My Journey of Hope
By Becky Erkkila
Copyright 2017 Becky Erkkila
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To my sweet husband who supports me in all my endeavors
Table of Content
Looking back it was amazing how my brain processed the whole incident. Even though I had repeated my statement numerous times to the police, family and friends, it was as if I was telling a story about someone else.
I am the oldest daughter in a family of ten children. I have wonderful parents who worked hard to provide and raise us well. They taught us to be responsible, hard working, and to trust in God. We didn’t have a lot of money, which was difficult on my parents. This has been important, however, in helping me appreciate and enjoy what I have. I had a lot of responsibility taking care of my younger siblings and even my older brother. This was a blessing, as I learned homemaking skills, how to care for children, and to work hard. We moved a lot while I was growing up and it taught me how to be flexible, make friends, and find the best in every situation. I have wonderful memories of being part of a large family. My family is still some of my closest friends.
While I was growing up, I made very specific plans of what I wanted to do in life. I was looking forward to going to college and having roommates. I didn’t want to get married nor have children until I got older. I did very well in school, so I was well on my way to live the life I had planned. As I got closer to graduating from high school, I began to have an overwhelming desire to get married. I feel like my higher power had other plans for me, if I was willing. I had dated some in high school and began dating more after graduation.
I had dated several different guys but it didn’t seem to click, until that cold January night when I attended a singles dance. That is when I met my husband Bryn. My heart skipped a beat the first time we danced. I have fond memories dancing together to the cool eighties tunes. Shortly after meeting, he surprised me with gift of a fur coat that stole my heart even more. We dated for a couple of months then became engaged to be married. The closer we got to our wedding date, the more problems came up in our relationship. My parents were very against the marriage although I still felt like it was something I needed to do. We were married in August and I became pregnant with our first child in September.
The next eight years were a roller coaster of emotions. Bryn was a good man, but I began to understand that he had some emotional problems. He spent many late nights arguing with me until early in the morning about things that didn’t make any sense. He would have an issue about something then he would spend hours convincing me that it was my problem and that I was to blame. As soon as I was willing to admit fault, I would finally be allowed to go to sleep. I remember being so tired, begging him to leave me alone and let me sleep. I would be so exhausted that nothing would make sense and I think even if I had been alert it still would not have made sense. During the first year of our marriage, he would call me horrible names and make false accusations about my character. The more I heard these things the worse I felt about myself. I went from vehemently standing up for the truth, to listening, then believing the terrible lies I constantly heard. The mental and emotional abuse that I experienced during this time has taken me years to overcome.
As time went on, it went from mental and emotional abuse to sexual abuse. I was forced on numerous occasions to perform sexual acts that made me feel uncomfortable, sick and ashamed of myself. If I did not willing participate in these acts, he would spend hours arguing with me about why I should until it was just easier to do whatever he wanted.
Day by day I began losing myself until the person I was began to disappear. There were several times that I became so discouraged with the situation I was in, that I became suicidal. I didn’t feel like I had any options. I felt so strongly against divorce that it was not a choice. Of course, thinking back, ending my life was not really an option either because I would have never left my babies. I would just beg Heavenly Father to make the hurt go away. I would tell him over and over “I just can’t do this anymore.” Then peace would surround me and I was able to make it through another day.
There were good times, however, like the birth of my first daughter. She was my reason to keep going, the joy in my life. As time went on, I had three other children with Bryn. They all brought a new reason to live, to try harder to be the best person and Mom that I could be. We moved to Alabama, New York, and California while my husband served in the military. I met many wonderful people and made good friends, who were another blessing to help me through these hard times.
Bryn was offered money to get out of the military, so we moved back to Utah where my family lived. I was so excited to be close to family again. I was seven months pregnant with my fourth child and was looking forward to have the support of my Mom and sisters again.
At a time that should have been wonderful and joyous, it turned out to be the end of the marriage. My husband had it in his mind that if we ever bought a house, we would get a divorce. He believed this because his parents divorced after buying a home together. I did everything I could think of to try and repair our broken relationship. We attended counseling and went to marriage classes to no avail. I realized it was over when one night I arranged for my sister-in-law to take my children and planned a romantic evening for the two of us. During dinner he looked at me and said “You will just do anything, won’t you?” That was a slap in the face. I realized I was trying to fix a relationship that he didn’t even care about anymore. It is disheartening now to remember how I was rendered incapable of valuing and respecting myself. One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make was to file for divorce.
