The Level of My Self-Esteem

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Ms. Blog will be publishing a series of posts detailing the impact of domestic violence, including personal essays and more, throughout the month.

Sitting here, cradling my baby in my arms, it is hard to imagine the life I once lived. The violence is etched in my brain, a tremor no more, but still a remembrance of what I once put up with, of what I thought I was worth.

The day Roger abused me I was full of medicine, or so I thought. The doctor had me on a steady stream of uppers, downers, sleepers, the works. Does this make what happened my fault? I was so out of it that I deserved it, right? Also, I was wearing a skimpy sailor dress, showing off my assets. Does that mean I was asking for it?

He said some kind of comment about his ex-girlfriend. I was sitting on his knee. I responded with something snarky towards the girl, whom I envied. In a flash I was on the ground, his fist held high. One punch. Two. A kick towards my stomach. He dragged me up by my hair. Pushed me against the house. A cheer of laughter from the guys watching—his entourage of wannabes who would never leave the tiny redneck town they lived in. I was too stunned to be embarrassed. Him choking me at the neck. Finally I drop, he lets go. Stumble to get away. He takes my hand. We drop into an outdoor basement that I notice is swarming with cockroaches. We have sex on a stained mattress. He passes out. I say a prayer that I can crawl out of there. There are no steps. I make it. I run. I cry.

I used his phone to call my so-called best friend to pick me up. I didn’t want to walk alone in the dark. She told me she was home already, wouldn’t come. In the end, I abandoned my pride and called my mother. She was there in an instant. I described what had happened to me, noticing the tears rolling down her face as I spoke. I had never discussed sex with my mother before—or violence. She drove me to get the “morning-after pill.” We got home in the early hours of the morning. My step-dad pulled me into his arms, he was crying. This moment marked a transition for me; they loved me despite the humiliation and degradation I had endured. They loved me despite my dating a man whose integrity was below the core values I had been raised with.

The one thing that stuck in my head, though, was this: “If he does it once, he’ll do it again.” My mother used to run that statement through my head all the time during my teenage years. She had seen the way an abusive man could control his victim through her mediation practice handling divorces. She always warned me that I had to immediately get out of an abusive situation no matter what the weight or repercussion.

So, after Roger hurt me that night, I took heart of my mother’s advice and I cut myself off from him. I re-evaluated my life. The consequences were lasting. I enrolled in therapy to help shed light on what part of me felt so broken that I deserved such treatment. After years of therapy, I have found myself free, whole, happy. I have now been able to volunteer as a victim advocate for a domestic violence safe house. Now, I am empowered to educate others on the cycle of violence that occurs when there is an explosion, an apology, and then the tension rises again to bruising and bloodshed.

Sitting in a private garden where dragonflies come and go, I am reminded of my mother’s love and of her fierce protection when it came to her daughter. If not for her, I might be dead—covered in the ashes of low self-esteem.

Support the Ms. Magazine Prison and Domestic Violence Shelter Program today and show women fleeing domestic violence that they’re not alone.

Photo via Shutterstock


McKenna Daniel-Nelson is an emerging young artist, designer and author. Having studied women’s studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she is well versed in the politics of power, gender norms and ideologies, rape culture and gendered violence.