Elena decides to leave her husband while hiding locked up with her child in their home. During this time he screams, throws stones, and breaks objects outside.
She had previously been subjected to years of mental and physical abuse. She had experienced sexual abuse from her partner. She has seen him molest their child. He took advantage of her fears to control her.
"I was unemployed at the time, which made the situation even worse - no money, no housing, with a child," says Elena She was 38 at the time. She says she summoned the strength to leave her abuser for her child, who was then three. She filed for divorce and gave up property just so she could end her contact with him more quickly and easily.
"The only difficult part of the divorce case was seeing this man again," says Elena. "After I moved out and got divorced, the mental abuse became even worse. He stalked me, tried to kidnap the child, threatened to kill me. I was in constant fear - for my life and for my loved ones. I hid, I didn't leave the house."
Elena is one of thousands of women subjected to domestic violence in Bulgaria. There is no accurate data on their number because no state institution collects such information.
Elena says she and her ex-husband were happy during the first years of their marriage. "It never crossed my mind that things could turn out like this," she says. But then he started subjecting her to all sorts of harassment.
"I have a fear of high speeds. He bought a new car and one day we went out, ostensibly to go for a drive, to enjoy it. He locked me inside and on one straight stretch he accelerated it to such a speed that I went into a state of helplessness, panic, numbness." "Knowing my greatest fear, he took advantage of it and demonstrated his power, heeding my pleas, my cries, nothing."
At first, Elena does nothing because she hopes it will all go away, but it doesn't.
She decides to move out in a hurry, out of fear for her safety and the safety of her child. After getting a divorce, the harassment against her does not stop, even though she has managed to get a restraining order for her ex-husband.
"The phone harassment, the stalking, the threats, they were enough to deprive me of a fulfilling lifestyle," she says. She also recalls a case in which her ex-husband came to the front of her home and tried to force her out, despite the restraining order.
"The trauma is immense. Still talking about these things makes me cry and I'm still afraid that something might provoke him and the harassment might resume."
When she decided to move out of the home where she was living with her abuser, Elena called the abuse victims helpline for the first time. She says she received valuable advice and support from there at the times when it was most difficult for her.
"Even in a moment of panic, of terror, of stupor, of fear, I gave them my phone while they were on the line to talk to the police officers who were by my side so they could explain adequately and reasonably, because I was not able to," she says.
"People need to know that there is actually someone they can turn to if they feel they are in a situation where they are being violated and want to at least inform themselves of what they could do"; the calls are anonymous and do not obligate the victim to take any action.
Elena found support from her parents, with whom she still lives.
"All of a sudden when your whole world comes crashing down, you have to find some island, some straw, and grab hold and pull yourself back up. It really is a tunnel and it's dark. It's not possible for a person to make it alone. One needs support from family, relatives, friends."
This all happened to her about a year ago and now she has started to build a new life. She also has a job. "It's like waking up to a new life," she says.
Elena now finds meaning in helping other victims of domestic violence. That's why she's sharing her story - to show victims that it didn't just happen to them.
"Inevitably, after a period of time, life sorts itself out. It's scary at first, but you get out, you get through it. No woman deserves this treatment."
"Every woman who has gone through this hell helps with a wide-open heart. Women who need help should seek it. To not be ashamed and to know that it is not their fault. And that this is not endless, that there is a way out," she says. "One woman has the potential to handle anything."