Why Does She Stay? Another Answer

 

The most talked about topic when it comes to Domestic Violence is ‘Why Does She Stay?’. My blog is no exception and I talked about it in several posts including:   Questions,   Enough is Enough and What Women Lose When They Leave.

I have had one more insight recently. As humans, we think on average 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day, and of those thoughts as many as 98% are the same as the day before. Wait. Think about that. How often do you run into someone you haven’t seen for months or years, and they ask you ‘What’s new?’ And you think, and you realize and honestly respond ‘Not much.’

Now here’s the thing, how many of those thoughts do you think are generational? What do I mean by generational? How many thoughts do you think are the same thoughts your parents had? And their parents before them? And so on? Come with me on this journey. We hear of family feuds, family business’s, genetic diseases, so many things passed on from one family member to the next. Now, many people know that this can include abuse. Children who are abused often become abusers, or end up in abusive relationships themselves when they become adults.

Keep all of that in the back of your mind, and think of it from this perspective: How long have women had Women’s Rights that allow them to hold jobs, vote, and own property without a man? This history lesson is based off of facts in the United States, however it is very similar in countries throughout the world. The 19th Amendment allowed women to vote in 1920, less than 100 years and 3 generations ago. The 1870 US Census revealed that women were 15% of the total workforce, largely filling teaching, dress making, and tailoring, with a few women also filling factory, mining, and laborer positions. In early 1900, women were expected to wait for the ‘right’ man to come along and start a family, while the man provided for the family. This began to change, and as such, woman began seeking further education. In 1900 four out of five colleges accepted female students. Both World War I and World War II opened up thousands of jobs for women in the workforce. Between the 1930’s and 1950’s, Marriage Bars, which forced women out of the work force after marriage, were eliminated. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that women began to regularly attend college, and work even while married, the notion that a woman has to find a man and be married in order to make a good income finally began to change. There are some laws to protect women in the workforce, like the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000, that were put into place as recently as 2002. On April 24, 2018, (the date this writing) New Jersey passed a law that bans women being paid less than their male counterparts. Equal Pay for women is a current issue, and still ongoing. In 1974 The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed. Before then single, divorced, or widowed women were required to bring a man to cosign any credit application, regardless of her income.

Why does she stay? Have you ever thought part of that reason is because only in the last forty years or so women have been able to even own property without the help of a man? And even still today women are working the same jobs as men, and getting paid less for doing that work in some states. Women have lived their lives for so long with no other option but to rely on a man. If we truly think 98% of the same thoughts day in and day out, is it little wonder that when a woman considers leaving an abuser, she thinks thoughts about how will she survive? How will she provide for herself and her children? Where will she live? How will the courts reward things like the marital property? Possessions? Even Custody?

The truth is the answer to the question, ‘Why does she stay?’ is varied, difficult to answer and understand, and complex. I invite you to be patient with her. Love her anyway, and change your question to ‘How can I help?’ Even if it simply is being a listening ear while she stays and navigates through her marriage and her life.

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What Can I Do to Help Her?

“I think my daughter is in a domestic violent relationship. What can I do to help her?”

“I’m sorry, but there is nothing you can do until she is ready for the help. Do you know if it’s physical?”

“Not that I know of yet. I think it’s just emotional right now. I don’t understand why she is putting up with this. This is not the daughter I raised.”

“You have no idea what life is like for her right now and what she is going through.”

When people find out that I work to help people who experience domestic violence, the most common question I get is ‘How can I help my sister, or daughter, or friend who is in a Domestic Violent relationship?’

And the answer is scary. The answer is: you can’t. The reason the answer is so scary is because it leaves the person asking in a vulnerable and powerless place.

It’s scary because you have to watch this person you love live in an unhealthy relationship. You have to watch them make choices you thought they would never make. You feel there is nothing you can say or do that will influence them in any way. And you become afraid that since they are making those choices you never thought they would make, that they will never make that choice to walk away. So what can you do?

Contact your Local Domestic Violence Shelter

Yes! Do this! How do you find it? Google is your friend!!! I have so many people ask me for the info of the local shelter. If you know someone who knows, reach out to them. If you don’t, Google knows!!! That’s it’s job. Use it.

The shelter can send you information. You can educate yourself on an exit plan (or download my free exit plan here).

The first and best thing you can do is educate yourself. When I finally left, it was unplanned. I saw an opportunity to leave and I took it. I was lucky. Since I had been given information, I had copies of all of my important documents and three days worth of clothes for myself and my son. I knew where the nearest women’s shelter was and I went there.

Be There For Her

I know it’s frustrating that your loved one doesn’t seem to listen. I know you feel helpless. I know those things can make you want to cut ties. It happens. Please be there for her. In the way she needs it. Be there as much as you can. Her abuser may do what he can to make sure she cuts ties with you. Please don’t let this happen. Be there and be ready for when she does leave.

Be Aware of How You Speak About Her Abuser to Her

Alright. I know this one sounds crazy, just go with me. The more you tell her that her abuser is a jerk or a horrible person, the more she will actually pull away from you. It’s hard to explain the mindset of someone in a Domestic Violent relationship, but here’s a small insight: she still loves her abuser, she wants to feel like she made the ‘right’ choice in choosing to be with him, she still has hope in their relationship.

Instead, change your language in how you talk to her. Draw her attention to the things he does that are abusive, not the way he is. The two need to be separated. When she is told he is a bad person, she will shut down and not listen because she does have evidence of him being a good person. When she is told his actions are not acceptable she is able to separate his actions from his person.

