By Kristopher Sharp
I want to begin with a confession: I almost lost myself in the struggle.
It’s often said that time is the remedy to heal most wounds. Frequently–more than I care to admit–I have found myself wondering just how much time is needed to be whole again after surviving two tumultuous relationships hallmarked by violence, infidelity, and emotional sabotage?
I’ve spent months like this, asking myself questions I never seem to have the answers to. There are days, sometimes weeks, that have come and gone all while my mind has been stuck in an endless cycle of examining and then re-examining all of the red flags. Some I failed to see, some I willfully ignored–always asking myself the same fundamental question over and over again. Why did I stay?
I was living on the streets when I fell in love for the first time. Having just aged out of the Texas foster care system, I never really knew what love felt like. My First was perhaps the very first person I ever truly loved. He was a drug dealer, having left an abusive home in his late teens for the streets. He was broken just like I was, and it was in that brokenness that we found each other.
I’ll always remember the first time he hit me.
I had gotten an apartment after enrolling in college and My First had just come home after spending several months in county jail. There was some money missing from my wallet. I confronted him about it, and after a brief exchange of words he punched me in my face. I fell to the floor in our bathroom. As I got up he grabbed me by my hair and drug me to our bathtub. I was screaming while he rammed my face into the edge of the cast iron tub, busting my lips open and blacking my eye. When he finally let me go, I curled up on the bathroom floor and cried as silently as I could until he left.
We were never the same after that.
A perpetual pattern of abuse became the only consistent thing about our relationship. We would have a disagreement about something small, words would be exchanged, he would beat me, and then disappear for days. Each time, I would promise myself that I wouldn’t let it happen again. But without fail, My First would show up at my college, at my job, or some other place he knew I would be. He would always promise me things would be different, tell me how much he loved me, and how much we needed each other. And each time, I bought it. So each time, I stayed.
My Second happened much differently than My First.
We were introduced in the lobby of a hotel in California, and to me he seemed like magic. Tall, handsome, smart, and ambitious–he was the type of man you fall in love with easily. And fall in love I did.
We lived in separate states for the first year of our relationship, took a break for several months, rekindled, and then moved in together in the fall of 2015. It felt like a dream come true. We spent holidays together with his family, got to know each other’s closest friends, made plans to have children, get married, and open up a restaurant in our home state of Texas.
Our life was beautiful, until it suddenly wasn’t.
I soon discovered how blaringly unfaithful My Second had been throughout most of our relationship and how unwilling he was to change that. I remember him looking me in my eyes and telling me one evening that if we were to be together, I would have settle with his infidelities. Contending that it was something engrained in him that couldn’t be changed.
Eventually My Second decided that we should separate, and despite my objections, he insisted that we continue to live together. Things deteriorated rapidly over the next several months as I watched the man I fell in love with bring random guys he met on Jack’d to our home at night, pawn Christmas gifts I had given him to go on dates, and openly and often boisterously flirt with other men on the phone in front of me.
I fell into a very dark place and began to isolate myself in my own home. Whenever My Second and I did speak–it was always heated. He knew about My First, knew about my history with domestic violence. Yet even so, he would routinely “run up” to me with his fists clinched and eyes wide with rage in the heat of an argument. He’d tell me afterward how he never really intended to hit me, but the psychological damage and physical intimidation was equally, if not worse, than the would-be assault itself.
It was during this time that I began to fixate on comments My Second would often make about my appearance. I was broken, alone, and depressed. My self-esteem was gone, and in its place was a void filled with his criticisms that inevitably led me to make a dangerous decision.
I soon found myself on an operating table having spent almost all of my savings on a string of cosmetic surgeries—rhinoplasty, chin & cheek augmentation, a brow lift, and a number of facial fillers—all in the hopes of fixing an unknown brokenness, and perhaps rescuing myself from the darkness I was in.
Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Today, I am almost a year removed from these experiences and I am still searching for the answers to so many of the questions I keep asking myself. It became important for me write this after searching for stories of other queer folks who have experienced domestic violence, and discovering how little is out there. This story—my story—is shared by someone who is looking for answers to questions as they journey through the process of reclaiming the pieces of their life just as I am. If you find this, I hope you leave comforted by the fact that you are not alone for I too have labored this burdensome journey. Remain strong, believe in yourself, and know that you are worth every ounce of struggle it takes to reclaim all of who you are.