Several times during the divorce process, I poignantly saw what his true feelings were about the children. On the day he left he offhandedly said “Well, whoever you marry next can just adopt the kids.” This statement sent daggers to my heart. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to be part of his children’s lives. My children were everything to me. I hoped he didn’t really mean this, so in the divorce I gave him liberal visitation. I wanted him to be able to see the kids whenever he wanted but he usually only took them for an hour or two a week. One Saturday I left the kids with him while I went on a job interview and spent some time with my sister in Salt Lake City. When I returned later that evening he appeared very frustrated. He commented about not wanting to be a babysitter. I was angry and hurt, realizing that he didn’t want to be a parent. For the sake of the children, I decided to never leave them with him again, unless he asked to spend time with them.
Shortly after Bryn found a new job and moved out of state. Contact with the children became less and less as time went on. One time he called me and asked if I would meet him in Las Vegas. I sat on the other end of the phone waiting for him to mention the children. Finally I asked, “What about the kids?” His comment was “Oh, yea,” as if he had forgot they existed. It seemed as if the hurt would never end. As I look back, I realize that he probably never wanted to have children. He probably agreed to have children because he knew that I wanted them.
Most of my children do not know these details. My youngest daughter, who was about seven months old when we separated, has a dreamy image of her father. She thinks if she could just see him, he would take her on Daddy-daughter dates, spend time with her and love her like she has always dreamed of. My heart wishes she could have all her dreams fulfilled but I just carefully change the subject. Why should my children be hurt any more than they already have been?
The divorce was the most difficult thing I had ever done. I was in a situation I never imagined with four mouths to feed. I was mentally and emotionally broken. I felt like such a failure. I spent the next several months beside myself with sorrow and loneliness. I would sit and listen to heart break songs over and over while sobbing. My favorite was Celine Dion “All by myself”. The more I listened the lonelier I became. I was a shell of the woman I used to be after eight years of degradation, put downs and mental anguish. I had no training, so I didn’t know how I would provide for my children. Most importantly I had no confidence to get training. I cleaned houses for a short time and thought the answer to my problems was to remarry.
I met an old neighbor several months after the divorce and we started dating. He was not the kind of man I would normally date but he was very persistent. I can look back now and see the red flags I should have seen but overlooked. I didn’t think anyone would want a woman with four children, so maybe I should just accept whatever was out there. We only dated for about a month when he started asking me to marry him. I said no several times and then finally broke down and said yes. We were married in two weeks, making the dating time about two months.
The marriage started out with a bang. The day we returned from our honey moon he was served with a domestic violence charge from an old girl friend. He became very angry and started throwing things. I was scared and wondered what I had gotten myself into. He had previously been a part time police officer. More questionable stories came up about past violence with his ex-wife. For every story he seemed to come up with a very plausible (it seemed to me at the time) reason why it happened that way. Even though things seemed pretty scary, I thought I had to make this second marriage work. I had already failed one. I couldn’t do this again to my kids.
My children and I quickly learned that my husband was to be obeyed immediately. The children spent most of their time downstairs, where I sent them, so they wouldn’t upset him. It felt like we were walking on eggshells all the time. We could all sense when the tension would start to rise. He would use threatening gestures or looks to keep us all in line at first and then it began to escalate to throwing and breaking things. When I realized that an argument was breaking out, I would try to stage it where nothing important would get broken. I became aggressive and even broke things because I wasn’t sure how to handle his violence. Early in our marriage we had been arguing and ended up standing by a shelf with fragile items. I don’t remember what Shayten did but I have a clear memory of my actions. I picked up an heirloom salt and pepper shakers and threw them to the ground. They shattered along with my heart. What on earth was I becoming?
This was a turning point for me. I realized I was becoming just like him and I didn’t like it. I then did the complete opposite for several years. I became docile, obedient and subservient. I thought if the children and I were good enough, maybe he wouldn’t get angry.
