HER Survivor

For five years, Cassi Bowen lived in an in­vis­i­ble prison of con­trol, ma­nip­u­la­tion and rage

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Lara Far­rar, pho­tog­ra­phy by Grace Brown

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.

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