‘I didn’t realize I was such a controlling person’: Man wants story of his abusive past to inspire change

San Antonio man tells story of past abuse and the program that turned his life around

A San Antonio man believes raw, painful transparency, such as saying out loud that he’s an abuser, is going to help fix the tragic domestic violence epidemic in Bexar County.

SAN ANTONIO – It’s something you’ve probably never heard someone say out loud, that they’re an abuser.

It’s a heavy thing to admit, let alone publicize.

However, a San Antonio man believes it’s that raw, painful transparency that is going to help fix the tragic domestic violence epidemic here in Bexar County.

He decided to lay it all out, telling the un-edited version of his childhood, abusive behavior and eventual rehabilitation.

“I grew up as an unprivileged child. At a young age, I had to learn how to survive,” Felix Gonzales said.

Gonzales stole, fought and even sold drugs. He was arrested for some of it.

“I start becoming a womanizer. I start feeling empowered. I start feeling I own whatever it may be, as if I was entitled to it, or you owe me,” he said.

In pictures from his past, he looks like any harmless guy you’d see at the bar, but on the inside and at home, he was angry.

He was asked if he realized at the time that he was an abusive person. He said, “No not at all. I grew up on the East Side of San Antonio and I was fighting since Kindergarten.”

“I didn’t realize I was such a controlling person. This abusive, narcissistic, manipulating, mind-controlling person that is out of control and you think you’re right,” he said.

Years ago, Gonzales got in a fight with a girlfriend and hit her.

“The cops were called and I had received a ticket. Later on I went to get a new driver’s license renewed and Judge Lacey gave it to me and told me I needed to do 20 weeks of BIPP,” he said.

BIPP, or Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program, is now a 24-week, court-ordered program abusers are mandated to take. It’s run by Bexar County’s family violence prevention services and monitored closely by the Criminal Justice Department.

“These are people who have committed domestic violence who have been arrested and who end up before a judge. The judge mandates them to the program. It is statutory. We have to fulfil lengthy requirements to fulfill that accreditation every three years,” said Family Violence Prevention Services CEO Marta Pelaez.

The program sees an average of 2,000 people each year. Pelaez said that may seem like a large number, but it is not even close to reflecting how many thousands of victims there are in the community.

Pelaez said 72% of those who complete the program remain free of any future interaction with police because of domestic violence.

There is also a self referral process for those who want to take the program but have not been court-ordered.

“It’s not rare for them to show up and say, ‘I don’t know why I was mandated to this program. I slapped my wife. So what? She was disrespecting me.’ BIPP talks about patriarchy, it talks about child abuse, talks about disrespect, entitlement, coercive behaviors and ultimately physical,” Pelaez said.

She said a driving principle of the program is that any behavior that is learned, can be unlearned.

“I think BIPP works because it touches on so many different areas and it’s a group setting of men. Being in group is so powerful. These guys are over here willing to talk about it, so I can put my pride down as well and we can start talking about real issues,” Gonzales said.

He explained the program creates a lifestyle change, one led by love.

“Being equal with my partner, learning financial responsibility with my partner, also realizing that the physical abuse is usually the ending part of everything. A lot of people don’t realize that,” he said.

He has learned that gaslighting, jealousy, emotional, sexual, or financial manipulation is all abuse.

“You believe that, ‘I was raised this way so it’s the right thing to do,’ or ‘I saw this when I was at a young age, so why is it wrong now?’ But it really is wrong,” he said. “You start to see the light from being in the dark for so long.”

In addition to his BIPP meetings, Gonzales started going to church.

“That is where I broke a lot of those chains on the emotional side. A lot of us don’t realize the emotional pain that we have,” he said.

Breaking those chains as early as possible is what he thinks will prevent the astounding amount of abuse in our community.

Bexar County’s domestic violence numbers, per capita, are the highest in the state, according to the Bexar County Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence, as well as Family Violence Prevention Services.

As someone who has been on the other side of the issue, he was asked what the community needs to be doing to stop domestic violence.

“Helping one another, speaking to one another, opening up to one another, finding other men and getting inside different groups,” he said.

He tells his story without shame and without excuses, to show that change is hard, but it is possible.

“There’s times you want to go back to your ways, there’s times you want to revert back but you understand now the pain and anger it caused and you don’t want to do that. It’s tough,” he said, beginning to cry.

Pelaez applauded Gonzales’ bravery in sharing his story, knowing he placed himself open to criticism.

“Men since they are little boys are socialized to believe that they have to be the toughest, that they have to be the king of the home, that they have to be respected. The entitlement and the patriarchy is a very, very strong model that is presented to men. The testimony you heard from Felix breaks down that expectation for men. You can be the strongest man in so many other areas without having to abuse the people that you claim to love,” Pelaez said.

Gonzales is now in a healthy and loving relationship that he appreciates every day.

“I tell her, ‘you’ve gotten the best version of Felix ever in his life,’ and I’m only getting better.”

People who graduate from the BIPP program are given a full year afterwards.

Gonzales took advantage of that so he could continue honing his healthy lifestyle and to help others. He hopes others who are ready for change will reach out.

Call Family Violence Prevention Services at (210) 930-3669 and ask about BIPP, or visit the program website.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, reach out for help.

You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or visit the website.

The Family Violence Prevention Services crisis number is (210) 733-8810, or visit the website. The organization runs the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.