SURVIVING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE tells the stories of twelve women. Each was a victim of domestic violence, escaped from her abuser, reclaimed her dignity, reconstructed her life, and rediscovered peace
Update: I have had this post in my draft folder for some time, but I couldn’t bring myself to post it until I started reading comments posted in the Johnny Depp domestic violence charges entertainment news sites. It’s very telling about why I am still hesitant to write about my experience after two decades, even though my abuser admitted to everything in court and my order of protection was never disputed, and it has a lot to do with public reaction to Depp’s situation. If you don’t know what I’m talking about (Shock!) just Google it and come back. Comments on his stories have sickened and angered me as a domestic violence survivor. I actually do not care if he is personally guilty or not (as a person who reads celebrity gossip, I can still separate myself from their reality and my own personal one), but I do care that a potential victim is on the receiving end of such shaming in the court of public opinion that is so anti-female that I have been so frankly shocked to discover still passionately exists in my country in 2016. Perhaps I was right about being hesitant to write about my own experience, which I find quite sad. Within the first few moments of Johnny’s wife filing a request for a restraining order, one thing was clear; the public opinion was against her and if comments are actual portrayals of the reasoning why, it’s completely sexist and making light of a potentially dangerous situation that could ultimately affect the way other victims out there are going to handle their own abusive situations.
You probably don’t personally know me if you are reading this. You probably don’t personally know Johnny Depp either. Ha! Think about that when you read my story. If you try and tell me that I or anyone (male or female) deserves to be hit in a domestic violence case EVER, you are wrong. If you try and tell me that putting your personal business out there and coming forward about being a domestic violence victim is easy, you are wrong. If you think that victims do not suffer in silence for months or years without reporting (or ever reporting), you are wrong. If you think that educated people wouldn’t let it happen to them, you are wrong. If you think I needed proof of every single violent episode that my ex did to me to show I was a victim, you are wrong (and grossly uninformed.) If you are shaming this potential victim while the facts and court system have not had time to properly weigh in, you are wrong. I think it’s quite scary that so many people have such a negative view of a potential victim of domestic violence they do not personally know – and the scary thing is, there are many who suffer in silence right under our nose. Who cares if the accused is a celebrity? I think this sort of public shaming can give other victims a false sense that they, too, will not be believed. Your comments can negatively affect another victim, so I implore you to actually think about what you are saying, think about what you are writing, and reserve making such a emphatically ‘true’ comment about a potential victim until the actual facts come out. I agree, false reporting is wrong and should be handled as such, but I’m not going to say whether Depp is guilty or not at this time. I am grateful that my personal case of domestic violence wasn’t on such a display because I was very vulnerable during that time and so I want to give the potential victim that same respect. I hope that my readers will do the same.
Quick last minute request: If you are a witness to an act of violence/abuse, please report immediately. You are saving lives.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I did everything I could to hide this fact for years and it weighed heavily on me until I started to write about it (and would delete what I wrote almost immediately after…) and the affects it caused to ripple through my life were ongoing until I sought help. I thought the pain was gone, the scars had healed, and I could close that chapter in my life, but it wasn’t so easy because I discovered that I never fully recovered from it. I can only talk from personal experience and I thought it was important for me to read a book that was uplifting about other women’s survival, especially to those who are personally dealing with it in the own home to know that, you too, can break the cycle and move forward with a better life. You need the help and tools in order to cope as a survivor, and so often we think once you break free of the situation it is over. I’m sorry to say, it is FAR from over for victims at this point, but it is not the end and it certainly can be turned around with the time and attention survivors need. Surviving Domestic Violence is a wonderful book for all victims because it offers real stories and a message of hope and survival. I’m not going to review the book in this review, per se, I’m going to talk about my own experience to bridge the gap behind the book and how I could have easily become another statistic.
I grew up in an area that was plagued by poverty and, since both my parents were in the field of social work, I was well aware of some very dire situations of families in my area. My parents grew up under similar conditions, but I thought I had one thing going for me; education. When I was in high school I (thought) I fell in love for the first time with my best friend. He was struggling with some personal issues, as was I, and we leaned on each other for support. I was an introverted person who kept my problems to myself and I remember the first time he tried to get me to talk to him about my thoughts. I ran! I didn’t want to deal with things and talk to him about it; until I did. Our friendship soon turned into something more and we had an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. We were going to get through life breaking down barriers and have a better existence. That was what I had thought and it never occurred to me that he would ever hurt me. There were no warning signs going into the relationship and I was all in.