Give To A Shelter

Often times women and children walk into a shelter with absolutely nothing. And not only do they have to face becoming homeless and having zero possessions, they also have to face the legal side of restraining orders, custody battles, lawyers, and giving the power over who decides where their kids will go to a stranger (a judge) to decide for them. It’s scary as hell.

Anything that is donated gives these women and children at least one thing to hold onto and become their very own, which in a world where everything is taken away, feels invaluable. If you can’t help the one person you want to help, help the whole.

Be Patient

Above all else. Please be patient. Remember this is her journey. She will leave when and if it’s right for her. The more you can come from a place of patience and love, the less frustrated and upset you will be. This will help you be there for her when she is ready. This will help her have the one beacon of safety she can cling to. Be patient.

The Secret Sisterhood of Single Mothers

I remember spending moments agonizing about everything I was losing through my divorce and becoming a single mother. The simple things I felt many others took for granted. A sign hanging outside my front door displaying the family surname; HAVING to work full time as I was now my only source of income; not being able to plan a vacation a moments notice (the custody papers state my ex has to have 30 days notice when I take my son out of state). It was those little things I would now never be able to do that once plagued my mind.

I thought about the fact that I have 53 adult relatives. Out of those 53, 40 are married. Out of my 40 married relatives, three of us have ever been divorced. Three. Out of those three, I alone am the only one still single.

Growing up in a Mormon family, the concept of being divorced, let alone a single woman living a thriving successful life is such a foreign idea that I spent years trying to force dating and force finding the right man. I tried to fit in to what was expected of me, and to what, seemed so easy for the rest of my family. My blood relatives. The people who I thought, were the most like me. I used to think ‘what do they get that I don’t’.

After spending so much time agonizing about the ‘could haves’ ‘what if’s’ and ‘should be’s’ I have finally come to peace with what is.

At this moment I am sitting in my bedroom while my best friend is having brain surgery. Our two twelve year old son’s have spent all day running around, playing video games, jumping on the trampoline, and just plain old having a good time. I took them to their soccer and basketball games this morning. I’ve fed them and asked them to do chores. It is all peaceful. My friend is in the hospital with her dad, boyfriend, and older son tending to what they need to. I am here for her, as a single friend. (We have spent time being single together).

This may be a dramatic example of how single mothers help each other, but it’s the example that really opened my eyes to what is. I have single mother friends who I have vacationed with, laughed with, cried with, tended to every day chores like grocery shopping and cleaning with, helped them move, a huge variety of activities I had thought I had lost in my divorce, but now see I always had, just in a different way.

There is a secret sisterhood of single mothers that exists that we may not even be aware of ourselves. This sisterhood provides much of what is lost from having that partner. Someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to admit your stresses and fears to. Someone to listen and suggest ways to budget money, parent our kids, or even date.

I feel blessed to see that sisterhood and be a part of something so beautiful.

Do Your Domestic Violence Survival Skills Measure Up?

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I sat on the stadium bleachers next to my boyfriend of six months on my birthday in the cool early November afternoon sun.  I had just finished performing the half time show with the color guard and marching band at our college football game. The week prior to my birthday had been amazing, it all started with me walking to my car after class, I opened the door to find a small stuffed story book bear dressed in a princess costume on the seat, along with a bottle of scented hand sanitizer, a skirt, and a note that said: “It is has been said that a birthday should be a week long affair. When you were born, you had a birthday suit on and after 20 years it has seen some wear and tear but it is still very young and beautiful. On your birthday you should receive something new to wear. Plus something to disinfect your hands after you touch me!!! This is the start of a week long birthday.”

Each day after that I had been showered with three gifts and a note, jewelry, clothes, other members of the story book bear collection and even a beautiful crocheted blanket with my name stitched in all my favorite colors.  It had been beautiful.  My boyfriend and I were sitting holding hands, and I expected no other gifts from him that day when all of the sudden his best friend walked up to me, kissed me on the cheek, and handed me a huge colored bouquet of flowers with tickets to Disney on Ice tucked into the leaves and walked away. I was stunned. I had no words; I simply turned to my boyfriend with a goofy grin on my face, kissed him and reveled in the attention of such a spectacle as I thanked him and bounced up and down in my seat.

My boyfriend knew how to make me feel special, there was one time where he woke me with a kiss and a red rose and a sweet note tied to the stem, saying: “The red rose is to compare your beauty to. The rose is a weed compared to your beauty.” He left me in bed and when I opened the door and walked out, there was another rose of a different color with an accompanying note on the floor, I picked it up and read it, and as I walked down the hall, I found another, and then one on each stair as I walked downstairs, each rose a different color with a note relating that color to me.

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I still have those notes in a scrapbook and dozens of other hand written notes my boyfriend, turned husband had given me over the years we had been together. We used to lay in bed together and tell each other our dreams, the kinds of cars we wanted to drive, the kinds of jobs we wanted to have, how our home would look and the toys we would one day own. We became pregnant and prepared for the birth of our baby together, he would rub my feet and rush to fulfill my crazy pregnancy cravings.  He rubbed and talked to my belly and we looked forward to the day our son would be born.

*****One year later******

I pulled my small Ford Escort into the empty, frozen parking lot and slowed to a stop in the stall closest to the door. As I shifted into park, I looked behind me at my one year old son in the back seat. I sighed deeply as I turned off the car, and didn’t allow myself to think as I climbed out into the light snowfall and headed straight for the trunk. I pulled out my only possessions, a diaper bag and a duffel bag stuffed with three days worth of clothes for myself and my son. I slung the bags over my shoulder as I shut the trunk and opened the back door. With the bags not allowing me to fully enter the back seat, I strained to reach the clasps and unbuckle my son and lift him out from the car seat. I successfully got him out of the car seat, shut the door and, careful not to slip, headed toward the building. It was a late Friday evening and Christmas was just three days away, I wasn’t even sure the building would still be open.

