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.

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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.

10 Life-Changing Books Paving Your Path to Healing From Abuse

I began writing this post months ago and stopped. Probably mostly due to life getting in the way, and other blog posts taking precedence. Last weekend I was blessed to attend a Gala for an amazing organization, WOW Utah, helping women who have overcome domestic violence, substance abuse, polygamy, debilitating illness and simply not having a voice to build a better life for themselves and their children. Besides having the opportunity to support the seven women who were being celebrated that evening, I spent the evening talking to wonderful women who all had beautiful stories to tell, and I was inspired to complete and share this post.

Why Does He Do That By Lundy Bancroft

While I was staying in the women’s shelter, this book was mentioned more than once, I have the feeling that out of all the women who would attend the Domestic Violence classes with me I was a small percentage that actually bought and read the book. I am forever grateful I did, and it is always the first book I suggest to others who are or have experienced domestic violence. I took it with me everywhere I went, I read it on my breaks and during my lunch at work, I had a pen and highlighter in hand the entire time I read it so I could take notes. I called it my bible to healing from domestic violence. There were times it was hard to read because it brought back memories of the abuse, but it also helped me to understand the thinking behind an abuser and helped me feel empowered, something I hadn’t felt for a long time.

Left To Tell By Immaculee Ilibagiza

Before I left my ex, I hated my job. I was a seasonal data transcriber and spent 8 hours a day typing at a computer, as quickly and accurately as possible. Not the kind of job for my bubbly and humming bird like personality. I liked variety and a challenge. Once I found myself a single mom, no one thing changed about my job, except my attitude. I suddenly needed a good job. I applied for and got a permanent position and began using my time to listen to books on tape. My mom was in a book club, and suggested this book to me. I remember sitting at my desk typing as I was listening to this book, and the story and words ringing so true with me that at times I could feel my body tingle from head to foot. This was the first book that introduced the concept of visualization to me. Or choosing what you want, focusing on it and believing and trusting in God, the universe, a higher power (use what rings true with you) to bring your desires into your life as you do your best to work toward it.

The Gift of Fear By Gavin de Becker

When I left my abuser for the first time, I drove a state away and stayed with my aunt and uncle. My uncle was chief of police and I felt I had to get that far to feel safe. My uncle had been in law enforcement for years and had trained with the FBI. It was him who recommended this book. This book helps you to learn and recognize the difference between fear that helps you survive vs fear that keeps you from moving forward in life.

Remembering Wholeness By Carol Tuttle

This book opened a whole new door for me. I don’t even remember how I heard about it or what prompted me to read. It pretty much just materialized into my life. I can hardly think of the words to express my feelings on this book. It’s one I still listen to on occasion and learn from. There is so much content packed in and it’s a great book to really expand your healing journey.

The Child Whisperer By Carol Tuttle

Suddenly becoming a single parent can be overwhelming. So many thoughts rushed through my head, I wanted my son to have as normal a life as possible, be a successful, contributing member of society, and I wanted to guide him to still have a good relationship with his dad, while not taking on the abusive traits that had been passed on through the generations. Not to mention I had this little person who had his own personality that I wanted to learn and understand. This book revealed so much to me about my son and helped me understand him and parent him to the best of my ability and then some. I became a child whisperer. (It was also super helpful to me with all the other kids in my life).

Loving What Is By Byron Katie

This book is an absolute delight. I bought the audio version and since much of the book comes from excerpts of Byron Katie having one on one discussions with real people, I was able to listen to the original recording and hear the emotion behind the words that were spoken. This book completely changed the way I viewed people and myself. I have used the technique she teaches to improve my relationship with my boyfriend. He and I went from frustrated and hopeless to thriving and growing as a couple.

Women Who Love Too Much By Robin Norwood

If you’re looking for something that will help you break destructive patterns and truly look at yourself and your relationship and know without a doubt if it abuse or not, this is the book for you. I love this book, the stories it tells, the insights it provides and the tools it teaches to help you to truly heal and move beyond that pattern of abuse in relationships.

Creating Affluence By Deepak Chopra

These ‘A – Z Steps to Creating a Richer Life’ are simple and full of impact. This is another book I bought the audio version, and believe it or not, it is a book I re-listen to often. It is only an hour long, and besides Deepak Chopra having a pleasing and gentle voice to listen to, there are things I either learn every time I listen to it, or things I need to be reminded of. I am still on my journey to creating more affluence in my life, and I know this book continues to have that impact and I am loving watching what unfolds in my life as I learn, understand, and apply these practices.

Feeling is the Secret By Neville Goddard

In my life, I have had the pleasure of knowing and meeting several successful and self made millionaires. These are the people who have become my mentors in my life. These are the people who I follow and learn from. When teaching at a seminar I was attending, one of them challenged us to not only read this book, but spend ten minutes transcribing it every morning. I took the challenge, and even though at times I was tired and didn’t really feel up to it, I would get up and transcribe the book for ten minutes while I listened to it. The book is only about 30 minutes to listen to, but it is so jam-packed with content, that slowing down to transcribe it really helps the principles to sink into your head. This is also a book I listen to again and again and am still learning from.