For every episode of violence, he apologized and promised to never do it again. Then he expected me to immediately forgive him, express my love and be intimate with him. If I didn’t perform this as expected, and it was a performance, he would become angry and the whole process of violence would start again.
I became impervious to everything he said. I locked my feelings of fear, disappointment and hurt deep inside until I wasn’t even aware they were there. I was a puppet to whatever I thought he wanted. I became very good at putting on a show of being happily married. I faked it so long, that I almost convinced myself.
One year into the marriage my first husband paid for the kids to be adopted by my new husband. On the outside I was doing everything I could to create the family I had always wanted. We had two boys together and my husband had two girls from his previous marriage, which made eight children.
On top of the relationship problems, we had financial problems. My husband went through five different jobs in six years. During each job change he would be unemployed for an average of 3-6 months at a time. Our house payment alone was three quarters of his monthly income. A lot of the time we had assistance from the state and our church. I took the responsibility of paying the bills, and felt burdened and discouraged most of our marriage. Shayten didn’t seem to care if we made ends meet. He thought more about his wants. He bought a motorcycle and other frivolous things when we couldn’t even pay for basic necessities.
I encouraged him to go to school so he could find a job that could support us. Every time I expressed concern about the money, he would become enraged and call me lazy and demand that I get a job. This was very frustrating to me, because I did feel responsible to help but felt I was doing everything I could. I was a seamstress at the time working out of my home for 6-10 hours a day, plus taking care of the children. At one point I did get a job in the evenings when he was home.
This wasn’t what he really wanted because he would try and convince me to stay home. Basically, he wanted complete control of everything about me. This included answering my cell phone and the home phone and interrogating anyone who wanted to talk to me. My friends and family began calling less and we became more isolated. Also, during the time I was working, he was intimidating, scaring and hurting my children. One night while I was preparing to go to work, my second oldest son, who was about 5, hid in the van so he could go to work with me. My son told me later he was too scared to stay home.
The intimidation, control and violence slowly escalated as the marriage progressed. At the beginning of the marriage he would throw things next to the person or raise a hand as if to hit them. He also had this severe look that was very effective, especially with the children.
As things became progressively more violent, I became very good at rationalizing his behavior. I had bruises on my extremities, most of the time from random punches or pinches meant to keep me inline. The children were constantly threatened, bullied, intimidated and when he deemed necessary, physically abused.
My family would become very upset when they found out about the different incidents of harm but I would always rationalize his behavior. I would try to convince them that it wasn’t what it seemed to them. However, it was me that wasn’t facing the truth. I was in survival mode and couldn’t see a way out. I didn’t want to end up having another divorce but more than that, I somehow knew I would never be allowed to leave.
Once I received a pamphlet that was sent home from the Head Start Preschool Program that listed the signs of domestic violence. As I read it over, many of the situations were exactly like the one I was in. Another time I was watching a movie on Life Time about a doctor that was abusing his wife and the length of time it took her to leave. In my mind, domestic violence was a woman that had a black eye and had obviously been beaten. I didn’t realize that being demeaning, swearing and intimidating gestures were all part of the violence. I didn’t recognize that it encompassed mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Which at one point or another I have experienced all of these.
At one point I began to not care about his threats or what he was going to do. Several times I tried to remove myself from his fits of rage. I tried locking myself in our bedroom or the bathroom. Both times he broke the door down. Once when I was seven months pregnant I ran into our room and tried to climb out the second story window. I would try to leave in a vehicle and he would pull open the door and break it or stand in front of the vehicle. Another time I ran through the house and out the back door, all the while being chased. He caught me as I was rounding the house and literally ripped my jeans. I tried to call the police several times, but each time he would slam the phone down and physically restrain me. When I was pregnant with my last son, it became very intense.
My family found out and helped me and my children to a safe house. The safe house put a lot of pressure on me to make decisions that I wasn’t ready to make yet. They wanted me to get a protective order, which I knew would infuriate my husband and he would retaliate. They pressured me to get a job, sign papers to not do drugs and had many rules on how to take care of my children. These were all very frustrating to me. I had never done drugs or drank alcohol. I had five children whom I was very capable of taking care of. I did have a job at my home sewing while I took care of my children. It didn’t make sense to me to go and get a job for 6-8 dollars an hour, be away from my children and then pay it all back in daycare. I only stayed about two nights then Shayten convinced me to come back with more promises of love and good behavior. One specific thing I requested was that if he became angry that he leaves for a while, until he could gain his control back. He promised he would do that.