I hugged my baby in close to my chest to keep him from the cold and opened the swinging glass door. I shook my head and stomped my feet in the entryway to clear the snow and opened the second set of doors. The building was old and poorly lit. I hardly paid attention to details as I walked up to the front desk. I couldn’t feel my feet touching the floor. My breath was suspended in my chest. My thoughts were frozen in my head. I felt like none of this was real. I felt like time had completely stopped. I couldn’t look the receptionist in the eye as I stammered. ‘I need shelter.’ Tears began pouring out of my eyes. I couldn’t hold them in any longer. I had no control over my sobbing. That’s when everything became a complete blur. I imagine she called for someone and asked me for details. A woman soon appeared to escort me into a locked down elevator with her key card. Four floors later the doors opened into a small reception area and I realized no one knew where I was.

I was all action. No thoughts. No emotions. The intake worker motioned for me to sit. I sat my son on the couch next to me and handed him the small elephant teething ring. I was handed paperwork and the receptionist ran down the rules of the shelter. Even though my thoughts were empty, my head felt full. I didn’t take in the words she was telling me. I just answered questions and signed papers. I had never operated from such a mechanical place before. I ignored my phone and tried my best to focus on what was going on. The receptionist showed me the small playroom, and offered to watch after my son while he played there. I spoke to the director. Answered more questions. I spoke to a male therapist. Filled out more paperwork. The receptionist gave me a tour of the small shelter and showed me my room. I was exhausted by this point. I put my son down in the strange crib, and crawled into the twin bed in my strange room.

And that’s how it started. That’s the story of the first few hours after I left my abuser. So many people ask all the time ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ My question for those people is are you willing and ready to walk away from everything in your life? Your home? All of your possessions? Your comfort zone? Your life as you know it? That’s what it takes. Not only do you have to walk away from the things (which of course are replaceable), you have to figure out how you’re going to make it on your own. This is perhaps the biggest reason women don’t leave. Trying to figure out how to afford a place to stay, how you’re going to take care of your children yourself. The divorce process. The courts. The visitation schedule. Trusting a court professional who you have never met and knows nothing about you or your family to make decisions about your life like how often you get to see your own children, what possessions you get to keep, and has the power to order things like custody evaluations and court ordered therapy. To them you are just another number, and just another case. They don’t know you or your life, and yet they make decisions that will affect the rest of it. And there is the abusers family to take into consideration as well.

Often times the abusers family stands behind the abuser. This is hard for a couple of reasons. Often times the abusers family does whatever they can to support and back up the abuser. For me, my ex husband’s family had much more money and social influence than myself or my family. This lead to fear of the unknown, and fear of their influence. It lead to standing up to people I once loved and doing what I felt was the right thing for my son even when they disagreed. I remember one of the first exchanges I had with my ex husband. Emotions were high and we agreed to exchange our son in a neutral location. This meant I had no support system. We met in the parking lot of the local Child Protective Services location. I pulled into the parking lot to find, not only my ex husband, but his father and brother. I found myself confronted by three men who were all much larger and more powerful than me. I kept my composure and exchanged our 13 month old son in the frozen parking lot. And on the other hand, I lost the relationships I had with his entire family. Over the past four years I had gotten to know and built up beautiful relationships with his family, and walking away from my ex, not only did I loose my home, my husband, and my possessions, but I also lost an entire family. Why doesn’t she just leave? The question is ridiculously simple as compared to the complexity of the actual situation.

Leaving is an act of faith.

 

Hashtags to a Better World

I sat in the conference room with my peer managers. We had just finished discussing our workload and plans for the day and started talking about what was going on in our outside lives. This may seem like a waste of time to some, however it’s a great way to cultivate team building and creativity. Two of my peer managers had recently moved and were sharing similar stories of their moving experience. The old me would have sat in the corner and listened, saying nothing, afterall, my story isn’t just like ‘everyone else’.

When I moved into my home, I had practically nothing. I had a bed for my 10 year old, a dresser for myself, and our clothes. No other furniture, no kitchen supplies, no bed for myself, no couch, no kitchen table and chairs, no TV. All I had was a belief and hope that it would all work out. I posted on Facebook asking for things, and they came, some for free, and others at a cheap price, within a week, I had everything I needed for my house. For a full year after moving in to my home as I would walk around, I would feel an overwhelming gratitude and awe for all the things I now own. I have so much compared to what I had for the first seven years after I had left my abuser.

I spoke up. I shared my story. I shared it from a healed space. I wasn’t asking for pity or compliments. I was matter of fact and the conversation moved on. These are the stories those of us who have experienced abuse need to share. The more we share our stories of survival and perseverance, the more we stand up to stopping abuse.

#whyistayed

That is what is so beautiful about the hashtag movements that are happening in the domestic violence world. #whyistayed began in 2014 and it is still being used in tweets as recent as 3 days ago, #whyistayed is a way for those who have experienced abuse to help answer the most common question asked in the Domestic Violence world.

#metoo

The most recent domestic violence friendly hashtag #metoo has received a lot of attention. It is a simple and quick way for those of us who have experienced sexual abuse to stand together and speak up. It has reached 85 countries with over 1.7 million tweets (cbsnew.com).

#maybehedoesnthityou

This is a fantastic hashtag that brings to light other forms of abuse besides just physical. So many people think that just because they aren’t being hit, that it isn’t abuse. There are dozens of forms of abuse, and this hashtag which started in 2016 opens up the door to talk about it.