Chakra Clearing By Doreen Virtue

Whether you believe in chakra’s or not, this is another great audio book. I has a 20 minute morning and a 20 minute evening meditation. I love listening to it to either start my day or as I drift off to sleep. If you have a hard time shutting down your brain at night and drifting off to sleep, this is  a great audio to play as you drift out of consciousness. This is one I listen to nearly daily and again, whether you believe in chakra’s or not, it has great trains of thought and uplifting messages thought out.

7 Pillars to Healing From Domestic Violence Introduction

7 Pillars HalfI woke up Christmas morning to what was perhaps one of the most horrible days of my life. I could feel the fear coursing through my veins and pumping into my heart, all I wanted was to take my 12 month old back to the shelter where I knew we would be safe. I rolled out of my sisters bed that we had shared that night and checked on my son. I honestly don’t even remember much more of that morning. I’m guessing we opened gifts and ate breakfast, although I do remember there wasn’t much for me or my son. Our Christmas was all wrapped up underneath the tree at my house, the one place I wanted to be the least. I decided to stay at my parents house that night rather than the women’s shelter I had checked in to 3 days earlier, after all, it was Christmas. I remember most how frightened I was that night that my then husband or father in law would find out where I was. I had visions of them breaking in through my sisters window in the middle of the night and taking my son from me. I had parked blocks away down a small forgotten street and carried my son through all the snow in an effort to keep them from knowing where I was. All I wanted to do was to get back to the safety of that shelter. There was a part of me that thought about my then husband, sitting in our house, all alone, with the Christmas tree and all our Christmas presents. My heart ached for him, a little. Still, I knew I was making the right choice and that going back was not an option. I had to turn off my emotions in a sense, and instead focus on survival. I couldn’t dwell on those thoughts or worry about him, not any more. My safety and future as well as that of my son were at stake.

I packed everything up and drove back to the women’s shelter. I walked up the four flights of stairs and in to the empty shelter, my son and I were the only ones who were currently seeking shelter. It was quiet and lonely. There was at least one intake worker at the shelter at all times, a woman could come seeking shelter at any moment, it wasn’t just a Monday through Friday type of deal. She asked where I had been, and I explained that I had stayed at my parents house for Christmas Eve. She berated me telling me that I could be kicked out for not coming back to the shelter before curfew the previous night. I fumbled around in my head and remembered checking in and being told of the 9 o’clock curfew. I honestly just thought that if I wasn’t back by curfew time, that I would have to stay somewhere else that night, I didn’t realize being gone past curfew was grounds for being kicked out. Luckily, she forgave me my misunderstanding and I was allowed to stay. She brought me several age appropriate toys that had been donated by complete strangers. She explained that usually the kids at the shelter only get one toy each for Christmas, but since my son and I were the only ones there, she gave us a few more. She asked if I wanted to wrap them. I don’t know if I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit or if it was just because my son was 12 months old and I figured unwrapping gifts wouldn’t be such a big deal to him. I declined and took the toys out of their packaging and gave them to my son. It was shortly after that that more women some alone, and some with children began to check in to the shelter.

In the four weeks I was there, I was the one who stayed the longest. Women and and children checked in and out of the shelter, some there for their second, third, or fourth stay. I remember sitting in a classroom full of other abused women, we were being taught what domestic violence was, how the cycle worked, how to recognize it, and how to avoid getting into another domestic violent relationship. I remember the teacher talking and my mind wandered. I was thinking ‘This is never where I thought I would end up. This is never how I thought my life would be. Now I’m going to be divorced and a single mom. My dreams of being a stay at home mom with several children running around are over. What am I going to do with my life? Who is ever going to want me? I have nothing. I have three days worth of clothes for me and my son. I’m considered homeless. This is never where I thought I would end up. What am I going to do now?’ Immediately the answer rushed into my head, and it was this answer that got me through some of the darkest moments, it is this answer that I think of on nearly a daily basis and drives much of what I do to this day. I heard a voice say ‘Brandy, you are going to be alright. You are going to make it through, and you are going to come back and teach other women what you have learned.’ 

Since that day, I have invested nearly a decade of my life, and thousands of dollars in to learning everything I could so I could truly help others, and I am continuing to do so. The 7 Pillars to Healing from Domestic Violence covers the 7 types of abuse, and how to heal from each one. I am continuing to expand on these 7 pillars and will be releasing an in depth program soon.

7 Pillars back 2

Re-wiring the Brain for Healing after Experiencing Domestic Violence

My heart was pumping and my mind was whirring even though my body was still. I was lying on the floor looking up into his eyes, he was straddling my waist and holding my wrists above my head, pinned to the floor. I was helpless. I couldn’t move, couldn’t escape. I had already learned from previous similar experiences that he was much stronger than me and no matter how hard I struggled, I had no power to move his body even the slightest. I felt the cold, hard linoleum kitchen floor pressing up against my back.

