For five years, Cassi Bowen lived in an invisible prison of control, manipulation and rage
Cassi Bowen is lucky to be alive. It was not the first abusive relationship that might have killed her. That one, when she was in her teens and early twenties, was mostly physical abuse.
It was the second relationship, one that started when she was about 26 and around the time that her mother died, that she says she believes could have cost her her life.
This relationship did not involve much physical abuse. Instead, it was one that was abusive emotionally and psychologically. It was a relationship that was about control – control over every aspect of Bowen’s life. And, like almost all abusive relationships, it started out full of passion. Bowen was swept off of her feet, blind-sided by overwhelming love and unaware that she was slowly being sucked into an invisible prison.
“They [abusers] are really passionate in the beginning,” Bowen said. “They want to earn your trust. I fell for that coming out of a relationship where I did not feel really loved. He gradually started micro-managing my life. Telling me what I could and could not do.”
Bowen also worked with this man. She describes an environment nothing short of torture. He would chastise her if he thought she looking at another male. He did not want her in certain parts of the office. Day in and day out, she fought back tears, dreading the fights that would inevitably happen when they both went home.
“If he thought I looked a certain way, he would use it against me and belittle me,” she said. “He would do something to make me upset, and then turn the situation around and make it seem like it was my fault.”
She added: “He would make it seem like everything I did was stupid, almost like I was a child, and I know that I am a smart person and you start second- guessing yourself. He would do certain things, and then he would say he did not do it, like I was imagining it, like that did not really happen, to the point that I thought I was crazy.”
Bowen said she felt like she was constantly walking on eggshells to the extent that she would plan her days to avoid activities that might make her partner angry, which could be virtually anything: not answering her phone; staying too
long at the grocery store; not cleaning the house correctly; saying hello to a male colleague or friend. “The fights could be over anything,” she said. Gaslighting, manipulation, control, devaluing, intimidation and isolation are all tactics employed by emotional abusers.
“The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious,” domestic abuse expert Lundy Bancroft writes in his book, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. “In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.”
To cope with the abuse, Bowen developed a serious addiction to pain medication. Substance abuse among abuse victims is not uncommon. According to Sunrise House, a treatment facility in New Jersey, victims of trauma and abuse “have higher rates of mental illness, relationship problems, occupational instability and substance abuse than the general population.” “I was not an addict before I met him” Bowen said. On more than one occasion, Bowen says she tried to overdose on medication as suicide attempts. She stayed in the relationship for five years. She says she did not leave because she was “too scared.”
“I think he might have tried to kill me,” she said. “I never really thought about it [leaving]. It was not really an option. He acted like I was his property. I was not a human being.” “It was a mind game,” she said. Bowen eventually found the strength to seek help on her own for her addiction, choosing to go to a rehab facility in Hot Springs. While she was there, the man she was with lost his life in a motorcycle accident. The irony of that tragedy was that it meant she was finally free.
Bowen has overcome her addiction, is now back in school and has made the decision to devote her life to helping other women who are living with abuse. She frequently speaks to women who are seeking help with addictions and abuse at Potter’s Clay, a shelter for women and children in crisis. She also accompanies victims to court and offers them other forms of guidance and support.
“I stay in contact with them, check up on them, see if there is anything I can do for them,” she said. “If you can catch someone at the right time, when she might be ready to leave, even if it is just planting a seed, letting them know you are there to support them and that you are there to help them. These women are really scared.”
If you can catch someone at the right time, when she might be ready to leave, even if it is just planting a seed, letting them know you are there to support them and that you are there to help them...
Bowen speaks to a group of women at Potter’s Clay.