#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.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Depression, Domestic Violence, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Violet’s Story

“When I was 15, I started dating a man that was 24. After six months in the relationship, I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I wanted to be able to do things with friends, and be a normal high school girl. When I tried to breakup with him, he got angry and wanted to know who the other guy was. I assured him there was no other guy, and told him I would stay with him. I stayed with him for another five years. We did not go on dates, or do anything fun. I missed out on all of my high school years, and spent every night at home watching TV and movies with him.

When I was 20, I met another guy, and soon realized I wanted to be with him. When I told my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t love him anymore, he told me he would kill himself if I left him. The next day we went for a ride in his truck and we parked in a parking lot to talk. As soon as he turned off the truck, he opened up the console and pulled out a new pistol. He said he bought the gun to kill me, and then himself if I left him. He told me that if he couldn’t have me, no one could.

I stayed with him awhile longer, until the thought of being killed was better than the thought of living the rest of my life with him. I worked the courage up to tell him I was leaving, got in my car and drove away. I went to my best friend’s house to tell her what I had done, and she told me I needed to hide.

I found another friend’s house to hide at, and heard that he had gone to my best friend’s house looking for me. He banged on the door, yelling and screaming, until they called the police on him. I stayed with my other friend that night, and then went to the police station. They sent me to Umbrella, where they helped me fill out paperwork to get a restraining order. After waiting all day for the judge to look at the order, it was denied. The court said since he hadn’t done anything yet, they couldn’t grant the order.

I went back to the state police barracks, where a state trooper met me. When I told him my story, he said he would issue my ex boyfriend a no trespass order for my place of work, college, and my house. He said he would do his best to scare him off.

That worked for awhile. Then I started getting flowers sent to my work, with love notes. I threw them away as soon as I saw them. He would call my work to try to harass me. Then I noticed he started following me. I would have to find a different route almost everyday to keep him from following me. I was on guard all the time. Then, it would die down, and I would stop looking over my shoulder. That was when I was at the car wash, cleaning out my car, and when I looked up, he blocked my car in, so I couldn’t leave. He came running at me, calling me a whore, and told me I ruined his life. He kept yelling and calling me names, when I finally got in my car and drove out of his trap.

I was so scared after that, knowing that I never knew where he would be, and I never felt safe. I covered all of my windows in my house, and checked my locks several times a day to make sure I hadn’t forgot to lock them. After awhile, the stalking stopped, and I was able to live my life without the fear, although, at times, I still scan parking lots and have the feeling that someone is going to kill me.

It has been 20 years, and I am still alive. His threat to kill me, and himself was just a tactic to keep me from leaving. I am now happily married, and I feel safe with my husband.

Thank you, Violet, for sharing your story.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are loved.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, healing, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Amanda’s Story

“I wanted to help him see the good qualities in him that I saw. I tried to save him, to rescue him and I guess to change him. It was much easier to rescue other people than to deal with the horrors of my childhood trauma. The relationship started great he had quit smoking, landed a great job, and was looking into volunteer firefighting. We moved into our place five months into the relationship when I was three months pregnant. It was an exciting time but also an eye-opening time. He would say degrading remarks about my family and me. I felt isolated and alone. We were leaving our last parenting class and he asked where we were going, I responded straight. That was the wrong answer; he said: “I’m going to crash this jeep into the back end of those cars.” The day before our baby shower, he asked if I wanted to end up like the woman in town who was found murdered by her husband in their backyard. I was so afraid he would kill me after our son was born, but I had no one to talk to. The birth of our son was traumatic and took a toll on my physical and mental health. I struggled with postpartum anxiety and depression. I was suicidal, and he “If you want to kill yourself, go ahead the baby, and I are going for a walk.” When I finally did reach out for help at my six-week postpartum appointment, the lady from the crisis unit said she wanted me to get better and realize my worth so I would be strong enough to leave. I was still in denial that I was in an abusive relationship; I would make up excuses for him. The final straw was when I was in the car on the highway pumping milk for our son; he asked if I had anything to cover up with, I said I didn’t, but no one could see anything. He said, “I’m going to slam your head against the dashboard to knock you out.” A month and a half after that incident, I was in a domestic violence shelter getting the much-needed education and support.”

Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your story.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are important.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, healing, Hope, Sexual abuse, sexual assault, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Devan’s Story

“I was warned about my abuser, but I didn’t believe it. I was swept off my feet, only I never got put back down, I got put into a box. The abuse was mental and emotional. He controlled everything: money, outings, get togethers. He made me feel incompetent of doing anything so I would have to depend on him. Making small remarks to people, “She doesn’t know how to cook, so I do it.” Of I had a problem that was related to him, it was never his fault, but somehow mine instead, and that I was acting crazy. thats when I stopped using my voice. He’d get mad at me for saying no to sex. He would try talking me into it, I’d still say no. he then would start making me feel guilty, and how its my fault for saying no. I eventually just stopped and would just let him have sex with me for the sake of not feeling emotionally hurt. I had daily anxiety and crippling panic attacks at least once a week. This ongoing nightmare was affecting our child as well.

I am now divorced from my abuser and have sole custody of our child. I found my voice, and self-worth. I’m dating a wonderful ma who loves all of me, and whom my child adores. He swept me off my feet, and put me back down where I stand freely next to him, as an equal.”

Thank you, Devan, for sharing your story.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are powerful.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Laura’s Story

“I was introduced to him by my sister. He was her husband’s cousin. We were both 24. Maybe I was tired of the dating game because I ignored the first sign that I should not date him. I learned that he had been in prison for two years for dealing heroin. I had never been involved with anyone who had a record.

It became clear right off that he had a problem. Not heroin, alcohol. He could maintain a normal life… working, paying bills, etc but his spare time was spent getting black out drunk with his friends. It was not uncommon for him to disappear for whole weekends with no notice, pass out on my living room floor or call me drunk from a bar and pass out while on the phone. Did I see this as another warning sign? Nope. I tried to “save” him instead. Driving 30 minutes at 2am to the bar where he was passed out, trying to stop him from going out, being his designated driver. That’s what I did.

I can’t tell you when the abuse started. I guess it started with him being drunk and saying things like “fuck you”, “go fuck your hand”, “you’re a zero”, even making up taunting songs that he would sing up the stairs or outside of the door I had locked myself behind. Did I see that this was another warning sign? No, I stayed longer. Maybe the problem was me?

I also couldn’t say when the abuse escalated. There was a television thrown at me, remotes thrown, an oven door smashed in a fit of rage, a kick here and there. Did I leave? No, I had a child with him.

During the pregnancy, he was still going out with friends and drinking uncontrollably. It was not uncommon to not hear from him for a whole weekend and then find out he had been jailed for a DUI. I never knew because when he told the officer he wanted to call me, he gave them his phone number instead of mine. This was only the first DUI. The next one came when the baby was an infant. He didn’t even try to call me that time. He had a friend pick him up and left the citation on the bathroom counter for me to find.

I was raising the baby by myself. He was never home much or sober. I remember begging him one night to please do one night feeding because I was so exhausted. He just looked at me and said “no”. Even when he was around I was scared that something would happen to the baby if I left him alone with him. I knew not to ever let him drive him anywhere.

When my son was two years old is when I finally got the courage to end it. I pushed away my fear of “ruining” my family, making it so that my son didn’t have a two parent household, worrying that I couldn’t support us on my income, worrying knowing that we would have to go to court, worrying that I would never meet a man that would want to be with a mother or take on a family.

I left on January 1, 2012. I moved my son and I into a rental house in another town. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. He never begged me to stay, he never tried to work it out. He actually didn’t come home the day before moving day. He was drinking with his friends.

The apologies came a couple weeks later. Begging me to come home. Promising to stop drinking, to be a better father, to do more as a family, to not treat me badly. This time I knew better. I never went back.

You may think this is the end of the story and that it has a happy ending. That wouldn’t be accurate though. Since we shared a child, he was still in my life. The abuse took on a new form. Now it involved court battles, attorneys, him showing up at my house drunk trying to pick up our son. He tried kicking in my front door, he kicked dents in my car. He would start to not return my son to me when the court order stated. I lived in constant fear.

Nine years later, he still finds ways to abuse and control me. If I don’t answer my phone, he will repeatedly call sometimes over twenty times in a row. He will send text messages calling me a bad mom, saying my son doesn’t want to live with me, I’m a bitch, etc.

This may sound like a depressing story. That I never truly escaped the abuse. I’m here to say that it is not. My son didn’t have to grow up in an abusive household, he didn’t have to watch abuse take place in front of his eyes. I found a man that did want a “mother” and a family. We are married with two more children and another on the way. He loves being a father, he loves having a family, he loves our son, he loves me.”

