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

February: Self-Love: The First Step in Preventing Domestic Violence

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What is self-love? Doesn’t sound like a hard question, right?

When someone has lived in chaos and trauma, self-love is not something that is learned. In fact, it is furthest from reality.

You’re worthless.

You’re nothing without me.

You’re a waste of space.

Have you looked at yourself lately?

When you hear the same things over and over again, you begin to believe it. How could you not? Subliminal and not so subliminal messages are being fed to you on a daily basis. How can you stop the negative self-talk, when you do not have any other frame of reference. You use all the strength you have just to make it to the next day, there is nothing left to fight the thoughts that make up who you are. How can you love someone who seems unlovable?

When someone told me I had to love myself in order to love others my defense went up. I was angry at the thought. How dare they say that to me. How dare they tell me I have to love myself. In that moment it was an impossible ask. I was not in a place that I felt I deserved love. I thought it was my job to love and take care of others. I did not even make it on my list of priorities.

The next time someone said this to me, I took a step back. Maybe there was something to this. I watched others around me, and noticed our differences. I looked for small ways I could try to put myself first. The small steps pushed me to grad school, and that was where the real magic happened.

Each month I felt myself come a little more out of the haze of the illusions that surrounded me. The more steps I took out of the fog, the more I was able to see how I wanted to be treated by others. Before this, I didn’t think I had a choice. If someone wanted to take advantage of me, I didn’t say no. When I started to see my worth the people around me didn’t like it. It wasn’t as easy to push me around like they used to. I slowly learned how to say no.

Self-love was a long process for me. I had years of reprogramming. Years of clearing out the spaces that had been filled with violence and fear. The excuses poured in from every direction. The what if’s filled the air.

Some days I was able to push them under the surface, while other times I wasn’t as successful. The fear and doubt won. But, I didn’t give up. I kept trying to fight my way through the thick muck of self-loathing and self-doubt to the land of self-love.

Abusers use these weaknesses they see in us. They feed off of our self-doubt, and assure us we are all the bad things we can conger up in our minds. Self-love takes our power back. When we don’t believe the awful things we used to tell ourselves any longer, we won’t believe when they say them either. When they put their hands on us, we know we don’t deserve it. We know we are worth more. We are worthy of love; our love. We are worthy of safe love. We are worthy of happiness.

We. Are. Worthy.

Do you have a story of your self-love journey you would like to share? I’m looking to share stories of self-love this month. Send me a mesasage at contact@jessicaaikenhall.com if you would like to share your self-love story. The best weapon against domestic violence is education and sharing our stories.

We will make a difference. One voice at a time.

Can you think of ways you practice self-love? I’d love to hear about them! I’ll share some ideas in the next blog.

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#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#YouAreNotAlone

#LoveYourself

#StrengthInNumbers

#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.

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#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#AwarenessIsKey

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Child abuse, Domestic Violence, gas lighting, healing, Hope, Sexual abuse, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Jessica’s Story

A small piece of my story:

As a child I grew up in a home full of abuse. My dad was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive to my mom. I remember waking up to the sound of their fighting and sneaking out of my room to watch, to make sure he didn’t kill her. He also threatened to kill my mom, brother, and me. The most fear I had ever experienced was when my mom finally left him. I keep my eyes open, looking over my shoulder every time I was outside, wondering when he was going to shoot me. I was six years old.
As an adult, I repeated the cycle in my own home. My ex-husband started with psychological abuse, slowing killing my spirit, and taking any self-worth I had left away. He used my past to hold my hostage. The words turned physical for the first time when I was pregnant with my daughter. As I held my 20-month son, he put his hands around my neck and as he squeezed, he told us he was going to kill me and cut up my body and dump it in the river, saying, “No one would even notice you were missing.” Still holding my son, he pushed us to the ground and would not let us leave. He tried to get my son out of my arms, but my son would not let go of me as he screamed. This happened because he found out I was planning on leaving him. After this event, I felt that if I tried to leave again, we would have been killed.
He said no one else would ever love me, and I was lucky he did. He took control of the finances, even though I earned the money, and made sure I did not have access to the things that I needed. He opened up credit cards in my name and maxed them out, so not only did I not have access to my money, I also did not have credit. He created a situation where I had to depend on him, and reminded me that I was nothing without him. As my self-esteem made its way to the surface, he would find ways to push it away. I had no real support system, and did not dare tell people what was happening. I was scared what else would happen if I told anyone.
Through all of the abuse, I never called the police, not until he did. He called the police one afternoon and told them to arrest me for being a “whore.” When he did that, the police saw how dangerous he was. It was then that I knew they would believe me, and help me. The next time he put his hands on me, I called the police. He was arrested, and I was granted a protection order. He did violate that, and bullied me into dropping the order, telling me it was just a piece of paper and it wouldn’t protect me. I did what he told me, and suffered his abuse, control and manipulation even while the divorce proceeded on.
We did not break free from his abuse fully until my youngest daughter disclosed to me that he had been sexually abusing her. Learning this made me fear for our lives. I was convinced he would kill me for trying to protect my daughter. We now have a protection order keeping him away from us, and allowing us to heal the years of abuse.
I am happy to say I am happily married to a sweet, gentle man. Who, after six years together, has never called me a name other than Jessica. I know I am worth love and safety. I am teaching my children what love looks like, and what a healthy relationship is. I will do everything in my power to make the cycle of domestic violence end with me. I wrote a detailed, honest account of the abuse I survived in my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy, to try to help others see that they are not alone. The link to my book is: http://a.co/72mQ7KJ

