Thanks to the Internet, celebrities are forced to live transparent lives. Christina Milian shares most facets of her world on the E! hit reality show Christina Milian Turned-Up. She frequently engages her upwards to two million followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with daily happenings in her life.
Christina's romantic relationships have been fodder for tabloids, news outlets and bloggers for years. Many are still wondering why she and rapper Lil Wayne really broke it off after a year of hot and heavy dating. Christina's marriage to producer, "The Dream" was more like a nightmare. His very public cheating no doubt played a role in their divorce. Yet, Christina rarely offers commentary on her romantic tryst. However, at 34 years old, she thought it necessary to open up, for the first time, about a relationship that almost killed her.
As a staunch advocate against domestic violence, a survivor of domestic violence, a lecturer on the topic, and a journalist, Christina wanted to exclusively share her story with me because she knew that I would have great empathy for her harrowing experiences. Although each victim of domestic violence may have circumstances that make her experience unique, there is always a thread of commonality that unites all.
Domestic violence is about power and control. The abuser wants to wield his or her control over the victim (Note: I do not use the term "victim" as a synonym for "weak". It means "the innocent party"). Domestic violence does not discriminate. It victimizes every demographic - even smart, pretty young ladies like Rihanna, Sarah Hyland and Christina Milian.
Christina knew from the age of four that she wanted to be an entertainer. After her parents divorced when she was a teen - an experience that emotionally devastated her - she, her mother and sister moved to Hollywood to pursue her dreams. Upon moving to California, Christina experienced extreme poverty but the family "worked their butts off" and stayed focused. Christina worked many jobs from babysitting, hosting at restaurants and even cleaning houses with her mother. She was home-schooled in high school so that she could work and audition. Christina landed a job as a "Disney kid" but securing a record deal was her ultimate goal.
TANYA: Why are you speaking about your domestic violence experience now?
CHRISTINA MILIAN: My experience happened when I was 18 and I've been holding on to this for too long. I lived in fear for a long time. I'm here to save someone. I really want to help other people, especially the youth.
How did you meet your abuser? And what was your relationship like?
At 18, I finally came into a relationship with a record label. My family got back on its feet. I was happy. I met a boy at a New Year's Eve party. And despite my dad warning that "Young boy's love is not real. Boys are just trying to get into your panties," the relationship started quickly. I was 18 and he was 19. He was super funny, with great sarcasm. I'm thinking this happiness is part of the package. But soon his sarcasm turned out to be a bit more dark than I was prepared to get myself into.
How did the abuse begin?
The domestic violence started slowly and evolved. First the controlling phase, "Who's on your phone? Who is this person? Your mom is way too up in your business. You're 18. You're an adult." He was getting in my head - brainwashing me. The relationship changed from him being a funny and sarcastic guy to being an asshole, in a joking style. He would speak down to me by saying how great other women were. Watching someone on TV and saying how sexy she is. It gets in your head. He started talking down about my friends so bit by bit, I was getting rid of my friends. When I look at it now, I was very naive and innocent at 18 years old. He was great at making me feel bad about anything positive I had ever done. He didn't say it but his actions were like; "I'm going to break you down and you will have nobody to trust but me."
Emotional and psychological abuses are just as harmful and debilitating as physical abuse. He sounds like the classic abuser. Did you see yourself changing to appease him?
I was really goofy, fun and bubbly - but I was becoming dark. I found myself talking like him - cursing all the time. I couldn't look him in the eye. I stopped going to the studio and turning down opportunities because I didn't want to get into an argument. I was losing my spirit. He got in my head that I was not a "good girl". I felt that I couldn't do anything without him and he started to instill fear in me.
How did he instill fear in you?
With threats. He'd say, "if you leave me, I'll bomb your mom's house." He always made references to his gang relationships.
What prompted the first episode of physical violence?
I remember waking one morning and he was kicking me and stomping on me. It was over nothing. He accused me of lying about a boy. Then the violence escalated. When we had arguments he would choke me and kick me. I stayed with him in a house in Laurel Canyon hills, with no one around, and there were times when I ran half naked, with no phone, out of the house after him beating me up. I would run. Then, I would see his car lights coming at me, to run me over.
The days when I would gain strength to leave him, he would call me and say he was going to kill himself - literally! He had a gun and shot the gun, then acted like he was dying. I'm on the phone and can't do anything, so I called the police. He'd put fake blood on the floor and say he was dying. Another time he said that he found out that he had cancer and was dying. He would make me feel bad and that I was needed.
I've been there and seen that! Crazy becomes the normal. Why did you stay?