Emotions run high in teenagers and while we mostly had a united and loving front at the beginning of our relationship, I realized months later that there were many cracks there that went beyond any teenage drama. His demeanor of a loving and supportive partner turned into a mess of a person who could barely function. I was seeing him have violent breakdowns and struggles, but he never turned it on me; until he did. I still remember the first ‘incident’. He was having a panic attack about something so stupid I don’t even want to discuss it now and I tried reasoning with him. When it got me nowhere, I decided to leave the situation to try and diffuse it. I turned my back to walk out the door and that’s when I felt a crack on my back so intense that I fell to the ground, confused and shaken from the pain. When I looked up he was holding a large T-square ruler, an instrument of learning that he had somehow wielded as an attack weapon. If you don’t know what a T-square is I will include a picture below and try to image the top head of it being driven into your back. My boyfriend’s eyes went wild and he quickly went into an apology mode. Picking me up and sobbing how he was, “So, so sorry.” I wanted to believe him and eventually I did.
What I learned over time is that when you open a Pandora’s box and excuse one violent indiscretion, it has a snowball effect. The episodes became more frequent, out of control, and at times, very dangerous. My worst fears were realized as he went speeding down the road when I was a passenger, promising to kill both of us in a crash because he was…..upset. Almost two years flew by with very little improvement in the situation. I graduated high school, continued my college classes, and worked full-time while my personal life was a personal hell and somehow we still ended up moving in together. This disastrous choice caused a whirlwind of issues including destruction of my property, the apartment, myself, and his constant acts of pretending he would self-harm after a violent episode. I sought help from his mom and we all went together to a psychiatrist so we could help. It didn’t work. He refused to take his medication and descended deeper into a cycle of anger, fits of rage, and physical abuse. I didn’t know what to do but I made a decision to transfer to a new college and found an old friend that I could room with that next fall. This turned out to be the best decision for myself, but it also caused a new series of issues that eventually led to one of my roommates reporting to the police.
The separation of myself from my boyfriend shed light of the seriousness of the domestic violence that was happening to me. His increasingly poor choices and un-explainable acts were, well, hard to defend or explain. He began to take psychedelic drugs that fueled his outrageous behavior and, after discussions with my roommates, I realized it was healthy for me to start to cut him out of my life. He didn’t go easily or willingly and my heart was broken. He broke into our house, he stalked me at home and work, and one day, on a bright and sunny afternoon right before the fall quarter started, he sent me to the hospital after a stalking confrontation on a busy street in front of my rental house when I asked him to please leave me alone. His swift kick to my stomach (he was a very serious karate student) caused me internal injuries as well as an injury to my arm and I wrestled to get into my car with an arm I thought was broken while he was jumping on top to stop me. Interestingly, I had plenty of witnesses, mostly frat boys (young men), who did nothing to help. Some even laughed and yelled terrible comments. One of my roommate’s friends, who heard the commotion from inside, ended up intervening so I could drive off safely. At the hospital, alone and confused, I told them what happened, and they treated me and released me without any sort of guidance or help. I felt alone as I drove, one handed, to another friend’s house to spend the night.
It was months before I felt forced to go to the police. My roommate, who was so sick and tired of my boyfriend, whom I now considered my ex-boyfriend, would sleep on our porch, call at all hours, and follow me everywhere. I was scared and so was she. One day, she came home with a card that said ‘Athens City Police, Domestic Violence Reporting’ that had a name and number on it. I was offended at first. It was the first time I considered my situation to be at a level of ‘domestic violence’ and I said as much. She sat staring at me and said, “If you don’t report him, I will. You are putting yourself and all of us in danger.” Huh. I was? I was. I was a scared 19 year old by then and my problems weren’t going away. I didn’t want to go to the police. I was embarrassed and I was still protecting him even if I was not still with him. After some serious conversations with myself, it took all the courage I had to go to the police station and start the procedures to file a restraining order. It was a lonely experience with little solace of protection, but it was a step in the right direction.
