Beyond the Dark
*Trigger Warning - abuse*
When I was 19 I found myself in the swirls of love—the kind of love that you daydream about when you’re a little girl. Cartoon hearts coming from eyes and the image of he and I growing old together—front porch, rocking chairs and all.
He was a musician. He had traveled to the college town I grew up in with only the clothes he was wearing and a guitar on his back. His eyes were blue, and his laugh was contagious—I was smitten. We first met walking toward each other downtown. He smoked hand rolled cigarettes and wore a bandana. A couple of friends I was with knew him and introduced us. It was instant—we locked eyes and that simple moment defined what the next few years would look like for me. A hurricane of love, lust, adventure and ultimately heart-ache.
“Do you want to get out of this town?” he said. He spoke the words that my teenage heart had been longing to hear.
“Yes.” I replied.
It had only been a couple of weeks since we’d met, but he made me feel safe, and seen. He wrapped me up in my own dreams and offered to make them come to life. He was the definition of my rebel prince. I had to go, it felt like my only out, and with his hand in mine he convinced me that we could conquer the world—playing music along the way.
We had a destination in mind: the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He had a friend that worked construction there that told him he could walk onto the job upon arrival. We were to stay with his friend until we saved enough money to get an apartment of our own. I was able to find a job quite quickly—data entry for vacation rental properties. It was my first “grown-up” job, completely boring, yet the pay was good. After a week or so, we settled in comfortably at his friend's place, we slept on the floor and kept our clothes in bags—there was a roof over our heads, so for that I was grateful.
Deep Sleep Before the Awakening
He started drinking alcohol at work during the day. I was told “that’s just what they do” while building houses, and so I went along with it. One evening after work, I returned to the apartment and he was belligerent. His friend seemed to have a look of “same old, same old” on his face as he ignored him, but since I had never seen this side of him, I was bothered by it. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember his reaction to whatever it was. He began screaming at me and before I knew it, he started throwing things at me. First clothes, then bigger items. I was crying and begging him to stop. His friend came in and put a stop to it. The next morning his friend told us that we were no longer welcome to stay there.
I should've left him then—but I didn’t. He apologized and I stayed.
We eventually found a place of our own, it was furnished and was walking distance to the ocean. The days carried on exactly the same for months. He’d drink. He’d yell. He’d punch walls.
He’d apologize and I’d stay.
In the mornings, I’d walk to the ocean and watch the sun come up. It was my only respite. Sometimes on the walk home I’d stop at a payphone and call my mom. I’d tell her that everything was wonderful, that I was fine, and to not worry about me. I was lying, and she could hear that.
Somewhere in the midst of the madness, he proposed to me. I said “yes.” I remember my mom crying when I told her. They weren’t happy tears.
Months went by. Everyday was pretty much the same, but over time my boundaries were pushed and tested more. Slowly, I’d transitioned into a state where I would shrink back in fear. 20 years old and no longer feeling safe, and seen. He took pride in smashing things that meant something to me. He’d tear my poems, smash my memories, and belittle my spirit with his words—it was only a matter of time until his hands came at me instead of the walls.
It was only a matter of time.
The night that brought on my first exit was a night I’ll forever remember. Violence, pushing, screaming, my guitar smashed to pieces on the driveway, the sweet neighbor that called the police—it’s all still a part of me. I drove to a friend's house down the street that night. She lived with her mother and they helped me hide my car. I called my mom in the morning. She said to me, “I’ll be there.” Nine hours later, she and my sister pulled up to save me.
Before you begin to celebrate my strength, I must tell you that I went back to this man multiple times before “waking up.” Why? I don’t know. Fighting for the dream, I suppose? I believed we could overcome his addictions and anger. I wanted us to be the vision I’d created in my head.
Again and again, he’d apologize and I’d stay.
The final goodbye happened on the streets of Boulder, Colorado. He abandoned me, alone, with nothing. I had no money, no friends, no family nearby. He'd constructed the perfect scenario to keep me dependent on him (a typical abuser tactic). I was stuck, and he knew that. He knew my only option would be to come running to him for help. He was wrong. My mama got me a train ticket back East. And that was it. It was finally over.
