“We hadn’t been together long before the abuse started: physical, emotional, mental, and sexual. As soon as he got home from work in the evenings, he started drinking and then got mean. He went through a case of beer every night. He hit me and left bruises, but not where people could see them, except for once when he busted my lip. He broke my finger, but I told my boss I’d accidentally slammed it in a car door. He took the cash I brought home from my job waiting tables and left me with nothing. He made good money, but it all went for cocaine, something he got addicted to a few months into our relationship. On my 25th birthday, he held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me. Once, when I was in the shower, he terrorized me so badly that I couldn’t stop screaming and a neighbor came banging on our door. He said to me, ‘You go out there and tell her you’re fine, and then get her the hell away from here!’ I look back on that time now and think, Who was that person? Why did I stay? I wasn’t even trying to get away from the abuse. I guess the only answer is that I cared about him and thought I would be the one who could fix him. I would be the heroine of the story. But he was a sociopath; I know that now. You can’t save someone bent on self-destruction, and eventually the relationship ended.
“After a while I met my (now-husband) Neale and we began to get serious, but I still had some casual contact with J***. I hadn’t completely cut ties with him. When I asked Neale whether he would mind my inviting J*** to our wedding, he said, ‘Sure, he can come. But there won’t be a groom.’ That sealed it for me. Neale recognized how damaging and manipulative J*** was and helped me finally draw healthy boundaries so I wouldn’t get sucked back in. That was a turning point, but even after Neale and I were married, J*** continued to contact me. I tried to get him to leave me alone, and he did for a while, but then it started up again. In 2009, two days after Christmas, I got a call from his sister that he had died of an overdose. He was only 35. I still have nightmares about him coming after me; I relive it again and again. I know if I had stayed with him, he would have killed me. It was only a matter of time.
“I’ve been married for eight years now and, even though there is no perfect relationship, I have the greatest respect for my husband Neale. He’s my best friend. He’s kind, and he works hard to overcome the difficulties he faces in life. Everything he does, he does for me and for our marriage. We help each other in any way we can, but helping and saving are not the same thing, and I know that now. I recognize the difference between a charismatic man and a sociopath. I would caution other women to watch for red flags when they meet an especially charming gentleman, and don’t rationalize bad behavior. It’s easy for women to get caught up in playing the savior. I see them sometimes, see them trying to hide their bruises, and I just want to tell them to find a way to leave before it’s too late.”