Filing for a restraining order was actually the easiest part of the entire process, obtaining it was what was both terrifying and embarrassing at the time. By then, both of our circles of friends knew what was happening and I’d receive calls and visits of warning from all parties. “He’s after you!”, “He’s going to hurt himself”, “Be careful”, were common phrases that both his and my friends would say to me. I felt powerless and confused. In the court system, a date was set for the early part of the new calendar year (months away) for the restraining order and I was beside myself with worry and feeling sick and panic at every turn. The most ironic thing is that one of the jobs I had at that time was at the University in Parking Services under the school’s work program where I processed parking tickets and sold hang tags for the lots. I sat within 10 feet of the two 911 dispatchers for the college and they had no clue what was happening – until I filed for a restraining order. My ex would have to be served and he was going to be served the papers on campus. I had no idea about the behind the scenes ordeal of my whole case, but the following week at work one of the officers asked to speak to me. I didn’t know what it was about until we were back in the one of the so-called ‘interrogation rooms’ and I saw the paperwork and I started shaking. I learned quickly that my secret was out because the City police had to notify the Campus police. I don’t remember our exact conversation that day, but tired of all the lying and secrets, I explained I felt unsafe at school and especially at my night class. I talked about being physically and mentally abused. I said I was being stalked and much of it took place at the University or right around the grounds. It was all true, but the reality of the situation hit home because I was telling all of this at my place of work. If the officers did not have a clue until that time, it was because I didn’t tell them. I had to file paperwork with the University because of jurisdiction issues and they would be notified if I had successfully received an Order of Protection. If I am honest, this was the part of the restraining order process that was the most difficult because it directly affected my work life. Everyone at my work except my student co-workers probably knew and I felt it. I never went to the University police for stalking and I never did after the reporting, but work became so painful, but on the other side I actually felt safe there and stayed until I graduated. It makes me realize as I write this that even though I worked closely with the University police, I never felt compelled to share what was happening to me until it was forced on me. That speaks volumes to me now that victims do not come out for many reasons, and mine had nothing to do with access.
My ex was always around, watching me from a distance as we waited for the impending court date. I’d catch glimpses of him or his car everywhere I went. He got more brave as time passed. One morning he stopped me and begged me to talk to him, and I didn’t know what to do. When he followed me on campus after a night class, I ran to my car in a dark parking lot and screamed for him to leave me alone. I took a friend to my night class that quarter after that episode so that I could feel safe. Interestingly, this was around the time that my insurance company wised up to my hospital claims due to personal injury. They didn’t want to pay the claims and wanted the bill to go to my ex’s third party insurance. There was a stack of paperwork involved and I was shocked that it all came down to money and not my personal well being. The hospital did not care about my situation or why I was there at the time of injury, but the insurance companies wanted to fight over who footed the bill. This situation was now escalated between my parents and my ex’s parents’ insurance companies. They all knew now about this one of many situations of my abuse because of health insurance and I found that a very sickening experience. I didn’t want to drag my parents into this mess, but I unknowingly had and I also didn’t want them stuck with a large hospital bill. Ultimately, I believe his parents insurance did end up paying for my hospital visit, but I honestly do not know to this day because I had blocked that part of it out and I am not even interested in finding out now.
The thing was, I still thought I loved him even though I hated what he was doing, and during Christmas break I took his mom a gift basket I made myself at my other job at a grocery store and said I didn’t want to file a restraining order, but had no other choice. He wouldn’t leave me alone and I was scared. I felt guilty about the hospital bills but no one could say they didn’t know what was happening or what had happened between our families. I cared for his parents and his siblings and I was losing them in this process and I knew it. One final incident which I won’t go into was the last straw and I knew I had to cut him and his family out of my life for good for my own personal protection. It was unhealthy for me to try to do anything otherwise even though I had considered them my family at the time. During our day in court, he admitted to everything (which actually shocked me); being a threat to me and his violent acts, and the order was granted. While my ex had to pay court costs, he wasn’t being charged for any crimes and besides having an Order of Protection on both our public records, it didn’t personally affect anything else. I was like a scared child, nervous about my surroundings, and crying as we left. I realized that I probably wouldn’t see my 20th birthday and somehow I accepted it. The restraining order had essentially done nothing to ease my own personal safety concerns and the stalking continued for another quarter until the end of the school year when I moved to a new rental with one of my guy friends, but I was always looking over my shoulder until I graduated college and moved out of Ohio. There was a lot of guilt and I was never at peace with the outcome until years later. It haunted me for years and I’d have dreams and visions of being stalked and beaten with people looking on and offering no assistance. I felt like I could never go ‘home’ and in many ways, I never did. Even as I write this seventeen years later, I realize that I was alone in this situation and a piece of paper didn’t change it, but it did allow me to ultimately get out of the situation that probably would have killed me.