The Awakening was inside of me all along.
I’d be lying if I said my awakening was instant. It took me months of continuing to fail before any “ah-ha” moments came to the surface. I needed to heal. I needed to forgive myself for the two years that I gave to this abuser. I needed to dig deep within myself and find my worth. I needed to find my laugh again.
I decided to write it all down, just as I’ve always done. Give me a cup of coffee, a pen and a piece of paper and I can solve almost any problem. I wrote what I wanted from this life; where I wanted to be in five years, what I wanted to do for a career, and steps that I could take to get me closer to that version of myself. Step by step, I moved forward.
I got a job at a local coffee shop and applied for massage therapy school. These two decisions shaped and healed me. I was surrounded by teachers that were holding my hand as I regained my sense of self. They had no idea that they were bringing me back, but they were. With each class I’d walk deeper into who I wanted to be. I learned that I had the power within me to create a life worth living. I learned to love myself. And in the evenings I’d serve coffee as local acoustic musicians serenaded a wounded heart.
Coming into the light—Awareness
I often think that we put too much pressure on the vision of what an “awakening” should look like. While this “waking up” moment for me was indeed enormous, I didn’t even know that it was happening at the time. I was simply putting myself back together, and giving myself the love that I had been desperately searching for in others. I spent so long looking outside of myself—thinking that I could find what I needed to make me happy, in someone or something else. I suppose we’re all guilty of that from time to time, but now that I’m aware of it I can adjust my mindset. It took faltering over and over again until I woke up to love myself enough to want more for myself. Awareness is a leap not to go unnoticed, it’s mandatory in the growth process.
I had many mentors in massage therapy school that helped awaken me to more than just massage techniques and anatomy. I learned about many different healing modalities and their origins. I was in awe of their teachings. Eastern Medicine had me hooked. The connection between mind, body, and spirit resonated with me more than anything ever had before. I learned that we are all connected—with everything. Unity. All beginning with the same blueprint, yet our life paths take us to different places. That underneath this human experience, we’re all stardust magic.
I was taught to “think outside the box” and to take it to the next level. I gained a new perspective to the inner weaving of existence. I know that this may sound deep and a little extreme, but that’s because it IS deep and extreme.
From this space of awareness I was able to tie many loose ends together. Everything began making more sense once I saw the world through connected eyes. I found synchronicities in the most mundane experiences. The world seemed brighter and less heavy. I was healing.
Over time I was able to look at my past pain and feel compassion for it. I had newfound compassion for myself, and my ex. Though his personal pain caused me personal pain, we were both simply searching for love and acceptance. I shifted my lens and began to see him with empathetic eyes and at the same time my self-love showed me my worth. I am worthy of love. I loved myself so much that I would never let him hurt me again. With my head held high and my heart grounded into knowing what I deserved, I was a completely changed person.
That time in my life wasn’t easy. Years later and I still have parts of me that show up and let me know that there’s still work to be done. Am I grateful for that time? Gratitude for the lessons? Maybe. It gave me the opportunity to discover my own strength. It pushed me to lean into my own heart for acceptance and love. I taught myself how to play guitar. I no longer needed him to strum the chords.
I now play my own music and write my own songs.
You do not need to experience pain to awaken—I want to make that very clear. For me, it’s just the way things played out. I wanted to share this experience for those that may be struggling in abusive relationships—there is light at the end of the tunnel, albeit sometimes it feels unreachable, but I promise you that you’re worthy of safe love. I’ll say that again: You are worthy of safe love.
There are resources available to help you get your footing. It’s not always as easy as walking away and finding yourself, I want to acknowledge that as well. You are not alone, and there is help.
If you or someone you know is being abused, please reach out to:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
About the Author:
Born and raised in West Virginia, you'll find Heather's heart outlined in the Appalachian mountains. She has strong passions for writing, healing, and music. She has spent much of her life spreading the message of ‘loving without conditions', all the while kicking up dirt - barefoot and dancing. While she has been an Energy Worker for over 15 years, a self-published author, and a business owner - Heather's truest love lies in being a mother...her continuous reminder of unconditional love and heartfelt laughter.