KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Most relationships start with a honeymoon phase, and relationships involving domestic violence are no different.
Annette Bracamonte knows this first hand. She is a survivor of physical and psychological abuse, but said it started just like any other relationship.
"He was smooth, he was always dressing really nice and just real smooth, ya know, he was attractive," Bracamonte said.
The two met one another in Fresno, California back in 1996. However, they didn't start dating until 2011.
Bracamonte can now identify red flags that popped up while they were dating; however, she said the real changes started to happen after they got married.
"First it was arguing and him nitpicking at random stuff," Bracamonte said.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), one of the biggest red flags is when a person criticizes or puts down their partner.
Bracamonte said he targeted her with insults about her appearance and certain things she did.
The abuse soon turned from verbal to physical.
"He would slap me and then he would say he was sorry right away and that he didn't mean to do it," Bracamonte remembered. "He would literally kiss the bruises that he gave me."
Bracamonte admitted that she used to make excuses about the bruising on her face to family and friends.
Additionally, she skipped her Grandfather's funeral due to severe swelling and bruising on her face and arms. She said she didn't want her appearance to take away from her grandfather's memory.
"I just wasn't strong enough then to walk away," Bracamonte said. "I wasn't and I should have been."
However, this situation was not a new experience for Bracamonte. She grew up with it in her home, between her parents.
"I remember when we were younger, calling the police and telling them my dad's hitting my mom," Bracamonte said.
Bracamonte learned to fight. She defended her mom and swore she would never let it happen to herself.
"I had said in my head, I'm never going to be in a relationship like this, it's not going to happen," Bracamonte said.
Then, she found herself in an abusive relationship.
That generational cycle of abuse is extremely common among domestic violence cases.
According to NNEDV, "children learn what they live."
For example, if a mother grew up thinking that abuse and violence is “normal” in families, her children may come to the same conclusion.
Witnessing the abuse from her father to her mother, it became a reality for Bracamonte. She believes this was one factor that led her into an abusive marriage.
"That damaged me so much that when it came down to me protecting myself, I couldn't do it," Bracamonte said.
According to Bracamonte, she mustered up the courage to leave. She called 9-1-1 and pressed charges against her husband.
According to Bracamonte, he is now incarcerated in the state of California. She did not provide his name to 10News.
After her husband was sentenced, Bracamonte left California with her son to start a new life in East Tennessee.
"Whatever I was within those years, I can't take that back, but I can make better choices for my son and for my kids now," Bracamonte said.
She got connected with The Salvation Army, and said the organization changed her life.
"I think that God put me in the most perfect place here at the Salvation Army," Bracamonte said. "Now I don't have to hide what happened to me, I can just be myself. And if a situation comes up where it needs to be talked about, we can talk together and understand together and heal together."
Employees at The Salvation Army said they aim to meet people where they are at.
"They're all coming from different things, and Annette's situation was unique," said Blake Craft with the Knoxville Salvation Army.
Craft and Bracamonte have become good friends over the last three years.
Bracamonte stayed in the organization's emergency shelter with her son while they got back up on their feet.
Now, Bracamonte works for The Salvation Army helping other women find healing. It's a position she finds fulfilling.
"My job is everything to me. I look forward to it. I love coming to work," Bracamonte said.