Abuse on Wheels


by Kendra Davis


I want to tell you a little story, and I’ve thought a lot about why I want to share it so badly. Mainly because not a lot of people will share theirs because, well, it’s scary. Like my hairdresser whose husband was “the sweetest guy she ever met” at the beginning yet ended up nearly choking her to death against the kitchen wall, and who would have died if it weren’t for her 11-year-old son coming into the room. Like a friend of a friend who wasn’t able to leave her abuser until the day he popped a blood vessel in her eye. Like another friend of a friend whose boyfriend for years would threaten to kill himself with the nearby gun if she tried to leave him. Like my best friend who tolerated years of ever-intensifying emotional abuse until the day it reached a climax and she left with the ongoing challenge of reversing that abuse on her immediate horizon. Like my colleague whose sister died at the hand of her abuser, though he is still walking around free. Like my friends who are currently going through their own endings with abusers and are doing everything they can to maintain a backbone so that these toxic people don’t find their way back into their lives. Like the majority of my female friends–and many male friends, too–in both immediate and extended circles that have had some sort of run in with domestic violence whether physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional at some point in their lives. Like the millions of women who don’t speak up every day because they are exhausted, don’t want to be reminded of the situation, or simply can’t say anything because doing so would risk their lives.

I know my story pales in comparison to the many out there, but I still own it, and feel the need to share for those who aren’t yet able to, or maybe never will.


I love my bike more than almost anything in the world. I think there’s a disease for that–object sexuality, anyone? But really, I do. Very few things in the world feel better for me than riding, whether I have a destination or not, I’m exhausted or energized, my music’s blasting or I’m just enjoying the silence of my surroundings.

This time last year I met a boy. I met him because he loved bikes, and I loved bikes, so we loved bikes together. We rode our bikes everywhere and then pretty soon we did everything else everywhere, too. All. the. time. Every minute together. But I was always unsettled with all this togetherness that went from 0 to 1400 in just a few weeks time, if that. I blew off the discomfort as me just learning how to be less independent and self-sufficient, as if those things were somehow going to adversely affect my future.

So we kept riding. Boy told me some things that, in retrospect, were like massive red flags akin to those at Running of the Bulls, waving in my face yet I was still charging right at them. “Don’t judge,” I said. “He’s changing,” I convinced myself. “I won’t be like the rest,” I lied. Every time I said these things my standards dropped lower and lower, until I was convinced that if my family even knew the half of it they would douse me in a bucket of ice water until I cycled away as fast as I could (which is pretty damn fast).

But I kept riding. The fights got worse, the anger more explosive, the jealously and put-downs and blatant hypocrisy so intense so as to only be appeased by a shoulder shrug or guttural laughter that didn’t even sound like my own voice. My brain felt like puddy so often that all I wanted to do was sleep forever. “It’s normal,” I assured myself, “It’s the dead of winter, who WOULD have the energy to get out of bed.”

But I never stopped riding, and one day I rode so fast that even my bike said enough, and, though I love him to death, sometimes that carbon fiber bastard has the weirdest ways of looking out for me. WAKE UP, he said, OR I’M GONNA MAKE YOU WAKE UP AND SEE IT. So he did. My chin hit the pavement and that was it. Well, it was more like WHERE THE FUCK IS ALL THIS BLOOD COMING FROM + 5 days of hospitalization, 6 weeks of a wired jaw and accompanying liquid-only diet, 0 bike rides, dozens of nauseating painkillers, and 2 weeks of the most unimaginably inhumane response to my trauma from the “man” who was supposed to be there for me. He took my weakened state and used it as an opportunity to yell, control, blame, punish, flee and cheat more than ever before.

The cheating after my major surgery was the crux moment that finally allowed me to really leave my abuser in the physical sense, yet it was the compounding layers of intense emotional abuse that will keep me away from him and anyone who possesses the same traits forever, and that insight is what I’d like to share with you.