Photo Courtesy of: Jourdan Buck Photography

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, gas lighting, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Maria’s Story

” I met this guy that I thought was the greatest thing in the world, we started dating (he was 35, I was 19) I didn’t know any better besides the fact that I was legal age to date him. Little did I know his background! We lived in Philly at the time. He introduced me to his family and the shit show started!!!! When we were together we were fine but around people he was mentally abusive to me and as time went on he started to beat me physically. I blamed it on the drinking, he was a bad drunk. Every time he drank I was getting my ass beat! At one point I finally left him, He found me and began stalking me! He went to my job and begged me every day to come back and told me how sorry he was. He made me lose my job because he wouldn’t stay away from my job… I gave him a second chance. We had a child together thinking things would change for the better… It did for a short time, but not only was he drinking he was using heavy drugs. He would leave us for days, if not weeks at a time. He would spend all the money on drugs or alcohol. I stuck it out because he would tell me “you will never find anyone like me” and “no one would want me”. He would call me fat and ugly and that he was the best thing that ever happened to me… At one point he got me pregnant again, we moved to Florida with his sister thinking we could rebuild our family and hoping he would stop drinking and doing drugs..he didnt.. I was pregnant with our second child and he puts me in jail….yes the father of our child puts me in jail 7 months pregnant with our child because he told the cops I hit him….(which i didnt) he then holds my oldest child against me for a couple of months as im pregnant and homeless with our other child living in a shelter thats infested with bed bugs. (that went on for like 3 months) He finally lets me come back, he starts calling me names- I’m a piece of shit, I’m worthless no good mother and the mental abuse goes on.. Never has he stopped with hitting me.. Ok fast forward to a couple of months later I have my daughter and we move back to the worst part of philly you can think of. This place was beyond ghetto…. again he leaves us alone at a house in a ghetto neighborhood again for days at a time (probably doing drugs) or god only knows what! One snowy day he went to “work” and I thought he took my phone I was done with his shit. So I went to his work with my kids to try to find my phone so I can leave him and he said to me “I dont have your phone” I lost my shit on him and he calls the cops and got my two kids ripped out of my hands. DCYF took my kids….he thought he was going to get the kids back that following Monday. That was the last straw.. I left him, got my life together, got my kids back, and never looked back!!!! It was hard. But I did it!! Now my kids dont even know who he is and have haven’t talked to him since!!! I am now married to the greatest guy in the world and thank God everyday I found him!!!!”

Thank you, Maria, for sharing your story.

You are strong!

You are brave!

You are a survivor!

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Child abuse, Domestic Violence, gas lighting, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Jen’s Story

“When I was 17, I met him online and he asked me out over and over. I finally agreed to go, but I knew the first day he wasn’t for me. I found out he had schizophrenia & was no longer medicated. That night he insisted he would pick me up the next day. Half of me was worried I was judging and being mean, thinking “no thanks” and the other half was kinda worried what could happen if I said no. From that day he wanted to be with me every day. Within 2 wks he had already started yelling and blaming me for stupid things, but his roommate would stand up for me…but soon, I’d be on my own. We moved in to our own place 2 months after meeting. That’s when things really fell apart. He would get angry and throw scissors and knives at me, scream and swear, call me names, threaten me, and turn the whole apartment upside down. I was never allowed to go with my friends, he’d even get mad if I talked to my mom too much. One night I woke up to him standing over me in bed with a gun pointed at my face. He thought I was cheating and he was going to make it so nobody could have me. I was terrified & I was stuck there. My brother died tragically and my boyfriend was so mean to me because men he didn’t know would hug me, that my older brother had to tell him to leave the funeral home and not come back. Shortly after that, my family showed up and moved me out. I went back, he was mentally ill and threatening to kill himself…I just knew I could help him! After all, his family wouldn’t. His dad was a decent person, he was well off, but lived 4hrs away and had nothing much to do with us, and his mom was a drug addicted prostitute who only made life harder on everyone. Finally one day, I had enough and we broke up. He moved to his mothers. THEN… I found out I was pregnant. I decided to do the right thing and tell him…surely a baby would fix them all!!! Boy was I wrong!! At 19yrs old, living on half my heart, fighting to have my baby despite the doctors saying I would die and now having to put up with mother and son making every day hard. Him always screaming, even kicking the back of my chair and sending me flying. My son came in the world, we almost lost him as an infant..and I could see, I was on my own. I mostly let my boyfriend sleep in the daytime so my son and I would be ok. When he was awake he was always mad at us..or someone…or something. At one point my son was a baby, and my Ex was mad that my sister in laws family had more money then us and he lost it. He held me and my son at gun point. He wouldn’t let me out of the house and he wouldn’t even let me make a bottle for my son. He progressively got more out of control. The last straw was when he got mad at me, I don’t even know why and decided himself we were done. I thought I hit the jackpot…until he told me that I wasn’t moving on. In fact, I was going to die…and I could chose how. He could pour gas on me and set me on fire or he could hang me with a noose. I knew my son needed me, I knew I had to survive. I quickly started telling him how much I loved him and wanted him, it was my only option if I wanted to live through the night. It worked. The next day he left for work & I knew I had to take my chances if I wanted to live to see the next day, and I called my parents. They came and got us and we never looked back.

