What Can I Do to Help Her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact your Local Domestic Violence Shelter

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

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

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

Be There For Her

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

Be Aware of How You Speak About Her Abuser to Her

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

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

Give To A Shelter

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

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

Be Patient

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

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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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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.

Changing the Language of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Did you know 7% of your message is conveyed through words? That’s a tiny sliver. 38% is through tone and the other 55% is through body language. Since only 7% of your message is conveyed through words, do you think it’s important to be aware of the words you speak?

Choosing the right words when you speak is essential to create the environment and the world you want to experience.

A study has shown that when we think thoughts to ourself, they are more powerful when we think our own name, rather than thinking the pronoun ‘I’. Seriously. Find a time when you have thought to yourself using your name or the word you. I realized I naturally did this whenever I needed a little encouragement. I would think to myself Brandy, it’s okay baby girl, you got this. And I would instantly calm down and be able to easily accomplish the task at hand.

There are key words we can use to encourage other people to do things. Any idea what those key words are? Try ‘please’ ‘thank you’ ‘because’ and even nicknames or pet names for family and friends. These words soften a person’s natural defenses and help them to feel more open and loved. Try it sometime.

For me, working with domestic violence, the word I work to avoid the most, is the word ‘victim’, as long as we keep using that word when referring to these women, we will continue to send them the message that there was nothing they could do and that they were helpless.

Now while I know at times these women are physically unable to help themselves, a man is SO much stronger than a woman, I believe in giving the woman the power of thought that she is not a victim, that she can and will break free and survive. The term I prefer to use (even though I know it’s a bit longer) is ‘person who is experiencing abuse’. The abuse you’re facing does not define you. That is not all that you are and it is not who you are.

You are strong, beautiful, sexy and capable. You know what is best for yourself and you are making the choices that are best for you and your children. Every thing will be okay.

Be Quiet!

“He’s calling! Turn off the radio! Everyone, Be Quiet!!!” I shouted to my Sisters, Mom, and Grammy as my cell phone trilled. An instant silence over took the mini van as they obeyed. I flipped open the small device, “Hello” I muttered into speaker. “Hi, I got off early, I’m on my way home.” the sentence shot fear deep into my bones and back out and began crawling on my skin. I tried my best to carry on a normal conversation with my husband not wanting to tip him off to the fact I wasn’t home.

It was Friday, December 22nd, I had recently turned 24, and I had spent the day taking my 12 month old son to see my Grammy who was visiting us in Utah from Arizona for the month. We had enjoyed the day together and were driving back from a movie with my two sisters. I quickly ended the phone conversation and expressed my urgency to get to my mom’s house and drive my son and myself to my home before my husband got there. He had gotten off work early that Friday as a Christmas surprise. I went from expecting him home in a few hours to a few minutes. I knew he would be furious I had left the house, especially so I could spend time with my family.

As I began driving my car home with my son buckled in the back, my phone began ringing. I looked at my husbands name on the caller ID, took a deep breath, and answered the phone, knowing that would be the less painful option. “Hello?” “Where are you?!” Snapped into my ear. I admitted to spending time with my family and was immediately rewarded with a barrage of yelled words simply meant to make me feel guilty and inflict pain.

I had been married to this man for just over three and a half years. Our twelve month old son was unplanned, and I remember the fear that gripped me when I learned I was expecting, normally a time of excitement and rejoicing for most expectant mothers, for me I could feel the shackles clamp tighter around my ankles and wrists and the rope tighten around my neck. A divorce with a child involved would be much more complicated.

The more and more he continued to verbally berate me and the closer and closer I got to my home, the less and less I wanted to be there. I placated him, and was able to get him off the phone, escaping from the verbal abuse. Fear and adrenaline coursing through my veins, I pulled into the driveway of the place I least wanted to be. My own home. I immediately pulled back out and drove away.

I didn’t know where I was going, only that I wasn’t ready to walk into my front door to a fuming husband. My mind began racing, thinking of places I could go. I was ready. I glanced at the clock it was nearly 5 pm on Friday, Christmas only three days away. Would a law firm be open? Could I file for divorce right now? I kept driving, not knowing were I was going, only that I had to get away.

I found my car pulling into the parking lot of the local woman’s shelter. I had been in contact with the shelter, knowing that I would soon be leaving my husband, I just didn’t think it would be today. When I first went to the shelter, it was for information, I knew enough that I had a small bag packed with three days worth of clothes for my son and me, copies of important documents, and a small package of diapers in my trunk.

