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Survivor Stories: Sabrina Dexter

]Editor's Note: We will be featuring first-person stories by survivors in this series to share their own experiences and journey. This is Sabrina's story. She shared it publicly at WRAP JAM 2023. It is printed here with her permission. If you need immediate assistance, you can call WRAP's 24/7 Helpline at 800-273-8712.]

My dear sweet babies,

I love you more than you will ever know. I leave you with so many butterfly kisses and may the spirit of my love and good memories embrace you during the hardest times of life. I am sorry I wasn’t strong enough and that I allowed the pain and hurt to take me over and could not find the fight in me to fix it. My sweet babies, saying goodbye to you is the hardest thing I could ever possibly face. I wish I was stronger, that I wasn’t sad and didn’t cry all the time. I wish I could take back the days I laid in bed and just slept instead of making memories with you. I am disappointed in the decisions I have made in not standing up for me and fighting back. I am just so tired and weak it feels and I just want to finally feel some sort of peace and release from all the sadness and pain. I am ashamed of the shell of a person I have become and that I could not find my way back. There are so many things that you will not truly understand right now about why this happened and I really hope one day you may be able to. I am so sorry I couldn’t hold on. I love you , I am sorry but mommy has to go. Never think any of this was your fault, you are perfect I love you more than you will ever know! Please forgive me!!

I was married to a military gentleman for 17 years, and to whom I would believe to be the love of my life. Swept up by the romance, simple I love yous’, attention to the littlest of details, you would never forecast this whirlwind romance would soon crumble piece by piece. Reflecting back, the pieces fell away so inconspicuously at times that one may fail to even notice the signs. Slowly, I lost myself piece by piece, and never will be the same person I once was. Every swing of the fist, and landing of degrading words causes scars that will never heal. They are forever imprinted in your soul.

I loved being a military wife, supporting my husband and all it stood for. The ability to be a part of a force which fought for our freedoms made me proud as a wife. My husband wanted to stand up for something, put his life on the line at every turn to assure that we held strong to the rights that have been fought so long for as Americans. The hardships soldiers faced in long deployments, and the reintegration back into everyday life was subpar to say the least. Standardized answers to stock questionnaires, allowing for a slip within the system unable to flag any psychological problems. Unfortunately, many soldiers would readily joke about this.

Upon returning from his first deployment, my husband would slowly fall into a depression, attempting to fight his way out, but alcohol was used continuously as a crutch to fight the nightmares and visions he faced upon sleep at night or something as simple as the backfire heard from an automobile. Tiptoeing around a conflict became a new normal within our home. We would celebrate the birth of our second son 4 months after him returning from his first deployment. Dalton Scott would unexpectedly pass away at 5 months of age due to gas poisoning at our residence in Fort Benning, Georgia, only 30 days after our arrival. This would take a substantial toll not only on our relationship but my husband’s fight towards recovering from the first deployment. To face such trauma in less than a year after a deployment, some would say would destroy a family, but we held on as strong as we possibly could. We would try to conceive another child multiple times, but five sequential pregnancies would end in miscarriage by the 4th month. Our hearts would be broken and we mourned those losses, yet fought hard to move forward and be grateful for the two healthy children we had.

By the 7th year of marriage, we had faced the birth of two sons, burying one son, one tour of combat, four moves, and my husband was headed into his 2nd tour of combat into Afghanistan. Their unit would face multiple battles and so many losses that for two months, I would find myself going to weekly memorials in Fort Hood, TX. This particular point in our marriage would become significant, as it was the turning point to life as I knew it slowly being pulled out from underneath me. I had become a Director of Sales for Marriott while in Texas. Working my way up through the ranks of hospitality and lodging, and becoming successful as the first remote director of sales within the company. This allowed me to take my job with me as we moved between duty stations. My husband was working his way up through the ranks of the military, as was I within the civilian spectrum. On the outside we looked like the ideal happy, successful, middle class American family, yet behind closed doors the flashbacks, alcoholism, lies and rages would become the new normal.

