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March 5th, 2009
03:18 PM ET

The tangles of domestic abuse

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

For four years, I dated a man who beat me. The first time was around Christmas of my freshman year of college. I had known him a couple of months. He was the first guy I had ever had a physical relationship with, and I was madly in love. But he had a dark side, a short fuse, and I was very vocal and told him what I thought. The problem was, instead of arguing with me, he just beat me up.

The episodes continued throughout our relationship. At one point, he actually put me in the hospital with a concussion, my face and body covered with cuts and bruises. My friends begged me to leave him. His fraternity brothers did an intervention of sorts and told me he was a no-good, nasty, SOB. But for some odd reason, which took hours of therapy years later to figure out, I just stayed with him.

It wasn't that I was unpopular or lonely. I had lots of friends, men and women. I was a good student, a leader on campus. I came from a loving home, with a father who never hit my mother, or me. But for years, I had a secret that only the closest of my friends knew about. I was an abused girlfriend.

According to a National Violence Against Women Survey, 22 percent of women are physically assaulted by a partner or date during their lifetime. I was one of them. The question was, why did I stay? The American Psychiatric Association finds that many women remain in abusive relationships for many reasons, lack of finances, poor self-esteem, children and even religious and cultural values. In my case, I felt I had done something wrong and deserved it.

It also might be because I was also raised in a family and at a time, when sex was a little taboo.  It was the ’70s and I was in school on a large rural campus. You just didn't do it unless you were married. So when I had sex at the age of 18 with this young man, I had pretty much made up my mind he was my future husband. So I put up with it. There was a strange bond I had with him, because when he wasn't beating me up, he was very nice to me. He treated me well, sent me flowers, took me places. We laughed, had a great time together. But periodically when we argued, he would just lash out with his fists. It was horrible. But what was even more horrible was that I blamed myself for mouthing off. I thought if only I could keep my opinions to myself, the beatings wouldn't happen anymore. How naive of me. How foolish.

The ironic part of this story is he ended our relationship because I graduated from college and he didn't. He threw me out. I guess he was jealous. He was definitely a jerk.

Six months after we broke up, I was coming home to my little apartment, carrying decorations for my first Christmas tree as a working woman, and I found him sitting on my doorstep. I have no idea how he found me. He asked to take me to dinner so we could talk. I reluctantly went. While chatting over the meal, he said he wanted to come back and that he "didn't realize how good he had it." I quickly answered back, "I didn't know how bad I had it, but now I do!" For once he didn't whack me. He got up and left me at the restaurant, never to see me again. I had to take a cab home. As I sat in the back seat I felt a sense of relief but also shame that I had let it go on so long. But I was no longer a victim: I was free. As I look back on it now, It was the best cab ride I ever took.

Are you the victim of domestic abuse? Do you know someone who is? How did you help? We want to know.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.