On the night her husband barricaded her in a room during a two-hour beating, smashing her favorite wedding photo on her head in the process, Leslie Morgan Steiner decided to save her life.
After four years, and one particularly terrible night, of physical abuse, Steiner began the difficult process of escaping the man she loved. Nearly 30 years later, she is still using her life’s most painful times to help others avoid the same experience, and help them understand why it’s so hard to do so.
“I’m very lucky to be able to do it. I’m lucky because I survived the relationship, and a lot of people don’t,” Steiner said while speaking March 25 at the Rust Library. “In some ways I feel oddly grateful I have this material to turn into a book.”
Steiner turned the pain into Crazy Love, a New York Times best-selling memoir of her struggles, and ultimate victory, with abuse from a man she thought she loved too much to leave. Speaking in Leesburg on March 25, Steiner detailed her abuse, but it was the cause, and ultimate solution, that she said was most important.
Reading from Crazy Love, Steiner described her first husband, Conor, as charming, funny and compassionate, even after he routinely began beating her. She said her love for him blinded her from the reality of the abuse, and that she was able to compartmentalize that pain from his positive qualities.
“I never thought a boy or man would hurt me,” Steiner said. “It didn’t enter my head. I think those are the people are most vulnerable, the people who thought it was normal or the people who thought it happened to other people.”
Conor didn’t start out as abusive, Steiner said. The first time he hit her was five days before their wedding day. She dialed an abuse hotline the same day, but in her fear she hung up before speaking with anyone. He apologized shortly after, and she thought it was over. He would go on to beat her twice more on their honeymoon, and on a regular basis after that. One time he dumped coffee beans on her head, one time he pulled the key from the car’s ignition while she was driving, twice he strangled her. He brought loaded guns to their home and pressed them against her head. Still, she stayed.
“I loved him,” Steiner said. “I wanted to help him.”
Even then, Steiner knew her life was in jeopardy. While working as a journalist, she called an assistant professor studying the reasons why men beat their partners, pretending she was writing a story on domestic abuse without disclosing her own experiences. He told Steiner that every person he worked with who abused loved ones had been abused by loved ones themselves. He said abusers can’t separate intimacy and violence, that’s why they physically hurt the ones they love. He also said none of the abusers in his research had ever been able to permanently stop.
Steiner said the conversation sparked a change in her, and she confronted Conor about the abuse. He agreed to stop, and for six months he wasn’t violent. But the professor’s observation eventually came true, and Conor exploded with the worst, and final, attack. Steiner said she had an out-of-body experience, and saw herself lying dead on the apartment floor. She said she heard a voice telling her she would have to choose between her love for Conor’s life, or to save her own. That became the night she disclosed the abuse to the police and began to break free from Conor. It would take years of emotional separation, court battles and monetary settlements, but Steiner said it was all worth it.
“The vast majority of victims are me,” Steiner said. “We learn our lesson. It scares the Hell out of us, and we make a promise to ourselves that it’s never going to happen again, and we get help.”
Steiner has gone on to become a best-selling author, Washington Post writer and acclaimed motivational speaker, and has three children with her second husband. Most importantly, she said, they’ve never experienced domestic violence.
“In my own way I lived happily ever after.”