I See DV in the Red Flags

I See DV in the Red Flags

This post is by a very talented writer and brave survivor, Courtney Queeney. We were moved by Courtney’s article in the New York Times “The View From the Victim Room” which detailed her experience of renewing an emergency protective order. Today, she shares with us how she saw domestic violence red flags in her past relationship. 

blog-posters-courtneyAfter my ex-boyfriend punched, choked and kicked me one night, I spent a few days in shock. I couldn’t figure out how I had gotten into such a relationship in the first place.

When I reflected on the span of our relationship, the red flags were glaring.

Red Flag: He pursued me for months before I eventually said yes, because after all, I’d met him through a mutual acquaintance and he was a certified yoga instructor. With those credentials he must have been safe, although I was uncomfortable as early as our second date, when he professed his love.

Red Flag: He isolated me from my friends, family, and favorite activities. At first, he was sad to see me go home; then I was staying away from him too long, depriving him of my company so I could write, look for jobs and feed my cat. If I went out with friends, he’d text during the night to tell me how much he missed me. He didn’t want me to have a job, because that would have subtracted from his time, and allowed me greater financial freedom.

Red Flag: He sulked when I didn’t want to sleep with him, like a child who had just been sent to bed without his dessert. Post-breakup, his objectification of women as sexual objects became even more disturbing in both his art and his writing. He’d written about a fantasy he had of flaying an ex so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the death threats he sent me involved him raping me, then attacking the body parts specifically identifying me as female; he didn’t, for example, want to kick me in the shins.)

Red Flag:  The messages he sent after I broke up with him were even more transparently disturbing: I was clearly responsible for his behavior. Why did you provoke me? he wrote. (For the record, I had knocked on a bathroom door, worried he was going to pass out.) He wrote I’m sorry for the way things went down that night. He used the passive tense; he didn’t write: I hit you. Or: I was on drugs. Or: I choked you. Or: I kicked you. In the same message, he wrote: Can you somehow get beyond it? Please find a way to forgive me. Somehow, as a woman, it was my job to make the situation better for him.

Red Flag: He was irrationally jealous of my male friends. When I went to visit two of them for a week, he refused to get out of bed, texting me pitiful messages about how he couldn’t wait until I came home. He set his computer up so I had my own desktop, though I repeatedly told him not to bother. I later learned that monitoring someone’s computer and phone are classic red flags.

Red Flag: After he’d hurt me so badly my ER doctor kept looking at the scans of my face and repeating I can’t believe nothing is broken, I was still responsible for his weight loss, his family asking about my abrupt disappearance, his loneliness, his insomnia and panic attacks.

Red Flag: He repeatedly wrote that he couldn’t live without me. One night, he cut himself badly with a knife and couldn’t staunch the bleeding. When his incessant attempts to contact me suddenly stopped, I knew he’d acted on these threats, probably on my birthday. If he’d succeeded in his suicide attempt, it would have been the ultimate punishment: I would have to carry that guilt for the rest of my life. I don’t think he meant to succeed; it was a play for my sympathy.

I was lucky. I glossed over red flag after red flag, but when it was my relationship or my life, I chose life. I just wish I’d done it sooner.

About Our Contributor: 

Courtney Queeney is the author of Filibuster to Delay a Kiss (Random House). She lives in Chicago.

Comment section

10 replies
  1. My name is Kymberly and I am a domestic violence survivor. It has taken me 25 years to say those words. I have been out of the relationship for 24 years and have been happily married now for 10 years. I was 21 years old when my then fiancé pushed and hit me during an argument when I confronted him about his infidelity. It has effected me more than I can possibly express, It still permeates my life. And the pathetic part is I still care about the man who hurt me so much and that is whatI am still working on. I felt guilty about that for so long. How could care about someone who hurt me like that? He manipulated me mentally, trying to isolate me from my family and friends, he controlled what I wore , how much make up I wore. On my 21st birthday I didn’t decide on or order what my first drink would be, he did. He yelled at me, called me names and used me financially. Luckily I formulated a plan and left him a week later. Thank God I shared what was going on to a certain degree with me family. He was 8 years older than me, very savvy and quite frankly I was out of my league. Don’t listen to those who say you asked for it or you must like being treated like dirt. Most of the time women (and men too) with good hearts, loving souls and the purest of intentions are simply manipulated by master manipulatorand and are out of their league. I know I was. All I can say to young women is recognize the signs. Statements a man may make about you belonging to him, only death will separate us and you’re mine completely mine are not sexy or loving, they are signs that he views you as a possession. A good man will,want you to have friends and interests apart from him. A good man will not control what you wear and how you look. The best way to not be a victim is not to get involved in the first place. There is life after DV, there are men who will treasure you and love the unique commodity that is you. I found it, I know you too! Most importantly forgive yourself!

