25 Faces: Veronica Dodson
I have to give credit where credit’s due and say that my next interviewee is the reason I’m so obsessed with Zumba. I met Veronica during my internship at Frontier Communications through a coworker. We immediately hit it off and now most Mondays & Wednesdays you can find us at Zumba and on Thursdays at El Paraiso (I have a fajita addiction).
Making a friend as an adult can often be difficult and therefore I’m grateful to call Veronica one. She’s a smidgen older than me and as such has a few more life experiences under her belt. A few months after we met she told me how she’d been married at a young age but the marriage was short-lived. I didn’t think much of it until one day she confessed that her ex-husband had been abusive. Needless to say I was floored. The best part about her story is that in the end she was able to get herself out of a terrible situation and is a successful young woman.
Kate: When did the abuse start happening?
Veronica: I would say after we’d been married for a couple of months. At first, he wasn’t violent toward me, but if we argued he would become enraged and after awhile, those fits of rage led to his destroying things. During one fight he kicked in our bedroom door, and another time he threw my car keys into the swimming pool at our apartment complex and ruined the key faub. Once he threw things at my car and dented it. At the time, I just thought he had a bad temper, so when he would calm down I would forgive him, even though I was angry that he was so destructive.
K: What made you stick around after the first time he abused you?
V: The first time he actually turned violent against me, it happened really fast and I was in total shock. We were having an argument and he decided he wanted to leave, and he went for my car keys. We couldn’t afford to insure him on my car, which was our only vehicle at the time, so I did all the driving and he was excluded from using the car under our insurance policy. I had the keys, so he shoved me against the refrigerator, grabbed them, and stormed out the door. I reported what happened to the police, and he was arrested that night. But the thing was, it happened so fast, and I wasn’t seriously hurt…I didn’t feel that it really qualified as “abuse”. After he was released from jail, we split up for six months and he moved to Nevada. I looked into filing for divorce, but I still loved him and by that point I really doubted myself about the severity of what had happened. So we ultimately decided to try and work things out and stay together. The court case against him was dropped because I refused to testify, and without my story they really had no grounds to convict him of anything. So he moved back to California and we got a new apartment together. Within a month things were more horrible than ever. One afternoon he destroyed several things in our apartment. Shortly after that, during a fight he shoved me outside of our apartment and locked me out. I wasn’t wearing shoes, and it was February and very cold out. All I could do was wait for him to calm down and let me back in. It was so humiliating, and scary too. The violent episodes got more and more frequent, and I developed a habit of checking for cuts and bruises when I was in the shower…to make sure that I could hide any telltale signs of what was going on. Then I’d climb into bed, he’d run his hands over my back and feel the welts and then he’d cry because he was so upset that he’d done that. It was awful, but I had worked so hard to defend him after his first arrest that I felt like a complete fool and was too ashamed to admit what was happening. I remember just wishing that he would die, that he would be killed in a car accident or something, so that I could escape it all. I really felt like there was no other way out.
K: What was the turning point in your relationship that gave you the strength to say “enough’s enough” and leave?
V: I remember that day very clearly. It was my only day off from work after working twelve days straight, and I was just so excited to have some time at home to myself. But he overslept and decided to call out sick, so I was stuck with him at home. I had made plans to meet my mom for lunch, and when I got home the apartment was a wreck. He was sitting in the middle of the mess, playing video games, and I just lost it. I started screaming at him about the mess he’d made, and he hit me and pinned me to the front door. It went on like that for awhile. Ultimately he stormed out later that evening. He called me from a pay phone, swearing at me and yelling at me that I needed to come pick him up. I said no. He called me again later and was calmer, so I agreed to go and pick him up. But when I got to him, he was anything but calm, and he was shouting at me as I drove home. I was afraid that he was going to pull the parking brake in the car – he’d done that a couple of times before, on busy roads when I was driving pretty fast – so I pulled over and made him get out of the car. Then I called my friend Jen and the whole story just poured out of me. She came straight to my apartment and convinced me to call my mom and the police. He was arrested that night, a felony charge this time, and I was taken to the hospital because I was having some stomach pains and everyone wanted to make sure that I was all right physically. As I lay there in the hospital, I remember thinking very clearly that if this continued I was going to die, and it terrified me. And so I fought to have him convicted and jailed, I got a restraining order, and I tried to move on with my life. It took some time, but I was able to build a happy life for myself, and so was he. I’m happy to say that he took his second arrest as a serious wake-up call and made some major changes in his life. We’ve had occasional contact with one another over the years, and he has apologized profusely for what he did to me. I wish him the best, and I hope that he will always remember what happened between us so that he never repeats those actions.
K: What advice would you give to others who are experiencing domestic abuse?
V: Get help, right away. If you think that your partner has a problem that can be solved, insist on involving a professional and getting counseling. If your situation has escalated the way mine did, leave if you can. If you can’t, or you’re too scared to, there are places you can go to get help. There are organizations available that can help you get out of an abusive relationship, like thehotline.org. You may not believe this now, but what is happening is NOT your fault and you are not MAKING your partner do this to you. And don’t try to sort through this alone. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see a counselor after my divorce. I had a lot of baggage for a really long time that I waited far too long to deal with. Something like this is very traumatic – you are the victim of a violent crime – and it’s not something you have to face alone.
K: How has your life changed since your divorce?
V: I’m a completely different person now. Stronger, more sure of myself…but it took a long time to get there. Being with an abuser can tear down every ounce of self-confidence and self-respect that you have, and it can literally take years to build it back up again. Now I look back on the girl that I was at that time and don’t recognize her. I’ve come so far. Now I have a successful career, have a strong sense of self, and have healthy relationships with incredible people like you!