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.

 

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

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

1. Love Yourself

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

2. Love Others

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

3. Pamper Yourself

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

4. Buy Flowers

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

5. Envision Love 

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

6. Do Something You Love

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

7. Eat Chocolate

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

8. Bring out Your Masculine/Feminine Power

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

9. Make a Love List

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

10. Choose Love

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

11. Aromatherapy

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

12. Music

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

13. Give a Card

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

14. Hot Yoga

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

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

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.

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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

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.

Love Yourself Because Someone Has To

So you made it. You left. You’ve been through the frightening experience of leaving your abuser and starting your own life. Now what? Here it is, step one to healing from abuse: love yourself. It may sound simple, but for someone who has spent years dedicating their life to someone else as a survival mechanism, it can be hard to know how.

Do Something For Yourself
Find a babysitter. Get some alone time. Buy yourself a cup of coffee or a bouquet of flowers. Take a bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil. Go for a walk. Pray. Write. Write your story, write your feelings, write it all, it’s very healing. It’s not selfish. It’s good for you. It’s good for your heart and your soul. Plus you’ll be a better mom as you cut down on stress and anxiety and you’ll be better prepared for all life throws at you.

Write and Recite Your Own Affirmations
Affirmations are powerful. The words you say to yourself are powerful. Chances are you just spent years being told who and what you are by someone else (and it probably wasn’t great). It’s your turn to tell yourself who and what you are. Don’t know how? Here’s where you start: Grab a peice of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On one side, write down your top ten negative thoughts. That’s right I said negative! Here’s where your work really begins. On the other side, write down the opposite of each negative plus one. So it’ll look like this: I am so stupid = I am smart and I am beautiful. Viola. Instant personal affirmation. Write down all ten and then say them every morning and night. I even recorded myself saying them and listen to them as I drive to work in the morning or drift off to sleep at night. Watch this video from the movie What the Bleep Do We Know. It gives great insight into the power of our words.

Take Yourself out on a Date
That’s right. You heard me. Go out to eat by yourself. Go to a movie by yourself. (I totally watched Disney’s Tangled in a theater filled with families by myself). Get to know yourself again. Who you are. Who you are not. What you like and don’t like. Chances are you spent so long trying to please your abuser that you don’t know who you are any more. I would even suggest waiting to date for at least a year while you get to know you. I know the thought may kind of suck and all you want is to feel what it feels to be loved in a healthy relationship. It’s possible. I promise. I know because I waited even longer to start dating again.

Take the time learn to love yourself and then you will be ready to teach and allow a man how to love you. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Do what’s right for you.

Messages from Men

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I sat across from a complete stranger. A man. He was looking me straight in the eyes and telling me how amazing I am. Telling me I am strong and beautiful and a warrior. That I have a great mission to accomplish on this earth. My eyes were brimming with tears. I knew I was safe as 50 other couplings were doing the same thing. My job was to listen and not say a word. At the end of his minute, we all stood up and moved down the line to the next person. I looked at the person sitting across from me, and though the room was filled with men and women, again sitting across from me was a man and he began telling me all the good things about me. As that ended, there was a third rotation and even though it was slightly uncomfortable and scary I again sat across from a man with nothing but amazing things to say about me.

And that was part of my healing journey. I was taking a class designed to teach us all how to be trainers. I was on my path to becoming a trainer and speaker so I could teach others and help them overcome their experience with abuse. And I was healing along the way in unexpected ways.

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I cannot tell you fully the effect on me it was to sit across from these three strangers, all men who spoke so highly of me. And who were in awe of me. I know it was a gift from God to experience that. The best I can explain it was I could feel the broken and hurt pieces of my heart being stitched together.

Some people tend to think that when a woman is abused she just stands there and takes it. ‘Why doesn’t she just leave’ has been in the media a lot. It’s harder to leave than you might think and for reasons you may not even ever fathom.

There were times as my abuser sat on top of me pinning my 5 foot 10 inch frame to the floor and holding my arms down so I couldn’t move that I would say to him ‘You can’t treat me like this. It’s abuse.’

His reply? ‘No it’s not.’ Many abusers have an invisible line in their heads of what abuse is and isn’t or even what is not okay for others to do, but okay for them to do. His ‘line’? He wasn’t hitting me. But he frightened me and he terrorized me. Day in and day out.

And after living that way for so long, stuck in this world where I felt spider webs were being spun around me in every direction, constantly moving and breathing as if they were alive, where no matter what I did I would be caught, where men were only these forces in my life to be obeyed and to be feared. Where it was safer to conform than to be myself lest I be caught and eaten alive, I developed a fear of men.

I have been blessed to overcome that. And it’s taken some basic steps as well as time and patience and a little bit of work on my part.

1. Write a Note to God
This was the beginning of me healing my relationship with men. I wrote a letter to God. Telling him everything. All my worries and fears, my anger, resentment and bitterness. How I felt toward Him and felt I had been betrayed by Him. I wrote it all.
After pouring my heart out, I got another piece of paper and wrote a letter back to me from God. Words flowed to me and through me and I felt nothing but love, acceptance and understanding from God in return as the words filled the paper.

2. Forgive
I forgave my ex, I forgave his entire family. I forgave the person who sexually abused me when I was a little girl. I forgave my family. I forgave my friends. I forgave strangers. I forgave God and I forgave myself and on and on.
Anyone and everyone who had ever done anything big or small to hurt me. I forgave them. And I continue to forgive people as life goes on. This is one of the most freeing experiences of my life.

3. Be Vulnerable
I hate this one. I really do. Alright. Wait. I am learning to be aware of my words and that what I say creates my reality. I have struggled with this one. It’s like I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which actually is probably true and fairly common for people experienced any trauma including domestic violence.
I have had to work at this one. It’s been tough. And oh so worth it. Brene Brown gave an amazing talk on the power of vulnerability and as I have sacrificed the walls of security and safety I created for myself, I have opened up myself and my life to infinite possibilities. To a stronger connection with my son. To an amazing relationship with my boyfriend and to building my business to teach and mentor others to shift from surviving to thriving.