My world fell apart in the early morning hours of late January in 2010. An exciting night out with friends would turn into the day I reflect on as mourning the loss of my husband and becoming what I now coin as a “psychological war widow”. I say this because all that returned of my husband after the last deployment was a shell. I no longer would ever experience or see the man I once knew.

That early morning, I would take a cab home prior to my husband because of an argument that occurred. I would be in bed asleep and be awakened to being flung out of bed with such force, I hit the wall in the sleep position. The look within his eyes was beyond terrifying, and the words he would spout would be a reflection into a combat takedown of an insurgent. Punch after punch, and kick after kick, I would hear a pop in my left ear, and feel my nose and eyes swell with blood dripping down. Tears poured from my eyes begging him to stop. In what seemed like hours of him ranting for me to die, I finally saw that my only way out would be holding my breath, as if I was dead, so he would possibly stop this bludgeoning attack. I held my breath for what seemed forever, through the severe pain, as he slowly kicked one last time, and slowly nudged me with his foot to see if I was still breathing. All I remember hearing after that was, “yeah,” and an evil under-toned laugh. I heard him walk away and what sounded like him crawling into bed. I would slowly peek through my swollen eye and see that he was not standing over me, and continue to lay there for several more minutes to assure I was in the clear. I heard a deep snore not long after he entered the bed, and that was my sign to crawl quickly out of the room. I grabbed my purse on the floor, made it to the bedroom doorway, held the wall to stand, and hobbled to the garage as quickly as I could.

My niece and her husband had the kids and had arrived within minutes of me slumping down in the garage beside the car. They were in shock, and we immediately took action to get into the car and go to a hotel. The next morning, my husband would call, and would incoherently ask where we were and if we had gone to get breakfast or something. His niece would commence to make him aware of his actions, and he denied those actions until we arrived home and he saw what he had done. I made a choice that day to keep this within the family. He promised to get help, and nothing like this had ever happened before. I made excuse after excuse, to my family and his. His own mother insisted that I call the police and take action because this was beyond wrong, but I fought back with the theory, “why should he lose everything he has worked for, fighting through 2 deployments without any avenue of help other than a diagnosis of PTSD, and medication to ultimately be medically discharged?” This would be the fight and excuse I would continue to spill in my head, justifying every time he would fall back into this pattern, until I almost became a ghost.

Only weeks after the first incident, we found out that we were pregnant. This would become our tenth pregnancy. This pregnancy made it to full term and our beautiful red headed spunky little girl was born. Peace settled over our home for about a bit over a year it seemed. We moved from Georgia to Hawaii, and this would be our final duty station. A new beginning we thought. This would be short-lived, as my husband would become responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, constant short term training stints, and long hours finally would take their toll. The drinking for days, then weeks and months straight. If I would stand up and attempt to fight back, I would be berated and emotionally beat down to the point I lost all confidence. If I decided to stand up and pour out the alcohol to fight back, countless calls to the MP’s making contrived allegations against me would ensue, putting my children in the position of standing up for me each time, stating that it was a lie. On many occasions the MP’s would tell me that I needed to report what was going on or it was just going to get worse. I would hang my head and say that I didn’t have a way out, and was not going to even attempt to try to fight back to that extent while on an island thousands of miles away from home.