#likeagirl

This is a personal favorite of mine that started as an Always campaign in 2014. #likeagirl brings to light that we as a society have spoken down on the ability girls have to complete things, usual physical.  The more we use like a girl negatively, the more we continue to raise our daughters to see it as such. Changing the way we speak about ourselves, changes the way we view ourselves.

The more we speak out about domestic violence, the more light we shed on something that can only thrive so long as it stays hidden. Speak up and speak out. Change our conversations. Let’s end domestic violence together.

 

What Women Lose When They Leave 

“Why doesn’t she just leave”?
“If it were me, I would have kicked his ass to the curb and left a long time ago”. 

“Why does she stay? I’ve raised her better than that”. 

“I would never let someone treat me like that”.

Whenever the subject of abuse comes up, these phrases inevitability come up in one form or another. To many, these phrases are harsh, judgemental, rude, and ignorant. To me, these phrases indicate that there is more work to be done to educate society on what leaving is actually like. 

When a woman leaves an abusive marriage, she leaves far more than the abuse behind. Let’s explore what leaving actually looks like. Here’s a list of some of what a woman leaves behind. I’m sure this isn’t a full list or an all inclusive list, however it is a good glimpse into what one loses when they leave an abuser. 

Her Spouse

Obviously. Right? Out of everyone who says why doesn’t she just leave, how many of them do you think are willing to walk away from their spouse? Here’s the crazy thing about abusive relationships, they aren’t 100% bad or riddled with abuse. In fact, most of them start off as a fairytale. How else do you think they get together in the first place? And, the abuse doesn’t happen all the time. Yes, couples argue, yes, couples don’t agree, yes, people make mistakes and treat each other poorly from time to time. No one is perfect. So not only can it be confusing to make the determination if your spouse is abusive or having a bad day (strange thought, I know), but, the thought of leaving someone you love and losing that partnership, that lover, that confidant, can be hard to process for anyone whether or not abuse is involved. 

Her Financial Stability 

When the man is the income source, it is obvious why a woman would fear financially for the wellbeing of herself and her children. Add that some of these women haven’t worked in years due to staying home with the children so don’t feel competitive in the workforce. And the fact that there is still childcare to consider when she does start working and it paints a better picture. 

According to Current Population Survey BLS 2010, in 2016, 66% of American households are dual income households. So even if she is currently working, the task of maintaining a household under one income can be daunting for anyone. Again, ask someone who says why doesn’t she just leave if they would be willing to modify and most likely downgrade their lifestyle and see if they still feel it is just that easy. 

Her Home

A home should be a safe haven for all family members. While living in a home with abuse may not feel like a safe haven, leaving your home behind completely and living in a shelter, or living in fear that your abuser could show up at any time and violate a protective order (if you were able to get one in place) is terrifying. 

Human beings as a general rule are more comfortable with what they are familiar with, including a familiar threat. Afterall, being in the home with an abuser and able to keep a thumb on the pulse of their abusive cycle is much more predictable then living apart from an abuser making it so you have no clue when they may reach the explode phase. 

And, most people aren’t willing to just walk away from their home and all their possessions, especially when they may have to drag kids along, just to become homeless. 

Her Children 

I was terrified that my ex would take my son away from me and flee the state and that I would never see him again. The idea wasn’t so far removed when I grew up with a great aunt who experienced just that. My ex fought for it too. He filled a protective order on behalf of my 12 month old son against me. Child Protective Services and the courts got involved and all of the sudden I had no control over when I would get to see my son. 

Even though I was awarded custody and didn’t lose my son completely, I still am required by law to send my son to stay with his dad and step mom at regular intervals  (one night a week and every other weekend plus holidays). While this is great for my son (I fully believe in kids having a good relationship with both parents so long as they are safe) and even though it can be a blessing to have some kid free time especially when you’re a single parent, I still miss out on so many moments in my son’s life. I miss out on scouting events and lost teeth. His first plane ride and his first trip to Disneyland. Every other Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas morning belong to his dad. How many people who say she should just leave would willingly give up that much time with their children? 

Her Pride

Sure, losing your pride doesn’t seem like that big of sacrifice right? Except it is. It can be a hard thing for people to let go of. We live in a society of social media and publicizing our lives. It’s a weird thing, the ways your pride can be hurt when leaving an abuser. You don’t want people to think poorly of you. That you didn’t try hard enough. That you picked the wrong partner. That you waited too long to leave. Even though failure is an essential part of life, and is often what brings us to success, it is still painful and hard to go through. 

So often those people who sing the ideology of leaving an abuser are too prideful to see the hardship and pain that causes. They think they know better. 

Her Ego

Our ego is often synanomous with our self esteem. When someone leaves an abuser, often times all they have id their self esteem. I for one left behind everything, my home, my furniture, my clothes, my belongings. All I took with me was 3 days worth of clothes for myself and my son and (thankfully) my car. That type of scenario is frighteningly common when leaving an abuser. 

Having to start over, from scratch, on your own, while being a parent and fighting a court battle isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of work and there are lots of tear-filled lonely nights reflecting on perceived failures of the day and anxiety riddled thoughts of what is to come. 

Not many people willingly take that sort of a beating to their self esteem.

Her Family

I have seen this go so many ways. Making the choice to leave is a tough one and it affects more people than just who’s leaving and who’s being left. We often spend years with the person we are leaving. We get to know and love their family.  And our family gets to know our abuser. 

Leaving can bring out unpredictable responses from family. The abusers family can blame you for leaving and make things difficult for you. They can agree with you and support you (this is rare) which often makes things difficult as it can make the abuser more angry and resentful. Your own family could be blinded by the abuser and not understand or support your choice. Your family may question your dedication to marriage or what’s the right thing for your kids. There are several possibilities of how those closest to you may react and you have no way of knowing what that will look like until you make that choice.

