In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My blog will feature several guest contributors sharing (some for the first time) their experiences. Today, mortgage operations executive Brandi Coyner shares her story publicly for the first time.
I think to some degree; my story began just like the stories of many others who find themselves caught in a relationship that unexpectedly turns from happiness to horror. I had been introduced to a man with whom I had countless mutual friends, many of which I considered very close. He was a touch eccentric but incredibly handsome and the same things that made him unique were the things that intrigued me about him. He was caring and doting and quickly brought me into his family spending time with his mother and brother over family dinners and more. We did all the “typical” things that a new couple does but things progressed unusually quickly. The frequency of evenings spent at my home increased to the point where my new beau was basically living with me. Because things were going well, this didn’t really alarm me. It had been so long since I had been in a relationship that I was too completely caught up in the newness and the companionship to care!
The day of January 21st (only 2 1/2 months into our relationship) started out no different than any other day. I went to work and communicated via text with my “other half” to figure out what our evening plans were and what we were doing for dinner. We settled on staying in and making something quick and easy and decided to grab a bottle of alcohol to have a couple of cocktails while we relaxed. I got home, we ate dinner and retired to the couch to watch television while I did my bone stimulus therapy (I was nursing a broken foot and was wearing a “fashionable” black stabilizing boot). A conversation about my day quickly turned from mundane into a rage filled barrage of accusations out of left field about who and what he thought I was really doing while I “claimed” to be at work. In his mind, I wasn’t leaving home every day to go to the office. I was leaving to meet up with another man with whom I was having a torrid affair. Looking back, this jump in logic really wasn’t shocking given the fact that it came from a man who found reasonable logic in making a jump from the verbal accusations to a much more drastic method of conflict resolution, though at the time, I could not wrap my mind about how the conversation had taken this turn.
Within five or ten minutes of the start of the accusations, the man I had known disappeared and an angry stranger positioned himself seated on my coffee table in front of me. The first slap across my face took me by surprise. I quickly gathered my thoughts and reached for my cell phone to call for help. I wasn’t going to allow things to escalate past that point. . . or so I thought. The phone was snatched from my hand, taken apart into three pieces (back then batteries could be removed) and thrown down my stairs before I had a chance to dial the “9”. Apparently, my attempt to get help enraged him further as the phone crashing to the floor was met in time with a closed fist to my jaw. At that moment, I knew that I was in trouble and needed to somehow find a way to get myself help or get out of my house. I began screaming at the top of my lungs hoping that my neighbors would hear me pleads for help and call the police. I started banging on the shared walls thinking that even if they didn’t hear my screaming, my neighbors would hear the pounding and call 911. I even tried to get up and run toward the front door. That led to me being thrown back onto the couch now in pain from both the continued punches and the attempt to flee on a broken foot. Everything I did caused him to inflict more of what he deemed as “consequences”. After countless punches and slaps and what seemed like at least an hour of attempts to get out and get help, I hit a point where I knew I had to fight for my life . . . I could not help but to think that the only thing that would stop him from hitting me was for one of us to die. I mustered up what little strength I had at this point and started matching him, blow for blow, with punches. For every hit I took, I made sure I hit back as hard as I could. After well over an hour of exchanging punches and me on the couch curled up trying to fend off his swings, he stopped. . . no warning, no explanation . . . he just stopped. It was as though a switch had flipped in his mind and he became immediately regretful and apologetic. I sat motionless and afraid for what seemed like an eternity next to him until he got up to collect the pieces of my phone, putting it back together and returning it to me.
Silently, I got up off the couch and moved toward the stairs to go up to bed. Petrified of awakening the rage again, I was very careful with everything that I did. In typical abuser fashion, he followed me upstairs repeating over and over how sorry he was and promising that it would never happen again. I remained silent. I wanted to call him every name in the book and tell him truly what a piece of garbage he was but played compliant to keep the peace. I was finally able to gain a moment of privacy when I told him I was going to the restroom. I locked myself in and through tears looked at the already black bruises and the bloody lip and ear where a piercing had been ripped open by one of his punches. I was heartbroken over the image of the broken woman that I saw staring back at me in the mirror. I knew if I was going to get the police involved, I would need more than just my word and in a moment of mental clarity I quickly tried to take pictures of the marks on my body and send them to my work email address where I knew he could not access them. Not wanting to seem suspicious, I had to send and delete them quickly so that he could not find any trace of them existing and quickly get out of the restroom so that he did not think anything was awry. What I later found out was that I deleted them too rapidly causing the email to not go through successfully. All the photographic evidence was lost in trying to keep him calm. I spent rest of the night lying next to him crying quietly while he slept trying to figure out how I was going to be able to hide my bruises, cuts and swelling from the world and what I was going to do about what had happened.