I turned off my car, pulled the small duffle bag from my trunk, unbuckled my son from his car seat, hunched against the cold air and walked across the snowy parking lot to the entrance.

The building was old with thin carpet and 90’s decor. The layer of plastic wood looking laminate covering the reception desk was chipping away. There was a young girl standing behind it packing up to go home.

I bravely walked up to her and the words, “I need shelter.” tumbled out of my mouth. The action of admitting this was tumultuous, tears began pouring out of my eyes, a flood emotions rushed out of my heart down each of my limbs and back again, my brain began spinning as I imagined where I would be taken. In my mind, I saw cots lining a gymnasium, a soup kitchen, public bathrooms, no showers, no fun, no toys, everything was tinted grey in my mind. I was leaving a home for that?

The young receptionist picked up the phone and began whatever the process to get me admitted. I sat down on the maroon fabric cushioned metal chair with my son on my knee, and tried to hold back the tears.

Soon I was taken up to the top floor, the intake worker sat with me in her tiny office as I began to fill out paper work rating the type and severity of abuse I had been going through. It was so weird to be writing it down on paper and filing out a questionnaire. My recently walking son was wobbling around dropping and picking up a small plush elephant toy, he had no idea how his life was about to change.

I was blessed, and the workers there were sweet and kind, the counselor stayed after her shift to give me a tour make sure I was going to be okay. The shelter was much more homey than I had imagined. There was a large open room that was separated into two parts: a living room area with a big screen satellite TV and large, comfy couches, and a dining room area with a large table that could seat about 12 people and three high chairs. Satelliting out from that room was the intake room and a couple of offices for the therapists, then a small playroom with toys and books and movies, a large kitchen with a fridge and a pantry stock piled with food, and five separate bedrooms. Three of the bedrooms had two sets of bunk beds, a single twin bed, and a full bathroom, and two of them had cribs in lieu of one of the sets of bunk beds I chose one with a crib.

I spent an hour or so talking to the counselor, she explained the rules, the chores, the expectations, the curfew (9pm and if I wasn’t back in by then, with the exception of working a job, I’d be kicked out), and briefly talked to me about my situation. I was at that time, the only woman staying in the shelter, but with the holidays approaching, they were expecting more. Then the counselor left, rushing home to begin the Christmas weekend with her family. It had been explained to me there was an intake worker there 24/7, answering calls on the hotline and helping any women who might show up, other than that, it was just me and my son in a big, empty, strange place.

Meanwhile, my husband had no clue where I had gone, all he had known was that I hadn’t shown up to our home with my son. After I hadn’t been answering my cell phone, he began calling my family and friends to try tracking me down, no one knew where I was. My family and friends were not allowed to have my cell phone number, otherwise, I’m sure there would have been missed calls from them as well. I knew I had to bite the bullet and tell my husband I wasn’t coming home.

I flipped open my cell phone and dialed his number. I wasn’t as afraid of him as normal, I had been blessed with comfort and peace and I knew that he would not find us here, and even if he did, I knew there were security measures to keep him out. When he answered I did not tell my husband where we were, only that we were safe and not coming home and then I hung up the phone, I did not have to listen to him screaming and spewing pain and guilt on me anymore.

I called my parents next, and told them where I was and what had transpired. They offered for me to stay with them, and I explained my fears of my husband coming and physically taking my son away from me. I had left my ex once before when our son was just two months old, and upon returning my father in law invited me to his house, took me into a room alone and told me this, “I have worked for the county, and I have worked for the city, I know all of the judges, and all of the judges dirty laundry, if you EVER leave my son again, you WILL NOT get custody of yours.” I was doing what I felt would keep me and my son safe.

As my son continued to play, I text my three closest friends and told them what I had done and they all offered their support, love, and encouragement. I made dinner for us both, fed and bathed my son, then put him to bed in the strange crib. He fell asleep quickly, I stayed up for a short while, flipping through the channels, but my mind was racing. Christmas was just three days away, I had walked away from my home, my tree, and the presents that were lying beneath it. My only possessions being my car, and three days worth of clothes for my son and me.

I went into the bedroom and knelt in prayer. I poured my heart out to The Lord, told him my fears, and asked for help and strength to get through the upcoming weeks. I knew that a divorce from my husband would not be a simple and easy process. I climbed into the bed and looked out the window. The white Mormon temple was lit up across the street, its brightness and warmth glowing in the black winter sky, the sight brought me comfort and peace. I cuddled into the blankets and cried myself to sleep.