Love is a savage.

Have I ever told you I am a survivor of domestic violence? Well now that you know, this is my story.

This dose is about a time when life became a little too savage for me.

When I was 20 I met a guy. He was cool, respected at his job, kind of a bad boy, fun, and the life the party. I am not cool nor have I ever been the life of the party, but I was young and he made a good impression. Like many immature young women on their own for the first time, I was smitten by his charm. I loved the attention he gave me. Somehow, I was able to ignore all the warning signs. The drinking, lying, multiple past relationships that ended badly. I was convinced he was different with me. We all know how this will end.

Our whirlwind romance swept me off my feet and I was in love. So much so I was ready to take his last name, join bank accounts, and basically just give up anything for him. Looking back, I don’t even know that girl. How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I listen to my gut, to other women, to his friends? Hindsight is 20/20.

And regardless, if I never went through this I wouldn’t have my kids or have met my husband. This all happened for a reason only I did not know what it was for a long time. I had to go through unimaginable pain to get to acceptance.

In August 2007 I married the man I thought was the love of my life. We didn’t have a wedding, we just exchanged vows at the courthouse in my hometown. My family was supportive because they know once I make up my mind no one can change it. They saw the mistake but loved me enough to support me no matter what. God bless them.

The first few months were great. We celebrated, prepared for him to deploy, and enjoyed our time together. Life was one big party except that I was too young drink. We lived in downtown San Diego, close to the action that I could not participate in. As I worked long hours, he partied hard. I made excuses. Not like I knew what it was like to be of drinking age, so what did I have to compare it to?

One night he came home hammered. He threw things at me and I left. My good friend (who is a Navy Seal) came to my rescue and took me to his house. I thought if he slept it off then it would be okay. Maybe he had a rough day at work.

I was wrong — leaving only made it worse. In the morning he picked me up and before we even made it home he had accused me of cheating. He said he drank more because I was unfaithful. Had he forgotten the episode where he chucked a phone across the room at my head? I left for my safety, stayed with a guy who I look at as a brother, and his accusations were starting to upset me. But I thought about it from his perspective and I had stayed at another guy’s house nonetheless, so I validated his anger. We never discussed the drinking or the throwing things. This became my fault. And that is how it went for a while. Drinking, throwing things, me staying at work longer and longer.

Finally, we moved into an apartment in the suburbs. We got a roommate who helped calm things down. Life started to get better. In January, I found out I was pregnant (and foolishly believed it would solve all our problems). We were not trying and I was on birth control, but I believed it was a blessing in disguise. We shared the news with family and prepared for the next step in our marriage. He celebrated way too long. Then went on deployment and I was finally able to feel myself again.

I flourished in his absence. Never did I think about divorce. I was too stubborn for that. I just looked at contemplated ways we could improve our marriage.

I was blissfully ignorant for two months until the rumors from his ship reached the sand. My e-mail inbox was flooded by rumors of him partying and doing who knows what with other women on the boat. I dismissed it as overprotective friends looking out for me. But deep down, I knew some parts were true. This continued all deployment.

I focused on having a healthy baby which was quite difficult with the stress and having severe morning (daily) sickness. The time came for him to return from deployment and foolishly I assumed once the baby arrived his temptation to stray would subside. It would all be better.

The baby came and for a moment it was everything I ever dreamed of. The loving husband not leaving my side. Nervously awaiting our baby girl. Terrified when I was reacting badly to medication, assuring me he was going to take care of me and our baby. Crying when they said my heart rate was at dangerous levels. Supportive when I used all my strength to deliver our child. Elated when she was healthy and perfect. Concerned when I was swept to the ICU. It all lasted until I was stable.

I spent the first night alone in the hospital with our baby girl while he went out to party. Thank God I had a great network of mommy friends. My one friend stayed the night with her 4-week-old baby. Feeding me, helping me, and being there for me.

I pretended it didn’t bother me when I got home. I threw myself into motherhood. I threw myself into focusing on getting fit and ready to go back to the military. Anything to ignore my failing marriage. He drank often, was angry often, and when we went to watch my brother’s homecoming college football game, I found out he was cheating with several women. Our daughter was one month old. When I finally found enough courage to confront him, he was drunk and passed out, and he threw his phone at me and shattered it so I would have no proof. This continued until the day I left him.

Why, you ask, did I have another child with him? It had to have been divine intervention. Two different birth controls and two pregnancies. Apparently, I am fertile as hell.

At my 10-week checkup, I found out I was having another baby. Maybe just maybe this time he would change. We finally talked about his drinking and the cheating (which he still denies to this day). I thought it was going to be different. Again, wishful thinking. I should have left a long time ago, but I believe everything worked out for a reason.

Fast-forward to our sons almost birth. I went into early labor because of stress and an incident where the father thought it would be hilarious to scare me to death– to the point where I hit a wall and went into early labor. For a week I was hospitalized. My husband never came to visit and never brought Cami to see me. My boss, co-workers, friends, and family all checked on me. He was drinking and leaving our daughter with my sister.

Luckily my labor stopped and I was able to carry to a safe term and deliver a healthy baby boy. He entered this world at lightning speed. 10 minutes of pushing and I got to assist in delivery. A boy and his father surely that will change things.

For a few weeks, he was the perfect husband. I thought it was all behind us. Two months later a very good friend of ours called and sent me a picture of him kissing another girl, who I used to work with, at the movies. He said he needed some quiet time. With a one your old and newborn I respected that, but I was crushed. My whole world just collapsed. It was never going to get better. I was trapped. 22 with two kids trapped in a miserable marriage. I confronted him and he denied everything, even the photos. I was done. He had a choice. Get better or get the hell out. I didn’t need him. I could do it all by myself. Then in January 2010, he got a DUI on New Year’s. For sure that was it. He hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, I do not think he has yet to hit rock bottom or realize he is at the bottom.

Fast-forward again, he went the therapy and that didn’t work.

We relocated to Washington State so he could be supported by his family; that didn’t work either.

Two months into my first deployment as a mother, he got a second DUI and tried to run his car into a median. He was fined and sent to the hospital, then the mental health ward. I had a choice: come home from deployment to deal with his mess or hire a lawyer and be done with it all.

I finally said enough is enough. My mom took the kids to safety and I hired a great attorney. We were moving on. I had evidence and a team of support to back me up. Not only did I win full custody, but I was also able to move the kids back to San Diego and have a second chance at life and love.

See, the day I left for that deployment I prayed. I told God, I am done. I am ready to live the life I know was waiting for me. You know what happened when I surrender it all to God? I met the actual love of my life, my husband James. It makes me cry thinking about it.

See, I didn’t need another husband, but I needed to know my worth again. I needed to see how I was supposed to be treated. My husband respected that I was not yet divorced. He knew my past, my pain, and the long road of healing I had in front of me. He was willing to walk it with me. Most importantly, he was willing to treat my kids as his own. Then, he did something even more amazing. He adopted our kids to legally make them his own. It was a stressful time with a lot of court dates, but we were blessed with a great attorney/friend who helped guide us along the way. We are truly blessed and every day I think about how I was one of the lucky ones. The picture below was our final adoption hearing. Now we are all Givens.