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Elitia Mattox went from being a teen mom in a domestically violent relationship to making love work for herself and others. The New Orleans native met her abuser as a 17 year-old teen mom still in high school when he was 24. The man who was easy to talk to, attentive, and there for her when she needed in the beginning of their relationship also became the man who would punched her in the face and fight with her on a regular basis. After years of being in an abusive and volatile relationship, she knew something had to change in the way she loved herself and asked others to love her. In this interview she tells us how she moved past being a victim to a survivor and made love work in her life.

When did your teenage romance become abusive?

My father was addicted to drugs and stealing the WIC vouchers for my daughter’s milk. Raymond, my boyfriend at the time, knew this and brought up moving in together. I moved into his apartment because of the issues with my father, and because I was already pregnant with our daughter.

We would visit his family a lot after he picked up my daughter and I from school and work. I was pregnant, tired, and ready to go home. I became visibly frustrated and snapping at the mouth because I really wanted to go home. One day, I forget what I said, but he looked at me like I definitely disrespected him. He got in my face and slapped me so hard I fell back on the sofa.

His sister jumped in between us and said “you can’t do that, that girl is pregnant.” I remember him throwing an iron at me because his sisters were trying to protect me. Afterward, we calmed down and went home as if nothing happened.

Were you in love with him? 

I don’t remember ever being in love with him or us even officially being boyfriend and girlfriend. I remember him being easy to talk to and being there for me and me for him. He always knew the right things to say. Plus, he had a car and his own place so it was convenient for him to be the savior for me during my challenges. We didn’t talk about our relationship or it being a relationship we just talked about things.

What was the craziest incident that happened during the relationship?

One time on the car ride home, with the kids in the backseat, we got into an argument and he reached over and smacked me so hard in the face my lip busted and my head snapped back like I was in a car accident. He didn’t miss a beat with the steering wheel. My reaction was to punch him and grab the steering wheel. I was very erratic. I forgot the children were in the car, and didn’t care he was driving. I wanted to hurt him as bad as he hurt me.

He didn’t even pull over, he just let me hit him. Every now and then he would punch me back and since his blows hurt so much more I felt like I was doing nothing compared to him. When we eventually got home I got the children ready for bed like nothing happened, did my homework, and then went to bed next to him, but I couldn’t put the event out of my head.

I kept thinking about it and how my face was swollen, and now I had to look in the mirror and see another bruise. I had to go to school with a black eye and busted lip, not that I was worried about what others would think, but it was more so about me having to walk around like that.

I was in the bathroom thinking about how I didn’t have make-up. What am I going to do with this? I have to go to school tomorrow.

His five or six hits really left my face bruised and my body sore. I kept trying to lay down, but I got up and boiled this big pot of water and said “I’m going to burn his f-cking a–” and that’s what I did. He was laying on his stomach and I threw the water on the bottom part of his body. It burnt the back of both his legs, one more severely than the other, and he jumped up screaming.

I said, “That’s what you get for hitting me, you don’t know who you’re messing with, you think you can just hit me like that? Look at my face, look at my face. You’re worried about your legs, look at my face.”

He was screaming out of control in so much pain. We went to the hospital and they asked him what happened and he said, “It was a motorcycle accident, I burned my leg on a pipe.” When he said that and his family started trickling in I looked away like I didn’t have anything to do with it.

How long were you in the relationship before you realized you needed to get out of it?

When we moved into a new apartment close to his sister the fights became less frequent. People would come over, we’d go into the kitchen and argue about something, throw pots at one another, then go back into the living room and entertain as if nothing happened.

One night my best friend who was dating his cousin was over. We were having fun hanging out and playing cards. The children were with their grandparents. We went into the kitchen and started arguing and fighting. Instead of us shutting down and going back to entertain our company we kept the fight going and it trickled into the living room and they were trying to break us up.

I was like “I’ve had enough of this, it doesn’t make sense.” I got black garbage bags and put all my clothes from the closet in them and my books. I took the keys to the car, threw the bags in the trunk and said “I’m leaving.” I didn’t know where I was going at the time. My friend was screaming at him for hitting me and her boyfriend told her to stay out of it because tomorrow we would be right back together. I left and stayed with my family for a few days, and then moved into an apartment on my own.

