For the month of October, we are sharing stories of abuse survivors as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. See more tales from our Survivor Series here.
From the outside looking in, Toshamakia had it all. She was beautiful, in a relationship with a wonderful man, had a beautiful daughter, a house, cars, a singing career that took her around the world, and eventually hosted a radio show. Little did her admirers know, she was being abused and didn’t see any way out of her situation other than dying.
“He took everything from me, and he didn’t care. He would grab me by the neck until I couldn’t breathe, and hit me in my ribs,” said Toshamakia, describing some of the abuse she endured.
After 15 years in a relationship with a drug addict that beat, raped, and traumatized her, Toshamakia was able to walk away alive. But the road to recovery for her and her daughter took a lot of work and strength to get where she is today: in a healthy relationship with two sons. It has also given her another purpose in life, helping other women by using her radio platform, personal experience, and resources to help them get out of their abusive relationships.
Now that she understands how abuse starts — spoiler alert: not with a fist — Toshamakia wants to pass on information to girls and women so they can avoid the pitfalls of abusive relationships and support women around them who are already in such situations.
How did you first meet your abuser?
I was in high school, very quiet and into my grades. I went to Central High School in Bridgeport, CT, and I was a complete nerd, but I loved it. I was in the band, gospel choir, and somehow became a cheerleader. He was older; I was a freshman and he may have been a senior or junior.
In high school I was so focused on my goals and school that I wasn’t thinking about boys. My mom told me boys are not going to pay for your education and future. He was very persistent, and that’s how we met and began talking. When he graduated we would see each other when we could, but my mom was so strict I couldn’t get out the house; I was the only girl.
How did talking turn into a relationship?
It was cool because it wasn’t anything official. We were just cool. We were just friends. He eventually became my first everything, but in the beginning we were just cool. I was treated like a princess, very gentle. I was a virgin and inexperienced in many things. He knew how strict my mom was. He was the kind of guy everyone knew and was super popular. He was very kind to me, like most people are when they want to bring you in. They show you all the glitter and gold.
He was doing simple things that I wasn’t used to. I didn’t have a father figure that was consistent growing up so it was the simple things. “You want Subway?” “You want this?” “I’ll buy you this.” That was nice, but I was not the kind of person to receive material gifts. We were talking, but then we later started dating.
How did the abuse start?
That is something I look back and wish I would’ve paid more attention to. Growing up I never saw any type of abuse. I did hear my mom and dad kind of go at it, but I thought you know, it’s parents just arguing. There was a time when I was visiting one of my aunts and he was kidding around and slammed me into a wall. He thought it was funny but it actually hurt the back of my head.
At that moment I already really liked him and thought to myself, “wow that wasn’t cool my mom would be really pissed off if she knew this happened.” When he saw me put my head down and was almost in tears trying not to cry he was like, “omg I’m sorry,” and realized he actually hurt me. Even though he was saying it was just him playing he was extremely apologetic. He did whatever it took to say sorry about it.
I told my aunt about it and wound up forgiving him, thinking it was a mistake. When I look back at it now I should’ve really walked away. That was the beginning. No one does that playing around that way. It was my first inkling of abuse.
At the time I was young, and I didn’t have a child with him yet. Time went on and he wound up going to jail. I was a virgin so I sat around, traveled, took care of people in my family. When he got out, we ended up becoming a couple and I got pregnant. Once I had my daughter things really changed.
I became isolated and manipulated. Once my daughter was born I moved out of my mom’s house. Things changed even from the way he would talk to me. Then I realized he was on drugs.
It wasn’t like he was raping me, choking me, and beating me in the beginning. It was more of a mental thing — doing what he wanted when he wanted, disrespecting me, and always leaving me alone. He made me feel like I was worthless. I remember thinking to myself, “there is no way I was born to feel like this with someone.”
At the time I wasn’t on the radio or touring. I was a receptionist at a YMCA just trying to figure out life, and it just kept getting worse and worse. As time went on the disrespect got to the point where he would disrespect me in front of other people, and I was trying to hold the family together. I wanted my daughter to have a family, and to have something I never saw. In my family a lot of people got married, but most of them didn’t stay together. I was trying to give her something I didn’t have.
