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.

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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.

 

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.

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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

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“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.

50 Shades of Domestic Violence

With all the talk about 50 Shades of Grey, the experience I had with domestic abuse, and the fact that I speak out about it, I figure I would speak my peice on the subject.
No, I have not read the book (I don’t even have the desire to). Yes I did see the movie (a friend took me along, and thank you for taking me, I love girls nights,  but it wasn’t my cup of tea, and here’s why):

I think the first red flag that stood out to me was a scene where Anastasia was at a night club with friends and drunk dials Christian. Sure, that’s something fairly normal when you first meet someone, Should I call him? Should I not call him? Drunk you however, has a loose filter and calls him. It raised the hair on the back of my neck when he went to the bar to find her, punched her male friend who was awkwardly trying to hit on her and then berates her for drinking too much. When she passes out, he takes her to his home, changes her clothes, and puts her in his bed. Without hardly knowing each other.

How would a man in a healthy relationship have handled the situation? He would have chatted with her on the phone for a little bit, made sure she was okay, and then trusted her decision to go out drinking with her friends. IF he had been at the club with her, he would have at least gotten her a cab, or gotten her friends to take her to her own house, and let her sleep it off.

It’s not romantic to stalk someone and tell them what to do. Sure he can talk to her and let her know he thinks she drinks too much and that it would be better for her in many ways if she backed off, and he has the choice if he wants to be in a relationship with someone who drinks as much as she does, or he could move on and find someone who drinks less. It really is that easy.

Similarly when Anastasia goes on vacation to see her mom, and Cristian just crashes her vacation and shows up unannounced. This is not romantic. This is creepy. It is stalker behavior. I would personally like to be in a relationship where I trust my man and I feel that my man trusts me in return. This is what makes a relationship last long term. And besides the fact, sometimes distance and space is a good thing. It’s good to miss each other. It’s good to disconnect with each other so you can connect with yourself and not forget who you are, because who you are is who they fell in love with in the first place.

As far as the sex goes, yes, sex is vital to a healthy relationship, yes, couples should experiment in the bedroom and try new things. Yes, it is good and healthy to build that intimate bond with each other. Talk about sex with your partner. Even have sex when you don’t really want to. It’s okay to have a quickie when you don’t feel up to it, and often times it will make you feel better anyway. And the more you have sex, the more you will want to.

A healthy relationship is NOT one where one person is made less (through their own feelings or through actual physical means) than the other in any way. Anastasia is bound and must do Christian’s bidding, obey him, and if she doesn’t, she is punished. Yes, I know the argument of that being what turns some people on, in a healthy relationship though, I think there is no place for it. Healthy relationships are about lifting the other person up and helping them feel good about themselves. You know that euphoric feeling when you feel good about yourself? What if you were able to extend that euphoria to the bedroom?

In order to stop the cycle of abuse, we need to change the way we think, speak and participate in relationships. I challenge you to expect respect, love and trust in your relationship. You start it by setting the intention, giving those things yourself amd changing what you speak about, think about, participate in amd understand about relationships.

Can we Remove Abuse from the World?

Abuse is in the media a lot. People who haven’t experienced it question it a lot. I’ve already written about it, and I have more to say. I want to help others understand what abuse is, and what abuse isn’t.

Abuse sneaks up on a woman
The first date isn’t wrought with emotionally or physically abusive jabs. The abuser doesn’t share stories about his abusive behavior in past relationships.

It’s fun and light and you talk about future plans and personal favorites. You try to impress each other a little bit. It’s a normal first date. And the relationship builds from there. You are courted and pursued and easily fall wonderfully in love. Yeah sure, maybe you have an argument or two. Maybe he yells at you and you yell back, after all we are all human, we all have emotions we are learning to process. We all have bad days.

So when does it become abuse?
You know, it’s interesting. As the abuser changes, he actually blames his partner for changing. And he’s usually pretty good at making his partner think they are the one who is changing. When you’re the one who is experiencing abuse, your world becomes so entangled in your own head, you don’t know up from down.

When the abuse happens
The very first time real abuse happens is usually a shock for the person experiencing abuse. After all you have already been together for months or sometimes years before something happens, and you have never seen this kind of behavior before. It’s easy to dismiss it as a one time thing, especially when the abuser is so apologetic.

When it happens again, you begin to wonder and right around the third time, you see the pattern setting in.

The Three Phases of Abuse

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Once abuse happens, the cycle starts. First, there’s the explosion: physical, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, spiritual, etc abuse. This phase doesn’t last long and it is the most dangerous. Often times this is when the person experiencing abuse takes action, protecting themselves, the kids, the pets, calling police, or leaving.

Second is the honeymoon phase. The abuser fills his partner with apologies, gifts and promises of change, reform and counseling or church attendence. Anything he can do to get her to stay.

