#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Child abuse, Depression, Domestic Violence, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

January 2020 Domestic Violence Story: A Child Witness

Since awareness is key to helping end domestic violence, I want to share a story each month with a different focus. There can never be too many stories shared. Sharing replaces hopelessness with hopefulness.

Since this idea did not come to me until late into the month of January, I thought I would start with my story. I did share my story in October 2019, as well as in my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy, but there is always room for more details and more insight. My hope is that sharing my story, even on repeat, it will reach the right people to make a difference. If one person is helped by my suffering, it was for something.

The first three years of my life I did not have contact with my father, and as far as I know, neither did my mom. She brought baby girl Aiken home to her mother’s house from the hospital with the father’s name on the birth certificate blank. From the start she knew she didn’t feel safe around my dad, and maybe for the first time in her life, she listened to her gut feeling. During those three years she kept him away from me, and because he was not named as my father, without a DNA test, he did not have any rights to me.

The plan had been to name my brother’s dad as my father, and I was going to be given his last name. He agreed to this plan, and as far as I knew, he was my dad. He was loving and kind, and fun to be with. Before this plan could be put into motion, he became very sick, and died. I am not sure if it was this alone that changed my mom’s mind about my dad, or her wish to give me a father, or the hope for a family, but he was welcomed into our lives. My birth certificate was changed to list him as my father, and my last name was hyphenated to include his.

Within days we were moving into a new place as a family, and the abuse came creeping back in. Some of the scariest, most traumatic moments of my life came from the three short years we lived together. I witnessed my brother’s beatings, so severe, I was not sure he would live. I watched as my parents had violent sex in the living room, and saw my dad inches away from ending my mom’s life.

I was a watcher. I watched and observed everything. I wanted to be prepared for what might happen. Every sound awoke my adrenaline as I waited for it to escalate, and spiral out of control. Even at four years old, I knew I had to think fast, and be ready for what might come. I knew I had to be strong and step in for my mom or brother when their beatings became too much. I’d cause some sort of distraction to take the focus off them, hoping the belt across my bare bottom would be enough for him. If they could have a break, maybe they would be strong enough for the next time.

I knew there would always be a next time. I knew that even when we were laughing and having fun, it would end as quickly as it started. My guard was never down, and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the impact this has had on me.

Some things are easy to see what they were caused by, while others take time to fully understand. My newest development came in a counseling session where EMDR therapy was used.

The goal of the session was to understand the reason I don’t feel at home anywhere. The last place that felt like home was my gram’s house, the same house I was brought home from the hospital. Even though I moved out of this home when I was three, every time I went back, I knew I was home. It wasn’t a big surprise to me. It made sense that my gram made it feel like home; she was home.

My problem was I have not been able to recreate that feeling since. It was not due to feeling unsafe or unloved. I didn’t understand what was the route of this lack of connection came from. In the past abuse and neglect made it was easy to see why I didn’t feel like I was home. My life is no longer filled with either and I wanted answers. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to find that feeling.

Some of the factors that lead to this decision were the boxes I have not unpacked for over ten years. They follow me, all the things I have carried with me throughout different moves, and do not find a permanent place inside the building I reside. I do not decorate or make an effort to make it feel like “home.” I thought it was because I was lazy…or busy…but lately, I knew there was more to it.

During my session I had to go back in time to a memory that may have caused this. Going down memory lane I counted 20 moves in my lifetime. Most all of them had a negative connotation. There were two that stuck out. One was when I was 14 and first in foster care, and the second, the one that I worked on, was when I was six and going with my dad for visitations.

Tears began to roll down my cheek as I thought back to thirty-two years ago, to my six-year old self with my rolled up brown paper bag full of my clothes gazing out the window, waiting for my dad’s car to arrive so I could slip out the door before my parents had a chance to interact. In those moments I dreaded these weekend visits. I wanted to go to my gram’s, but on his weekends, I couldn’t.