I know that my dad not being in my life made a huge impact on me. I was brainwashed that I couldn't do anything without him. I stayed based on fear that he would hurt my family. He convinced me that I was nothing without him. I was insecure. He had me believe that everyone else was the enemy. Yet, a little voice in my head said this is wrong. If you stay you will die.
Did you family and friends notice the changes in you? Did they see the bruises?
People would see bruises and I would make excuses like I went paintball shooting. In fact, I stopped talking to my family to be with him. I remember being that girl in the middle of the gas station trying to call 9-1-1 or my mom and he had me by my hair pulling me back. People would just watch but not know how to help. (Christina began to cry during interview) All you hope for is that someone would save you because you don't know how to save yourself. You don't know what he will do because he's gotten in your head saying "I will kill you. I will kill your family". I was afraid of dying.
Being abused one time is one time too many? How many times did you experience abuse?
There were too many times to remember all of the experiences. One time he played Russian Roulette on me. He put one bullet in a gun and pointed it at my face. When you have a gun in your face, all you can think about is your family and people who love you. Also, I didn't think that if I went for help he would receive treatment or even be arrested.
Another time, he nearly killed me. I woke up to him choking me to the point I was barely able to scream out. Whatever I found in my reach, I grabbed and hit him with it. I still didn't know where to go. Your daily life is: "How am I going to survive? But I love this man. I can't live without him but I can't live with him." I was so torn.
Very often the victim loves the abuser more than herself. You didn't see in the mirror what the world saw. When did you have your "aha" moment?
I was watching an episode on Oprah about domestic violence. Then I remember reading a story in a magazine. It was a girl telling a story of abuse of how she got out of it. I was mentally taking notes. It was just the average girl sharing her story. God was giving me signs even if I wasn't accepting them at the moment or ready to make the move. My family continued to love and support me despite my fighting with them.
How did you escape the violence for good?
I knew that I had to disappear. I had to force myself not to communicate with him and not to reach out to him. The cycle of abuse was getting worse. After telling my mom for about the tenth time that I was going to leave him, I was finally ready. I knew that I had to leave or die. I was fortunate. My mom got me a ticket with the help of the record label to go to New York and spend time with family and get back to work. I cried the night I decided to leave. The next morning, I took the first flight to New York and asked my mom to have all my numbers and information changed before I landed. I left him a message on the way to the airport - "I can't do this anymore." He'd heard it many times before so he probably didn't believe me. I knew that if I spoke to him I would have changed my mind. When I got to the hotel that night it took every bit of my strength and courage not to call him. I was hungry for him.
But I didn't call him and everyday without him gave me more courage to know I was going to be okay. Over time, he found ways to track me down. He even traveled to other countries looking for me.
Leaving is the hardest thing to do. Having a strategy for safety is key. What would you advise others experiencing domestic violence?
Find a way to separate yourself and change your number. Visit family or friends. Go to a shelter. Do that for your own healing. I can't even imagine going through this with a child and how scared you are to protect your child and protect yourself. There are a lot of girls going through this. It happens way more often than we think. This is your choice to live or die. That's also why I became involved with the "Stop Attack" app. It can help people in violent situations.
How did you get to the point you are now? You are very positive.
When I finally released it and I heard myself talk about it with family and friends it became therapy. Admit to your family about the abuse. You didn't deserve being hurt. Find an outlet. Discussing it is therapy.
Are you repeating the cycle of abuse in recent and new relationships?
Now I see the signs. If it becomes close to abusive, I call it out. I say "I see you monster". If there's an inkling of abuse, I have to move on. Even jealousy - seems cute it first, but if they're getting in my head, it's not right for me. It's okay to be alone. It's okay to be single. The right thing will come along.
Do you still communicate with your abuser?
I haven't spoken to him but I did hear of a woman after me who experience the same thing. I've seen him from time to time and he has tried to come over and say, "Hi" but no! I have a whole new life now. I've prayed for him.
When you are not controlling your today and in fear of your tomorrow, you are an abusive relationship. You are a glowing example of what surviving domestic violence can look like. What parting words would you like to leave to people living in the hell of domestic violence?
Find your inner strength to move on although it will be hard at times. Beauty and love must be within you and you have to learn to love yourself. Take your time to love yourself again. Pray! God is good! I'll tell you that. I lost my spirituality I didn't know how to pray but when I started having conversations with God again and being honest with myself that's when I began to understand who I was again. I gained gratitude towards my mom and sister because they were trying to protect me out of love and wanted nothing but the best for me. Tell people around you what you are going through or deciding to do so they can protect themselves also. Trust your inner voice. Like my mom told me, "Love shouldn't hurt!"
You can catch Christina Milian on:
E! Entertainment: Christina Milian: Turned UP! On; FOX: Grandfathered and iTunes.