  2. Kymberly,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with out blog community. I know it means a lot to me to hear stories from survivors who have made it out and are moving on with their lives. What you went through sounds really traumatic and it makes perfect sense why it would still effect you. There are some marks that never fade. But it sounds to me like you’ve done a lot of hard work to heal, which is amazing.

    Know that you are more then welcome to reach out to us if you are needing more support or if you need referrals to support groups in your community. Our number is 1(800)799-7233. We are here 24/7 and are completely confidential/anonymous.

    Thanks again,
    Hotline Advocate MC

  3. Hello Kymberly,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. What a kind thing you have done. I have been involved in an abusive relationship for 21 years and left my abuser on 11/01/13. He has threatened to kill me and never left me alone, even watching me go to the bathroom, which caused bladder issues for which I have needed painful treatments as well as surgeries. He made me feel worthless and the only time I could be ‘ok’ is when I made him happy, which was extremely difficult and short-lived on those rare occasions when I could manage to please him.
    I am a mess! There was sexual stuff going on that I am not quite ready to mention and physical (pushing, grabbing, shaking) all of which he would say he never did after he would spend hours or days doing these things. He told me I was ugly and told me I was beautiful. He told me he couldn’t live with me and that he could not exist without me. he said he hated me then said that he wanted only to be like me. He tried to get me to start abusing our dog and that was my final straw and he finally suggested that we have a break and that I was horrible and he needed time away from me so as soon as he did that, while trapping me naked in a bathroom and blocking my exit, I squirmed past him and got to my cel phone, which actually had reception at the time (a rare occurrence) and got my mom on the phone, who he heard me speak with and knew would contact police for a safety check if she did not hear from me and then I fled from him in fear for my life. He had that look he would get before he would get physical with me and I was able to escape, but had to leave my dog with him. I went back with police on the 8th of November and got my dog and got us to a safe place where my husband does now know I would/could be. My dog was ok when I got her. I am now getting ready to file for divorce and have a lawyer, but the things that he did to me, I have no witnesses for and it is his word against mine. He is so good with people and can fool them because he is so manipulative. His tactics stopped working on those around him except me, so his family/friends started to get an inkling of what he was like in the last 2 years, but I kept insisting that I was safe and that he did not do anything to me. I just couldn’t tell anyone. It had been happening for 21 years and I do not know anything else. Now, I can stand up straight and even smile again, but I also fall into a puddle of tears or fear that he can get me or something. I spend most of my time now being afraid. I have a hard time talking about most of this. I lied to my support system for so long and now it is hard for me to talk openly about this stuff, but I will not lie anymore, so I give details that make my people feel really bad that they didn’t know or help. On the times I tried to get help, like once when I told my brother that my husband swung me around by my hair, my brother asked if it hurt. I mentioned this to my brother when I came clean about the abuse in early November and my brother just felt bad and said that he couldn’t help what he did 20 years ago. I do not mean to make people feel bad, but it is part of the discussion when they ask why I never told them. I tried, but my statements got no response. Also, everyone knew I was lying but they did not know about what. Now, I am totally honest and part of that is hurting people I love. I do not want to hurt anyone, nor make them feel like they did not do enough when I first started trying to ask for help, but it comes out as part of the discussion and I do not like that part of it at all. I do like how supportive everyone has been and they all tell me to only worry about myself now, but that is really difficult to do after making sure that I was taking care of everyone else for so long. I tried to wait for my husband’s parents to pass away (they are in their 80s and not in great health), but I could not wait any longer as my husband was going to kill me during our last fight. Now, I am preparing to file for divorce, which I know will set him off. He is fighting to have the protection order dissolved and I do not know how to handle that. He has cop friends who look people up for him because he wants no record of searches on his computer. My hearing is public record and I think my friend who I am living with was on the camera and I know that he listened to my testimony and maybe saw her. She has a distinctive license plate and I am afraid he will have his cop friends look up the license plate and get my new address and that I will lose this safe, loving atmosphere. I have not ever lived in a place like this and do not want to leave, but also do not want to put my friends in danger. I am pretty messed up and keep crying and can’t keep a thought together so I worry about my ability to deal with the court aspect of all this. so, I got a lawyer and he will speak for me, but I will ultimately have to face my abuser in court. He will try to kill me and I do not know how or when, but he has about a 3 year point where he cannot contain his anger any longer. Until then, he uses little tactics on others, but I do not know how he will be with me because I have never been in this position with him before and am just scared all the time. I do not know how to handle myself, this situation, or how to really stay safe. I am trying to learn and working with domestic violence groups but everyone I talk with says that this case has high lethality and they have never heard of most of the things happening in my case, so it is difficult for them to say how it will proceed from here. I did all this stuff to leave and put things in my control a little bit, but he still is driving all my decisions and forcing me to do things I do not want to do and in some cases can’t do. The paperwork he filed to dissolve the order is such that it will cost me $200 to get the protection order filed, which again, the lawyer has not heard of (nor have any domestic violence advocates). He had the venue of the court changed and changed my court date with no discussion or participation from me (again, unheard of). I am out of my league here. He also is 8 years older than me and started abusing me when I was 23, when we first started going out. For the lion’s share of the activity, it has been emotional and psychological with financial stuff and some physical thrown in. He also, like you, controlled my makeup, clothing, wouldn’t let me get a car, and messed with my employment to the tune where I got laid off and have not been able to get hired again by anyone since 2011. I have since started my own business so that I can get work and it has been going ok for a couple of years but now this stuff has made it so that I cannot focus as I need to on my various jobs/clients. I cannot focus as you likely can tell from this rambling post and am not even sure what I need. I think I just need to let some of this stuff out of my brain, but I am having a hard time getting the words out of my brain to any medium that I can share with others in an attempt to get help. How did you get better? I do not love him anymore and think that ship sailed a couple of years ago, so I do not feel bad about leaving someone I love or anything like that. I worry more about his family because they were the only people I was allowed contact with and I became very close to them. But, now I can’t talk to any of them. They all got mad when I left and called me before the protection order was finalized and have since stopped. I did not talk to any of them and only sent texts saying I was no longer safe with their brother and flat out begged them to take care of themselves and parents. That was all I could do, but I feel bad and like I was supposed to protect them from him and he was going to kill me if I stayed so I could not protect everyone else any longer. I can’t help anyone, including myself and am just trying to survive as I have been doing for 21 years. However, I want more than survival; I want to feel safe, be safe, and live again. It is hard and I don’t know how to begin. How do you begin something like this? I know I did a great first step by getting out of the situation, but now with the filing for divorce thing, I am scared and know that this will trigger an unexpected response from him as we are in new, uncharted territory. I am scared and do not know how to move forward. Does anyone have any idea how I can get to a point where I stop feeling this deeply rooted fear and to heal? I am numb, terrified, angry, then I laugh randomly; I seem crazy and feel crazy. I do not know how to cope with this stuff. Does anyone?
    Thank anyone in advance for their response/help. I don’t know what else to say. Please help me.