As I worked through these emotions and memories I realized what had been keeping me from feeling at home. It was the lack of fitting in, the lack of having a safe place, the lack of belonging, the lack of having a solid foundation.

How does this all relate to being a child witness to domestic violence?

All that fear, and waiting I experienced followed me. I’m ready at a moments notice to throw my belongings into paper bags, or garbage bags and throw them into my car to get to safety. I’m ready to make my escape, because to me, home was not safe. To me, home was where I went to be hurt and watch others be hurt. It was a place that held all the secrets and horrors that no one else was allowed to know. It was filled with loud voices, swears, insults, and bruises. It was the space between going to school, and my gram’s house, where safety wasn’t questioned.

Watching my dad hurt and threaten to kill my mom changed me. It instilled a fear in me I thought was part of my existence. It gave me an altered view of what home and love were supposed to look like. It ate away at my self-esteem. It robbed me of self-love.

It changed me.

As an adult, who found my way to my own house of horrors, it took me a while to realize it was not normal. I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what I had always known. I recreated a “home” that mimicked the one I had grown up in. On guard for the next incident to happen, I never had time to get comfortable. I didn’t know what comfortable was.

Recently, I thought something was wrong with me because I can sleep through my husband’s alarm clock. I know now that there is nothing wrong with me. For the first time in my life I feel safe. Safe enough to sleep soundly. Safe enough to let my guard down. Safe enough to figure out what home is.

It’s time to start living. Existing is exhausting.

If you have exposed your children to domestic violence, please don’t feel guilty. We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Each day is a new day to make a change. Tomorrow is a clean slate. Don’t let the past keep you somewhere you never belonged.

I don’t share my story for pity, I share it for awareness. Awareness is the key to ending domestic violence.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, gas lighting, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Awareness is Key to Ending Domestic Violence

In October of 2019, the Stand Up to Domestic Violence project helped over thirty survivors share their stories. Every day of the month a new story was shared to spread awareness. Awareness is key to helping end domestic violence. The more we talk and share, the more people know they are not alone. When the stigma is removed from domestic violence, more people may come forward for help. More friends and family members may spot abuse in relationships of their loved ones. More teens will be able to spot the signs of abuse sooner. More children may understand what happens at home is okay to be talked about; it will give them the power to share secrets they may otherwise carry with them for decades.

When these doors are opened, they shine a light on the abuse. With knowledge comes power, and safety. When we share our stories we learn that someone else may have been through what we went through. The words that were used to keep us prisoner may lose their power when we hear how many others were called the same names, told the same lies. When we talk, we grow, and when we grow, we see the world around us differently.

So many survivors I have talked to have told me, “I didn’t know it was abuse.” “I didn’t think it was domestic violence.” Time and time again, I heard stories of cruelty being brushed away because it was just how it was. Women were raped by their husbands, but they didn’t think they had a choice. Men and women lived in fear, because they just thought that was how it was supposed to be. Doesn’t every relationship include threats and violence?

It wasn’t that many years ago I didn’t think what I was living through every day was abuse. I questioned my sanity. I did not see my value, and I could have sworn I had no worth.

“It’s not that bad.”

“At least he doesn’t hit me…everyday.”

“It only happened a couple of times.”

“He said it was my fault…I know what buttons to push.”

“He’ll take my kids away…he’ll prove I’m crazy.”

These thoughts kept me stuck. I had no idea that the lies I was fed were verbatim the same words others were being told by their abuser.

Word. For. Word.

As soon as I was able to break free enough to get a glimpse of my value, I was able to see. I didn’t deserve to be talked to like that. I didn’t deserve to be raped. I didn’t deserve to have my money stolen from me, or my credit destroyed. I didn’t deserve to be physically assaulted. I didn’t deserve to hear death threats. I didn’t deserve to live in fear.

