JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A survivor of domestic violence, who now works for an organization that helps domestic violence victims, shared her story with First Coast News to empower other women to get help that could save their lives.
Stacey O’Brien’s story dates back nearly two decades.
“He was just gorgeous,” O’Brien said of the first time she saw the man who would become her abuser. She was 19 at the time. “He had these blue eyes and dark hair. And I immediately felt this attraction to him.”
Their first date was magic, with O’Brien even saying it was the most romantic date she’s been on to this day.
“He picked me flowers and opened doors for me,” she said. “It would have just been so much easier if I could’ve seen into the future in that moment.”
The warning signs came almost immediately but were so subtle that O’Brien couldn’t see them. Those signs included roughhousing during intimacy and jealousy which O’Brien initially found flattering.
“I thought he loved me and just couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else looking at me,” she said. “I didn’t understand that what he couldn’t bear was the thought of losing control over me. That it didn’t have anything to do with love.”
Soon, it escalated. O’Brien said the man isolated her from family and friends and convinced her to move out of state. Not even phone calls to her mother were safe.
“He would pick up the phone and listen to our calls. And berate me afterward,” O’Brien said.
Still, it escalated. O’Brien said the man started throwing objects and punching holes in the wall. Eventually, he turned his violence toward her.
“The first thing I remember was just being held down and him screaming in my face and leaving bruises,” O’Brien said. “I knew it was wrong. But I believed in that moment that he was just losing control. That he had some mental health issue or emotional issues tied to his childhood that I could help him work through.”
The abuse continued and escalated for two years, peaking one night after O’Brien’s boyfriend saw her talking to their neighbors.
“It was late at night and I was talking to them over the fence and he wasn’t happy about that,” she said. “And when I got back up to our porch he dragged me into the house and pulled a shotgun out of our closet.”
O’Brien said in that moment she feared for her life.
“I was thinking ‘don’t let my daughter watch that happen.’ You don’t want your child to see you die that way,” she said.
After that night, Stacey knew she had to leave. Soon after, she filled her car with children’s toys and possessions and drove off.
But the psychological abuse continued even after that.
“I would come out to my car and there would be flowers on my car or pictures on my car,” O’Brien said. “I would be at the grocery store and come out and there would be evidence that he had been in my car. I was being followed.”
“For many years after I left, I looked in my rearview mirror a lot,” O’Brien said. “And if somebody snuck up behind me I would jump.”
Now, O’Brien is the shelter manager for the Hubbard House, which provides help to victims of domestic violence. The organization provides shelter and support and can even help women plan how to safely leave an abusive partner.
“This is not your fault,” O’Brien said. “There’s nothing you can do to change this person. They have to want to change on their own. And nothing you can do is gonna make that happen.”
If you or a loved one needs help, you can call the Hubbard House’s 24-hour hotline at 904-354-3114.
For more information, click here.