I never told anybody what happened. 

I just let them think that I was my typical self, not caring about yet another guy and moved on. Even reading this, I’m sure they won’t believe it’s me. I’m the life of the party, indestructible, a known man-eater, college educated, world traveled, from a good family, and pretty enough to get paid modeling jobs. Domestic abuse is not confined to the quiet and insecure. I know, because it happened to me. [pullquote]

How can I tell you about it when the thought of it still takes my breath away and clouds my eyes with hot tears? That’s why I write. To you. To you who are too scared to leave; to those who are too proud to admit; to those of you who think he’s the only one who will ever love you at least this much. I write because, despite the pain, I found a way to change my own life. I found what real love is; not love from another, but rather a deep love for my own self. I deserve more. And so do you.

Hearing and seeing the horrific video of NFL player Rice, I flashed back to my own memories that involved so much love and pain. Abuse has been something of a shameful shadow that women for long have been silent about, but now it has been unwillingly thrust into the social spotlight to reveal how prevalent it really is.

I’m the last person anyone would ever think had been “a victim”. I still don’t consider myself a victim. Maybe that’s why it took me longer to leave than I’d thought it would.

Here’s how my magic kingdom fell apart:

After a string of lackluster relationships, I was happy to be single. I was making more money in real estate than ever, working seven days a week, buying things without even glancing at the price tag, and booking an exotic vacation to go on solo. Then, at the spa one day, when I was prepping for my upcoming beach getaway, I met a handsome pilot with an alluring accent. Fast forward a few months, and I had cancelled my trip, was spending all my time with this romantic man, and I was beyond happy. He was so different from the others I had been with. He had career goals that were impressive, did thoughtful things for me on a regular basis, hosted BBQs with all of our friends together, loved my dogs like his own, treated me with respect and adoration, and most of all, he wanted a real future together. He would talk about where we would live, when we would get married, and playfully insist on how many kids we would have. I had hit the jackpot. Until the cracks began to show.

When he informed me that respectable women don’t stay out til 11pm without their man, and they don’t drink without their man next to them, and they have responsibilities that are more important than…the truth is, I still feel a little guilty, still. I remember thinking, he has a point; maybe I should grow up, and let my single friends go have fun. I thought he was right, that now I had someone who was too important to separate from for the evening. Pretty soon, I was with him if I wasn’t at work. I started to take off work time even to help him with anything he needed done. Even though I made the most money, his business took priority. So my career stopped and so did my checks. We lived on his small income and focused on growing his business. When the money started to dry up, so did our laughter, and carefree Sundays. It was all work, no fun. We had a future to be serious about, he said. Without my financial freedom, my life revolved around him. He wanted dinner ready when he came home, and the apartment cleaned because he was the one working, and it was my job to take care of him. The more weight I lost, the more he gained. And the less I fought the situation, the happier he was. He disapproved of all my friends, calling them sluts, while maintaining friendships with his ex-girlfriends.

We were at a bar for another couple’s birthday party. My friend said she needed to use the restroom, so as it is “girl code”, I went with her. But while waiting for her, I looked up and saw my boyfriend staring at me, spying from a few feet away. He had followed us and didn’t think I could see him. Before I could get his attention, he was marching out the front door of the bar. Somehow I managed to run and jump in the taxi with him. I was beyond confused and begging him to tell me why he was upset. By the time we got home, he was screaming at me that I was purposefully standing near a group of guys to flirt with them. I was infuriated. How ridiculous. I had had enough. He demanded I repeat what I had just said. So I did. “That is a lie, and you will not treat me like this”. The next instant, I was knocked to the ground, being dragged across the floor by my hair and coughing from a soccer player kicking in my ribs. I was in too much shock to even fight back. This couldn’t be happening to me. It was a nightmare and I would wake up any minute. But the pain was overwhelming and I began to beg for him to stop. I didn’t want to fight back. I wanted a future with him and had sacrificed so much already to show him how serious I was. I was too confused to put a real thought together. The next day he was tender and loving and wouldn’t stop asking for forgiveness. He was limping from nearly breaking his foot in rage on my bruised body, so I helped him get ready for work.

It happened once more before I left. Maybe a couple times; I don’t know. It’s really a blur. I was broke and had two dogs, so finding somewhere to stay was more than a magic trick.  Too humiliated to ask anyone for help or tell the truth, I was left to be an actress every day and pretend like everything was wonderful. A very kind friend, who I will always be indebted to, saw the black and blue and yellow marks, and not only gave me a place to live, but helped me start a new life. I found a way to move on and I found a stronger me. I can only hope that my story, my words, help another woman believe in herself again. And hopefully, the NFL has learned a valuable lesson.

Elisabeth Ann South is a writer, film/t/v/commercial actress and former real estate agent now residing in NYC.