For domestic violence survivors, escaping an abuser is almost always complicated. Rusty Babcock faced an additional layer of obstacles: He’s gay, he’s in the Navy, and he was with a toxic, controlling partner from 2003 until 2009. And, this violent partner threatened to tell Babcock’s senior adviser about their relationship. This was during the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, so Babcock knew that leaving his abusive partner meant he risked losing his career. But when Babcock finally got the courage to leave, he found an unexpected source of support in the Navy.
Babcock spotted signs of trouble from the earliest days of the relationship. “We were always fighting, even at the very beginning. I just thought maybe I was screwing up. I thought I was doing something wrong. It was a telltale sign—there was distrust from him toward me that started at the very beginning,” he said.
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Babcock planned to relocate to San Diego, deciding he would go and get settled and telling his partner he could follow him a few months later. But his partner wouldn’t stand for that. He told Babcock that he wasn’t allowed to move unless they moved together. His partner said he had a job lined up in San Diego, so they moved there together. The job turned out to be a lie. His partner drank heavily and, when he did work his jobs never lasted long since he would call in sick when he was hungover. He also developed health problems that required a lot of medical care.
“I was only a 2nd class in the Navy, living in a very expensive city,” Babcock said. “I ended up having to get a second job to afford my apartment and his drinking habits.”
In 2006 Babcock planned another move, this time to Hawaii. Once again, his partner convinced him that he had a job waiting there. Once again, the job didn’t pan out. “Now I was in an even more expensive city, paying for someone who didn’t have a job,” he said. “He would go to the grocery store with $150 and come home with vodka, wine, candy and DVDs. He would say, ‘Well, I’m the one trapped at home.’”
Babcock’s family came to Hawaii to visit in 2009 and were worried about him and his relationship. “My family didn’t like him at all. They thought I was being used. I didn’t realize how far gone I was or how much he was in control,” he said. “My mother told me at the end of that trip that my partner was no longer welcome in her home. This was a big wake-up call moment for me.”
No Way to Escape
Babcock’s partner threatened to tell the Navy he was gay.
“I couldn’t get away. I stopped looking for ways to get out. I just dealt with it,” Babcock said. “It was a double whammy with the military and don’t-ask-don’t-tell. I couldn’t ask for help. If I got found out I could lose my job. It wasn’t just the domestic abuse, it was that and being gay and being in the military—it was all intertwined. I didn’t know what to do.”
Finally, one night in December 2009, Babcock’s partner tried to kill him. “I had gone to bed early, and around 2 a.m. he swung a meat cleaver and tried to kill me. He missed, but we fought, and it took me two hours just to get out of the bedroom,” he said.
They were both screaming, but their neighbors had heard them fight plenty of times. “Nobody ever called the cops anymore,” he said. “If I heard people screaming like that, I would have gone to check on them. Nobody came to check. Not one person.”
Babcock’s partner smashed in their TV before Babcock grabbed his wallet and keys, escaping. He got behind the wheel of his pick-up truck only to feel a “thunk” as he drove away. “He had jumped into the truck bed. He was pushing and kicking the back window, yelling, ‘You’re not going to leave me’. I said, ‘I am done with you. We are done. I can’t do this anymore,’” he said. “I drove forward, slammed on my brakes, made him fall out, and left. It was December 9th, one of the worst days of my life.”
Finding Support in the Navy’s Ranks
His now-ex was repeatedly calling the ship after the break-up, but Babcock’s senior adviser was supportive. “He didn’t want me to tell him anything, but he told me I was safe. He could have easily said that my career was over,” Babcock said.
The next day, Babcock called his family in Michigan for help. He needed $2,600 for a one-way plane ticket to get rid of his ex and to pay off his bills. Babcock was finally able to separate from his ex on Christmas Eve. (Babcockstayed with a friend for most of December.) “The last time I saw him in person was when I took him to the airport,” he said.
Christmas day was tough for Babcock. “My mom called and I remember crying, I was so emotionally distraught. I pulled all the decorations off the tree and had Christmas put away in 30 minutes. I drank four bottles of wine and I was staring at my broken TV until I passed out,” he said. “Two girlfriends came over to get me. They said, ‘We’re going out tonight. The bar is open, and you need to have some fun and be a human who doesn’t have an anchor around you anymore. That was the day I started finding myself again.”
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Friends, Family and Yoga Helped Him Heal
Babcock had started practicing yoga toward the end of the relationship, and going forward, it helped him heal. “I needed something to keep me active and relax my mind. I started doing yoga five or six times a week. It was the one place I felt safe,” he said.
His partner had kept him isolated, but in 2009 and 2010 he started to build strong friendships. “That circle of friends is my brothers and sisters. They are glued to my side,” he said.
There have been ups and downs since then, but today Babcock is in a good place. He’s married and living in Florida with his husband. He’s been in the Navy for 22 years and is now a chief petty officer—his ex could have cut that career in half. And he’s found another passion—he’s an instructor at CycleBar.
“Part of my healing was being able to rediscover who I am. My friends and my family helped me do that. I was a wounded puppy, kicked so many times I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong, what was acceptable and what was abuse,” he said. “I have never looked back.”
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