When my daughter was small I would call my mom. I would never tell her what was happening, but I would say I didn’t like the way he made me feel. I would cry to her, and she’d say I can always come home. I just thought that’s what relationships were about. I was never taught how to be in a relationship. I thought now I’m a mom and I want to have a family this is what I have to endure not knowing it wasn’t healthy or right.
What about your singing and radio career? How were they affected by the abuse?
I sang my entire life and that was one thing that intimidated him. He knew if I got with the right people that was pretty much going to be it. As my daughter got a little bit older I ended up going on tour with one of my cousins who lived in New York and a couple of rappers. We pretty much shadowed these rappers to learn about the lifestyle of the industry because I wanted to see if I wanted to be in it. While on tour I met my manager at the time and we wound up putting together a single that even to this day plays overseas, called Be Yourself. It became a hit. We were touring with Angie Martinez from Hot 97. At the time Lil Mo was pregnant and she had that song If I Could Go. I filled in for Lil Mo on BET’s 106 and Park, Carson Daily, and Soul Train. The more success I got the worst things were to the point where he was chasing me around the house with a belt buckle. He would rape me while my daughter was sleeping in the very next room.
I couldn’t take it and I started cutting myself. I was with him 15 years and this was between nine and 10 years of a lot of trauma. My daughter to this day reminds me of things because I always thought she didn’t see anything. But because there is so much trauma there are a lot of things I can’t remember; its upsetting because it includes even good memories of my daughter growing up.
I won’t remember something when I look at a picture because there was so much fear instilled in me. We were touring so much my mom moved in with us, and she didn’t know. No one knew. I covered it up and made him look like the best thing in the world to everybody. Even though people were feeling things, they couldn’t put their finger on it because they trusted and loved me. I was so afraid. He told me he would kill my mother and take my daughter. I didn’t want to lose my daughter or for him to kill my mom. My mother wasn’t fearful of him, but in her heart she knew something, but just didn’t know.
I had an opportunity of a lifetime, and it bothers me to this day when I think about it. When we came back to Connecticut from tour I did an interview on Hot 93.7. The program director at the time, Victor Star, said “you’re funny, have you ever thought about doing radio?” I thought no, what do you talk about on radio? He’s like you should think about it, we have a big show next month you should perform at the Harper Civic Center for the Jingle Jam. It was like 20,000 people, and I was used to performing for people like that. Singing was what I loved, but I allowed the abusive relationship to take that from me.
We went back on the road, and I just said I can’t do this anymore I need to be at home with my daughter. I went home to Conneticut, trained for a few weeks and was on the radio part time making so little money I wasn’t able to take care of the household. Later on I did a spread for The Source magazine which caught the eye of a program director in Philly, and he offered me a full-time position. This is God. This is it. God is going to take me out of here, and I can start over. I had a full-time salary with benefits, 401k. I thought, I’m gonna get my daughter and myself out of here.
Instead of leaving the problem I took the problem to Philadelphia. I thought if I took him out of the environment he would get better, and that was the good heart in me. It didn’t get better it got worse. It was so bad I didn’t want to buy furniture because I didn’t want him to feel like it was his home.
I had a number one night show in Philly on the radio show. I stopped singing because he would tell me I sounded like crap and I wouldn’t make it. Listening to him I let something that was a gift go. It was so bad that my shift started at 7 pm and ended at midnight, but when my daughter went to school I stayed at the station from 10 am to midnight because I didn’t want to be around him.
How did you cope with the abuse?
I wanted to die. I became a cutter, I would take pills, and I was too much of a punk to hang myself but I thought about it. Then I thought, who would take care of my daughter? It got so bad I was like, my mom will take care of her, she’ll be fine, I just want to die. That was my rock bottom. The day I could taste it, I knew I was going to die. I told God if you get me out of this I promise for the rest of my life I will never ask for a fee to help other women, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
How did you finally leave?
It was my daughter who saved my life. I always thought if she slept with me he wouldn’t bother us. One night, about 4 or 5 in the morning he came in screaming, “I want money!” Were sleeping on an air mattress in the bedroom by a window. He’s in pain, I guess going through withdrawl. I’m looking at him thinking to myself, “what the hell were you thinking this dude is ruining your life.”