Bottom line, I was not emotionally, physically or financially in a good place to be a single mom. I didn’t know how I would have the courage to leave, be single again with five children and one on the way. I didn’t know how I would financially support my family. I felt so needy when I was pregnant. I wanted to be taken care of physically, mentally and emotionally. I did not have enough courage to leave at the time.
As the violence became worse I kept telling myself it was ok, because it was just me. I didn’t realize how much he was abusing my children also. Slowly I began to recognize my situation for what it really was. The next big hurdle was to get the courage to actually leave. This was almost more difficult than recognizing the abuse. As our financial situation became unbearable, I started looking at options.
I had a discussion with Shayten about our finances. I explained that something needed to change. Either he needed to go to school, or I did. He didn’t want me to go, so he decided to begin electrical training. He went for about three months at which point he quit and blamed me for “forcing” him to go to school. I was so frustrated with him. He was not working while doing his training. Now we were behind financially with no hope of making it. Shayten didn’t want me to go to school but I knew I had to take matters in my own hands.
I had wanted to go to college long before I was married. I kept thinking about it and what I would like to do. I decided to do my prerequisites for nursing school. I knew this was a career that could support us. Consciously I hadn’t even thought of the option of leaving yet, I was just trying to help support the family. I took six credit hours my first semester, which was difficult, especially with all the other responsibilities that I had.
Going to school opened my eyes to all the opportunities that were available to me. I came in contact with Women’s Services at the college, where I learned about all the services available to help women be successful. As I attended school, I became more confident and my self esteem increased. The idea grew in my mind that maybe I could go to school and take care of my children by myself. I knew I could get assistance for food and medical from the state, now I just needed to figure out a place for us to live while I finished school.
Shayten began to sense that he was losing control of me the longer I was in school. He also became more aggressive and violent. One time he became so angry that he grabbed me around the neck and choked me until I almost passed out. After he let go of me I just sat there stunned. I watched him as he got scared and upset. I think he realized that he was capable of really hurting or even killing me and that frightened him.
Another time he took a loaded Glock, which he had used previously as a police officer, and threatened to kill himself. At that point I didn’t care; in fact it would have made my life easier. So, I told him to go ahead. This made him angrier because he didn’t get the reaction that he wanted. He pointed the gun at me and said “How about I just kill you?” Then I thought OH CRAP, why did I say that. Thank goodness, shortly after he lowered the gun.
I had reached the point that I didn’t care about him or even myself anymore. I was tired of being scared. When he would threaten me, I would yell back “Go ahead and hit me”. I didn’t care if he hit me or even killed me. I was tired of being threatened, intimidated and abused. There were times in my marriage that I thought the only way out was to kill myself. Of course I couldn’t leave my children behind, so I fantasized about driving off a really steep cliff that wasn’t too far from our home. That way all of us could go together and nobody would get hurt anymore. I was stopped when I realized that one of us may live and be maimed. That would be even worse than our current situation.
It was the end of 2003; I would soon be turning 34. My second semester would start in January. Shayten decided to quit his job and sign up for the exact classes I was in. Now that we were both in school, we were together 24 hours a day. I couldn’t think about anything but surviving each day. Every minute was taken up with school, sewing, taking care of the home, children and my husband. I was doing very well in school on my tests but Shayten was having a more difficult time. He expected me to study with him, thinking this would help his grades. Most of the time I didn’t have time to even study myself, let alone help him. This seemed ridiculous to me because he had no responsibility but to do his homework and go to school.
One evening he was upset because I wouldn’t help him study for a test. He got angry and left. This was the first time we had been apart for about two months. Even though I don’t ever remember consciously planning to leave or get a divorce, I immediately put the kids in the van and went to my parent’s house. I told them some of the recent things that had happened and asked for some advice about what I should do. My sister and her husband had been living with my parents but had recently moved out. This could be the answer to a place for my children and me to live.
