We live with a sad truth: every day, women in our community are abused by an intimate partner.
One in three women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
“If you know it, you don't want to accept it. You want to work out things. Now, I know it was emotional abuse,” Veronica told NBC 5 in a candid, raw conversation about the life she lived for 20 years.
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She now faces the sad, heartbreaking truth. She was abused.
The yelling came six months into a new relationship.
Each verbal assault took its toll until 2000, five years later. That's when Veronica went to see a doctor about her constant crying and shaking. He called in a social worker.
“I start telling them about the situation, and they say ‘it's not you.’ The doctor said, 'You don't need medicine. They are emotionally abusing you.'”
On the advice of the social worker, Veronica went to a shelter then for the first time. His promises to change quickly followed.
“When I was in the shelter, ’look you're so beautiful again and I love you and we're gonna start again new and fresh.’”
She trusted him and left the protection of Safe Haven of Tarrant County. She went back to the home she shared with her husband and children. He went back, too, back to his old ways.
Veronica described the terrifying nights that followed.
“In the middle of the night, too, you're sleeping so good. And he wakes you up with the yelling in your face, leaving the gun next to me, letting me know that if I do something, he will get it against me.”
No one ever saw her scars; Veronica kept her pain hidden.
“I was covering all the areas. Keeping the house, keeping the kids, trying to be nice so we don't argue,” she said.
She kept it up for 15 more years.
She wanted her children to have a father, a family.
She worked and went to school while she said her husband had an affair with her niece. She found them together.
Veronica described what happened next, in a small voice, stopping to catch her breath or cry.
“That’s when he started hurting me. My head. And I tried to stand up and I fell. It was so bad. That’s when he was hurting me, my legs started getting numb. When he was choking me, his face was not love. He hated he was feeling for me. It was I think I’m not gonna make it. I told God, ‘I want to see my daughters. You promised.’ It it was kind of magic. His face changed. He started taking care of me, blowing my face, hugging me, telling me he will take care of me. He took me to the restroom, got me some water, telling me sorry for all those many years, even telling me, ‘I know I’m not being a man for you.’ And I believed him. And, I said, ‘God, he changed.'”
Veronica survived that awful night, but two nights later as she drove for her night time job of office-cleaning, she knew she couldn't go back.
And for the second time in her two decades of abuse, she sought refuge at Safe Haven.
“I just remember I went to the shower and I was just in so much pain, whole body was in pain. And I went into the shower, and it was the first feeling that something good is happening, when you feel the hot water on your body. I fell on the bed and closed my eyes and say,'at least he's not gonna find me here.’”
“Emotional abuse is way more scarring than physical abuse. It takes years to even recognize it first of all, then years to overcome it and break that cycle,” said Yvette Richardson, a case worker at Safe Haven and part of the team helping Veronica break the cycle.
“They worry about me and ask about me,” said Veronica. “Physically, you feel so bad. Beauty and fashion was in the past, even the clothes you choose are dark. But they start telling you, ‘you look nice today.’ And, you start looking for something nice so they can tell you again.”
“My main job is to make sure she's housed, learns how to be self sufficient,” said Richardson.
Eight months after she left her marriage and 20 years of emotional abuse, Veronica has gotten her citizenship. She is working three part-time jobs as she studies for her GED.
And, that smile when she's with her daughters is genuine.
“I’m not gonna tell you I’m there,” said the 43-year-old. “Some days it's emotionally hard, but it's not days. It's little times of the day.”
“Now more than anything in my whole life, I can see that I can do what I want. Eat what I want. Dress what I want to dress. And, I'm working on that.”
Recovery will take time, but Veronica is learning she has the right to live her life free of domestic violence.
“It’s okay to live for your family, it's okay,” Veronica said. "That's what women, especially Mexicans, we are made for. But there is a line that nobody can cross on your dreams, your emotional and your physical. That's a line not even your kids can cross. And when that line is crossed, it's abusing.”
Veronica is one thousands of women and children who get help every year through Safe Haven of Tarrant County.
NBC 5 will support those efforts with the Legacy of Women Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, October 12 in Fort Worth.