I swore I would never be treated badly again… I moved on, a couple years later I met the man of my dreams. He treated me and my son like royalty. I quickly was pregnant, just like he wanted but I had a lot of complications. I was hospitalized for 10weeks until my daughter was born. He took a leave from work and stayed by my side, for the entire time, hours away from our families. He would cry because he missed my son. He was perfect…until we took my daughter home and got engaged. Then the real him came out. He was so mean to me, but I convinced myself I could deal with it, I wanted a family for my kids and he was only mean to me…he wasn’t as bad as my ex so it would be ok. Until Good Friday, 2011. My dad was dying in the hospital…it was 5 weeks until our wedding, and my friends decided they wanted to get together at my house and see how was I was…little did I know, my world was about to crash. They showed up and asked me to sit. They called my son to the room and they told me that he had came to them while I was with my dad. He had bruises and had reported that my fiancé was hitting him…he had even punched him in the face! He was 8 years old!! He had thrown my 1yr old daughter at a wall…. she was his own blood!! The list would go on and my heart would shatter more. I called the police and he was arrested. My children haven’t seen him since, I will protect them with everything I have. I will never understand how two men who were so very different but both swore to love me, could be so abusive…how they could hurt me and my children. That’s not love. We didn’t deserve that. Thankfully, now our life is great. We have moved past that. My son is 16 and has spent the last 8yrs or so attending rallies and events to end domestic violence. He tells his story, he has no reason to be ashamed. My daughter has grown to know the man of my dreams as her Dad. I’m completely in love with a man who will drop everything for me, OUR kids, & my mother…he’s always there. I thought I wasn’t worthy of this type of love, but I know now that I am, it’s just too bad they didn’t know it. They are missing out on some extraordinary kids, and that’s their fault, not mine.”

Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story. I am so glad you found true happiness, and you and your children are safe and loved.

You are brave.

You are strong.

You are important.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, gas lighting, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence: Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is sometimes harder to recognize than other forms of abuse. For me, it was becasue the abuse started off slow. In the beginning he would start off making jokes at my expense, and later made passive aggressive remarks, later turning into psychological torture. It changes so gradually, that it is often hard to notice, even as it escalates.

I heard from one woman that she didn’t have a story to share, because he never hit her. She went on to tell of some of the controlling and hateful words that were spoken to her, and as she heard herself say the things that had been said to her, she understood the power those words had.

Just because someone does not place their hands on you, or leave a bruise on your body, it does not mean they did not harm you. Words have so much power behind them. Words alone can destroy a person. Through all of the abuse I lived through, the scars I am still healing come from the damage done from someone else’s words.

Some signs you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship include when a partner:

  • Calls you names, insults you or continually or criticizes you
  • Refuses to trust you and acts jealous or possessive
  • Tries to isolate you from family or friends
  • Monitors where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Demands to know where you are every minute
  • Traps you in your home or prevents you from leaving
  • Uses weapons to threaten to hurt you
  • Punishes you by withholding affection
  • Threatens to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
  • Damages your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Humiliates you in any way
  • Blames you for the abuse
  • Accuses you of cheating and is often jealous of your outside relationships
  • Cheats on you and then blames you for his or her behavior
  • Cheats on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatens to cheat again
  • Attempts to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  • Tells you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them

I have lived through every one of the above examples, plus many more. After a while of hearing the same thing, repeatedly, it is difficult to believe anything else. The abuser knows this, and intentionally gains control by stealing your self worth. Little by little, you begin to become the person they say you are. You lose sight of who you are, and what you believe. You become what they tell you. You see what they see. You are a slave to their hatred.