My daughter woke up. She grabbed my face with both hands on my cheeks and said, “mommy please just make it stop already, make it stop!” I looked at her, and it was like all these years in my head I thought I was covering it up, but I wasn’t.
I remember her running out the room. He was so sick, and he didn’t pay attention to her. The sun was coming up and I said, “I know I’m going to die today,” I knew in my heart I was going to die. I didn’t want her to see this so she went in her room. She was 8 or 9, and all her life she knew this was happening
I’d bought my daughter this phone to put in her room. I never knew why I bought it, I just thought it was cute. I guess God had me buy it a while ago, and it was hooked up. I think she called the cops, and I had the house phone in my hand. I looked down at it, she said “talk” and I heard my mom in on the phone say “the police are on their way.”
I thought, what do you mean? I’m going to die right now. It was a peaceful, calm feeling. I looked at him, and he was going to throw me out the window. He was going to kill me. I couldn’t believe I’d stayed that long and that I did this to my daughter. I remember saying, “please God forgive me for everything.”
The cops came, I don’t know where they came from. It was so fast. I knew he was going to throw me out the window, and he didn’t care. He shot his best friend two inches from the heart with his father’s gun who was a cop. Why would he care about me? I only stayed because I was afraid of him. When the cops came and grabbed him all he did was laugh at me– an evil devil laugh. I thought to myself, “It’s over,” but I was so sick I went to the bathroom on myself standing right there.
What was it like leaving an abusive relationship and now being in a healthy one?
Its a process because cuts heal, bruises fade, but the mental part of it messes with me sometimes. You gotta stay firm and be consistent, stay busy and prayed up. You have to remember you’re not the person you used to be.
I almost took him back, and its because he wouldn’t stop calling me once he left Philly. I had to grow some balls. I changed my number. I blocked certain things off my email and social media. I just started living. I filed harassment charges and he would have to travel back to Philly from Connecticut to take care of those fees. I guess he eventually got tired. It wasn’t easy, but if I knew this was all it took I would’ve left a long time ago. I was scared as hell.
I also kept myself busy because an idle mind wonders. I spent more time at work and in the community. I would wake up and go to the gym. I showered at the gym purposely so I wouldn’t go back home. I would leave in the morning to the gym and come home at 2 in the morning.
After some time, I was out one day and I saw this dining room set. My house was still completely empty and I thought that it would look really nice in my dining room. Then I saw a living room set, then I saw a bedroom set, and I just started living.
About a year or so I started to date a little bit, but it wasn’t my thing. One day a friend of mine was showing me pictures of this guy and the girls were all googoo gaga over him. I thought he was okay so they called him as a joke. From there we became friends, a while after we dated. It took him years to meet my daughter. That’s who I’m with now. He’s helped me grow so much and learn more about myself. The more I learn about me the more I’m able to help so many different types of women and men.
How is your relationship with your daughter now?
My daughter is 20 now. She’s amazing. She’s in college. We actually got her some counseling because she didn’t want to be around him. She was scared of him. You gotta be careful because though he messed up and did what he did I didn’t want to sit there and bash him] You have to remember you’re talking to a delicate, innocent mind. One day we sat down, and I said to her,”I didn’t know that you knew,” and she said “yeah, mommy.”
My daughter and I talk about everything. I said to her, “I’m so sorry I didn’t know you knew,” and she asked me why I stayed. I said “I wanted you to have a family.”
I asked her how much did she see, and she would tell me so many things. I would think to myself “that happened?” She’d say, “yeah, remember in the car you fell asleep and there was all this white stuff.” He put her in danger, things I didn’t even know about. She’s sleeping in the back seat and he had all this white powder in the front seat. She would tell me about all these things. I said, “ Why didn’t you tell me?”
When I thought they were doing father-daughter things he was dropping her off at other people’s houses, and doing whatever he was doing. I told her, “people do mean things, but I need you to look at me as your example. All the things you heard or might’ve heard, never let someone treat you like that.” I apologized to her, but I never allowed my apologies and my weakness make her feel like I owed her.
