Breaking the Silence: Escaping Years of Mental Abuse

We are honored to share this is a special guest post written by Loretta Helmick


“…I slowly made my way towards the door, his gun pointed at my back. I knew this was it. He was going to kill me.”



My name is Loretta and this is the story of how my ex-husband pointed a gun at me and pulled the trigger.


In 2003, I was a single mother of a beautiful, blonde hair, blue eyed 2-year old little girl, Sarah.

I met a broken man named Jack. I thought I could help him. I felt my love was strong enough to heal him. I thought I could lift him from the demons of an alcoholic suffering from severe depression. I knew this was going to be a tough road, but we would tackle it together. My love and energy were strong enough.

From 2003-2009, I watched him drink from the time he woke up until the time he passed out at night every single day. By the time the sun started falling, he became depressed, angry, and hateful until he passed out in his recliner. This was his daily routine.


domestic-violence-wp-graphic3_dw-01I soon realized how jealous Jack was.

In 2005, I stepped down to a part-time shift at work because he didn’t like me working with other men. If I took too long at the grocery store, I had to tell him who I had seen, who I spoke to, and what we spoke about. There were times I had to show him the receipt to prove I came straight home after leaving the grocery store.

In his eyes, everyone was a threat.

I often wanted to cry out for help, but was too fearful of the consequences.  I couldn’t risk it.  Like many others, I chose silence over freedom.

Besides, Jack was very good at hiding the verbal and mental abuse from other people, especially my daughter. Or, at least I thought he was.


In 2006, I worked in a 9-1-1 dispatch center and answered a 9-1-1 call, “What is the address of your emergency?”  The deep voice on the other end said, “The emergency is at your house.” It was Jack. “Loretta, I can’t move.”

After dispatching rescue to my own home, I followed and found Jack completely immobilized. His powerless body was quickly transported to a nearby hospital, and within four hours he started experiencing delirium tremens (DTs), one of the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

At the hospital, the verbal and mental abuse became relentless, and this time he didn’t wait for others to leave the room. The humiliation was excruciating.

Jack spent the following two months in the ICU where he battled respiratory distress, respiratory failure, liver failure, and kidney failure – all due to his alcohol abuse.  Christmas Eve marked the day he was finally released from the ICU. His Christmas present was having his trach removed.

After the trauma, relearning how to walk and eat on his own, Jack only waited 3 months until he started drinking again.


domestic-violence-social-graphic2-01New Year’s Eve 2009 was a turning point for me.

I cozied up with my daughter and when the clock struck twelve, Sarah and I exchanged kisses and happily gabbed about our predictions for the year to come.

Ready for bed, Sarah passed Jack’s man cave on her way to the bathroom. Since he had been drinking since noon, this was enough to set him off.

His drunken body hovered over me, calling me names, threatening me, and reminding me of how worthless I am.  His rage was enough to scare me into silence, but instead I begged him to stop. By the time Sarah came out of the bathroom, Jack had passed out in the next room.

As I sat staring at the blank wall in front of me, I heard Sarah’s gentle voice over my shoulder, “Mom, do you ever just want it to be you and me?”

My heart broke into a million pieces knowing Sarah had been aware of the abuse and negativity polluting our household over the years. I couldn’t breathe.

As the tears of hurt, shame and feeling like a horrible mother streamed down my face, Sarah reached out to grab my hand, “Mom, I love Jack, but I want it to be just me and you.”

This was the moment I started planning our lives without him.


On New Year’s Day, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing about my and Sarah’s new future together.

I immediately started downsizing our belongings and putting money into a private savings account.

I was mentally preparing myself to leave him, and I think he could sense it.

peggy_blog-quote_graphic-02On January 17, I returned home after an exhausting shift at the dispatch center to find Jack waiting for me in the kitchen with his favorite drink resting on the table in front of him. The hollow look in his eyes made my stomach turn.

Something wasn’t right.

He was paranoid again, accusing me of cheating. Except this time he didn’t yell, cuss, slams doors or put his fist through a wall. Instead, he quietly turned his head towards me and demanded I get my stuff and leave.

I knew through the dark tone in his voice I needed to leave or I may not be given a second chance.  I quickly grabbed some clothes and personal items for Sarah and left.