We eventually got back together because I had a daughter with him. He moved in with me, then we bought a house together.

How did the relationship eventually end?

One day after we had a fight when I was in college a girl in the class asked if I was okay. I sat with her after class and talked to her about being tired of us fighting all the time. The conversation was only 15 minutes but the fact that she noticed really helped me realize I had to do something different because the relationship wasn’t going to work.

One March I was planning his surprise birthday party. I wanted to do something really nice for him because he didn’t grow up with that. He was very surprised, all his friends and family were there. That night in bed he thanked me for the party and I said, “You’re welcome, we need to do better because I need you and love you.” He smiled so big and said “I love you too,” and we went to sleep. Three days later he was killed right in front of me. That’s how the relationship ended.

How did that relationship affect your relationships afterward?

That was the last physically abusive relationship I was in, and it made me more aware of the signs, like non-communication, knowing when my words would spark someone’s anger to the point of wanting to lash out, and how drinking affects someone’s behavior. In my future relationships I wouldn’t tolerate men drinking and smoking.

My first husband was emotionally abusive, but again I was able to pick up on those signs. Those signs aren’t as vivid as physical abuse, but they are there. You just know something isn’t right and I felt comfortable to take a step back and say something. I also took ownership on my part and no longer became verbally abusive to the point where men would lash out.

How were you able to overcome all of that and get to the point where you now have your own business, When Love Works, which encourages and teaches people how to love in a positive way in all areas of their lives?

Initially, it was when Raymond first died. I came home and did all the funeral planning at 20-something years old and was new to all of that. After I cried and even vomited I said, “Alright Lord you’re going to have to give me the strength to get through this because I can’t just fade into black.” Being alone with my daughters and having all of these responsibilities I asked for strength from a higher power, something larger than me.

Getting to a place where I was able to see love — what it looked like and felt like — was important because I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through this. I definitely saw how not having a father around impacted my daughter. I wanted to ensure love was still present in people’s lives, including my own, but I had to first start with me. I didn’t want to rely on someone else to love me and build me up. I understood that I needed to love me first then make sure I got it from everyone else around me.

I looked to see where I missed opportunities to ask Raymond to love me. Where could I have communicated to him how I wanted to be loved? That could’ve prevented a lot of those arguments and fights. Communication is very important in loving myself and getting the love that I want from other people. Once I used that in my steps to heal and overcome the relationship I started to hear from other people, common stories whether it was about physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. I kept hearing this disconnect of loving one’s self first then comfortably asking others to love you. No matter the form, it was the same idea that people wanted love but weren’t comfortable asking for it from the person they were in a relationship with.

Listening to it over and over again, thinking about it, sharing my story, strategies, and brainstorming with others to come out of their situation I said, “Okay, I have to do something with all of this knowledge.”

I looked into ways to help others. Psychology was one of them, but I didn’t want to be a therapist, even though therapy was a big help in my healing. My therapist told me after a few months I didn’t need it anymore because I was moving at an accelerated pace. That conversation made me look into this accelerated pace, and maybe there are people like me who have gone through some trauma, but can move through it at a faster rate. I discovered that’s what coaching is and got my certification. I found my passion isn’t general coaching, but focusing on relationships and how love looks and feels. I created a company that specializes in helping people with these types of challenges in their relationships with family, friends, or significant others and that’s how When Love Works was founded.

The key to my company is that you have to actually do something to get over the trauma and abuse: the work. The work is significant to move past the current hurt and pain.

How did you find love with your current husband?

When I moved to New York from New Orleans, people would always come visit. A classmate came to visit and she specifically wanted to go to the 40/40 club because it was new. I didn’t want to go, but when people visit me I try to do what they want to do. My husband was in the club because his friend drug him there too.

He was checking me out and noticed that I really didn’t belong there, and liked how I looked and carried myself. We eventually met eyes and talked to each other. We couldn’t hear because the music was loud so we stepped outside and talked, exchanged numbers, and eventually met back up with our friends. We’ve been married now for eight years.

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