I love the fact that she respects and loves me and is proud of me. I was nervous when she went away to college, but she would call and tell me things and I thank God. I’m so glad I taught her about all the different types of abuse because it’s not just physical. I’m glad we were able to have that talk, and pray together and communicate. I showed her without degrading him- even though she already had her own thoughts on him- what not to allow any man or woman do to you ever in your life. When you know your worth you won’t allow people to treat you that way.
Tell me more about the ways you help other women and educate for domestic violence prevention
When I left my ex I put my daughter in hiding. She was living in Connecticut with my mom, but no one knew where she was. While that was happening I had to figure out how to heal me. That’s when I decided to come out and tell the world because if he came back to kill me at least people knew what was going on.
Silence is not the way to go. Most people go after people with good hearts, not the girls with loud mouths that go wild and crazy, and call their brothers. They go after the people that are quiet and have no voice to speak up, and are afraid. That was me.There was no place that felt safe.
I told myself somehow, someway you have to tell the world, but I was too afraid. Then one day on the radio in Philadelphia, through my tears because I was scared, I told the world that I was being abused, manipulated, and raped, and that it didn’t just affect me it affected my child. Once I did that a lot of women called the radio in Philly and came out with their stories too.
When I finally opened up on the radio I put my email out there (firstname.lastname@example.org). I don’t know what made me do that, but people just need someone to talk to. My email went crazy. I met another best friend of mine that way, I helped her out and now she’s a nurse, married with children, happy, and growing.
I would meet these men and women at the police station or emergency room with my own money. I didn’t want to go through a company or the state because they would try to tell me I had to go back to school to get this education. I thought “you guys are doing it all wrong.”
You can’t tell me about abuse if you didn’t live it. You have to be 10 steps ahead of the abuser, and they didn’t know how to do that. They help you for a week then what do you do? They send the cops, but its not enough, they’re not wrapping you in a shell that is safe where you’re going to be okay.
Once you talk to the woman or man or even the children — they’ll call you too– you figure out a plan because you have to be 10 steps ahead to get them out. I always use my own money. I tried to figure out what I could do to be that safety for women. Down here in North Carolina it’s like what happens in your house stays in your house
I sit in courtrooms and listen to women’s stories. They’re sitting there shaking, damn near pissing themselves while the abuser sits there laughing, the judge is going “oh well,” and its over. Do you know what he’s going to do to her when he gets home? Do you know what she feels like inside? Do you know she can’t sleep? Do you know she wants to die?
What do I do to help other people? Let them move in with me? When we moved here I started putting my family at risk and the person I’m with was like, “you gotta be careful. I know this is your passion and I’m with you, but you never know, you’re putting yourself at risk.” It’s hard. That’s why I want to put something together and speak more about it because we have to do something. So far I’ve helped 70 women, and the last person is my best friend now.
What can other people do to help women in abusive relationships?
Listen.That’s the thing that upsets me is (I’m not saying all women) but there are so many women who are competitive with each other and want to see other women fall. I remember trying to tell one of my cousins about it, but I didn’t realize she was so interested in my abuser. She was telling him everything I was telling her. I was trying to tell her, but something about it wasn’t right. If more women supported other women we could help each other out.
If only you can listen, and be an ear instead of judging. A lot of times the women who are in it don’t know who to trust. If you trust the wrong person, the thing your abuser said they will do to you and your family might happen. You never know. People need to be educated because they always think its just weak women. I wasn’t born around weak women I had great women around me it just so happened I was sucked in. It could happen to anybody.
I told a family member what happened years later, and she said, “better you than me because I would’ve never let that happen.” It doesn’t work that way. You don’t just get into a relationship and he punches you in the face. It’s in your brain. They know how to wine and dine you, make you feel special.
It never starts off with a punch in the face or a rape. It starts off with manipulations then isolation. You lose your spirituality, emotionally and financially you’re abused. The way he would get me was here’s a few hundred dollars. The money kept accumulating because I didn’t want his money, I didn’t want him, I just wanted to get out free. I wanted him to say “here’s your go free card,” and leave me alone, but he wouldn’t. If it wasn’t for my daughter I don’t know where I’d be.