All it takes is a glimmer of hope to start to see things differently. One kind word from a stranger. One look in the mirror, to remember who you really are. Layer by layer, you start to uncover the truth, your truth, and you see. You see the lies that have been fed to you. You see the damage that has been done, and you take the first step. Sometimes that first step is all you are able to take, but you know you deserve more.

Not everyone is able to see, or take that first step. But, if you are, take it. Take it as slowly, or as quickly as you safely can, and rebuild your reality. You deserve to be loved. You deserve to be respected. You deserve to see the truth.

Be patient with the ones who are not able to see yet, or ever. Breaking free isn’t easy. The timing has to be just right. And, as outsiders, we don’t know when that is. Just be a friend. A safe space. No judgements, just love.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

Domestic Violence, gas lighting, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

The Truth About Domestic Violence

It’s not pretty. It’s downright ugly. It affects lifetimes. Yours, theirs, and ours. You can break free, but it always has a hold, somewhere, deep down. When you least expect it, the old thoughts and beliefs shine through. There are times when you think there is no way out. These thoughts will win the struggle. Is there ever quiet? Do the thoughts they fed you ever really leave?

Fear floats around, circling every free space, and slowly seeps in. Will you ever be able to walk down the street without looking over your shoulder? Will your voice ever speak without a slight quiver, as you wait to be called yet another name? Will the self-doubt ever fully leave?

Why is it that for every step forward there are so many steps backwards? A weight as heavy as a sack of bricks drags behind as steps forward are taken, slowing us down, but never fully stopping us. The pull backward causes friction in the world around us. People don’t understand why we can’t let go. They don’t know the fear that we have grown accustomed to. They don’t understand that after hearing years of the same insults and put downs it’s not that easy to shake out of our heads. They see the smile, but they will never know the pain it hides.

They don’t understand why we can’t accept a compliment. They don’t get why we don’t see how amazing we really are. They don’t look into the same mirror that we do. A tainted mirror, showing us the monster they made us out to be. Not only did we hear the words that were spoken, now they are all we see. We blink our eyes a few times, and our true self emerges, only to be whisked away to the shadows. No, we are much too broken to see the truth, to see the beauty that everyone else sees.

This is our poison. The elixir they made us drink still circulates our cells. How could we not still believe these lies, when they became our reality?

“You’re such a fat slob.”

“No one will ever love you.

You’re worthless.”

“You’re crazy.

“You need me.

“You’ll never be anyone.”

“You don’t know how to have fun.”

“You’re a whore.”

“You’re lucky I love you.”

“The kids don’t even love you. They won’t miss you. No one will. They won’t even notice you are gone.”

The list is endless of the hurtful things you are made to believe about yourself. Your dreams disappear. What do you have to offer anyway? You give up. Withdraw from life. Withdraw from the people you love. You don’t deserve their love anyway. You put your head down, and you accept that this is your life. You see other couples, and you long for what they have. They look like they really love each other. Jealousy flushes your face as you imagine a life of happiness, a life of love. And then you remember. All the things he said come rushing back. Maybe he’s right.

The constant nag of the what ifs fill the silence. What if I had never went on that date? What if I never returned his call? What if I dumped him when I knew? What if I left him the first time he called me names? What if I had left him the first time he hit me? What if I was strong enough to see my worth?

What if he killed me? Or…what if killed becomes kills? What if I will be his prisoner for all eternity?

And that is when the anger kicks in. Rage.

No. He does not have that right to take any more from me than he already has.

No. He does not get to haunt my thoughts.

No. He will not destroy the hope that I have left.

The what ifs are just a product of his abuse, of all of the abuse I have ever endured. The what ifs keep me paralyzed, and I refuse to give in. I refuse to stand still. I refuse to remain quiet.

Unlike many others, I am free. I was able to make my escape once he was arrested. And, I am in counseling to work through the PTSD his abuse caused me. I will have good days, and I will have bad days. I will honor the lessons, and learn from the life of Hell I lived. I will turn my anger into action. I will not be silenced. I will fight back with information. I will share my truth, and I will not hold anything back. Secrets have no power once they are exposed.

I will speak until my voice stops trembling. I will go to counseling until I can see who I really am, not who I was made to believe I am. I will allow myself to get angry, and sad. I will feel everything, and anything. I will not minimize the trauma I went through.I will work through the guilt I feel for not leaving sooner.

I will not stop being me. I am a survivor. I am a fighter. I am an advocate.

My voice will be the voice for all others. My voice will be for the ones who cannot get away, or never did. My voice is strength, and my best weapon. I will turn my anger into good. I will be who I was never expected to be. I will learn to be my best self. I will shake the words I was forced to believe out of my head. I will see myself as others do. I will love myself. I will cherish the real, genuine, safe, honest love that I found, because I am worthy of it all.