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When my partner beat me up I could not let others know that my perfect relationship had failed. So I lied to them, and to myself.

Miko Maciaszek/The Globe and Mail

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Embarrassed. Humiliated. Shamed. Shocked.

I could go on, but those words are a good place to start when I dig up those buried feelings that washed over me four years ago.

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This year's assault by Ray Rice of his then-fiancée, now-wife, sends the same shivers through my body as the police photograph of Rihanna's battered face five years ago.

Rice and Chris Brown have made domestic violence famous. It doesn't feel like a dirty little secret from low-income, struggling communities any more. It happens in all walks of life.

Yet, there is such a stigma clinging to domestic violence that it continues to make me feel embarrassed, humiliated and shocked when I think of my own assault.

On Canada Day in 2010, I locked myself in my bedroom and crawled into a ball to hide from the prying eyes of the outside world. I spent the day knitting together a web of lies to present to my family, friends and colleagues to explain the mass of bruising and swelling on my face. The cuts and grazes on my body could be hidden by carefully placed clothing.

The horrors of the early hours of that day still make my palms clammy and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

I had kept the intimate details locked away in the darkest part of my memory until I saw the security footage of Rice punching his partner unconscious. The moment his fist hits her face, painful flashbacks hit me like a bolt of lightning.

I, too, was dragged from room to room, but my memory was not protected by an unconscious state. There were two smashed mirrors, a bathroom door kicked open, a TV screen crumpled.

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I was finally pinned down on the bed we shared, his strong legs securing my flailing arms, leaving his fists free to connect with my face. I can't remember the exact number of punches, but I do remember thinking I didn't want to die.

Thankfully, a neighbour rescued me. He knocked on my door and the punches stopped. That neighbour probably saved my life. He took me to his apartment, which was directly above mine, and his frightened girlfriend helped wash the blood from my face.

"I'll call the police," she said, but as soon as I heard the word police my body stiffened with fear. What would my mother say? What would my brother do? I didn't want to be the cause of any more trouble.

So I thanked my brave neighbours through tears and headed back downstairs to start weaving my web of lies.

Why did I feel shame? Why did I feel embarrassed? I was the victim! I had been attacked by an ex-soldier with overwhelming strength. Why did I have to lie to those closest to me?

All these questions came flooding back recently, spurred on by the highly publicized domestic violence cases in the celebrity world.

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It was the thought of my intimate relationship being judged that drove me to hide away from my injuries. I concocted a story about getting mixed up in a bar brawl. "A wayward elbow caught my face." Did I come to believe it? I don't think I did. But I had to tell the story so many times that it began to feel real. And that's when I started to block out the attack.

Maybe it didn't happen, I thought. Maybe it was all just a bad dream, and I do have a happy life and a loving relationship.

I was saving face. I didn't want to admit that I'd made a bad judgment of character. I didn't want to admit defeat against the expectations of society: perfect partner, perfect relationship, perfect job.

And so I convinced myself it was a "blip" in the relationship. Maybe I'd provoked him. Maybe I deserved it. Nobody is perfect.

"We'll go to counselling and talk about it," I decided. "Everything will be okay. Everything will be perfect again."

I was still spinning the lies when I ventured outside, and those lies became my reality. On July 2, I carried on with my life and my relationship.

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Behind closed doors, we were both apologetic, both racked with guilt: He because he had to stare at my bruised face and see the reality that his hands had inflicted those injuries, and I because I stayed. Because I wanted that perfect life to continue.

We stayed together, living the lies, for two more months.

I am not sure if the assault will have an effect on my future relationships. I've tried not to let it define me. I've spent four years trying to become a stronger, more independent woman.

It's okay to be on your own, I've learned. It's okay if you don't have a perfect relationship. Don't be trapped in a relationship where you are a victim, male or female.

Society needs to shed the stigma of domestic violence. Reach out to victims, knock on your neighbour's door and tell them it's okay to admit defeat.

Helen Baker (whose name has been changed) lives in Burlington, Ont.

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