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For 25 years, Brigid Cox thought the abuse she faced at the hands of her husband wasn’t that bad. “Even when he put a gun up to my head, I never thought he would really shoot me. I thought, ‘Surely he wouldn’t do that—he loves me,” she says. “I didn’t think what I was experiencing was actually abuse because I never had a broken arm or been to the emergency room.”
While Cox knows now that she was abused sexually, spiritually, mentally, physically and financially, at the time she thought that was just what all men did. And she thought she could make him change. “I thought things would get better if I could just love him more, be more sexy, or cook better. I kept trying to be better,” she says.
Living in Danger
Cox’s hairdresser, Beth, thought differently. “She told me, ‘I know you don’t think it’s that bad, but at least fill out a questionnaire.’” Beth gave Cox an envelope with the questionnaire and information about domestic violence shelters and support in the Atlanta area, where they lived. (Read more about the CUT IT OUT: Salons Against Domestic Abuse movement here.)
Three or more “yes” answers to the 10 questions put a person at high risk of danger. Cox answered “yes” nine times.
The questionnaire started Cox on the path to leaving her husband, but it wasn’t an easy road. The abuse escalated, and with her son and daughter grown and out of the house, there wasn’t a buffer between her and her husband. “The more I said ‘no’ to him the more angry he was, since he thought he was losing control. For the last four years I was so afraid,” she says.
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Her husband used her children against her. He convinced their daughter to tell Cox that if Cox didn’t drop the restraining order, their daughter would tell the judge that Cox had sexually abused her. On the day Cox filed for divorce, her husband told police she had run him over with a car. When she wouldn’t drop the divorce, he convinced police she was stalking him and she spent 10 days in jail. “Sometimes I think if he hadn’t had me arrested, I might be still trying to fix the marriage. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says.
Cox left him four times before she stayed away for good. “A lot of people think women can just get out but that’s not the case. I had to fight for it. A lot of people say, ‘If any man ever put a hand on me I would walk out the door.’ But you can’t say that. It doesn’t happen the first time. They get you to a place where you think everything is okay, and then it’s so shocking when it happens,” she says.
“I had to get to a place where I was willing to let go of everything. People don’t realize what you have to give up to leave,” she says. Cox and her husband owned three businesses and 25 rental properties in a portfolio worth millions of dollars. Even though she worked for all of their businesses she never received a paycheck, so she was financially strapped when she left the marriage. She ended up living in a vacant vitamin shop they had owned, and showering in an adjacent gym. “But I made it a haven. I was safe,” she says.
When her divorce was finalized, Cox packed everything into her car and drove 2,006 miles west to the home of her sister in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, she wanted no part of a new relationship. But she met someone, and when she told him her background he told her that he was involved in organizations that worked to end domestic violence. They are now married.
“My life is so different now. I can breathe. I’m free. I can think for myself and make decisions and I’m not afraid,” she says. Cox shares her story publicly, speaking in front of audiences.
“I tell people, ‘You can be free, you can do this. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you need somebody alongside you, whether it’s your hairdresser, your best friend or your sister. You have to use a hotline and the things that are available to you. You can’t do it by yourself.’”
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