Eighteen. I was full of life, strong willed, and feisty. He was charming and he made me feel like I was the only girl in all the world. He saw my personality as a challenge.

Nineteen. It took about a year for verbal and emotional abuse to rear their ugly heads. At first I fought. I was quick-tongued. It didn’t take me long to realize that the more I’d retort, the worse his words became.

Slowly but surely, I started losing people I love. By the year’s end, most of my friends and family were out of my life. People have often asked why I allowed it. It wasn’t that black and white. Abusers don’t typically make it that obvious. He never told me I couldn’t be around them. He just made it quite clear that he didn’t “approve”.

The repercussions of being away from him were exhausting and gut-wrenching. Eventually it just didn’t seem worth the struggle. It became easier (and safer) to distance myself from others just to avoid his wrath. When you are within this cycle, you are broken and you aren’t thinking clearly. There’s a LOT of grey area.

Twenty-One. The first time he hit me I was just barely twenty-one years old. By this time, I was already in confinement and the will (that was once so strong in me) was now shattered into pieces. It was very little at first. The apologies seemed sincere. The physical abuse got worse and worse and I was afraid for my own life for many years. He went through anger management courses. They deemed him “homicidal.” I knew I should leave, yet I was now this shell of a person. Who I used to be seemed so far away from where I was. I didn’t have anywhere to run, nor anyone to run to. Try as I did, I couldn’t see a way out. He had me exactly where he wanted me.

Twenty-Eight. Finding the strength to leave seemed an impossible feat. I was sick, depressed, weak, and all alone. I worked from home. I had no friends and very little family. When I left, I’d have absolutely nothing. Leaving when you have people to run to is hard enough. Leaving when you have no soft place to land is even harder.

But children.

Even as young as six years old I knew that what I wanted most in life was to be a mother. That was the one thing I held onto throughout my life. Even in all of the trauma and pain, even with all I had stacked against me, the ache to have children was still inside of me. I knew that if I ever wanted children, I’d have to leave.

Adoption was always a pretty prevalent thing in my life, and I had always wanted to adopt at some point. I knew that this is how I would grow my family. I also knew the responsibility I was facing. This would be someone else’s child who was entrusted to me. I didn’t take that lightly.

Of course, I knew that if I was going to adopt, I HAD to pick myself up. I had to find the strength to leave. I had to find the old “me” that was buried deep inside of me. If I couldn’t do it for me, I’d do it for the children I’d have someday. It was my motivation, my hope. Some may argue that this wasn’t the healthiest mindset, but without it, any hope I had would have vanished. It was that spark of hope that allowed me to see enough light to be able to escape.

I was twenty-nine when I left. I was thirty-one when I remarried and I was thirty-six when I became a mother. There was therapy and love and support surrounding me the moment I left. If only I’d have realized that would be the case. If only I knew where my life would go.

I now have two beautiful, amazing children who are both adopted. Often others tell me how “lucky” my kids are to have me. They say how blessed they are to have our family. I’m always quick to stop them.

“No,” I say.

“I’m blessed to have them. My kids? They saved me.”

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

If you find yourself in an abusive situation and cannot see a way out, please know that there IS help available to you. There are others who understand and will not judge. They will be there with you every step of the way. Please call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit http://www.thehotline.org for more information. You are worth it.