The power this knowledge gave me was paramount to my survival and escape. Had I not seen the glimmer of hope, I would still be stuck. It was as simple as knowing life didn’t have to be that way any longer. My goal is to help as many men, women, and children understand their worth. It starts with you.

Do you have a story to tell? Do you know someone who does? Do you need more information? Knowledge is power. Help me take back our safety, our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. Share posts on social media, talk to whoever will listen. Have facts, or real life experience, and share…share…share! Together we can make a difference. Let our voices be heard, let them shake the ground under the abusers who use power and control to harm others. Leave them powerless over the ones they are so good at hurting.

I would like to share at least a story a month, if you are interested, please reach out at contact@jessicaaikenhall.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/aikenhallauthor/.

Watch for surveys that I will be posting, where you can share your story, or pieces of your story anonymously.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#AwarenessIsKey

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, #MeToo, #ReadersFavoriteMiami2018, #TeamKimandJessica, Domestic Violence, EMDR, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Onsite, Sexual abuse, Tom Petty, Uncategorized

Decade Review: 2010-2019

The beginning of a new year brings lots of thoughts about the past 365 days. As I started to think back over the last year, I realized not only did January 1st bring a new year, it also brought a new decade. I tried to think back to the start of 2010, and where I was in my life, and I couldn’t believe the changes that had taken place. So many so that it is hard to remember who I was. A stranger in a strange land.

2010 brought with it the continued grueling, agonizing grief that came from the loss of my grandmother. It would bring the year anniversary of the most painful loss of my lifetime. It would also bring the push I needed to seek counseling when the pain became too much to bare. unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at what followed, the counseling did not help. It was the reminder I did not want that I could not trust counselors, and the reason I had not stepped foot in an office since the court order had ended when I was in foster care. By the end of the year I knew if I wanted help, I would have to learn the skills to help myself. I met with admissions counselor at Springfield College to talk about the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program…and applied.

2011 began with an acceptance letter into the graduate program, soon followed by a full-time caseload of classes, because my motto has always been “Go big or go home.” Chaos was what I was used to, and this sure helped fill that requirement. Receiving As in my first few classes gave me the reminder that I was good at something. The year also brought hell to my son as the bullying continued. He started to get physically sick when we took the road that led to our house. No one wanted to help. The way out was found with the loss of our home; taken by a fire that destroyed everything we owned. Life had to start over; there was no other option. The insurance company gave the option of rebuilding in the same spot or finding a house somewhere else. The choice was an easy one, and we found a house down the road (less than a half a mile) from where some of the worst physical abuse of my life occurred.

2012 brought strength. As the kids’ lives started to settle down in school, I began to find myself. For the first time in my life I was able to see how I had been treated. The fog from the gas lighting started to lift. I took the new found strength and purchased tickets to see Tom Petty live in concert in Orlando, Florida. My first time to see him and my first time on an airplane. I didn’t know it then, but this would be one of the major stepping stones of my healing journey. If a lifelong dream could come true, anything could. I held on to that belief as the journey continued. The year also included a shakeup in my career. As my degree was getting closer and I learned more about ethics, I knew I did not want to stay somewhere I felt like I was settling. I left a job I held and had loved for six years to pursue something more; more money, more responsibility, more chaos.

2013 changed my life, maybe even saved it. As I learned who I was and what I didn’t need to deal with I knew what and who I didn’t want in my life. The year brought another Tom Petty concert, this time in Saratoga Springs, New York. It brought new friends, courage, and more strength than I knew I could handle. Three days before graduation my now ex-husband was arrested and removed from the home for physically assaulting me. The arrest gave me the protection I needed to get the divorce papers started, and set the motion for a safe life for my kids, pets, and myself. Safety did not come right away, but I knew I never had to allow him to put his hands on me or the kids again.