There came a time I didn’t even want to leave my room. I cried, had nightmares, suffered horrible pain in my neck and head due to multiple blows over time. Each and every time a promise to get help or with begging eyes pleading for help, I would fall for it. Thinking each and every time would be different. I lived a lie, I made appearances and played a role as if I were in a movie. Nothing that was me was truly real anymore. I became a shell just as he had become. Living with fear every day that I woke, I became so tired, and wanted out. I wanted to feel peace. There came a point, after repeatedly being told by my husband how worthless I was and that I would be doing the kids a favor if I just ended it all, that the day finally came when I sat and wrote letters to my children saying goodbye and explaining why I needed to go. I slowly drank a bottle of whiskey and downed a handful of pills. I thank God every day that I woke up, although I found myself in the ICU getting my stomach pumped. I did not suffer permanent damage, and thankfully due to a dear friend, I was able to live another day, although I was really not sure how I would be able to. I still remained silent as to why I had dropped to rock bottom, or attempted suicide, making excuses, none of which would describe the horrors I faced each and every day. This suicide attempt would become an event that would be continuously used against me from that point on, utilizing it as a tool in my ability to be a good parent, or be left alone with our children, and threatening to divorce me and take away the children due to being mentally unstable. I spent so much energy in covering up what was going on that it became more or less my full-time job.

One last time, at the end of my husband’s tour in Hawaii, I fell for the line that things were going to change; he was almost retired and we could finally live in peace. We had talked continuously about buying our first home when he retired and this perked me up a bit, allowing me to redirect my focus on something positive. We found a home while in Hawaii, in Benton County. Big Sandy to be exact! This was an hour and half away from Fort Campbell, Ky, which was to become his next duty station, but with only a bit over a year left before retiring, he was willing to make the drive and we wanted country living, with fishing and hunting. This was perfect! Unfortunately, upon arriving and with all the stress of moving and driving cross country, the heavy drinking and mind games would once again begin. We left to go and sign papers for our home, and I was to be on the title. He allowed me to know, because I irritated him about things wrong with the house, that he had me removed from the paperwork and that I would just have to sit in the car - I wouldn’t be signing anything. This was devastating to me, and shattered my dreams of signing on my first home. Even though we were married, I was still losing that moment, and the ability to be a part of buying my first home. Unfortunately, I once again just cried it away and let it go. It was normal to get my hopes ripped out from under me at this point. I was almost becoming numb to it.

We would move into our home in beautiful Big Sandy, and looked forward to simple remodeling plans, and making it our own. Unexpected mold damage, and having to gut multiple areas throughout our home, on top of long drives and long training and deployment missions left my husband exhausted, angry, depressed, overwhelmed, and excessively drunk a majority of the time. One night of drinking excessively and driving and fear of him lashing out, I called 911 asking that someone come and talk with him, telling them that with this being a small community maybe someone could relate, and talk him down. Unfortunately, that led to a charge of disorderly conduct, and I would go and try to tell our story in the proper “covering up” format I always did, in an attempt to make this go away, as I had many other times. I knew what the repercussions would be if I didn’t, and believe me, I did not want to face that! Charges were dropped and we moved on, but there would be multiple other calls out to the house. Each and every time I would plead the same case, tell the same story, make excuses, always keeping hush to the truth of what was going on. Even with multiple trips to the ER’s and clinics with “falls down the stairs'', or “something fell and hit me in the head” excuses listed as reasons for treatment, nobody ever questioned my recall of events that would happen causing these injuries. I jokingly allowed myself to brush it off as being accident prone. I had become so good at covering it all up because it had gone on for so long. How could I stand up and tell everyone I was a liar, and admit to what was going on. I was embarrassed, ashamed and could not allow myself to be exposed like that. It seemed easier to live a lie than face my reality. I was convinced tomorrow would be a better day.

September of 2016, a long extensive day of drinking would be a pivotal moment in my life. The events that occurred during that day would cause me longstanding injuries that I may never fully heal from. After a drunken argument arose, I would become pinned into a corner being told how worthless and disgusting I was; that I was lazy and dependent on him and wouldn’t work nor could I hold a job if I even tried. The berating continued on and on, with his face so close I could feel the spit droplets as he raged on. I took it and took it, as I honestly was practically immune at this point. I finally pushed him away from me, but in return, he slammed my head to the floor and ripped both of my arms with such force straight up and behind my head that the pain was unbearable. My kids unfortunately had witnessed this event, and all I could do was crawl to the couch and lay in pain with my forehead bleeding. I did call 911 that day, but when he caught me on the phone I hung up. The operator called me back and I just brushed it off, stating that I was meaning to call 411. Once again, another trip to the doctor another excuse, and a month depressed and lying in bed feeling like life was over.

