopes that one day he would in fact be and do all that he promised. I believed what I chose to believe, fantasy and reality were indistinguishable. The man I loved never existed! I fell in love with a pathological liar narcissist con man who created a character and fabricated a life story to catch and keep me entangle in a perpetual selfish game. I understand now if it’s hard, complicated, and If I am faced with unsettle concerns, I shouldn’t try to fix it, I must just move on. It was never my responsibility to figure out his tantrums. I entered the relationship expecting him to define me. I learned by my mistakes.
As people we ought to extend empathy for those in crisis with love and grace, without criticism. It wasn’t easy for me to speak up, I was mostly ashamed and embarrassed. I feared being judged and criticized, and I was by a lot of people! I will never understand a society that judges and blames women for the events that were done against us. This is a serious topic that hasn’t been addressed as it should. I believe we enable domestic violence by accepting, allowing, and welcoming small destructive behaviors in our everyday lives. Boundaries aren’t suggestion, it’s mandatory. We accepted a culture that makes fun and accepts name calling, yelling, criticizing, blaming, gaslighting, and controlling without realizing that we are raising future abusers. Thieves will never announce they are about to steal your home, it’s done in silence. We are all part of a community; we need to hold each other accountable. We are all responsible for setting boundaries, regardless if that will make others uncomfortable.
I will leave with this note – for those who are experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone! You are stronger than you think! There is more to life than where you are. I pray for you, even without knowing you! This is just a test, it will pass! I believe and know you can fight! Abusers are bullies who are intimidated by you! Do not let them steal your life away. Fear and love don’t go along! To our world communities give your time to help, listen without judgment, believe on what they tell you, validate their feelings. We can end this!
“The beauty of being free is to get to know who you really are”
Doyle, G. (2020). Untamed. New York: The Dial Press.
Walton, N., Simmons, A., Edmonds, J., et al. (2002). Try It On My Own [Recorded by W, Houston]. Just Whitney . Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/track/2IpeftovkFwpkWBYuS0qCz.
Wright, B., Child, D., & Stone, J. (2004). Right To Be Wrong. Mind Soul & Body Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/track/3ldSgnWScfcHPWX0py6Kq7
Duffy, White, E., & Hogarth, J. (2008). Warwick Avenue. Rockferry . Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/track/2IMIbiJlbi0pIs3FBpKFhS
Lizzo & Reed, R. (2019). Good as Hell. Cuz I Love You Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/track/3Yh9lZcWyKrK9GjbhuS0hR