While I certainly don’t have everything figured out, or even know what a “perfect” relationship would look like, I have learned what relationships–love, even–are most definitely not, and that is the following abusive behaviors:

● Intense, extremely frequent hanging out right from the jump. This is probably the hardest one to identify as a key sign of abuse, and I’ll tell you why. In an age where we can deposit a check, order a burger and fries, listen to the latest tracks and swipe through photos of potential matches all at the same time, it is safe to say that instant gratification has become the modus operandi, and anything less is, well, outdated or too old school to mess with. We subconsciously apply this to relationships, too, where hookup culture is expected and old-fashioned courting is a thing of the past. Abusers, who tend to be extremely charismatic and complimentary at the beginning, capitalize on this idea, convincing their partners that they need to be together all the time to really get to know each other, and anything less in insincere. In this intense period abusers quickly establish a pattern of dependency whereby the partner begins to rely on the abuser’s opinions and habits to affirm their character and sense of worthiness as a match. In keeping with things moving so fast so suddenly, it is also common for the abuser to suggest “big steps” like moving in, taking trips alone, or sharing financial resources, but because of the preexisting fast pace of everything else it is easy enough to just go along with it. I realize now these “suggestions” from my abuser were attempts to further control my actions, decisions, and whereabouts; so that when the abuse started, my options for leaving would be more limited. Every time I voiced hesitation about moving in, he made me feel guilty for “not caring about me” or “choosing your roommates over me.” When my family came into town to be with me after the bike crash, and for the first time since basically when we met we weren’t spending every night together, he got angry and resentful, calling me “spoiled” and “selfish” for being with them.

● Creation of isolation. Because abusers need to maintain a strong power imbalance in the relationship in order to carry out the abuse, a prerequisite is making the partner feel isolated in every way. Beyond the physical isolation I just mentioned, this can manifest as threats of being alone if you ever leave, verbal manipulation regarding those in your network and how they feel about you, and reprimanding you for speaking to close friends and family about problems in the relationship. One of the times I tried to leave, he said “you’re missing out on a really good man,” a clear deflection of personal insecurity. He would constantly threaten how many potential partners he could have and I should be lucky to be with someone like him, an empty ego-booster intended to make me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anything better.

● Extreme jealousy. One could argue that jealously in small doses is a good thing, and that’s probably true, but moderation is definitely key. This is another hard one because I see so many people (myself included) mistake jealously for exclusivity. When we first got together and he exhibited this jealousy, I thought “Oh, he must be really jealous because he really likes me and wants to make sure nothing comes in the way of that,” unable to see the jealousy as the deep-seated insecurity that it was. He quickly began looking through my phone all the time and because I wasn’t used to that breach in privacy and wasn’t sure how to demand more respect, I started looking through his phone, too. It became the new normal, as did me having to tell him whether or not I had slept with any man we encountered and he didn’t know. The jealousy was so intense that it lead to him completely fabricating stories about me cheating or acting sneaky. He went into a fit of rage because I didn’t introduce him to someone whose name I couldn’t even remember, for we had met for no more than an hour several years before. Just a few weeks later we met someone at a large, public dinner who was an extremely insignificant part of my past, and when I told him he screamed at me in front of dozens of onlookers, assumed I was currently sleeping with that individual, and started a 5-day “breakup” during which he love-bombed another woman to mend his broken ego.

● Lack of respect for your property, aspirations, and values. Because abusers see their partner merely as an extension of themselves rather than their own person with every right to their own opinions, limitations and hobbies, boundaries are often blurred. One of the first weeks I was dating this abuser, I had him drop me off at a meeting on a topic that I was sure would be of no interest to him, and he immediately accused me of being sneaky because I didn’t invite him. He often used my car and when I asked him to return it by a certain time or not do things that would put me in jeopardy like smoke in it, suddenly I was, once again, selfish and “bad at sharing.” Once the relationship was over, all the money he owed me was no longer his problem. Kind words that he had feigned regarding my job and career choices turned cold turkey to “you’re a fucking lackey.”

● Self-victimization. From the beginning, my abuser had only bad things to say about all exes. Now, I know exes are exes for a reason, but if someone says things like “I only attract crazy people” or “they made me do x, y, and z” chances are you’re not getting the full story, and they only see things through the lens of a victim. Same principle applies to family members, friends, colleagues, etc. This is very dangerous because it’ll mean that you’ll always be wrong, and they’re always right, and if there’s a problem, it’s always on you. If you tend to be a naturally compassionate person, an abuser will prey on that trait and you can easily wind up enabling that victimhood. I literally never once heard the word “sorry” out of my abuser’s mouth, since he said that word makes you a self-deprecating person, yet he expected it all the time from me.

