You can never know someone’s story by looking at them from the outside. To most I am a pageant girl, I am Miss New Hampshire USA. I am an NFL cheerleader for the New England Patriots. I am a non-college graduate who has created a very successful career as an area manager for a national food distribution company. But how did I get here? I was able to walk away from a four year, mentally and psychologically abusive relationship with someone whom I had thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
Although my situation was not nearly as heart wrenching as many you have heard, I use my story to remind others to not EVER let anyone or anything stand in the way of your dreams. My story started as a young 19 year old. I had just moved back home from my first year of college in Florida. Knowing that I was not returning back to school in the fall and unsure of the future ahead I started waitressing. I thought it was love at first sight when my ex-fiancé walked into the restaurant where I was working for an interview. He got the job and before we knew it we were head over heels in love. We spent almost every day and night together. When he was offered a job in Rhode Island we jumped on the opportunity to take our relationship to the next level and move in together.
Things were great! His job was going well and I was back in school and waitressing part time. Then, over time, I noticed the amount he was drinking increased and our relationship started to get bumpy. There were numerous screaming matches. I even remember taking his keys one night and sitting outside in his car to make sure he wouldn’t leave and do something detrimental.
According to him I could not do anything right. He was always degrading me, telling me how stupid my thoughts were. I had started to feel like less of a person.
Finally after another big blow out, I packed my bags that night and drove down to my parents’ home. I remember going to see my girlfriend and confiding in her about how he treated me. I told her how confused I was, that when things were good they were good, but when things were bad, they were very, very bad. According to him I could not do anything right. He was always degrading me, telling me how stupid my thoughts were. I had started to feel like less of a person. She told me she always had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. I decided to head back home the next day because his mother was coming for a visit. Still uneasy about the night before, I tried my best to enjoy the day. We decided to take a drive and stumbled upon a house for sale. I thought it was a sign, a green house, on St. Paddy’s day. Maybe this was going to change things, a step in the right direction. When I told my girlfriend she was speechless. She couldn’t believe that after all I had told her, I was going to be buying a house with this man who had been degrading, unsupportive, and verbally abusing me. Our friendship was never the same.
None of what I did was ever praised or appreciated and was only met with criticism and snide remarks...I still berate myself for not seeing the writing on the wall at this point. Instead, I tried harder to make him happy in hopes that things would get better.
Fast forward…we are now living in a home together. I was working two jobs, going to school, and doing most of the decorating, painting, and yard work to make this new house a home. However, none of what I did was ever praised or appreciated and was only met with criticism and snide remarks. This was especially painful when I continued to take care of all the household duties and hold down two jobs while my ex, now living off of unemployment from being fired from his job, spent his evenings at the bar. When I would get home from a 15 hour day, he would yell at me for not wanting to stay up and drink with him. I would try my hardest to stay awake and spend time with him but exhausted, I couldn't help but fall asleep. He would shove me so I would wake up, yell my name, and say “Really Jessie?” because I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
I tried to bury the effects his constant derogatory comments were having on me and live what would appear to outsiders as a normal life.
I still berate myself for not seeing the writing on the wall at this point. Instead, I tried harder to make him happy in hopes that things would get better. Despite my efforts his verbal abuse worsened. I was told to grow up and act my age whenever I was being goofy, dancing around the house, or just trying to be silly and fun.
I tried to bury the effects his constant derogatory comments were having on me and live what would appear to outsiders as a normal life. I needed to do something that would make me feel better about myself, because living in this atmosphere where I was being berated daily was taking a toll on me emotionally and physically. I had always dreamed of becoming a New England Patriots Cheerleader and decided trying out for the team would be something positive I could focus on. But, as soon as I shared the news with him he made me feel cheap because I would be in a swimsuit calendar. When I wanted to compete for a state Miss USA title he made me feel even worse. When you are in an abusive relationship, you start to believe that the put downs and the feelings of worthlessness are normal.