Losing family members and those you love is a hard choice for anyone. 

In Conclusion 

There are so many things a person considering leaving can possibly lose. So how do you do it? How do you make that choice? You don’t overthink it. You just follow your gut. Leave when you know it’s right. You will know suddenly and unexpectedly. Take that leap of faith. 

14 Ways to Love Valentine’s Day No Matter Your Relationship Status

bitmoji-20160214070843Valentine’s Day stirs a myriad of emotions in all of us. Excitement, joy, relaxation, frustration, anger, annoyance. It’s interesting to me that so many of us allow a date on the calendar to invoke negative responses. What can we do to find joy in a day we otherwise wouldn’t? Check out my tips below and find one that works for you.

1. Love Yourself

I see a lot of people simply focus on their relationship status when Valentine’s rolls around. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, give yourself permission to love you. Living in a state of self love actually raises your ability to love and be loved by others. A quick (but often difficult) way to do this is to say it. Look at your beautiful self in the mirror and say ‘I Love You.’ Out loud to your reflection. Feel what happens as you look yourself in the eyes and declare your love

2. Love Others

Got Kids? Friends? Siblings? Parents? Research has proven that the act of giving actually makes us happy. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have found when people give it activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust creating a ‘warm glow. Giving releases endorphin’s in the brain and lowers stress. These are all similar to the ‘love’ feeling.

3. Pamper Yourself

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about others or couples. It can simply and easily be a day all about you. Schedule yourself a massage, take yourself out to your favorite place for dinner, buy yourself a gift. And don’t worry about people seeing you out on your own, it’s not about them, it’s about you, and their opinion of you isn’t your business anyway.

4. Buy Flowers

Flowers are one of the most popular gifts for Valentine’s Day. And it is little wonder, while couples may use them as a token of love, the scent of flowers actually produces a calming effect and the sight of flowers brightens our mood. So treat yourself or the person you love to a brighter and calmer day.

5. Envision Love 

Maybe you have at least one great memory of a past Valentine’s Day or a past coupling. Maybe you know exactly what it is you would like to have in a relationship or pairing. Either way, rather than dwell on the fact that at the current moment you are not in that relationship, remember the good moments, imagine the romance you want in your life. What we think about, we bring about and if you are thinking about how miserable or lonely you are, you will feel miserable or lonely.

6. Do Something You Love

Who said Valentine’s day has to be about romantic love or couples? Make it a day of love anyway. A day of doing what you love. Seeing what you love. Eating what you love. Love is a beautiful thing and it is so expansive. Love goes well beyond a coupling and delves into objects and actions.

7. Eat Chocolate

You read that right. Keeping in mind the darker the chocolate, the better the benefits, chocolate has antioxidants which may lower cholesterol, prevent cognitive decline, and promote cardiovascular health. Plus it just plain helps you feel better. Who wouldn’t want that?

8. Bring out Your Masculine/Feminine Power

Tapping in to your personal masculine or feminine power is empowering and super amazing. It feels good to feel sexy and will actually put you in a better mood. And feeling empowered and sexy helps you become more desirable. So What does that look like? To tap into your masculine power go out to the shooting range, play video games or go for a drive. To tap into your feminine power, dress yourself up, do your hair and makeup, buy some jewelry, or cuddle up all soft and cozy.

9. Make a Love List

Want more love in your life? There is no better way to start than to appreciate the love you already do have in your life. Write down a numbered list of what or who you already have in your life right now that you love. This can include your kids, your pets, you car, your job, your favorite pair of jeans, your favorite food, your favorite color, get creative here (even list your favorite toe)! Write down as many as you can think of and for an extra challenge try to write a full list of 101 things that you love!

10. Choose Love

Believe it or not, all the feelings we feel in our lives boil down to a choice. We choose to feel angry, sad, happy, upset. I know it’s hard sometimes to feel any different than the way we are feeling in the current moment, and yes, it is healthy to feel all of our emotions. Anger, sadness, joy, and frustration all have their moments and purposes. You also have the option to choose how you are feeling. Rather than frustration, anger, or annoyance with Valentine’s Day – choose love, or at the very least peace.

11. Aromatherapy

The sense of smell truly is a gift. Scents can transport us to memories or make the anticipation of dinner a lot of fun. Aromatherapy is using certain scents to relax, enjoy, or feel invigorated. You can get essential oils from spas, health food stores, or online. Lavender has dozens of uses including a great calming effect and it can even help lull you to sleep. Peppermint is perfect for massages to relax muscles or create a stimulating effect. Diffusing Lemon essential oil can lift mood and fight depression.

12. Music

You want an instant change to your mood? Music is the key. You can use music to help you get in that angry mode during a great kickboxing workout, pound out a great cadence during a run, jazz you up, get your dance moves on, or even cry. Rather than staying stuck in that negative emotion, use music to move you through it. If you’re in a relationship, use music to pump up the volume!

13. Give a Card

Giving a card to someone you love is a great way to express the way you feel about them in beautiful and eloquent words. Plus it shoes you took some time to think about them. If you’re single, give a card to yourself. Why not? You deserve it. Find yourself something that is uplifting and hang it on your fridge to remind yourself of how amazing you really are.

14. Hot Yoga

Hot yoga is great to help you take a moment to breathe deep and stretch out those muscles. It gives you a chance to sweat out your emotions and get in touch with your body. Yoga is a grounding experience and you can do it as a couple or a single. Find a class near you and enjoy the breathing exercises and poses as you mediate. Don’t be surprised (or embarrassed) if you cry, yoga has a way of working out those stuck emotions. And be sure to bring a towel and water bottle and dress in layers – hot yoga really gets hot!

