Jess’ Story: Discovering Strength

By Jessica Lay
Dec. 12, 2018

This is the third in a series of blogs about domestic violence experienced by UPIC employees and their families. #WeAreWhoWeServe

The day UPIC decided to wear purple for Domestic Violence Awareness, I experienced a lot of conflicting emotions; inspiration, pride, despair, terror, and love all came up for me while reading other’s stories. Talking about my own story was so unexpected- I thought it would remain a personal narrative, only to be mentioned in passing to the close friends who were there for me at the time. But, my colleagues made me feel safe enough to share it.

The thing most people don’t tell you about the experience of survivors is that when an instance of abuse happens, you don’t automatically fall out of love with your partner. I remember grappling with the logic that I could not continue seeing the person that hurt me, yet for some reason that I couldn’t immediately identify, I still felt completely heartbroken over ending the relationship.

We were so young when we met- me a few years younger than him. I was 18 and working on getting my Associates Degree from the local community college before moving on to a four-year college. I wanted to be a nurse.

He wasn’t the best partner. I spent a lot of time driving him around, as he didn’t have a car nor a license. He lived with my family because he didn’t have the funds to afford his own place, despite working two part-time jobs. But, I loved him. He was quirky and creative but in an organized and meticulous way. He was tall and wore glasses. Even my dad got along with him. But, he was also controlling. Many times, I had to drop everything to meet his needs. This impacted my work life, my studies, and my relationships with friends and family.

As it happens, my story isn’t all that unique. In fact, many college students find themselves in abusive relationships, and are largely ill-equipped to deal with them. According to Love is Respect, 43 percent of dating women in college report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors. Moreover, 57 percent of college students say that dating violence is difficult to identify, and 58 percent don’t know how to help a peer who may be experiencing it.

The first incident happened during an argument at a party I was hosting. I wanted to get some space from him, so I got us both in my car to drive him to his parent’s house. While in the car, the arguing continued until in a fit he threw his phone and flailed his legs, kicking the inside of my windshield. I forced him out of the car and once things were settled and I was on my way back home, I noticed the huge cracks he left in my windshield. I had to get up early the next day to take my car into the shop, not wanting my parents to notice what happened.

It took a couple weeks of him being very apologetic and paying for my windshield replacement, but I eventually took him back. We weren’t together again for very long before he ended up hitting me in the face, hard enough to draw blood, during another very intense argument. That was when I knew I could never see him again.

It’s still so easy to blame myself for what happened. For years I dealt with triggers from the experience and witnessed first-hand how they had a detrimental effect on any new relationship. Looking back, I’m just very thankful that I got away. I was so young, and thinking about it makes me want to give my teenage self a hug and thank her for her strength.

Unfortunately, relationship violence in young adulthood is very common. A 2017 study by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that intimate partner violence (perpetrating or being the victim of behaviors ranging from unwanted sexual advances to stalking) is at an all-time high for those around age 20 and tapers off around age 28.

Because dating violence peaks in young adulthood, I believe adolescents and teens should be equipped with preventative measures. Fostering healthy romantic relationships requires we stop old cycles of abuse and learn skills needed for high-quality relationships.  The study continues:

“In general, as youths developed higher quality relationships during the transition to adulthood, they moved away from abusive behaviors. In other words, as trust, intimacy, and commitment increased, the occurrences of relationship abuse decreased.” -NIJ

This fact is particularly hopeful for me, being that I’m now 27. I was in two other abusive relationships during my young adulthood. My experiences have taught me strength and unwillingness to compromise my boundaries for another.

No one deserves to be mistreated. If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence or domestic abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.   You can also visit:

Author Jessica Lay is UPIC’s Program Lead for UPICares, the organization’s philanthropic initiative.  She spends half of her time assisting patients through UPIC’s contact center and recently completed a degree in Aging Services Management. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @UPICHealth.

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