2014 was the year I got my name back! The divorce was finalized on May 30th. My first time at Fenway Park happened on August 31, 2014 to see my third Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert. This was the year I also started writing my memoir. I wrote 25,000 words and had to stop. I knew I couldn’t write my truth while my mom was alive. It had always been my job to protect everyone else’s feelings…this was no different.

2015 changed my status from lifetime Vermonter. A move I never thought I would make moved me across the river to New Hampshire. This was the year I started on my healing journey. A friend told me I needed to clean my third eye…I didn’t know what she meant, but I knew who to ask. I met with Sali Crow, which started the process of uncovering years of my buried trauma. Through this process it made sense to meet with a therapist. There was way too much to leave unattended. This was also the year my world went black, crashed around me, when my youngest daughter told me her father had been molesting her. Suddenly, I was that seven year old girl who was being molested again. While I protected my child, the hurt, anger and rage seared my skin as I thought about my seven year old self, and how my mom blamed me for the abuse…how she watched the abuse happen right in front of her. This nightmare sent me into a deep depression, and brought back every unresolved issue I ever faced in life. This was the year I found out what I was made of.

2016 put me in a position to learn Reiki, so I could continue on my healing journey, and help my children with theirs. It was the year I was able to see and acknowledge the abuse and trauma my mom caused me. I took a step back, and put some distance between us, so I could began healing old wounds. It was also the year I felt at peace with my gram’s death. On April 20th, ten days after the seventh anniversary of my gram’s death, my mom took her last breath. I was able to be by her side when she left this world. I was also able to tell her that I forgave her (and I meant it). The last words she spoke to me were, “I love you.” And for the first time in my life, I believed her. After my mom died, I sat at my computer and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I finished the first draft of my memoir by June, submitted it to an editor and waited. When it returned I read through the corrections, but I didn’t have it in me to go back to those places I needed to go. I was emotionally exhausted. My reward for completing a life long dream was an overnight trip to New York City to see Mudcrutch. I was the closet I had ever been to Tom Petty, and the night was magical. A small venue with acoustic music, that was a trip I am grateful for.

2017 brought the time I needed to rewrite my memoir. It also brought a trip to Nashville, TN to see Tom Petty with some online friends I had been talking with for years, who understood my love of the band. It also brought four more concerts. Two of them with front row seats, and a few guitar picks from the band (and Dana), one tossed right from Tom’s hand after he finished playing Free Fallin’. My memoir was published in September, and my book launch party was scheduled for October 20th, Tom’s birthday…October 2nd brought heartache when we learned Tom passed away. I was not sure how I would get through the event, but I pressed on, and honored the man who help save my life so many times with his words. The year finished out with a proposal from the only man who had ever shown me love and respect.

2018 was stated off in an airplane headed to Los Angeles, California to appear on the Dr. Phil show. I had been lead to believe we were going to be talking about my memoir, but soon learned that not to be true. My sister, step-father and I talked about the sexual abuse we experience as children. He admitted the abuse he had done to my sister, although in a twisted, victim blaming way, but denied what he had done to me. This experience brought many things with it. Clarity, healing and understanding. It also brought a trip to Tennessee where I spent a week at Onsite in their Healing Trauma workshop. This would not have been something I ever would have been able to do for myself, and it gave me the understanding of how many people there are who know what it’s like to live a life of trauma. I understood that I am not alone. And for the first time in my life, I understood my strength.

2019 introduced me to EMDR therapy, and helped me process many of the traumas that left me with PTSD. Luckily, I responded well to this type of therapy and it helped mend many years of hurt and self doubt. I had many break through in my sessions. It was the year I married a man who has loved me and never hurt me emotionally or physically. It also helped inspire me to help others share their stories and bring awareness to domestic violence. The year ended with the loss of our sweet dog, Belvedere, who taught me that the love was worth the pain.

After going through the years and events, it is easy for me to see I am not the person I used to be. I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. The healing journey is one that does not end as life twists and turns. I look forward to the years ahead to see what adventures and lessons they have in store. Here is to the next ten years.