Third is the tension building phase. This is the longest phase and often the most frightening. The abuser starts to get moody and demanding. He often times starts falling back into old patterns, far away from the reform he promised. The person experiencing abuse can sense that an explosion is going to happen, so to avoid that, she does anything and everything she can to make him happy, often withdrawing from the outside world. This phase is a frightening waiting game. I don’t even know if I can explain how it feels. It’s terrifying, you feel like you are walking through a mine field, trying to pick your way through, but scared to death that one misstep will lead to that dangerous explosion. Every nerve on your body is on edge and it is exhausting.

And of course, after the explosion does happen, the honeymoon phase starts right back up again, and she thinks maybe, this is the time things will be different.

All of this centers around a pocket of denial. We buy into this denial as a society even, not really talking about abuse or believing it happens, especially if someone we love happens to be the abuser. What if we could change that? What if we started talking about abuse more? What if we helped the world realize this is something we no longer have to participate in? That we could perhaps teach people how to have healthy, loving relationships and how to get their needs met without resorting to abuse?

This is the world and the society I am working to create.

Types of Abuse

Abuse comes in many forms. There are different kinds of abusers who abuse in different ways.

Physical Abuse
Of course, physical abuse is the most well known and talked about. Abuse generally doesn’t start here though, it builds up in small ways until it escalates to physical. Once it gets to this point, there is usually years of more subtle types of abuse that lead up to it.

Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is getting a lot more talk than it used to. Emotional abuse is when the abuser manipulates the person experiencing abuse to feel a certain way in order to get a certain response from her.

Mental Abuse
Abusers will generally do anything to keep the woman in his life. This includes cutting her down verbally and telling her how worthless she is or how no one else would ever want her. The abuser uses this to guarantee his partner will stay with him.

Sexual Abuse
Even in a long term relationship, a healthy sex life involves both partners being willing participants. Sex is intended to build the relationship. When sex is good, it’s a 10% focus in the relationship. When there are sexual problems, sex is 90% of the focus.
You should never be forced to do something you don’t want to do when it comes to sex.

Spiritual Abuse
You should be able to experience the spiritual relationship you choose to pursue. An abuser making you believe one way or another or do one thing or another is not okay. You choose the spiritual path you wish to follow. Sometimes abusers will begin the relationship following the same spiritual path and once the relationship is established they slowly move away from that path and expect you to follow. Or even visa versa. Perhaps your spiritual path begins to change and your abuser does all he can to keep you from that path.

Financial Abuse
Money is a big experience for people right now. We need money for everything. To buy food and water, clothes and shelter, we need money to survive. Often abusers will restrict what his partner is allowed to spend. He won’t let her have a job or if she does, he monitors the money very closely, she is given an ‘allowance’ and spending any money beyond that leads to punishment of some kind.

Isolation
This is a tactic most abusers use. They keep their partner away from family, friends and even co-workers. The abuser will do all he can to keep his partner away from any support system because he knows if she becomes independent that she will most likely leave him.

Ghost
Abusers will do whatever they can to make their partner rely on them. Sometimes this includes ignoring his partner, pretending like she isn’t there or doesn’t exist. This often makes the woman more attentive to her abuser. And once again the abuser gets his way.

Be aware of what’s going on in your relationship. Look for these types of abuse.

Can Abusers Change?

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Side Note: there are several “easter egg” links in this blog post with lots of great information, I highly suggest checking them out!

I lay on my bed alone as my husband was in the front room watching tv, yet again, I was going to bed without him. My heart yearned to feel loved and cherished rather than an object or convenience.

My mind was slowly meandering and I settled on questioning why the man I was married to acted the way he did and treated me poorly. I began to pray:

“Please Heavenly Father, I am doing everything I know how to do, I am a good person, I go to church, I read scriptures, I pray, I pay tithing, I attend the temple, I am doing everything right, I was promised a good marriage to a good man in my Patriarchal Blessing. Please, please, please just change my husband, it has to be better than this, I can do even better, I can be even more perfect if you’ll just change him”

My emotions felt as if they were pouring out of my heart as I begged, at that time I didn’t even open up my thoughts to any other option. As I look back, I think I was quietly and softly being told to leave then, and in my stubbornness, my only thought was God should just change my husband and I was waiting for my prayers to be strong enough to call that change into existence. It took some compelling by the Lord to finally open my mind to the fact that God wasn’t going to just change my husband, that he has his own free agency, and instead I needed to leave.

Here’s the truth about abusers: they CAN change IF they make that choice and IF they get outside help from family, friends, and counseling (I also suggest checking out energy therapy) It is possible, though it’s not a quick fix by any means. If this is the road you and your abuser choose to go down, it may still be safer to leave or ask them to leave for a while during treatment.

Don’t just rely on promises or what appears to be effort, abusers still can woo counselors and other help to make it seem like they are changing when you in fact know they are not. Go with your gut, listen to the promptings in your mind whispering the truth to you. Ask for God (or whoever your higher power may be) and angels to guide you.

In most cases, abusers choose to not change, and often times if they know you are considering leaving or wanting them to change, they will do their best to spin their webs of deception around your mind until you can’t think straight and you believe there is no other life without them. Don’t believe it!

I know how much you may wish and beg and plead for them to change, I know first hand of the fear and panic and danger of leaving. Be strong. Carry on. Do what is right for you and your children.