The following post is by a frequent Lemondrop contributor.

Yesterday my friends and I were dissecting the Chris Brown-Rihanna debacle over lunch. As my friends pierced their Asian chicken salads with forks, they expressed shock.

"How could Rihanna be in a relationship like this? Is she crazy? She can never get back with him!"

I oh-my-Godded along with them, but inside, I wanted to scream. The real shock to me is how much we all still act like domestic violence doesn't happen to "regular" women. But in fact, 1 in 4 college girls has been in an abusive relationship. It's a scary number, and what my friends don't know is that I'm one of them.

Seeing Myself
When I read this story, my first reaction was, "Wow, it really can happen to anyone." For so long I'd felt ashamed, like I was a failure for "letting" it happen to me or putting up with it when I knew better. And here was one of the most beautiful and successful young talents in the music industry, with bruises and a busted lip.

I'm 23, live in the Midwest, just graduated from a great school and have tons of professional opportunities that I've worked really hard for. And I have now been in two relationships where my boyfriend has gotten physical with me.

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When you love someone (or think you do), you tend to overlook certain things. Sure, there are warning signs, like getting inordinately angry (especially in public) and breaking stuff, but I didn't think those things meant he'd ever hit me.

Someone once cut off my boyfriend while driving, and he sped after them for miles until a red light, where he got out and yelled at the other driver. Another time, I'd framed my boyfriend's bowl rings from college. When we got into a fight, he took a hammer and smashed it in front of me.

Was It Me?
The implication that Rihanna somehow "asked for it" really got me going. The first time a boyfriend grabbed me by the hair, he said after the fact, "You just push me too far."

Well, maybe Rihanna pushed Chris Brown too far and maybe that night at my boyfriend's apartment I could have said things differently, but no matter what, hitting someone should never be the answer.

Still, once things got physical, I made up hundreds of excuses. "He's so stressed." "I'm the only one who understands him." "I just need to let him know he's hurting me and it'll stop." I heard myself saying these cliches (and believing them) -- over and over again.

Why Stay?
I can't count how many times friends and family would tell me, "Leave him and never talk to him again." But it's hard to leave -- even when you want to.

It's not like these guys show up for the first date with roses in hand and say, "By the way, in three months, once I'm really comfortable, I'm going to start slamming you against walls while choking you and screaming in your face." It's gradual.

On My Own
Abusers often isolate you from friends and family. My guy did this too -- if I hung out with friends, he told me I wasn't being a good girlfriend and didn't care about him. He'd put down my friends or family and told me they didn't care about me.

He was also super-intense about the relationship, saying we were soul mates, adding, "You can't leave me, I need you. We're meant to be together."

That made it harder to see his behavior as abusive, since we were so close. And when the violence started and I finally came up for air and realized what was going on, I looked around and realized I was alone. I was in a mindset where the only person who I cared about was this guy -- this guy who sometimes just beat me up.

Going Too Far
I realized that I had to get out of that first abusive relationship on a trip to Mexico. We got in a huge fight, and he pinned me to the hotel bed and pummeled me. He went out every day and night, while I spent the week hiding out in the room. I didn't dare go to the beach looking like I did.

I had been planning the trip for months and then I thought, "Is this the way I am going to spend the rest of my life?" I called my dad, crying, and as soon as we touched back down in the states I packed my stuff up and left.

The second time around, I was so depressed that I'd let this all happen again that I'd stay in bed for days. One night we went to dinner with his parents, and he got really drunk and was mean to me in front of them.

On the way home, I insisted I drive. He tried to start getting frisky in the car. When I said, "No," he laid into me and we ended up getting into an accident. I moved out that night.

Rebuilding a Self
After that second time, I realized I was in a pattern that I needed to end. I worked on liking myself and building the strength and courage to break away and know that I would be OK. I worked on looking at the root of why I chose these guys. (My father was abusive when I was younger.)

For me, the hardest part was reaching back out to my friends that I had drifted away from during the abusive relationships. I was ashamed, especially after my second violent relationship, because I felt I was weak and stupid for letting it happen -- twice. Once I reached back out, the support and understanding I received was amazing.

Could Be Anyone

Some of the comments I read on reputable sites talk about how "professional" and "good-looking" he is -- hinting that he couldn't be capable of such violence (unless, of course, fiery Rihanna drove him to it).

These comments made me sick. What does that have to do with anything? From the outside, both of the guys who hit me were perfect: charming, successful, and one came from a very rich family, too.

But I was also glad to read that there seems to be some serious and very real repercussions for Mr. Brown. He may be a ladies man with his music, but apparently this does not translate to his real-life romances. Hopefully being dropped from his Wrigley's gum campaign is just the start.

This sends a message that violence against women is never tolerable. And the more women hear the message, the more they might feel empowered to ask for help when they need it.

What's Next

No one knows what will happen with Rihanna and Chris Brown. Whether this is the first time Chris Brown has been physical, or just the first time someone called 911, no one knows. But what's for sure is that no matter who you are, any woman out there can find herself in a relationship where physical violence arises.

There are thousands of women in much worse situations than anything I ever experienced -- without the support and money and means to realize that they have options.

If she stays with him, they will not be the first celebrity couple to make news with a violent relationship, and she certainly wouldn't be the first woman to stay with a man who hit her. But for all the women out there who are in the same position, minus the money and fame, know that you're not alone and you are better.

For women looking for some answers and support, these are some sites that helped me:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Love Is Not Abuse