Then and Now, Coming Full Circle

then now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Why not?

People Who Experience Abuse
1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner experiencing domestic violence. Why not start seeing it?

Children and Abuse
Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at high rates, are more likely to have health problems, including becoming sick more often, having frequent headaches or stomachaches, and being more tired and lethargic and children are more likely to intervene when they witness severe violence against a parent – which can place a child at great risk for injury or even death. Why not hear about it?

How Society is Affected
Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Survivors of domestic violence face high rates of depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety, flashbacks, and other emotional distress.
Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults. Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation. Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. Why not talk about it?

#voiceshavepower
I think the best thing about the video that has come out involving Ray and Janay Rice and the birth of the hash tag #WhyIStayed is that we are talking about domestic violence as a society, we are hearing about it and we are seeing what domestic violence is.

What Can You Do?
Often times people seem to think if we bring something into the light like this and talk about it, because it is a negative thing, that it will bring more of it into existence. Or people are shamed into speaking because of the harsh judgement of ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ As we talk about it, we can learn about it, we can teach about it, we can heal those who have experienced it, and we can prevent it from happening. Talk to your kids about domestic violence. Be a shining example to them of what a healthy relationship is. Better yourself. Find resources, read books, take classes. Learn healthy ways to handle your emotions. Throughout the month of October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month) I am posting one blog post a day, and I will post books, tools, tips and resources to help Domestic Violence become a thing of the past.

*statistics taken from
http://www.safehorizon.org/page/domestic-violence-statistics–facts-52.html

Taking Responsibility: Why Being in a Domestic Violent situation was my fault

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“But you’re 20 years old and he’s the only boyfriend you’ve ever had.”

“And we’re getting married in a month. Everything will be fine.”

Yes I was young and naive, yes I knew nothing about relationships and yes, I was that 20 year old girl, marrying a 24 year old man I had only dated for just shy of a year, the only guy I had ever dated.

When I left him 3 1/2 years later and began my journey staying in the women’s shelter with my then 12 month old son, I was told I was the victim, and I bought it. Hook, line and sinker. It was refreshing and easy to believe that everything that had happened was no fault of my own. That the way he treated me was because he was the jerk, he was the one at fault. Truth is, I had 100% of the responsibility for how I allowed him to treat me.

It was hard when my thoughts began to open to the idea, that maybe I’m not really a victim, it was so much easier to believe that life just happened to me, and so much harder to grasp that I had actually created the life I was living.

I think we are doing a disservice to every person we tell ‘you’re the victim here’. If we instead ponder ‘what did I do to get me where I am today?’, we begin to open our minds to the reality that we have the power and ability to actually create our own life. And if we don’t like it, we change it. We change our life by changing our self.

1. Love Yourself

As we begin to work on first  loving ourselves, forgiving ourselves, allowing ourselves to make mistakes and stop expecting so much of ourselves, our hearts soften toward ourselves and we are able to give love to others even better. How can we love and serve others, if we do not love ourselves? The biblical quote is even ‘love our neighbors, like unto ourselves’ do we really love ourselves?

Write yourself a love note. Tape it on the mirror and read it to yourself everyday.

2. Love your partner

I know the thoughts and turmoil you go through when you’re not in a healthy relationship. You love your partner, and yet you’re afraid of what they might do. You want others to think the best of both you and your partner, you don’t want to air dirty laundry. Take time to remind yourself that they are hurting too, when someone acts out in anger or violence, it is because they have a wounded child in them from their past. Remember that their innermost part if them self wants to be loved and wants to be a good person. I don’t belive any person is born into this life as a bad person. Loving them will help you forgive them, and forgiving them will help you heal.

3. Be Prepared to Leave

Just because you love yourself and you love and forgive your partner does not mean that you stay in a dysfunctional relationship. If you need to get out, then get out. You can love yourself and still get out. You can love them and still get out. In fact sometimes it is because of those things that you do leave. Staying in a broken relationship will be worse for both sides in the long run.

If you do choose to leave, have an escape plan, if possible have copies of important documents hidden away in your car or friends house or work, and have three days worth of clothes for yourself and your children (including diapers) have some food and water stashed away (including formula), try to hide away cash, and have a safe place to go to like a women’s shelter (I’m advocating for men’s shelters) or a friend’s house. Don’t hesitate to call the police if necessary. They will help you and it will be okay.

Take power over your life. Do not claim being a victim. You are a person who experienced abuse. Every person who does their part to stop the cycle of abuse in whatever way that is, helps with the bigger picture and world wide healing from and stopping of anger and hurt and dysfunction. May God and angels go with you.

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.