I got out of bed early on the morning of the 22nd having not slept and knowing that it was going to take some extra effort to get myself together and to attempt to cover the physical reminders of the beating with makeup. Despite my best efforts, anyone looking at me could see that not only were my face, arms and hands covered in bruises, but my entire presence was out of sorts. I could not look anyone in the eye and spent most of my effort trying to avoid being seen. As I somewhat expected to prevent me from seeking help or telling anyone what happened, the monster drove me to work, in my car, and picked me up. Little did he know that I was so ashamed that I, in my own irrational thinking, had allowed this to happen by allowing him into my life that I was not going to reach out to anyone to talk to them about what happened.
Fortunately for me, I had developed very close friendships with some of my coworkers who noticed something was wrong right away. Inconspicuously, they pulled me into a conference room to confront me about the black eyes and other visible marks. At first, I tried to make excuses for what had caused the marks. It was clear to them, however, that I was not being truthful and after being pressed further, I broke down and through tears told them a Cliff’s Notes version of what happened. Thankfully, my sharing was met with compassion, sympathy and support. More important than that, my coworkers coached me into creating an escape plan with them. We established a safe word that would not draw any attention (“sunshine”) and I gave them both my address along with all his identifying information. That way should a situation arise again, I could text or call them and use the safe word and they would be able to call 911 on my behalf to have the police sent to my house.
The next few weeks went by with continued drop offs and pickups from work along with apologies and promises that the violence would “never happen again”. The only time I was out of the sight of the monster was when I was at work. Dozens of roses were delivered to my office as signs of “love” and “I’m sorry”. The physical bruises healed, but the mental and emotional wounds did not. I was living in a constant state of fear and heightened anxiety. . . on pins and needles waiting for things to blow up again.
On February 13, my fear was met with reality. After picking me up from work, I asked to go to the drugstore to pick up Valentine’s Day cards for my team. This sparked the cheating accusations, again. In his mind, the children’s Valentine cards that I was purchasing were for a love interest, not my coworkers. Having been through these accusations with him once before I knew that things were going to get worse. I sat quietly in the passenger seat of my car as he screamed at me, grabbing my arm as he drove from the store. When we pulled into my garage, I quickly excused myself to the bathroom where I locked the door behind me and sent a text saying “The weatherman is calling for sunshine” to my coworker. She responded via text with “I’m calling”. I stayed in the locked bathroom until, less than five minutes later, I heard a pounding on the front door and a man’s voice say “Police!” I calmly walked out of the bathroom straight down the half flight of stairs to the door. I opened the door and directed the officers up the stairs. I kept walking down the other half flight of stairs to the den where I stayed, hidden from the monster. I could hear his claims that he did not do anything and his irrational accusations that inflicted harm upon him. I stayed out of sight until an officer came down to inform me that they had him in custody in the back of their squad car and were ready to take a statement and pictures of the slight remnants of the bruising from 3 weeks prior. Then, the police left, and I was left alone to process what had just happened and to try to gather my thoughts on how I was going to move forward. I was terrified! I didn’t want to be alone, so I called a friend who came over with an overnight bag and stayed with me as I released every emotion I think it is possible to feel in a twenty-four-hour period.
The next few days were spent researching resources available and procedures required to secure an order of protection and to start the judicial process to file and proceed with every charge against my abuser that the law would allow me to pursue. I learned quickly that there was a lot of bureaucratic red tape to work through that was both daunting and challenging to seek justice and that there was no one to hold your hand or guide you to tell you what you need to do. The challenges and inconvenience of repeated court visits at times made me question whether it was worth seeing the charges through to the end, but I knew that I needed the closure for my own personal reasons. All of this was proving to my abuser that I was not the weak defenseless woman he thought I was. More importantly it was proving to myself that I had power over him!
The moment that defined the beginning of my healing process was standing next to my abuser (with only an elderly bailiff between us) in front of a judge at his sentencing. Up until that point, the order of protection, interviews with detectives, victim’s statements, meetings with attorneys had all been steps in the right direction. However, the physical reality of facing the monster that had inflicted the physical, mental and emotional pain that created permanent scars was a culmination of the courage and strength I had built to take control of my wellbeing back from him. That small personal victory gave me the courage to make the next moves I needed in my journey toward healing which I truly believe is a lifelong process.
Every victim’s road to recovery is unique. We all begin at different stages in time and traverse different terrains of peaks and valleys, smooth patches of comfort and “ease” and rocky patches filled with fear and covered with jagged stones that seem to rip apart our emotional fortress flooding in the real and raw pain that we have become all too familiar with. There is no map or handbook to guide us through the process. There is no right or wrong way to heal. What is important is that we take the necessary steps toward a better tomorrow which is sometimes as literal as putting one foot in front of the other to walk into a courtroom, a therapist’s office, or the home of a friend or family member to talk.
Along my journey, I have found healing in knowing that my story has purpose. . . that my situation can create a positive impact in the life of someone else. Having been a victim has made me sensitive to noticing the signs of abuse in others and has enabled me to provide the support, information and advocacy that I had sought out alone when I walked in their shoes. Even further through writing about my experience I carry hope that by sharing what I went through I will be able to help raise awareness and to empower others in abusive relationships. If sharing what I endured helps one person escape their situation or find help, my hope in exposing my abuse has been realized.