How Does Abuse Grow?

By Sarah Stewart, author of The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil|

About Sarah Stewart:

Sarah is a domestic abuse survivor, mom, attorney, author, and speaker. She lives in the U.S. where she strives to change the narrative and culture surrounding domestic violence. Her first book, The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil, was published in October 2022 and chronicles her own experience with domestic violence and teaches others how to avoid or leave abusive relationships

I was raised on fairytales.  I learned about the knight in shining armor at a young age.  I consumed the movies and books that showed unwavering pursuit and refusal to accept rejection as a desirable trait and a display of true love and affection.  My perspectives of romance and true love were warped by society and the lack of strong, healthy relationship role models from the time I was a young girl. 

Though inwardly, I had no desire to marry or have children, I felt the outward pressure of family and friends to have a relationship.  They questioned me, seemingly innocently, in my teenage years and early twenties about my romantic relationships. Was I dating? Had I found a partner? How many kids did I want to have? When would I have children?  I didn’t know the answers.  And, my lack of answers to these questions made me feel insecure and inadequate.

So, I found someone.  Or, rather, he found me. He found me when I was 22. I wasn’t initially interested in him.  But, he continued to pursue me—you know, like they did in the movies—and I eventually gave in.  It took me a few dates to really become interested in him.  But, when I was, he rushed our relationship. I felt it then, but I didn’t listen to myself.  

He showered me with attention and affection.  He complimented me constantly.  He wanted to spend every free moment he had talking, texting, or spending time together.  We were on the phone most nights until the black, cold, early morning hours.  He shared his deepest, darkest secrets with me and only me- so he said.  He wanted to know mine too.  He wanted to know everything about me to understand every thought and breath I made-so he said.

By the end of the first month, his belongings started showing up in my home.  Every time he came over, a new item appeared.  I noticed.  I pretended I didn’t.  His affection and attention were all-consuming. It felt good to feel wanted.

By the end of the sixth week, he told me he loved me.  I remember how odd it seemed.  He blurted it out, in the middle of a spat about a male friend of mine.  His words stopped me cold in my tracks.  “You didn’t expect me to say that, did you?” he chuckled.

I caught my breath.  “No. No, I definitely didn’t.”

“I know.  It’s a little fast.  But, you’re it for me.  I know.  It’s ok if you don’t love me yet.” He said.

And, I didn’t.  I knew I didn’t, but I rolled the words over and over in my mind.  It felt good to be loved.  And, the way he loved me then was like the movies.  He was kind, understanding, affectionate.  He really seemed to know me and understand me on a level I hadn’t experienced before.  Though, I sometimes wondered how someone could feel that way so quickly, I often got validation from my friends that this relationship was ok.  It was how it was supposed to work, right? That’s what most of us thought anyway.

By the end of our second month together, he proposed.  I was confused.  I felt rushed.  But, here was this man that I was starting to think I might love, kneeling in front of me.  I didn’t want to lose him.  I didn’t want to hurt him.  But, I wasn’t sure about marriage- not to him necessarily, just in general. I said “yes” anyway.  I asked him not to let anyone now just yet because it seemed so fast to me.  At this point, he hadn’t left my house in weeks.  By the end of that week, he openly moved everything in.

Our relationship slowly began to change over the course of the next few years.  He started with jealousy.  He questioned any male friendship I had.  He texted me constantly when I was out with my friends.  He’d become irritated if he wasn’t invited to go or if I didn’t respond to him quickly.  At the time, he couched his jealousy in concern for my safety.

His “concern” for my relationships with others grew.  Eventually, he accused me of cheating on him with my male friends.  So, to prove my love for him, I had to stop hanging out with them.  Then, he started in on my female friends.  If they weren’t hitting on him, they were saying horrible things about me behind my back. He was very detailed in relaying their betrayals.  He could repeat every word. I pulled back from a lot of my friendships. The betrayals weren’t the reason.  Something inside me didn’t fully believe him but pulling away was still easier than battling the barrage of word vomit about how monstrous my friends were and what I must be doing while I was out every time I came home.

Then, he began going through my texts and social media messages.  He’d find messages from months or years before we met and use them against me.  He’d tell me how horrible I was for having these messages in my inbox.  Messages with friends, people I had dated, or just messages from strangers I hadn’t even responded to.  But any sort of insinuation of attraction in these messages somehow cheapened me in his eyes.  He was teaching me that his love and affection were conditioned on how I responded to him and his needs.

I wound up marrying him, despite nagging doubts. The bad times were really bad, but the good times were really good.  I still had glimpses of this storybook fictional romance and I held out hope that I’d eventually get back to that. But I never did. The storybook tale was just a fantasy.

After the wedding, he constantly devalued me.  He’d bring up the old texts and social media messages.  When I tried to leave, he’d bear-hug me until I promised I wouldn’t go, tears streaming down his face. So, after a year of fighting and trying to talk him into getting control of his jealousy and anger, I packed my bags and left while he was at work.

That’s when he threatened to kill himself.  He said he couldn’t live without me.  He was so terribly sorry, and he was going to do better.  He agreed to go to counseling.  We went to counseling for a few months, and he did get better.  So, I moved back in.  Our relationship was the best it had been since the beginning for several months.  He convinced me he had chosen to change.  So, we planned to have a child.

During my pregnancy, things got bad again.  They continued to get worse and worse until the day I left almost four years later.  And they didn’t end there.  After our separation, his abuse continued to escalate.  He seemed completely out-of-control.  But it seemed like no one else could see it.  No one would listen to me.  He presented himself so well outwardly that no one could believe how dangerous he was to me, my children, and his future partners.

The narrative didn’t change for me until after his arrest for several violent offenses against his girlfriend at the time.  Though, a couple years after his arrest, a jury still found him not guilty of the offense- despite his admissions on the stand of abuse.  A week after his release from jail, he was arrested again.  This time for first-degree rape.  

About nine months after that arrest, the District Attorney dropped the charges.  In that time, I got no contact orders for me and my children.  But he’s still out there.  Now, he’s on his fourth protective order and wears an ankle monitor to prevent him from contacting his victims, but he’s still out there.  He’s still hunting his prey.

Amid my struggles with the ex, I needed to clear my trauma-clouded thoughts.  So, I started a journal.  My journal separated my realities from his fictions.  As I navigated the family and criminal court systems, finding myself continually let down and re-traumatized, I realized my experiences could help someone else.  So, I turned my journal into The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil to share my experience, and what I’ve learned over the years.  I hope that my words can help protect and empower others.

And now, I am honored to join No More as a guest blogger. My goal is to explore the multitude of issues domestic violence survivors the world over experience and give tips, advice, and education to help survivors navigate the systems and traumas that hold us back.  I want to change the cultural perspectives around domestic violence, hold abusers accountable, and empower victims to break free from their abusers and the chains of their traumas.  I hope you will join me on this journey.


If you or someone you know experienced domestic violence, help is available.

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