I healed my scars by hiding them. I didn’t get into another relationship for over two years and it was with my now-husband. We dated for three years before I realized that just because I had been through domestic violence, it didn’t mean history would repeat itself. I had changed and I was never going to let myself go through that horror again. My husband earned my trust and didn’t break it. I thought I had put the past behind until a toxic situation at work coupled with being a new mom sent me into panic attacks and post-partum depression. I was paralyzed by it. The words of “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” didn’t enter my vocabulary until a therapist rightfully told me it was part of the equation. PTSD, to me, was a disorder that was only linked to combat Veterans and my husband was a Veteran. It felt wrong to use that term, but I learned that it did apply to non-combat Veterans just the same. I learned to accept it and I learned that my experiences to not deal or cope after my experience had led to having a generalized stress disorder and led to my eventual state of depression. I felt lucky that I had insurance and therapists who worked with me and it took a long time to get to a state where I felt emotionally stable. When you add kids to the equation, you are not just healing for yourself, you are healing to be a better parent, a better person, and one that does not live in fear. You have to learn to be a strong person that accept their scars as something to be proud of and not something that is damaged.
I have two daughters to raise and my husband and I are committed to bring them up in a house where anger is controlled and violence is not accepted. I don’t EVER want them to brush off violence or make excuses for it like I had done. We all get angry, it’s a very real human emotion, but you have to be taught to not act on it and set an example for your children. Getting out of an abusive situation and getting a restraining order was a way to not only protect myself but I also hoped it was a wake-up call to my ex. I needed help to move on and he needed to get help for his issues and I am actually glad that if his cycle of abuse continued after me, I at least made a public record so others could know it was a pattern. It was little comfort to me at that time, but I now realize that the hell I went through also meant that I could protect others from the same situation. That’s powerful to a victim to realize that the efforts are not just a personal journey, it could affect other women and potentially children down the line.
People should not get together to fix each other because we are not equipped to do that. Partnerships are about being equal and being supportive, but not at the expense of your health. If you are in a situation that is not healthy, get out and find the support you need. If you have children, it makes the situation even more important for their sake. If you let the cycle continue, it will. If you don’t seek treatment for yourself, you won’t heal. These are simple concepts that are difficult to implement. I do know and I do understand. Your life is worth it and there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of domestic violence. It’s up to you to decide if you want to stay paralyzed in a terrible situation, or seek the light to get out and overcome it. It does seem to be a situation where you feel as if you are part of a lonely club that you never signed up for, but it’s also one you can quit…and you are not alone in your struggles even if you feel alone. Be brave, choose help, and get out. There’s a whole life out there that doesn’t involve physical or mental harm, and it’s nice to re-join society in a place of peace. I, for one, am rooting for you. My goal is to not delete this post, as much as I still would love to – it’s time I am honest about my situation because I do realize it can help, especially during this time where domestic violence cases are being made light of under the current circumstances. That is not okay for me and probably for many other victims who are too afraid to speak out. I am choosing to not be one of them.
- If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.
- Or for anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
- Plan Ahead and Make the Changes You Need in Your Life. Read THIS.
About Volcano Press: Volcano Press has been publishing books on domestic violence and women’s health for forty years. Forty years ago, the domestic violence movement consisted of a handful of grass-roots shelters, struggling to survive. And yet the struggle to end domestic violence is still a movement. Although today there is the federally funded Violence Against Women Act (authored by Senator Joe Biden), and many dedicated community agencies, activists, counselors, attorneys, law enforcement, and caring families and friends, there is still a long way to go.
List Price: $ 19.75 (Available through Amazon Prime)