“I am a strong woman with a voice, a voice intended to be heard. My passion, my purpose is to help people, especially women in transition.”― Stephanie Harris
Stephanie Harris, an educated and courageous woman who has grappled with adversity, despite life’s challenges. She is curious, humbled, empowered, empathetic, compassionate, and beautifully imperfect. Stephanie has a compelling personality that naturally attracts people wherever she goes. She is an outstanding student-of-life, therefore, a remarkable teacher and advocate for others. Her passion is to coach and empower women through divorce, domestic violence or sexual assault, and here is her story…
Many people may think, if a person has zero tolerance for physical abuse that’s enough. I’m here to say, it is not. I have a very strong stance against physical abuse, yet I still found myself in a relationship consumed by manipulation, isolation, belittling, intimidation, control, and passive-aggressive behavior for seven years.
I will never forget meeting this charismatic guy, thinking, “Wow, I’d like to go out with him, but I’m sure I’m not his type. I’m not good enough for him.” Then, before I knew it, he asked me out! In the days leading up to the first date, I felt like a teenager with butterflies. Mind you, I was well outside of my teenage years.
The evening for our date arrived and much to my surprise I felt deflated within seconds, when he greeted me by saying, “I can’t believe you are going to wear that!”
I must say, I had on a sleeveless blouse with capris and open-toe heels, hardly anything to be ashamed of wearing. It was the slight peekaboo of my breasts at the neckline that upset him.
Although I was hurt by his response, I tried to hide my discomfort by laughing it off and acting like he was just kidding. Unfortunately, he was not kidding and continued to obsess about my outfit all the way to the restaurant and throughout dinner. It was apparent the people sitting near us could hear him.
As we walked out to the car, he said, “I’m not going anywhere else with you, looking like that,” and he proceeded to drive me home. While I felt changing my clothes was absurd, feeling like a scolded child, I went to my room and changed into something that met his approval. We progressed into the evening, but, of course, my mind was “stuck” on what had happened and I just couldn’t let it go.
Needless to say, this was the start of a tumultuous seven-year relationship. He was embarrassed that I was divorced, and forbid me to share this information with others. He constantly corrected me, he wasn’t happy with my naturally curly hair unless I straightened it, my nails were never right, my family was “abnormal” because we kissed each other on the lips — and he was jealous. If he noticed some guy “checking me out,” he would blame me and constantly say, “Go ahead, leave me, who will love you like I do?! No one!” He required me to tell him where I was going, anytime I left home. He texted me sometimes 35-40 times in a short period of time and if I didn’t respond he started calling, repeatedly.
As you can imagine, this is merely a drop in the bucket of the verbal and emotional abuse I experienced during this relationship.
The whole time I was with him I knew “logically” this behavior was wrong — I could explain why it was wrong to anyone. Yet I stayed! Through guidance from friends, family, clergy, psychologists and Turning Point. I searched for answers, only to be greeted with the question, “What are you getting from the relationship?” This was a question I thought was absurd, at least at first. The true break-through began when I started working with Tessa, my social worker at Turning Point. I worked with her for four years but her time was limited and I needed additional help, so I sought out a psychologist. Thankfully, I had done a great deal of work with Tessa, because, when I met with two different psychologists to discuss the relationship, I was greeted with this question: “What’s wrong — he’s not hitting you?”
To be honest, I WISH HE WAS hitting me, then people would SEE the bruises to represent the pain I was feeling inside. They could see how badly I was hurting. Of course, those statements didn’t sit well with me and I discontinued working with the psychologists and remained solely with Tessa.
At the time, I witnessed another disturbing situation. A university professor referenced domestic violence in his presentation as ONLY being physical. When I challenged him, he proceeded to tell me I was reflecting my circumstances onto him. Mind you, I was very clear, that was NOT what I was doing.
Remember, I was in this relationship for seven years, four of which I was working with Tessa to leave my situation and learn to accept that the relationship was unique and not all men are abusive. I also gained a greater understanding of why my mom stayed with my dad.
While undergoing my personal transformation, I was also completing a long-time educational goal, to graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science degree. This was an accomplishment that took over 20 years to achieve, yet one I am very proud of seeing through to completion. It’s just sad that such a proud day would quickly become blemished with feelings of shame.
The evening of graduation, I was raped in my home by my boyfriend, while unconscious. The next day, I confronted him and he denied it by stating “you begged me for it!” Our relationship was no longer physical, so I was very confident in the accuracy of my statement. At the time, I made the decision not to report the incident because I didn’t want to be victimized again by the “system.”
This incident, however, was the breaking point for me in this abusive relationship. I was ready to take my power back, so I contacted my sister to come over. She and I put the safety plan in place that Tessa had helped me prepare for this day. During this time, my abuser was calling me excessively. When I was ready, I picked up the phone and said, “It’s over!” Then, I hung-up and destroyed the cell phone.
Throughout the relationship, I was asked many times, “What are you getting from this relationship?” Every time I was asked that, I thought people were crazy. At least until the day I awakened to a realization: I stayed because the fear of being alone felt far greater than the pain and agony of remaining in the relationship.
Now, I know how wrong I was. Fear is an illusion. I am my own best friend and enjoy spending time with myself. My happiness is no longer dependent on another person. My happiness is within.
I am a strong woman with a voice, a voice intended to be heard. I share my story in honor of myself, my mom, and those who are unable to do the same — those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. I share my story through this Warrior Woman Spirit forum in hopes of educating, advocating, and ultimately helping others. This is my passion. This is my purpose.
*Watch for Stephanie’s continuing story in the coming weeks.
— All photos used with permission.