  4. He also told me he would kill my dog, me, then himself on numerous occasions. I am afraid he will actually do this. He also beat our old dog before she died because she pooped blood on the floor (she had cancer and was almost 18 years old). I am afraid he will be able to get my dog from me because he will be able to present a more clear argument in court while I can barely speak (which is why I’m on a blog instead of at a counselor). I can’t get these words our correctly, in the correct order or with an explanation of how severe everything was. I really am a mess and can’t communicate about it well and absolutely drown people in words about it. I am self absorbed in trying to deal with this and can’t seem to be another way. people I love are going through rough things, too, and I can’t help anyone and seem to need their help more than I have ever needed anyone’s help before. I do not know how to get help nor do I even know what form of help I need. Does anyone know what kind of help I need? Can anyone point me in the right direction? I seem to freeze up in front of a counselor and have a rigid personality right now while at the same time being accommodating and smiling, but then I start to cry while smiling, which my husband always said was my ‘creepy smile’. I seem to be doing that particular form or smile a lot and worry that others find me creepy, too. They tell me I’m pretty and nice and things like that, but at the same time, I feel like such a freak, I can’t quite convey how different from everyone else I feel and am. Does anyone else have that same problem? Thank you for your time for my ridiculously long posts. Thank you in advance for your help and any shared experiences you can give me. I don’t know how to phrase any of this and hope I am making it clear that I need help/advice from someone who has walked in my shoes. Any fellow size awkwards?

