Connecting with Britt: Surviving Domestic Violence
Join Britt Barlow, friendly front desk staff member at Maya Whole Health Studio, for Yoga for Runners: a workshop on Saturday, June 24th from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM, with instructor Alec Davis. All Proceeds from this workshop will sponsor Britt's participation in the Refuse to Abuse 5K at Safeco and ultimately go to support the work of Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, providing resources to assist victims and survivors and promoting healthy domestic relationships in our communities.
After he joined the Air Force and went off to basic training, he seemed to get back to himself- the person I first came to love. His letters were filled with the sweetness and romance that had won me over, and I regained my confidence in our relationship. During his graduation, he proposed and I accepted. We married in May 2012. He left for Guam in June, and I followed in August. I was excited (and nervous) to be traveling to a place outside of the US to start this new adult life together with my husband.
At first, our life together was all that I had envisioned. I was happy to be there with him and I felt validated in my decision to give my husband a second chance. I truly believed he would be my forever partner. I was blindsided, when just 10 days into our domestic life together, we went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday, and in the midst of a casual conversation about a restaurant in our home town, he became fixated and angry about a question I asked. He berated me throughout the ride home, calling me names and accusing me of ingratitude. That night was the first time he physically pinned me down. Continuing his tirade, he started the process of convincing me that I was worthless and unwanted and that I needed him to survive. Doubts began to seep into me then about our relationship, but also about my self-worth.
A week later, in another outburst of unreasonable anger, my husband again pinned me down and berated me, squeezing my face so hard he bruised my cheeks and cut the inside of my mouth. I recall in the aftermath, putting on makeup to cover it and thinking, ”How did it come to this?” I had to do a lot of rationalizing on his behalf, and like a lot of survivors, I had a different image of what domestic violence looked like. I thought it required being hit or punched, and I believed it must be more constant than what I was experiencing. The insidious thing about domestic violence is that it is incorporated into a relationship that also has elements of normalcy, so it’s hard to see yourself as a victim of the perpetrator. Another thing that makes this form of abuse so dangerous, is the access the perpetrator has to your greatest points of vulnerability. During the love and intimacy of our happy times, I granted this man access to information about all of my weakest points, and when he craved the feeling of power over me, he would use that privileged information to lay me low, to humiliate, and to confuse me into becoming a de facto accomplice in my own abuse.
The incidence of verbal and physical abuse became more frequent over the weeks and months to follow, escalating in intensity and varying in form, as my husband sought new ways to diminish my value; make me more dependent on him; and convince others that I was the cause of our troubles. He used every insecurity or shred of doubt I ever had about the love of my family and friends; about my intelligence and competence; and about my body image and attractiveness as a woman. He magnified those to the point that I was essentially brainwashed. At one point, he threatened to kill me and dump my body in the ocean, insisting that he would get away with it, because no one would care I was gone.
I walked on eggshells every day and had no idea what would set him off because he was unpredictable. He got mad at me for looking out the window of the car while he was driving; for talking to my family too much; even for breathing the wrong way. And little by little, he started cutting off every point of access I had to the world outside our relationship, taking away my iPad, phone, car keys, credit cards.
As I became more isolated, the physical violence grew more dangerous. The first time he hit me, he came from behind, smacked me in the back of my head and shoved me face first onto the cold, hard kitchen floor. He then dragged me into the dining room and put his arms around my neck and twisted like he was attempting to break my neck. The next time, after again assaulting me from behind, he pulled me by my hair and shoved me against the wall, threatening to snap my neck if I didn’t stop screaming. I was so terrified, I snuck out of the house in the aftermath, and went to the sanctuary of a friend’s house. They called the military police, and my husband received a citation for his behavior. I hoped that would help him see that his behavior towards me was not normal or okay. He claimed to be remorseful at first, but he ultimately turned the incident into further proof of my worthlessness as a wife, bemoaning that I had “ruined” his career and betrayed him. Something inside me clicked, though. Getting new perspective on the danger of my situation and my own value, I started plotting my escape from him.
It’s difficult to describe how hard it can be to leave, even in those moments when you can see through the fog that staying is not a feasible or safe option. As I look back on my experience today, I know that if I had stayed, he could have eventually killed me. The look in his eyes and the tone of his voice during the violence still haunt me. It’s amazing and fortunate, after years of being belittled and brainwashed, I still had instincts left for self-preservation. Along with the love and support of my family and a bit of resourcefulness, that was enough to ultimately get me out alive.
While I can’t say that it has been a cakewalk from that point, I can say that my life today is absolutely worth the effort I went through to survive that insanely challenging experience. I live in a beautiful part of the country, near family and friends. I have a job at Maya Whole Health Studio, where I’m frequently told how my smile and customer service skills have helped someone feel better. I am able to spend time with people who appreciate what I bring to their lives, and I’ve even found the courage to love and trust again. Despite challenges to overcome lingering health issues from my experience, my life is so worthwhile, more than I could have ever imagined during the time I was entrapped by domestic violence.
Escaping and surviving was the toughest experience I have ever overcome, but it is also my biggest life achievement and full of powerful lessons. I learned so much about myself, who I was then, and the type of person I wanted to be. I learned how to genuinely love myself and regain my self-worth. Thinking back, I am sometimes amazed that I had the strength to leave, but I’m so glad that I did it and that I’m alive today!
THIS feeling is why I want to help people who have gone through similar life experiences. I want people to see how truly strong and capable they are for having survived and stayed in this life. I want to encourage people who might be feeling stuck, who have been convinced that they are crazy and that no one cares about them- that it is worth it to strive to survive-. There is life beyond domestic violence! You are wanted and needed. There is help available, if you reach out. That is why I advocate and share my story, even though it can be painful and humiliating. If something in my story resonates with even one person who benefits, then it has been worth it.
In the present, I’ve found this opportunity to be employed at Maya has been more than “just a job”. I have found great joy, healing, acceptance, and support. I love what Maya has offered to not just myself, but to our community here in Renton. Here at Maya we encourage joy, health, and fitness to each and every person who walks through our door, including healthy relationships and home life. Please join us in a great opportunity to put those values into practice at our Yoga for Runners workshop on Saturday, June 24th from 2:00 to 3:30pm with Alec Davis. All Proceeds of this workshop will sponsor my participation in the Refuse to Abuse 5K at Safeco and ultimately go to support the work of Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, providing resources to assist victims and survivors and promoting healthy domestic relationships in our communities.