Whether you’re single or coupled or somewhere in between, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s day and take the time to enjoy and find the love!

4 Responses to Fear and How to Overcome Triggers

“I’m not going to smile.” I teased. He just tried even harder.

“I like it when you smile.”

“Why?”

“Cause you’re beautiful when you smile.”

It had become a game now and I was choosing to be stubborn and not give in to letting him see me smile. It was not easy.

“I’m still pretty when I don’t smile.” I responded.

“Fine.” He said, switching tactics. “I didn’t want to see you smile anyway.” He playfully pulled his hand out of mine to illustrate his point. It was a fast and sudden movement.

I flinched. I glanced at him and hunched my shoulders as I looked away trying to hide my flinch.

“Do you flinch?” He asked.

Something in those words. In the fact that it was an obvious movement. I knew he had seen it, even though I had hoped he hadn’t.

“Are you okay?” He immediately inquired. “I’m worried because I have never seen you flinch like that.”

I felt the familiar feeling of anxiety and a panic attack as it began to flood through my body. I began breathing hard and tears rimmed my eyes.

Fear-Quotes-30 2f473f3b35e4fc3d483180572748efc9 Fear-Quotes-42FEAR-QUOTES-COURAGE-ABSENCE-OF-FEAR

Fear and triggers. Not falling into the category myself, I don’t quite know for sure, but I would guess most people who say things like ‘Why doesn’t she just leave’ or ‘I would never let someone treat me like that’ have never been in an abusive situation and have no idea what it’s really like. So what it is really like? Why is leaving so hard? What is life like when you do finally leave?

In order to answer all those questions, it would take a lot of time and a lot more than one blog post. I’m just going to focus on two things for this post. Fear and triggers. Fear to explain why she doesn’t leave and triggers to explain what it’s like after.

Fear

Fear generally creates three responses in people, this dates back to cave men days when survival was our livelihood. Fight, flight or freeze. Most of us have heard of fight or flight.

Fight as a response in a domestic violence situation is least likely for a person experiencing abuse to react with, and if it is the reaction, it rarely turns out well. The man is generally the abuser and so generally the stronger of the two. Even then, when you are being physically attacked, fighting back when you are untrained proves to be difficult.

Flight is of course, when you run. Now running in the middle of a domestic violence explosion can be dangerous. It is in that moment that a person experiencing abuse is actually more likely to be killed. That response infuriates the abuser more, who is unwilling to give up his ‘property’.

Freeze is when you do nothing. And it is generally the safest response for the person being abused. The abuser doesn’t feel the threat of being left and doesn’t feel the tug to control the situation even more physically with someone who is fighting back.

Fix. When it comes to domestic violence I would like to add one more response to fear. And that is to fix. When your abuser is having their explosion sometimes doing all in your power to fix the situation is a great option. When an abuser is having their explosion they often are laser focused on whatever issue caused the explosion in the first place. The person who is experiencing abuse thinks if they can fix the situation, then it will diffuse their abuser.

In the middle of experiencing that fear, you’re one thought is survival. That’s all that matters. Present moment. Survival for you. Survival for your kids. The future does not even cross your mind. So often a person experiencing abuse lives from present moment to present moment just to survive.

Triggers

Even after leaving, it’s not an immediate release from your abuser. The memories of what they did can haunt you for years. Even when you do all you can to heal from the abuse. There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to this healing.

Be patient with yourself. When it comes to healing from domestic violence, there is a lot to heal from. Every single instance of abuse leaves behind a little piece that needs to be healed from. There can be hundreds, there can the thousands. It can take days to heal from each instance, it can take years to heal from each instance. You can heal from several at once, or one a time. Whatever the case is, there is no set formula and no set time frame. Everyone is going to heal at different rates and in different ways. Allow yourself your journey. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be patient with yourself.

Face your trigger. When you’re ready, I challenge you to work through your trigger. I know it’s hard, and I know it’s more scary than anything you have ever done. I also know that you will be faced with it again and again until you work through it. Once you work through it, it will no longer haunt you. There truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.

Give yourself time. That said – facing your triggers, it’s okay to give yourself time before you face them. It’s okay to find that safe place, to create that safe haven around you, whether it be your own home, a job, a family, whatever that is. Feel that feeling of safe. Bask in safety’s glow. And when you’re ready, you will be granted the opportunities to heal and to be better. Just don’t let that safe haven become an excuse to never move foward. With every person who heals from a hurt, the propensity for others to also heal increases.

Search out tools. There are hundreds of tools out there you can search out and find that will help you to heal. Ask for help. There are free options. There are paid options. Here’s the thing. You can find these tools to either help you cope with situations as they come up, or to even help yourself heal from the situations before they ever pop up as triggers. You don’t always have to go through the discomfort of a trigger if you do the work yourself before hand. You may still have triggers pop up, but they will be fewer and further between.

The biggest message I want to get out there, is to stop asking ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ or saying ‘I would never let someone treat me like that.’ and instead ask what you can do to stop the cycle of abuse and say the words people don’t say. Talk about abuse. Talk about domestic violence. Teach each other a happier and healthier way to treat others and be treated.

Then and Now, Coming Full Circle

then now

“I could come join you.” I pressed send on the text.

“You could stop by here for a bit. We are going till 5.”   came the reply.

I had just gotten off work and my boyfriend had been volunteering at the Spirit of Giving event at the local women’s shelter. I started driving toward the shelter. I turned on the radio and immersed myself in the music and the business of driving. No thoughts really in my head.

