Disclaimer: This article references domestic violence and forms of abuse that can be triggering. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline for 24/7 support at 1.800.799.7233 or visit thehotline.org.
I dedicate my story to my mom.
You stood up for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. I know it was really hard for you when I was with my ex-husband, and you tried really, really hard to fight for me. You’ve been a huge support my whole life. Thank you for being a dedicated mother and not giving up on me.
We met when I was 16 through mutual friends. One winter night, some friends and I were driving around town, and Paul* was there. There was a lot of snow and ice on the roads and the car was sliding. To calm my panic, I instinctively grabbed onto the person in front of me, and it was him. Everything moved quickly from there. Our relationship started off strong and we got really close, really fast. We were enamored with each other within days of meeting. A couple months later, I was pregnant.
During that time, I was finishing up high school but didn’t want my classmates to know I was pregnant. So, I applied to a program that would allow me to start college classes and finish my remaining high school credits at the local campus. Getting accepted was a major relief. During that same time, Paul was surrounded by a different crowd. He was actively selling drugs and would call me, asking me to spend time with them, but I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t understand why he was encouraging me to step into an environment where I, and his unborn child, could potentially get hurt. That was one of the first big moments I realized something was wrong.
For the first year of our son, Will’s*, life, Paul wasn’t living anywhere permanently. He was staying on friends’ couches, so we would go hang out with him and stay for a few days, but Will and I lived with my mom and sister. It was very back-and-forth and stressful. When I was 19, and Will was almost 2 years old, Paul and I moved in together.
Before then, I’d been working part-time, so I paid for our son’s everyday needs. Our money only combined once we moved in together. In the beginning, having our finances combined was simple. He was never around, so he didn’t hold any power over our money yet. I could just do what I wanted, and buy what we needed, without being questioned.
While his absence made the financial aspect of our relationship easier, it put a strain on the emotional side. Things were always off with us, but that’s like any toxic relationship, right? We’d get in these cycles, and it’d be really hard to get out of them. One minute he would be emotionally manipulative, using psychological manipulation to break me down and make me cry, and the next he would be loving, affectionate, and caring. It never felt like we were consistently in a bad place, which made processing everything more confusing. I felt broken.
When I meet someone or I’m in a relationship with them, I want to see the best in them. But as his drug use increased, Will’s and my safety became more and more at risk. So, I left. I called my mom, told her what was happening, and she came to get us. About a month later, I found out I was pregnant again.
By the eighth month of this pregnancy, I was in a good place. I was living with my mother, had cut contact with Paul, and decided to give our unborn daughter up for adoption. In that same month, Paul showed up on my doorstep, wanting to return some of Will’s things. Seeing each other again, reconnecting after months of silence, I felt pulled back in. It goes back to the manipulative cycles of an abusive relationship — your memories of the bad can be blurred by the reappearance of good or comfort. He was being kind and saying all the right things. He was promising he would improve and provide the life he knew I wanted for us and our children, and I wanted to believe him. I just wanted my family to work out. That was always my intention.
We ended up getting back together and decided to not proceed with the adoption. It came with a price though: He told me, I’ll do it, but we need to move somewhere else so your mom can’t have any control over your life. He extracted me from my support system. We moved to a new state, closer to his family, and we were there for five years.
I luckily made a few good friends in our new hometown, which I feel was divinely orchestrated. Once I had some girlfriends, things got a little bit better, but he was getting more controlling. Growing up, money wasn’t something my family talked about. So, I adopted the approach of don’t ask, don’t tell, and carried it into my adult life. I knew he had started messing around with Cryptocurrency, making money that way, and was still selling drugs, but I didn’t know any details. They were no longer “our” finances, they were “his” and it was clear he didn’t trust me. He was constantly on his computer and would monitor my spending. He would hand me the card, but if I came home and didn’t have the receipt or didn’t spend exactly what I was told to spend, I would get screamed at and told I was stupid. Things had changed from when we first lived together.
Eventually, the Feds got involved and I learned the truth about Paul’s businesses. It turned out when he was selling drugs, he would use Bitcoin both to hide his drug money and fund his other endeavors. Soon, the police were at our house, Paul was arrested, and he went to jail for two months. Suddenly I had a baby, a toddler, and an apartment that I had to pay for, and the person who paid for it was gone.
Once out, Paul got back into Crypto and started new businesses using it. He’d have me sign the business agreements with my name, and I’d ask him why, but he wouldn’t answer. Then, when I would threaten to leave, he would hold that over my head. Those businesses are in your name, he would say. If you leave me, you’re going to have to deal with the IRS.
There’s a part of me that thinks: I could have said no. I could have said no, I’m not signing this, but I was intimidated. He was going to become angry. We were going to have a problem if I didn’t do it, and I don’t like problems. I was in a fog. When you’re in an abusive situation, you’re living like a zombie. I was drained all the time, really tired and angry.
I hit my breaking point in 2018. He was still using hard drugs and the local child protective services took our kids. Our children were more important to me than he was, so I said, I’m leaving you finally. He didn’t believe me, but I did.
I got in my van, went to a friend’s house, got a new phone, told my mom what was going on, and didn’t go outside for four days. He came to my friend’s house and harassed her, then took the van and the money in my purse and maxed out my credit card. I looked at moving into a domestic violence shelter, and once I did, I was able to work to get my kids back. Soon after that, we moved in with my aunt. That’s when we started to rebuild our lives.
When you’re leaving an abusive situation, you have to relearn everything. I was so used to being controlled that I had no idea how to manage my own finances. I also didn’t know how much things cost. I didn’t know how much rent or how much a phone bill was. I had no idea how to stretch my money. It was hard, having that rude awakening.
Now, I have such a different, much more positive relationship with money. There’s a sense of freedom because I’m not afraid of it anymore. I know how to manage it (not perfectly, but I try), and I’m able to make my own decisions about how to build myself up.
I’m a life coach now, working with people in bad relationships. The future I prayed for and wanted, I have it. Moving forward, I’d love to work in an organization and coach women who are being abused. I think that’s my calling. I think that I would like to publicly speak in some capacity, use my voice and share my experience in hopes that it could help empower others.
As time passes, and I continue to work through the impact Paul has had on me and our children’s lives, I would love to be able to keep raising awareness and let people know that they’re not alone. I’ve had so many women tell me, I thought I was the only one, and I say, No, you’re not. People need help, they need support. I want to be that.
To read more survivor stories, find resources for those impacted by financial abuse, and get tips for supporting a loved one, visit this financial abuse support guide.
*All names and locations have been changed.