Quite a number of years back, one of my Facebook followers asked me to discuss some ways in which exercise, good nutrition and other healthy lifestyle behaviors could potentially play a role in inspiring people to leave domestic violence situations. Motivated by her request, I decided to share my own story in an effort to inspire and empower others.

In the past, I’ve shared a lot of stories of triumph resulting from my personally embracing healthy habits at an early age. With an upbringing in the Englewood community on Chicago’s South Side, like many African-American women and girls, I struggled with my weight, leading a lifestyle of physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

As a teenager, my mother inspired me to exercise and eat better which allowed me to take charge of my health and completely distance myself from many negative peer influences in order to pursue a long and productive career in the health, fitness and wellness arenas.

But, with such triumphs I rarely share a darker side of my past, which healthy lifestyle behaviors also helped me conquer.

For two years I was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a partner.

I met him in my early 20s, a phase during which I was very much into my physical appearance.

So was he.

Now, this man was significantly older than me and definitely skilled in the art of manipulation. In the beginning of our courtship he wined and dined me like most gentlemen do. But, pretty soon, the wining and dining was replaced with verbal, mental, and, eventually, physical abuse.

Let me start by saying that I wasn’t raised in an abusive environment. As the youngest of five children, I grew up surrounded by a whole lot of love. Unfortunately, this upbringing is probably why I was a tad bit naive when faced with someone who would eventually become an abusive partner.

The first signs of a problem began when I started working as a personal trainer at a popular gym where he was a member. It was one of those gyms that attracted all the “pretty” folks with phenomenal figures.

Needless to say, like most physically fit women, men flirted with me daily.

Having noticed, my partner began frequenting the gym much more than necessary. In the beginning I thought it was kind of cute, thinking, “Awww, he’s just a little jealous.” However, this subtle jealousy reached a breaking point when it became intrusive.

He began to interrupt my training sessions with male clients and started to intersect any correspondences I had with male coworkers. Eventually, he ‘encouraged’ me to start my own business, which I did; not realizing that his number one objective was to stop me from going to this particular gym.

Months turned into a year and he was practically on my heels for 16 out of the 24 hours a day he wasn’t working. When he did work, he called me nonstop; so much so that my earpiece became a part of my daily wardrobe. It was also during this time he started to criticize everything I did.

When I started bodybuilding with a group of males he accused me of cheating. When I got a couple of body piercings he said I was doing this for other men. Eventually, I just stopped leaving the house, unless I had clients.

My young mind hadn’t yet realized these behaviors weren’t at all normal.

Eighteen months into this thing I considered a relationship, I realized my face was full of acne and I’d begun developing excessive amounts of belly fat, more than likely due to stress. Then he started calling me “fat”.

My eyes were always puffy because I cried all the time. The few friends who knew what was going on couldn’t stand to be around me and they absolutely hated him. On top of that, I was totally in hiding from my family.

Related Article: Stress: A Major Culprit Behind Weight Gain, Belly Fat, and Chronic Disease

Of course, I didn’t think this was abuse, because he hadn’t hit me, yet.

Why did I stay?

Ask me now and I can’t believe I did.

Perhaps, because his verbal and mental abuse ALWAYS ended with a flourishing of flowers, gifts, and praise.

To fast forward, as the second year approached he started pressuring me into motherhood (not marriage). At this point I had been accepted into graduate school. During this time he started saying things like, “You think you’re better than me because you’re getting a Master’s degree.” This was a critical point in this abusive relationship.

It was when I told him I needed a break.

He gave me a break all right.

Less than a week into the “break” he started following me everywhere I went.

On multiple occasions I found my car with all four tires deflated or completed emptied of fuel. He called me excessively at all times of the day and night with emotional rants.

Eventually, he told me he just wanted to talk to me in person.

I obliged so he came to my apartment.

During an already heated conversation, I emphasized we should be friends. He didn’t like that so he became extremely enraged. I told him to leave and handed him a bag full of stuff he had left at my apartment, including a large pad lock. He took the bag and, once again, began to heavily criticize me using words too vulgar to mention.

The more I ignored him the worse he got.

Once he realized I was no longer fazed by his rants, he proceeded to push me, again and again. The last push was so hard that the bag he held swung towards my face causing the lock to hit me directly on my mouth.

There was blood splatter everywhere.

One of my neighbors heard the ongoing commotion and had already called the police. When the police arrived, they looked at my mouth and immediately arrested him and encouraged me to file an order of protection.

My neighbor gave me a mirror so I could see my face—I looked like Denzel Washington in the final scenes of Mo’ Better Blues. She courted me into her apartment and helped me clean my mouth. We talked for hours as she shared a similar experience.

I left inspired to file that order of protection. But, I told my family first. In shock, my father insisted on coming with me to file.

Once the order of protection was in place, I remained still for weeks.

Oddly enough, I missed him.

My domestic violence counselor told me this was a natural response to abuse. Prior to corresponding with her, I was not aware that there were so many “non-physical” types of domestic abuse (mental, verbal and even religious). During my sessions, she shared various coping strategies with me (support meetings, drawing, and journaling).

None of them worked.

I still needed a way to cope.

So, I started running a lot more—Sometimes in excess of 70-80 miles a week. During this time I also converted to veganism and underwent frequent juice fasts in an effort to clear my mind, body, spirit, and skin.

Related Article: Intense Exercise Training During a Juice Fast? Is This Even Possible?

I chopped off over a foot of hair because I felt a need to be completely free.

Everyone who knew me thought I’d completely lost my mind!

In addition to my exercise habits and diet, I also started meditating regularly.

Close to 7 or 8 months after his arrest he actually contacted me again and I spoke with him, “officially” calling it quits.

He repeatedly threatened to kill me, and I actually think he meant it.

Fortunately, by this time I was well-focused on my graduate studies and feeling empowered thanks to my exercise, dietary and meditation practices. I’d totally snapped out of feeling like a victim.

During our final correspondence, I reminded him that my family, including a host of male cousins, still resided in the Englewood community.

That was pretty much the end of our verbal correspondences. I saw him many times again in passing and believe it was because he still followed me on occasion. But, there were no more domestic problems. And, despite everything he’d put me through, I’d already forgiven him for my own mental health.

Sadly, shortly after the expiration of what was a 10-year restraining order, I found out he’d passed away under mysterious circumstances. I only hoped that he’d found peace within himself.

I shared this story for one reason and one reason only: To inspire and empower people who have been, in any way, affected by domestic violence.

Domestic violence is real and, oftentimes, goes unnoticed and, unfortunately, sometimes ends in death. If you or someone you know has been or is currently a victim of domestic violence, it is important to understand that real healing starts within. Sometimes it’s not even the violence itself that does the most harm—The damaging of the spirit and associated stress is what can kill.

During my experience with domestic abuse, implementing meditative strategies with a healthy diet allowed me to see things clearly and I began to remove myself from the situation. When I felt like crying or eating away the pain, I ran (albeit a bit excessively) in an effort to cope.

Eventually, these lifestyle behaviors empowered me and I became a much stronger person as a result. I remain convinced that the fight against domestic violence begins with inspiring and empowering the “victim” to leave the situation—It all starts there.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit their website.