As I neared the shelter, out of nowhere, a full on panic attack suddenly raked my body. I hadn’t had a panic attack like that in years. I began sucking in air and talking to myself. Talking away the memories that began rushing, unbidden, into my head. Flashbacks. The Friday before Christmas. The end of the work day. The snow and ice on the roads. So much in common. I tried to push the thoughts away, but they would not budge. I knew I would just have to work through it. I was getting closer. I will be okay. I thought. It’s okay. This is good for me. I’m okay.

Every inch closer to the shelter became more painful. The flashbacks became more frequent. I felt I was reliving that day. The baby in the back seat. The diaper bag. The feeling of fear, uncertainty, dread, terror. Knowing that I had to keep going, I pulled into the parking lot and the cries began to escape my lips. I breathed it in. You are okay. Everything will be fine. This is a good thing. This is therapy. It’s been 9 years. I knew it was a panic attack. I knew it would keep coming and the only way to get through it would be to go through it. Even though every fiber of my being wanted me to turn away, I parked my car. I cried as I climbed out. I began walking up the sidewalk and the flashbacks continued. I barely had enough sense to force myself to look calm. There were people around me. I partly didn’t want them to think I was there to seek shelter and I partly felt I needed to be an example and that if I broke down, it would give other women who may be leaving permission to break down. I felt standing outside the shelter was the time to be strong. I could break down later.

I breathed heavily and flashbacks came again. Christmas time. 9 years ago. The feelings, oh the feelings were crushing me. Breathe. I told myself breathe. All at once I was grateful for all I had gone through and all I had learned up till this point to be ready for this moment. I knew that I would make it through. I walked into the building and couldn’t even look at anybody. I completely avoided looking at the door that was once the door to where I had lived for 30 days.

I wasn’t sure exactly where to go, and knew that I couldn’t talk to the receptionist behind the glass to ask for direction. That would be too much to handle and I knew I would break down into sobs if I did talk to her. Just like I had 9 years ago. I walked past the receptionist and headed straight for the community room. I was in luck. I saw the girl who had become my friend as I occasionally volunteered for the shelter. She saw me and smiled and asked if I was there to volunteer. I muttered yes and her boyfriend took one look at me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t hiding it as well as I thought. I looked at him and shook my head. My friend looked at me, and I rushed to explain.

It was exactly nine years ago today that I had walked into that building with my then 12 month old son seeking shelter and reprieve from my abuser. Exactly nine years ago.The memories were rushing into my head and harder for me to handle than I had thought. But I wanted to be there. I needed to be there. I knew for me, this was a huge step in my healing process. I clenched my fist and could feel my fingernails dig into my palms. She expressed her concern and I assured her it was where I wanted to be. I went to go find my boyfriend to say hi before I started my shift. He was outside loading up cars with the gifts that the shelter was providing to the women who were either currently staying or had recently stayed at the shelter. Making sure their kids got a good Christmas. The second he saw me, he knew. I still explained a little while he hugged me and reassured me. I spent a few minutes with him. Helping. I knew I couldn’t go back in the building quite yet. When I was ready I reported to my post and got caught up in serving and helping others.

As the night was winding down, a volunteer was walking down the hall. She stopped at our table to rest. She had three bags full of gifts she was taking downstairs to the distribution hub. Without really thinking I volunteered to help her take the gifts downstairs. I grabbed one of the bags and walked down the hall, opening doors for her. She guided me to the door to go downstairs. I opened it and let her down first. When I stepped in to follow her, I stopped in my tracks. Behind the door I avoided looking at when I first got to the shelter was a set of stairs that looked just like these. I flashed back to walking up those stairs to get to the shelter. My well trained brain I have consciously taught for years to not give in to negative or hurtful thinking jumped immediately to It’s okay, you’re going down, not up, it might look the same, but it’s different. Then my brain deferred to it’s past programming. Yeah. The thought came. But remember walking down stairs like these to get to the basement to do the laundry? This is just like that. I only hesitated slightly as I pushed that thought away and reminded myself that that was then, and this is now. It’s nine years later and I’m serving others this time.

We dropped the gifts off in the basement. My boyfriend had moved down here to help prepare the packages. I greeted him, and after a few short minutes decided to return to my post. I turned, alone this time, to go up the stairs. I took a few steps toward the door and stopped. I breathed. I tapped my toe on the floor. I began walking again. As I took each step up, I began hyperventilating again. The feelings came back. The thoughts returned. Fear. Uncertainty. Dread. Terror. I forced myself to keep going. Once I reached the top, just a short one flight of stairs, I sucked in deep breaths and the anxiety was fully upon me. I walked toward the community room. The hall was empty and the event was winding down. I quickly stepped down a side hall and saw an empty large cardboard box against the wall. I hid behind it and sank to the floor as I began sobbing uncontrollably. Three parts because of the panic attack and the memories and feelings flooding my body and one part because I was disappointed in myself for breaking down. I let myself cry though, just for a little while. I half expected I was loud enough that someone would come check on me. I was able to cry in peace. I stood up and wiped away my tears and met up with everyone who was finishing up the volunteer effort. It was just one short hour of my time volunteering, but it was nine years worth of heartache and anxiety that had flooded my body. And I knew it was good I had finally come full circle and I knew I was ready to step forward and and do my part to help more women.

Okay, Open Your Eyes

“Should I close my eyes yet?” I asked as I heard him nearing the top of the stairs. He had been downstairs rummaging around in the basement for a few minutes. Excited to give me my Christmas present early. I was a little apprehensive because I hadn’t even bought his Christmas present yet.

“Yes close your eyes.” he said as he peered over the top of the half wall. A hint of mischievousness in his brown eyes.