  5. Peggy,

    Thank you so much for sharing with our blog community. It sounds like you have been through so much and I am so glad that you are able to share your wisdom and experience with us, that takes a lot of strength. It does sound like you have taken some HUGE steps by leaving this situation, finding help with a protective order and opening up to your family about what happened. I hope that you are able to recognize how courageous that all was. As far as the fear that you continue to feel, that is completely normal. There is no timeline when it comes to healing from an abusive relationship. It sounds like the past 21 years have been so overwhelming and it may take some time to sort through all of those emotions and experiences. And that is completely ok.

    Again, thank you for being so open with us here. From what you have described, it sounds like you are not too sure of what response to expect once you file for the divorce. And you are right, abuse is so unpredictable. From the patterns that we know exist in most abusive situations, we know that he is not going to want to feel as if he is losing any power and control. I am concerned by his connections and from what you have written. I encourage you to reach out to us, The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-7233, to explore some strategies to stay safe, both physically and emotionally, through it all. Our hotline is completely anonymous and confidential and an advocate is available 24/7 to offer guidance and support.

    I hope that this all works out, and once again, thank you for reaching out to us.


  6. Peggy,

    Thanks for continuing to share with our blog community. I will encourage you to give us a call when you feel you are able to talk about what is going on. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to someone on the phone who can also offer guidance and support. Our confidential hotline is available 24/7 at 1800-799-7233. One thing I would recommend is writing things out before you give us a call. Making this kind of like a prepared speech, so you can make sure to include everything you believe is most important for us to know.

    What you are feeling is completely normal. I am sorry you feel like you cannot be helpful to your friends and family at the moment. You can always feel free to give them our number as well and we can help explain a little about what may be going on for you. You’ve taken so many big steps lately and it is completely understandable to feel overwhelmed with it all.

    I hope you are able to reach out.


  7. I ended my 9 month relationship with my boyfriend today. Last night he grabbed me by the lapels of my jacket and threw me around out on a quiet but public street. He had followed me from his apartment when I said I was going to a concert by myself. He approached me from behind, hit me in the back, and said, “You want to leave me? This what you’re going to do? I’ll give you a real reason to leave me. I’ll finally hit you this time.” That’s when he grabbed me by my jacket and shook me back and forth.

    Three people walked around the corner and he let go. He then walked next to me, following me, trying to stand in my way to block my path. When I pointed out that he was only behaving himself because people were around, he said, “Oh you think I give a shit about those people?” and grabbed me and shook me again, throwing me a few feet away. Then he turned and punched the sheet metal exterior of the building we were next to, breaking his own hand, and cutting it open.

    This is the second time I have watched him break his hand.

    Having a calm and firm conversation with him today about how none of what happened last night was okay was really hard. I told him that we each need to get help – for ourselves – and that healing needs to happen far apart from each other. That I need to be honest with my family and friends about what happened because they will help keep me honest about not tolerating it, and not returning to him. After much pleading on his part for another chance, he finally accepted my firm “no” and left. I’m nervous, because tomorrow he will return to collect his belongings, and that is not going to be an easy process.

    Any advice about moving forward would be much appreciated.

  8. Dear Yvonne,
    Thank you for sharing this intense situation with us. I’m sorry you had to go through this abuse. You are showing so much courage by setting your boundries. It is so important that you stood up for yourself and spoke your truth. No one deserves to be treated violently and disrespectfully. It is so insightful that you say that healing needs to happen far apart from each other. At the hotline we do not recommend couples counseling for people in domestic violence. Instead we have found that separate therapy is what is needed.

    The next few weeks may be the most intense. Abusers want power and control over their partners and he may become more volatile as you attempt to disengage. You may want family or friends to come over when he returns to collect his belongings. Some people ask the local police to have an officer facilitate this process just to make sure nothing goes wrong. Many decide to cut off communication entirely because abusers can be unrelenting in their manipulation during this time.

    Please call the Hotline so that we can help you in your process of healing. We have can offer therapy resources at your local domestic violence agency and will gladly talk to you about any concerns that you have. We are here for you and respect your spirit.

    Hotline Advocate_MT

  9. Hi Marie,

    Our online chat is available every day 9am-2am CST. If you would like to talk outside those hours, and can safely call us, you can reach our Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 anytime 24/7.

    Take care,

    Hotline Advocate AS

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