● Uninterested in self-help. Abusers tend to find people with bleeding hearts or a savior complex, and they will allow their partner to “fix” them in order to 1) make their partner feel like she or he is different and the only one who truly understands the abuser, and 2) (usually towards the end of the relationship) as a threat for why the partner needs to stay (i.e. “you’re supposed to be there for me no matter what”). At the very end of my relationship, when for the first time I saw the heightened abuse with clarity rather than just a “complicated relationship,” I suggested anger management, and offered to go with him so it didn’t come across that I was singling him out. When he used lack of funds as an excuse, I offered to pay. When he still refused, I finally saw the distinction between someone with demons who is wanting and willing to do whatever it takes to healthily work them out versus a true abuser, who would rather just find someone new who hasn’t figured out their true character yet and start the cycle of abuse over with them because it’s easier.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t even begin to get at the complexity of emotional abuse, especially when coupled with other factors like substance abuse, family history, and mental illness, all of which were present in my relationship. But I’m not here to talk about all that, I’m sharing simply to shed a bit of light on key signs of emotional abuse, which is so damn underexposed if for no other reason that it doesn’t bear the visible scars that physical abuse does.

I’m also not here to tell you that I’m perfect, or that I didn’t possess qualities that probably enabled the abuse at times. There is a certain kind of gratification that comes from helping someone improve, but if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that the uplifting has to be mutual, no matter what kind of relationship it is. Anything less is a surefire path to the annihilation of your self-worth, and a total expending of your good energies on others, leaving nothing left for yourself.

And please oh please oh please don’t ask me #whyIstayed. I did try to leave—I probably googled “how to leave an emotionally abusive relationship” on my phone about 10 different times,but ended up doubting my own intuition and closing the browser. I even called the National Domestic Abuse Hotline once after the abuse hit a verbal and somewhat physical climax. I was on hold for 45 minutes, during which my abuser insisted I was on the phone with a dude who I was making arrangements to go sleep with. But, at the time, I expected nothing else from him. It had all become normalized, you see. I can’t reiterate enough how slowly emotional abuse can creep into your life—the first stage of complete adoration, gaslighting, and love-bombing from the abuser happens very quickly, but everything else is oftentimes so subvert you can only recognize just how bad it was once you’ve left.

Finally, don’t pity me, or think I’m weak for being with someone like that. It was simply a 6-month lapse in judgment that could’ve been a lot longer if the abuse hadn’t been augmented by the bike crash. I’m writing beca­use thousands of people in this city and millions beyond are going through this right now, and I’m doing my small part by sharing my story because violence of any kind, but especially domestic violence, is perpetuated by silence. The more we know, the more we talk, the faster we learn and demand better.

Many people stay in abusive relationships far longer than they would like because they keep remembering the good times and subdue the bad. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t doing the same when it was first over. But as soon as I was able to identify the one thing we truly shared a passion for—cycling—I realized just how easy it was to replace the good feelings associated with those rides with hundreds of others in DC’s beautiful bike community, or even with the dozens of solo rides I’ve taken since getting back on my frame.

And I’ll leave you with this, only because it’s applicable to all injustices everywhere, not just the gross human rights violation that is domestic violence.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent oppression from mediocre minds.” If someone/thing/force is bringing you down through its weakness, flush that shit and don’t forget to wipe.

Keep riding 🙂


October is domestic violence awareness month. It evolved out of the first “Day of Unity” which was observed in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent of this day was to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation who were working to end domestic violence. Read more about the movement here.

Want to get join the dialogue? Here’s a few ideas:


This post!
Your favorite DV-related story
This simple yet very useful “Signs of Domestic Violence” infographic (available in other languages!)
39 Characteristics of Narcissistic Abuse
The best speech given about domestic violence. Ever.


National Coalition Against Domestic Violence–all-encompassing resources for all things DV-related

UltraViolet–good if you’re into things like signing petitions in support of DV prevention & intervention

Come out for DV Awareness Month in DC:

Screening of “Private Violence” with dialogue to follow, Oct. 15, 6 pm. RSVP required.

BalderDASH fundraiser party for one of DC’s safe houses, Oct. 30, 6 pm. Ticket required.

Volunteer with one of the many DV prevention and intervention groups in the DC area


If you the readers have any stories you wish to share, let us know. Get involved, and help start dialogue and raise awareness about domestic violence, not just this month, but always.

*Article photo courtesy of flickr user Carsten Beyer

About David Everett

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1 Comment

  1. ShawnKSW

    May 26, 2017 at 10:12 pm

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    I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to start.
    Do you have any points or suggestions? With thanks

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