This was the moment that I would just listen to him, let him scream at me. Let him get all his frustration out. I would agree that I was in the wrong, that I was a horrible person, that everything I did was a mistake because I was too afraid of what would happen to me otherwise and I knew it was the only out of his physical trap.

People who experience domestic violence, have more effects on their lives than the abuse itself, whether physical, mental, emotional or other forms of abuse. Seldom talked about are the lasting effects of abuse, the chronic health conditions that can and do happen as a result of Domestic Violence.

Healing from Domestic Violence is a journey, and it actually takes a lot of work. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t instantaneous. People who experience Domestic Violence actually need help in this healing process, and they cannot do it all alone. I have explored many ways to heal and this post is about one of my favorites: affirmations.

Changing your thoughts and the way you think about yourself and your body actually can and does cause healing to occur and it’s not just woo woo stuff. It is backed up scientifically. Let’s look at the brain for just a second.

Inside our brains is the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is considered the brains attention center, is the key for switching on your brain, and is considered the main center of motivation. The RAS is connected to the spinal cord where it accepts information that travels to the mid brain and forms a complex neuron collection.

These neurons create thoughts and beliefs in the form of fibers called axons  which release chemicals called neurotransmitters to be released at junctions called synapses. The more and more we think a certain thought, the more we create the synapses, the more we build up neurons or new beliefs that begin to take over our core thinking. Conversely, the less we think a thought, those pathways disintegrate and no longer exist.

We do this, already, all the time, our negative thoughts and emotions actually create disease in our bodies because it is a dis-ease in the way we think of ourselves and thus care for our bodies.

This great infographic shows the link between domestic violence and chronic health conditions.
image

Louise Hay, one of my great mentors and a pioneer in discovering the link between our thoughts and the effects they have on our bodies, has written several books, one of which, You Can Heal Your Body, reveals the hidden messages our bodies are telling us.

70 percent of women suffer from chronic health conditions. 44 percent of women admitted they have experienced domestic violence. I took the information from the infographic and from You Can Heal Your Body and linked them together, the result is fascinating.

Health Condition in bold

Probable Cause in standard text

Affirmation in italics

High Blood Pressure

Long standing emotional problem not solved.

I joyously release the past. I am at peace.

Lower Back Pain

Fear of money. Lack of financial support.

I trust the process of life. All I need is always taken care of

Headaches                        

Invalidating the self. Self-criticism. Fear.

I love and approve of myself. I see myself and what I do with eyes of love. I am safe.

Migraines

Dislike of being driven. Resisting the flow of  life. Sexual fears.

I relax into the flow of life and let life provide all that I need easily and comfortably. Life is for me.

Difficulty Sleeping          

Fear. Not trusting the process of life. Guilt.

I lovingly release the day and slip into peaceful sleep, knowing tomorrow will take care of itself. 

Depression                      

Anger you feel you do not have the right to have, Hopelessness.

I now go beyond other people’s fears and limitations. I create my life.

Anxiety                             

Not trusting the flow and the process of life.

I love and approve of myself. and I trust the process of life. I am safe. 

Yes, you can heal completely from domestic violence. Yes, you can have a better life than the one you did before. All you have to do is the work. You’re future is up to you.

5 Reasons Why Marriage is Improving

Recently an article was posted listing 5 reasons why marriage doesn’t work any more. The truth is divorce rates are lowering and we as a society have been learning (and doing) what it takes to make marriage work. Here are my 5 reasons marriage still does work.

First, take a glance at the article to see what he listed.

Second, know that what he talked about are social agreements we have made that aren’t true.

The truth?

1. Sex is Important in a Relationship and We Don’t Have to be Supermodels in Order to Enjoy it

We all have the capability to show case our own natural beauty by exercising, eating right and learning how to do hair, make up and dress for own personal beauty and bodies. And the choice to make sex a priority. http://www.dressingyourtruth.com

2. Finances Are Just an Experience, Not the End All Be All
We all have the ability and the right to create a lifestyle of luxury and affluence. Money does not have to be a struggle. Money is a actually a spiritual experience. We have the ability to heal our negative experience with money are begin enjoying a positive experience.
http://www.deepokchopra.com

3. The Ways We Communicate Doesn’t Change How we Communicate, We Do
We have the ability to use texting to connect to each other on a deeper emotional level to enhance the relationship. My boyfriend and I work opposite shifts and don’t see each other during the week. We text. We talk on the phone. We snapchat. We stay connected. Yeah sure I could worry about who else he is doing all those things with, but I don’t. I trust him.
http://www.texttheromanceback.com

4. Your Love Life is Your (and yours alone) Responsibility
Before we can experience love, we have to first love ourselves. We expect other people to solve our problems for us or to change so we will love them more. The truth is, we have to change ourselves. Our love life is our responsibility.
http://www.thework.com

5. It’s Getting Better
It’s not getting worse. It’s getting better. We are aware that too much media is damaging. Step one is admitting you have a problem. We can’t control other people, but we can control ourselves. It starts with us. We make the change in our lives then we help others to make the changes for themselves. http://www.3keyelements.com

The links I included are some great resources to learn more