The following blog entry was written by Emily Toothman. She graduated from The University of Texas in 2005. She is now 26 years old, working as a Program Specialist at The National Domestic Violence Hotline. In February of 2007, she had the honor of answering the first call to the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline.
I was 19, a student in my second year at college, when I met the man of my dreams in one of my classes. He was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and All-American — with a smooth demeanor and a knack for saying all the right things. He treated me like a princess. Gifts, surprise visits to my dorm room and classes, frequent phone calls to see where I was and how I was doing. He told me he loved me within the first month of our relationship, and he wanted to be near me all the time. On our first anniversary, he surprised me with a candlelit dinner in a house overlooking the lake. I was living the fairy tale that every little girl is taught to dream.
But then, two weeks after our first anniversary, I found him in bed with an ex-girlfriend. I immediately broke up with him. It was only then that I began to truly see his controlling nature.
I started to see him everywhere I went. He showed up to my classes and sat two rows behind me. I caught glimpses of him walking a couple paces behind me on campus. Pretty soon, he started calling my cell phone constantly, leaving up to twenty voice messages a day begging me to reconsider our relationship. When I started hanging out with other guys, he would follow me and leave threatening notes under the windshield wipers on my car. My professors started to confide in me that “my boyfriend” had told them about my “drug problem.”
I returned home one evening after going to a meeting on campus, and he was on my doorstep. He was drunk, and he was angry. As his anger escalated, he began to shove me around and pin me by my neck against my front door, smashing empty beer bottles against the corner of the building and holding the shattered glass up to my face. He had simply snapped. I escaped to a friend’s house an hour later with a broken rib, a sprained wrist, a black eye, and bruises from head to toe.
Following the first attack, I took some self-defense lessons from a friend of mine who was a black-belt in karate. I stayed with some friends so that I didn’t have to go back to my apartment alone. I felt like everyone was looking at me, even though I had carefully caked on make-up to cover the bruises. It took me days to build up the courage to leave the apartment to go to class. I was terrified, and I felt more alone than ever. Though I have always been close to my parents, I refused to tell them. I felt that they would be hurt, worried – or worse – disappointed in how I’d handled the situation. My friends, though they tried to be supportive, had a hard time even believing what was happening.
A week later, he confronted me again. This time, he was sober, and it was in broad daylight in the center of campus. He once again pinned me to the wall, but this time he threatened me with a butterfly knife to my jugular. Students would walk by and stare, but not one interfered. I struggled with him for close to a quarter of an hour, and finally, I managed to kick his knee backwards. It broke. As he was writhing on the ground, I used my cell phone to call the police. A week later, he would break bail and leave the country. I would never see him again.
The experience did change me – sometimes for the worse, but (I hope) mostly for the better. I had to struggle with fear, anger, depression, insomnia, and even nausea. I had to mend the breach of trust that my parents felt when they found out about my situation after the fact. I’ve had to fight to break down my defensive walls, so that I could be less guarded in my romantic relationships and less cautious in my friendships. It has not been easy.
But — to be completely honest with you – I wouldn’t change a moment of my experience for anything in the world. It shook me to the core. It created a passion in me for justice and peace, and it led me down a path that I would have never expected. It led me here, to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I will always remember, with the highest gratitude, the role that my experience has allowed me to play in reaching out to survivors.
Dating abuse is a reality for many, many teens across this country — a terrifying, overwhelming reality that is largely hidden and ignored. I wish that I had known at the time what I know now, thanks to the work of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: I am not alone. I am not the only one to have experienced what I experienced, and I am not the only one who has decided to turn those experiences into positive changes for others like me. I am very honored to be a part of such an amazing generation of young people who will start the conversation about dating abuse, and who will change the realities of young people across the nation.
By Emily Toothman
Please visit loveisrespect.org for resources on teen dating abuse or to chat with a peer advocate. If chat is unavailable, call 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 TTY. loveisrespect has recently been called on for its expert guidance by the popular soap opera General Hospital for a teen dating abuse storyline. The storyline will air today, Friday July 17th and a PSA will air directly following the program.