My husband was set to walk the stage for retirement at the end of October, and yet again, I believed that everything was going to change, “just wait, I promise!” Upon arriving to walk the stage with him and receive my awards also, he made me aware just moments before we were to walk the stage that he told them I wouldn’t be there, and I should not have pissed him off the night before. I sat in awe and such hurt, but I should have known, the cycle is never-ending. I would ease my way out of the auditorium in tears, and refrain from going home as long as I could. Upon arriving home began a weeklong ranting, drunken spree, until finally I was done the first week of November.

Having drank a liter of alcohol and making threats, I started videoing parts of his behavior and called 911 before things were to escalate. My daughter that night stood strong and stayed in the living room with me as he went on and on, calling her disgusting names, ordering her upstairs, as he always did with the kids when an event like this would take place. Yet she stayed by my side, knowing that should she walk away, she knew what would happen. Never should your child ever have to take that stand or feel that type of energy and hurt within what is supposed to be their safe place, their home, their family.

Life from which I had become accustomed to changed that evening. I cried for days and didn't want to feel the fear of how I was going to recover alone, with three children, food, a home, and no job. I had been broken down to helplessness. I had shut everyone out, no income, and no support system. My initial reaction was to just fix it and make it go away, the heaviness was so much, and the fear took me over. My hands trembled, I cried so randomly, jolting awake from sleep, barely could eat, slept for days and could not find my way out.

I am beyond thankful that I was introduced to Niki Simko with WRAP. Without her and WRAP, you would be reading my obituary right now, instead of hearing my story. Detoxing from a violent relationship can be compared to someone coming off of a heroin addiction. It’s painful, there is fear, it hurts, but you have to feel it, face it, fix it, and free it in order to truly recover and become the survivor you lost so long ago. Every court hearing, breakdown, and any questions I needed answered, she was there, supporting and standing by my side. The strength of a total stranger made me stand, fight and get my life back.

I spent a year in physical therapy having to recover from a 5 inch mass on my brain, permanent nerve damage to both ulnar nerves, c-6 damage in my neck and a frozen shoulder. I found myself, and my true strengths, my soul, and who I was meant to be during that time. Me and my children found humor and healing in the hardest of moments. Every moment matters in life. Finding myself, and making every moment matter with my children, allowed me to truly discover what matters in life. I discovered woodworking and was able to strengthen my fine motor skills I had lost, and slowly remodeled the house I fought back to keep. I moved on to opening two, well known, successful restaurants as the general manager and built my life back up, with my children, by my side. We would soon experience holidays with their dad and our significant others as friends, and reflect upon all the healing from the journey we had endured.

Resilience is my word of the day, don’t allow anything to break you or take you down. Do not let your pride, shame, or fear discourage you from reaching out. You matter, your children, parents, husband, wife, friends, they matter. Do not hide and think you are less than, and feed into the psychological hold of what you are being subjected to. You matter, this moment matters!!

We, as a society, have regressed. We spend too much time looking down at our phones and not enough looking up and out to see what is really happening in the world today. See the elder gentleman on the side of the road, overheating trying to change his tire in a struggle, stop and offer a hand. Don’t judge someone lashing out and assume what is not. Make a difference in life, find your empathy, feel another person’s struggle. You could make the difference that day, and in that moment. We are never promised tomorrow, and if you closed your eyes to fall asleep tonight and didn’t wake tomorrow, would your life story reflect on good and giving back or on self sustainment. Today we take a stand to make a difference, stand up, speak out, and save someone from this journey in life. I can choose to let it define me, outshine me, confine me, or I can choose to stand up, refine me, move and leave it behind me! I am a survivor!!


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