Katie Lagrange’s scars are invisible to the naked eye. But below the surface, her battle wounds are lasting and have cut her deeply.
Lagrange is a survivor of domestic violence. She recently told her story to the Northwest Herald in an interview with Turning Point Executive Director Jane Farmer. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Lagrange’s name was changed to protect her identity.
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When Lagrange met her former boyfriend, she heard stories that suggested he wasn’t a nice guy. But to her, he was sweet and caring, and the pair wanted the same things – marriage and a family.
Lagrange was a career woman with a lot of energy, an infectious smile, and a large group of family and friends. But through the course of her volatile six-year relationship, Lagrange shut out those she loved the most, her work began to suffer and her smile began to fade.
About a year into the relationship, disturbing traits in her boyfriend began to emerge. He would continually cut her down and berate her. Nothing was off-limits – her looks, her intelligence, her family, anything she did or didn’t do.
“It started off verbally abusive – yelling, fighting,” Lagrange said. “I guess the best way to describe it is just all of a sudden everything that you’re doing doesn’t seem to be the right thing. If you do something, it’s criticized.”
The verbal abuse slowly morphed into something more dangerous and damaging. It started with a blowup here and there, then maybe a month of peace would go by. Then another incident would spark a fight, and so on.
At first, Lagrange defended herself against the verbal abuse, but eventually she got so tired of always fighting back that she just absorbed the verbal blows.
“I just thought I loved him,” she said. “Then I started to do what most women do, I started to think, ‘Oh my gosh. What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?’ Or, ‘Maybe if I do this, it will be better or different, maybe that will help.’ ”
The relationship remained volatile for years. The pair moved in and out with each other in a relationship marked by a tug-of-war of emotions.
In the end, she thought she loved him and stuck it out.
Fast-forward another year, and Lagrange started to get fearful.
“He could go from laughing to screaming at me in a matter of moments,” she said. “And I never knew what was going to trigger something like that. I was starting to be very fearful of anything I would do.”
As Lagrange began to isolate herself from family and friends, a dark depression sank in.
Soon enough, it wasn’t just Lagrange he was cutting down. He began to speak ill of her family and friends.
That is typical in verbal abuse situations, Farmer said. It’s a way for the aggressor to execute and maintain control in the relationship. And like many others, Lagrange started to believe him when he spoke badly of her loved ones.
A tipping point came at an event with family and friends, when he clamped his hands around her throat and squeezed.
That’s when she went to Turning Point and ended the relationship.
“The first time it got physical is when I came in here,” Lagrange said. “But the damage was already done. I was already really in it and messed up by that time.”
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Since July 1, the county’s domestic violence agency has served 1,820 clients, and provided 3,657 nights of shelter to adult and child domestic abuse victims.
One in four women will become a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime, Farmer said.
“It’s with everybody, it crosses all social, economic bounds, and it’s regardless of race,” she said. “It’s just something that people don’t want to talk about because you put it out on your lips, you say it, and it becomes real.”
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Three months after her first visit to Turning Point, Lagrange and her boyfriend reconciled.
“I loved him; I wanted to see if it could work,” she said. “Of course they come to you and say, ‘I love you, you’re the love of my life.’ He said, ‘I want to be with you. Things aren’t going to be that bad. We’ll do it better this time.’ “
But things turned ugly quickly.
“There were no good days anymore.”
The couple’s fights turned so volatile, her boyfriend often would call the police on her.
“That’s pretty standard,” Farmer said. “Because he’s screaming at her, she had to put up her defenses. She’s trying to defend herself, so she’s screaming and he’ll call the police. When the police get there, he’s very calm because he’s already had the explosion.”
Lagrange started drinking to keep the pain away, and the fighting was constant. Her anxiety was through the roof.
The relationship turned into a strategy game, one in which Lagrange was always one move behind.
“It was like a chess game,” she said. “He was constantly making these moves, and I was trying to figure out what he was going to do next – tactical things he did to hurt me, and he made me feel crazy.”
There were days that Lagrange wished she was being beaten because it would give her the excuse she needed to leave him.
Added Farmer: “Most of our women who have verbal abuse against them and not have been physically abused will pray to be physically abused because then it’s a sign that he’s doing something wrong. Whereas the verbal abuse, sometimes no one can see it because it happens between you and him.”
Finally, after six long years, Lagrange had had enough. She left him and returned to Turning Point.
Now that she’s been removed from the relationship, she can move forward. She’s been taking all the counseling and classes that Turning Point has to offer. She even finished a 40-hour training and started a domestic violence support group at her church.
“You can start thinking clearly again,” she said. “I started getting my self-esteem back again. I wasn’t all those things he said I was. I’m not crazy, I’m not this or that. I’m not those things.”
Where to get help
P.O. Box 723
Monday through Thursday: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
McHenry County Crisis Line
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Phone: 800-799-SAFE (7233)