My Dad and I were in his bedroom talking when Shayten called to talk to me. I guess he had quickly figured out we had left. My sister said I was not available and he said “Yes she is, I just saw your Dad leave the bedroom”. This freaked everyone out because we knew he was outside watching every move we made. He came in the house and ordered the children to go home with him, knowing that I wouldn’t go any where without my children. I stayed at my parents a while and tried to figure out what to do.
I decided that I needed to get a divorce but I had no idea how to do it. I had asked Shayten to leave many times when he was violent and angry. Not once had he left or allowed me to leave. How would we be able to get out alive? I dreaded going home that night because I didn’t know what his reaction would be. To my surprise he had called some church leaders over and wanted them to convince me to stay. This actually worked in my favor. The men from the church had convinced Shayten to leave for a short time to see if we could work things out. The next morning, miraculously, he actually packed a few things and went to his mothers.
Over the next couple of days I tried to figure out how to get out of the marriage. I continued to talk to Shayten and put on the pretense that we were working things out. I didn’t know what he would do if I told him it was over. Shayten talked my son into letting him come to a scouting function about two days after he had moved out. I ignored him and stayed away from him the entire evening. As I was getting the kids into the van his comment was “You’ll come back, you always do”. Ooooh, that was just what it took to give me the gumption to be done with him.
One evening in mid-March 2004, my brother spent several hours late one night trying to convince me to get a Protective Order because of the incident with the gun. My brother had served as a military police and knew, first hand, the danger the children and I were in. I was so scared that Shayten would retaliate. I fought it for a while because I knew how angry Shayten would be. Shayten’s previous wife had filed for a protective order and I saw how angry that had made him. My brother just kept reasoning with me and trying to help me see the necessity of the protective order. I kept rationalizing that if I just walked away, everything would be better. I was hoping that Shayten would just find another woman and move on with his life. My brother was so insistent until I finally agreed to go apply for the Protective Order.
Everything that occurred over the next month and a half was a blur. I applied for the Protective Order and the judge agreed to a temporary protective order. The police were supposed to deliver it but I was unsure when. One evening that week my daughter was attending a youth activity at the church and Shayten showed up. He must have been very angry because my daughter called me all upset and told me to leave the house. He began to threaten suicide and make a scene. Someone at the church called the police they delivered the Protective Order at that time. Shayten was taken and committed to the mental ward of the hospital for threatening suicide. I was so relieved, I felt safe. I actually slept that night.
I knew we only had a short time before Shayten would be released from the hospital. My parents said we could move in with them and live there until I was finished with nursing school. So, over that weekend, my family moved us. I felt like we were being rescued from a deplorable situation. I didn’t realize how appalling my emotional, physical and financial life had sunk to. As my family was moving us, they saw how worn out our bedding and clothing were. My siblings were so kind and bought new mattresses and bedding.
My children and I began to settle into our new life. Since it was the end of March and only two more months of school left, I continued to transport the children to their same schools. My kids and I were obviously struggling with the separation, the move and all the affects of being in an abusive situation for six years. The children were having difficulties getting along and functioning appropriately in school and at home. I would get calls from school from concerned teachers. I would explain our situation and ask the teachers for their patience and love for my children. At home, the children spent most of the time arguing and being unkind to each other. They had spent so many years trying to stay of trouble from Shayten by blaming each other. I was in survival mode just trying to make it through each day. I was able to function by just focusing on the immediate thing I had to do, like go to school, take care of the kids, or work on my sewing.
It became an emotional roller coaster for the first few weeks of April. I would think of life as a single parent, being safe from harm and being able to care for my children. Then I would be ripped from my daydream from a call about Shayten. Church leaders and mutual friends would call to update me about his whereabouts and conduct. I would hear stories about his suicide threats and attempts. He was in and out of the hospital several times. Each time I knew he was in, I would feel a little safer. My church leader tried to convince me to get back with Shayten. I know he didn’t understand the severity of the situation. Shayten was using the suicide threats to manipulate people to feel sorry for him. I tried not to get caught up in all the drama around him and just focus on my kids and school.
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This is a true story of one woman's experience in a domestic violent marriage and subsequent kidnapping. She shares what caused her to become involved in the damaging relationship, how she finally recognized the abuse and what she did to get out. She also relates the part she played in the abuse. She goes on to explains the steps she took to not only survive, but thrive.