The next morning, I sat embarrassed with my mom talking about the night before. She expressed her concerns and unease about my relationship, but told me that my life was in my own hands, and that she and my father would always support me no matter what I decided. This was the man I was about to marry. I knew that the man I had fallen in love with was still within him, somewhere. I went back home to him later that day, put my ring back on my hand, and continued on, still in hopes that things would get better.
I took a new job, a great job at the same company as my father, and his envy set in. Although my ex-fiancé was working now, he was extremely jealous of my opportunity. When he was unemployed he interviewed with the same company but he was not offered a position. He would argue with me that my father didn’t push for him, that I only got the job because of my father, that I wouldn’t last, that I didn’t know the business like he did, and that I was going to fail. Now instead of being excited to go to my new job every day, I felt guilty; guilty that I had an opportunity he didn’t.
I trained for about a month before I was given an amazing opportunity to train at my company’s corporate office. My excitement only lasted so long. The first night we arrived, all the trainees went out to eat together. When I called my ex to tell him about the people I met, and that one of my colleagues was nice enough to pay for my dinner, the switch went off. He unleashed another verbal assault to make me feel small. I stood in a corner with my head down, while everyone else had a good time. The next few days I focused on the training. I did not want him to be right. I did not want to fail. I wanted to succeed and feel good about myself. Everyone I met there told me I was a natural for this business. They told me I was an amazing person. I started to listen to what they were saying. I started to allow myself to believe that I could do this. Here were a group of strangers and I was receiving more positive support from them in a matter of days than I had for a very long time from the man I was going to marry and spend the rest of my life with. It opened my eyes. I started to realize that I deserved to be happy, to live a life full of joy, love, support and kind words.
I was finally able to realize that I was more than what he thought of me. That I did not deserve to be degraded, unsupported, yelled at, insulted, embarrassed and so much more. I told him that when I returned, I would be taking my belongings and moving on.
I was not quick to answer his phone calls or text messages over the following few days. I decided to take that time for myself, to focus on why I was there, and how I would be successful. He got so upset and jealous that I didn’t have time for him because I was in classes all day that he threatened to call off the wedding. After a long pause I said “Yes, I think that is a good idea.” I had finally thrown in the towel. I could not take anymore. He tried and tried and begged me to talk to him but I had given up at that point. My decision was made. I was finally able to realize that I was more than what he thought of me. That I did not deserve to be degraded, unsupported, yelled at, insulted, embarrassed and so much more. I told him that when I returned, I would be taking my belongings and moving on.
I never heard from him after that point. When I returned for my belongings his mother, whom I had confided in many times before about the way that her son had treated me was there. All she had to say to me was “Take your things and get out.” Although bumped and bruised mentally, I walked away and it was like a weight had lifted off of my shoulders. I was free!
Remember, you are strong, you will be okay, you can stand on your own two feet, and to never, EVER let anyone stand in your way of your dreams, aspirations, and success.
I went through some ups and downs. Did I make the right decision? Did I really just waste four years of my life with this person? NO. Every path life takes us on, whether for good or bad, is a journey. If I didn’t get the opportunity I did to be away from home, I would never have met the people that I did, who saw so much in me, who forced me to see what they did, in myself. If I didn’t walk away when I did, I am afraid that the verbal and psychological abuse could have escalated to physical abuse. I would have never continued to chase my dreams like I have. I would have never become a New England Patriots Cheerleader, Miss New Hampshire USA, and an advocate against domestic and sexual abuse. Remember, you are strong, you will be okay, you can stand on your own two feet, and to never, EVER let anyone stand in the way of your dreams, aspirations, and success.
Believe in yourself.
-Jessica Strohm, Miss New Hampshire USA
Our thanks to Jessica for supporting the New Hampshire Says NO MORE Campaign. You can hear her speak about her story at the YWCA Empowerment Breakfast on May 19. A Miss New Hampshire USA Pageant Send-off Celebration for Jessica will be held on May 15 and will help to raise funds for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
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The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence
The National NO MORE Campaign