Growing up in her “perfect, middle-class family,” Christina didn’t think she was the type of person that would end up in an abusive relationship. Her parents were hard working government employees, she had a great relationship with her sister, and she did very well in school. But her insecurities started early in life when her younger sister became the “social sister” and a member of the dance team. A little bigger than her younger sister, Christina began to struggle with self-doubt.
The summer after her eighth-grade year, Christina invited her older neighbor over while her parents were gone. It was three years later before she ever told anyone that he raped her that day. Once high school began, Christina started dating an older local boy. His abuse started in a public way when she was visiting him at work one day. She did something he did not agree with in front of his co-workers, so he backhanded her right there in front of 5 or 6 men. As she laid on the dirty, wet ground, she looked up at them certain that they would help her.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, they didn’t want to get involved and walked away. Their inaction created doubts in her mind and fueled the line of thinking that she deserved what had happened. The abuse only escalated from there. unable to drive, he relied on Christina for transportation. If he didn’t like her choice of music or the routes she chose to take, he would spit in her eyes; he would forbid her from wiping her face until he decided it was time.
This man would lock her in his basement for 12-15 hours at a time without food or water. So Christina trained herself to tune out the abuse and would find ways to cope like turning on the television with closed captioning to entertain herself until he would walk by the locked basement door when she would quickly turn off the television so he wouldn’t see the light and know what she was doing.
On Christmas day a few years ago, as her large Italian family gathered at her home, he locked her in a horse trailer in the freezing cold without a coat or cellphone. Her mother lied to their family as she placed over 700 calls to Christina’s phone, an act of “willful ignorance.” the abuse continued to worsen. One day, checked out of school for a doctor’s appointment, she popped by his house to deliver his favorite McDonald’s meal as a surprise. he was angry at her arrival; the surprise was not a good one. he beat her so severely that day that she was unable to return to school-- the bruising was so bad that no one would believe her standard “horseback riding” excuse.
That day she finally found the courage to call her parents and confess that she was in an abusive relationship. it was then that she told them about the rape three years prior as well. They forbid her from seeing this boy that was abusing their daughter, but in the tangles of darkness, she found herself still sneaking around to see him. She was so consumed in the relationship that even though she had a perfect SAT score, she couldn’t manage to complete her college applications. Her parents ended up doing them for her. She lied to her boyfriend when she on her college visit and chose a school within 90 miles of their hometown to remain close to him.
One afternoon, her boyfriend hit her in front of a mutual friend. This friend finally said something to her that she desperately needed to hear: “This isn’t normal.” He was the first person to stand up to her boyfriend, and this got her thinking.
Shortly before she left for college, she was back at her boyfriend’s house when he began abusing her again. His mother walked in, screamed at him to stop what he was doing, and told her to leave immediately. He ended up leaving the house first and his mother confessed to Christina that he and her husband had beaten her many times. She described their home as a “house of horrors.” It was then that christina knew she needed to find a way out of this situation.
The night before she left for school, her parents allowed for her to go to his house to say goodbye. But she waited until she was leaving, safely in her car with the window cracked just enough for him to hear her to tell him she was going away to college.
She left the next day and he continued to call repeatedly. Her parents had notified those around her at her school of the situation and yet she continued to find ways to sneak around with him when he would come to visit her. As time went on, she met a new guy but her former flame found out.
He rented a car and drove to her school. luckily, she wasn’t in her dorm room when he arrived, and her roommate let her know that he was on campus. Thankfully, her friends refused to let her go see him and called the campus police. Though she had a restraining order against him, it was only good for the county they lived in. But since they were on the campus of a private university they agreed to go speak with him.
The police were very concerned that he had rented a car instead of using the vehicle he had recently acquired. looking back now, Christina thinks if she had gone with him that night she most likely would have been murdered. He confessed to her later that he’d come to take her with him that night, and if he couldn’t have her “no one else could either.”
She has since moved several hours away and over a decade has passed. Since then Christina has found a wonderful therapist who has encouraged her through the healing process. In 2012, her sister and now-boyfriend sat her down and told her they thought her depression and anxiety were getting the best of her. She was physically larger than she had ever been and they thought it was because she was unhappy. Of course she was angered by their intervention at first, in fact, she even kicked her boyfriend in the knees. but she was motivated to set out on a mission to prove them wrong. She began exercising a couple of times a week with her sister, and her boyfriend began cooking healthy meals for her. She started seeing the inches and pounds falling off of her, she was encouraged. But more than anything, she felt stronger. The strength she was finding made her happier and happier. She gave up drinking three years ago and working out has become her safe place. Fitness has given her the strength to become the woman she is today. She has never felt more confident or well-adjusted. Christina is finally proud of herself, and she has found the strength to stand up for herself in all areas of her life. She has been with her boyfriend for quite a while now and he is a kind, good, good man; and he just happens to be the best dog-dad ever. Together they are building a life in Charlotte with their amazing dog.
Tell me about a setback and how you recovered.
I lost my job a few years ago. I was in a small department and they did budget cuts, effective immediately we were laid off. Terrified, 24 years in Charlotte with no anchor. I called my parents and they said: “That’s fine, you can come home, but you have to pay rent to have your childhood bedroom.” I decided the next day to wait tables and was going to make it work somehow. I got a job that day and busted my butt. Serving tables is actually how I got my next job. A customer commented on my charismatic personality and said my talents would be better served in a different setting. I took all the financial rep tests and realized I couldn’t handle rejection. Luckily a managing partner was looking for an associate instead. I worked that job and my waitress job, while sharing one car with my boyfriend as well. We did that for a year and a half before I was given a full-time role.
What wakes you up in the morning?
My workouts. That’s how I get my day started at5:30 a.m. 4 days a week, the routine keeps me going. Also, my sweet, most gentle, loving creature-our dog. Shortly after we adopted him he was diagnosed with skin cancer. His medications are a big time commitment, along with what he eats and when. My commitment to making his life as happy as possible is a big motivator to me. But definitely my workouts, they just leave me in a positive place.
How do you show others you believe in them?
Words of affirmation are super important. People don’t take the time to say thank you and what you mean to them and that’s important for the people in your life and to hug them and say I love you, and I’m here; that can go a really long way.
Who has influenced you the most?
My sister. She may be younger has always filled the older sister role. She owns her own business, works tirelessly. Devoted to her family. She is kind and thoughtful, generous to a fault. Really incredible woman. I don’t look to celebrities for inspiration. I look to my local community. It’s rare to find success and kindness together and she embodies that. I hope I can be half the woman that she is.
What is one thing you still struggle with?
Self-love. 100%. I doubt myself, I question myself. I’m becoming a lot more self-assured and confident but still, have those nagging anxieties and thoughts “am I doing the right thing” “do these people like me”…wanting to be liked by everyone. It goes hand and hand. I have a deep seeded need for everyone to like me and to please everyone. That’s what got me in trouble with the abusive relationship in the first place. I’m still struggling with putting others before myself to the detriment of my sleep, health, finance, and happiness.
What positive affirmation statement or favorite song lyric has gotten you through tough times?
This quote, “Love is the essence of a full and beautiful life.” Also, my therapist taught me this ask myself “does this serve you?” It can be asked about situations, people, personal behavior…it’s hard to ask yourself, we mindlessly do things, and to sit and really question yourself like that and answer no…it’s a glaring red light to disengage.