The very next day, I signed a lease agreement to a two-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ours.

Months Later

After we moved, Sarah had very little contact with Jack, but the mental abuse I endured only worsened as his control over me waned.

After divorce, I continued to clean his house, took him to the doctors, and did his grocery shopping.  It would take six years and a near-death experience for me to walk away completely.


The year 2015 came fast.  I was on my way to the store when I received a text from Jack begging me to get him out of the house. I decided there was no harm in letting him come along for the ride. I turned around and headed toward his house.

As I made my way down to his man cave, I was struck by a wave of bourbon, the smell so strong I could taste its smoky flavor on my tongue.

He was the drunkest I had ever seen him. He could barely hold his drink up straight.

I told Jack I couldn’t be around him, not like this.  He begged me to stay. I knew I needed to leave.

As I turned around to face the door, the desperate sound in Jack’s voice changed, “So, who are you going to see?”

peggy_blog-quote_graphic2-02I shook my head in disappointment and took one step closer towards the door.

At that moment, Jack pulled out a gun and pressed the barrel against his right temple.

I stood frozen in place. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure he could hear it from across the room.

I reached out my hands and very calmly asked him to put the gun down. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” I told him. “Please don’t do this.”

I watched in slow motion as he adjusted his grip, turning the gun to aim at me. The world around me stopped, and the only thing I could manage to concentrate on was Sarah.

“Jack, look at me,” I said firmly. “I’m going to turn around now, and I’m going to walk out this door. You will never see me back here again. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Right then, I slowly made my way towards the door, his gun pointed at my back. I knew this was it. He was going to kill me. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of Sarah growing up without her mother.

Reaching for the knob, I struggled to control my trembling hands. The warm breeze against my tear-soaked face was a welcomed reminder I was still alive.

And that’s when I heard it: the piercing sound of a single gunshot.

The sound shocked me motionless. Seconds went by before I realized I hadn’t been hit.

Did he shoot himself?

Before I could fully process what had happened, I crawled into the front seat of my car and called Jack’s parents. I was so hysterical they could hardly make out the words I was saying.

Jack’s mother assured me his father would be there any minute, but I couldn’t let his father be the one to discover his body.

Carefully inching my way toward the house, I watched as the sun reflected against the bullet hole in the glass door.  Inside I could see that Jack was still alive and passed out in his chair.

Walking back to my car, I knew this was goodbye. dI would walk away. Jack and all of his demons would forever be in my past.


Cutting all ties with Jack was not easy and it still isn’t. Suddenly, I was forced to acknowledge the years of abuse I endured and learn how to overcome it. In the beginning, I felt worse than ever: my anxiety and depression were off the charts. I couldn’t handle everyday stress. Night terrors were a frequent occurrence. Even loud noises made me jump out of my skin. The worst part was that I blamed myself every day for letting the abuse go on as long as it did.

Today, I am breaking my silence. I am accepting what I cannot change and owning my experience. I gradually entered a healing process where I am learning to love, appreciate, and respect myself again.

To me, the word “healing” means not being an enabler. It means not running to him every time I hear he’s hit rock bottom. It means taking back control of my life. And yes, it means forgiving Jack, but most importantly, it means forgiving me because I am not to blame.

I’ve chosen to live in the now. I actively do things that make me feel happy and whole, like meditating and spending time outdoors. I also found comfort in being honest with Sarah about Jack and our abusive relationship. My hope is she will take my experiences and learn to only support healthy relationships that bring her joy in the future.

Thank you for listening. I hope my story helps someone get out of a similar situation and find his or her voice.

Katharine Dahl
Katharine Dahl

Katharine, an enthusiastic, problem solver, leverages her 10+ years of experience in content creation, storytelling, and marketing strategy as Senior Director of Product Marketing at Rave Mobile Safety. Katharine drives Rave's product marketing strategy, positioning, content creation and public launches for Rave's solutions to drive sales and customer success. Katharine has been Rave for over 5 years, with in-depth knowledge and background of all Rave products and marketing processes. In previous roles at Rave, she personally managed 756 partner organizations and 75 public Smart911 launches. Katharine holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Boston University's College of Communication.

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