“And put your arms down.”

I complied. Next thing I knew something large was placed on my lap. “Can I open them?” I inquired.

“Okay, open your eyes.” Came the reply.

I opened my eyes and peered at the large box sitting on my lap. I could see through the corner of my eyes that he was recording my reaction with his phone.

I had suspected what the gift was, and I was right. What I was wrong about was my reaction to the gift sitting on my lap. In imagining the moment, several possibilities of my reaction to the expensive gift now sitting on my lap ran through my mind from excitement to asking him to take the gift back. None of them were what actually happened.

“You gave me a TV.” I squeaked. I brushed my fingers across the cardboard box and couldn’t bring myself to look at him. “Thank you.” I said because that’s what you are supposed to say when someone gives you a gift.

“You’re welcome” he smiled. He stopped the recording and put the phone away. I still couldn’t look at him. “Are you gonna cry?”

I didn’t know. “No.” Came the immediate reply.

“Do I need to leave the room so you can cry?” He began to back away.

I peeked at him over the large box sitting on my lap and nodded slightly. “No.” Came the word.

I looked back at the box. So many thoughts and feelings had hit me at once that I wasn’t thinking or feeling anything at that moment.

“Why did you get me a TV?”  I whispered.

“Because it’s something you would never get yourself.”

The moment he said the words, I knew it was true. I had just bought my house and was loving having my own place. The fact that I had day dreamed about having a house for myself and my son and I was finally doing it as a single mom. The fact that I was giving hope to other single moms because I owned my own home. The fact that at least once a day still four months after buying my house the thought I’m actually doing it, I have my own house. I can do this. ran through my head. The fact that I remember hearing somewhere that the best gift to give someone is a gift they would never buy for themselves. All these things and still I knew that buying a TV was at the bottom of the totem pole of things I wanted to buy for my house.

I nodded my head. It was the only response I could give as all those thoughts hit me at once.

I set the box down on the floor next to me as he sat beside me on the couch. I was panicking a little because I was worried that what I had in mind to buy him would not be good enough. Then the memories began to flood my mind. I bit the inside of my lip.

I remembered the day my ex and I went looking for a new car for me. I remember how I felt like I didn’t deserve a new car and I couldn’t have one. I remember how when he got a new car it was for him to drive and I wasn’t allowed to even back it out of the driveway. I remembered leaving my ex three days before Christmas and staying in the woman’s shelter with my then 12 month old son during the holidays and leaving all the gifts under the tree, including the scrap booking gift I knew my ex had gotten me that I had wanted really bad for so very long. I remembered the engagement ring my ex had given me, the tiny diamond and thin metal, meant to be a fashion ring. He hadn’t paid more than he would for a video game for himself.

Tears began to brim my eyes. I bit my lip harder.

I began to cry.

I buried my face in his chest. He just held me. “Why are you crying?” I couldn’t even answer him, the thoughts keep flashing  into my mind. I only cried harder. His husky moaned and came over to the huddled mess I had become. “Why are you crying?” I still could not bring the words to my lips. I cried harder. “You’re making me and Sammy worried.” he referenced the husky still standing next to us. And then he let me cry until I could talk.

I told him the memories that had flashed through my mind earlier. “And for some reason I tied the value of the gifts I have been given to my self-worth.” I ended the memory flash. Then I pointed to the TV, “And I’m worth that?” I choked out as more tears flooded out of my eyes and sobs filled my throat. I had no idea what he was thinking of the crying mess curled up on his lap. I felt ashamed for my outburst and I felt my tears would be seen as manipulation.

He held me as I cried. He let me get it all out. Then he did something unthinkable. He asked to see me. He asked me to look at him. I was a blubbering mess with hot tears and slimy snot and smeared makeup all over my face, the last thing I wanted was for him to see me like that. I slowly pulled my hands away. They were filled with snot. Everything in my being was fighting against this. “You’re not supposed to see me like this.” I complained.

“Why not.”

“Because I’m ugly.”

“You’re beautiful.”

I looked in his eyes skeptically. I could see he meant it. I cried harder.

“It’s okay to be vulnerable.” he continued. “I love seeing who you really are rather than you trying to hide it all the time.” I grabbed a tissue and mopped up my face and hands.

“I don’t want to be seen as weak.”

“Did you ever think you don’t have to be the strong one all the time? I know how hard Christmas time is for you and I know how hard receiving gifts is for you. Why do you think I started small with a camera and then moved up to a laptop from there?” He said listing the gifts he had given me over the few years we have been together.

I stared at him shocked that he even cared enough to ‘see’ me.

“You are worth a TV. You are worth so much more than that. You are worth marrying.”

I calmed down and just listened to him. He was saying the words I have longed to hear, the words I did not believe about myself. I knew as he spoke that I wasn’t ready for marriage, even though I wanted to be. I knew that if I couldn’t handle a TV as a Christmas gift that a proposal would be way over the top. I knew that no matter how much I wanted to have it and how much I wanted to be ready for that next step that I wasn’t. I knew what I had begun to suspect a while ago, that even though I said the words often that I wanted to get married, if he actually did ask me to marry him, my true answer would be no. Not yet. Despite my frustration that it has been 9 years since I left my abuser, I was still healing. There were deep and lasting wounds from both my marriage and my childhood that I need to work through first. And I knew somehow that this moment, this admitting to myself and to him that I was still afraid and not actually ready was a big piece to that healing. And it was okay to be exactly where I am on my journey.

Little did I know  when my boyfriend had told me to open my eyes, I would see much more than a TV on my lap. I would see that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to be imperfect, and it’s okay to just be.

Open your eyes.