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your story.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are loved.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticViolenceAwareness, Domestic Violence, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Walk For Justice

Umbrella is the local Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, it is where my mom went for help with at least two of her partners in my lifetime, and where I went for two of my abusive relationships.

The thing about domestic violence, is that it can run in the family. The cycle of abuse is passed down the family lines, and for many, it becomes their normal. Places like Umbrella help break that cycle. They offer resources and support to help end the domestic violence. And, they do it without judgement.

The first time my mom took my brother and I to Umbrella, was when my dad threatened to kill us. It wasn’t when he left us in bloody bruises. It wasn’t when he forced sex on her. It wasn’t when he threw a television set at my then 11 year old brother, who had just lost his father. It wasn’t when he would snap his belt off and take the metal buckle to our bare bottoms. It wasn’t when his rage filled the house with screams, and swears, and terror. It was when he had a gun, and had a plan.

The advocates at Umbrella did not turn us away because my mom didn’t leave sooner. They didn’t turn us away because it was too scary. They gave us support, and connected us with the proper resources.

Seventeen years later, I raced to Umbrella, where my mom and sister were filling out a restraining order on my mom’s then husband. My sister had just disclosed her father had been sexually abusing her for the past seven years. That was what made my mom seek help. It wasn’t when I disclosed the sexual abuse that happened to me. It wasn’t when he called her worthless, fat or ugly. It wasn’t when he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t when he kicked our sweet, aging golden retriever. It was when the fear overpowered her. It was when the police arrested him at his work. Umbrella didn’t turn her away because he had done it to her other daughter. They didn’t make her feel bad for the times she didn’t walk away. They gave her and my sister a safe place, and helped them through the hard days.

When I was 19 and my ex-boyfriend who bought a gun just to kill me with if I left him started stalking me, they opened their doors to me. I couldn’t tell my family what was happening, because even with the history, they wouldn’t have supported me. The advocates at Umbrella were who I knew I could talk to, and be guided in the safe direction.

When my now ex-husband was arrested for chocking me, Umbrella advocates took my panicked call when I found out he was released in the late hours of the night. I couldn’t meet with anyone at that time, because I didn’t have anywhere for my kids to go, so we made a plan to meet in the morning. She made sure I was safe, and asked me to make sure my doors and windows were locked, and asked me to call back if I needed to get there before the morning.

The next morning, they welcomed me, and helped me complete the paperwork for the restraining order. They didn’t judge me because it took me so long to call the police. They didn’t make me feel like a bad mom because I hadn’t left sooner. They listened and offered compassion.

Three years after this, my youngest daughter disclosed to me that her dad had been sexually abusing her. After hearing her story, my first call was to Umbrella. The advocate listened through my tears and hyperventilating. She told me she had to call DCYF, and gave me the number to call as well. I went in the next day to fill out another restraining order. They did not send me away because I dropped the last order. They understood he had bullied me into telling the court I no longer felt afraid. They didn’t judge me because I let him manipulate and continue to abuse me, and my children. They gave me a safe place to get help when my world fell apart.

Over, and over again. Mistake, after mistake, they never withheld services to me, or my mom. They understood the layers of abuse, power, and control. They offered compassion, and support when I needed it most. They did not blame me, even when I blamed myself.

Often, the advocates see people in the most traumatic times in their lives. Fearing for their safety, and even their lives. Their gentle approach, and welcoming environment helped save my mom’s life, my life, and my children’s lives.

When I was asked to lead the candlelight vigil/moment of silence at the Walk for Justice, I didn’t hesitate. I knew I wanted to offer my support, and compassion, as they had done so many times for me, my family, and the community.

Below is a copy of what I said last night at the Walk for Justice:

Just a few years ago, the thought that I would be killed by my abuser took over most everything else. The reminder came each time another beautiful soul lost their life to violence. I was pulled into their story, grieving lives I never met, because that could have been me. Our stories are powerful, and we each have one-if not ours-someone we love. I vow to use my voice for those that lost theirs-or have not yet been able to find theirs. I invite you to share yours- as little- or as much as you are comfortable-to free yourself, and help others. Let our voices be the change that breaks the cycle and bring awareness. Let us be a light in the darkness, because as long as we keep talking, and advocating, we keep the spark of awareness lit. Tonight let us remember those taken too soon from us, hold a safe space for the ones that haven’t left yet, and solidarity for the ones who have.

Photo courtesy of Amy Ash Nixon
Photo courtesy to Sara Rouelle

If you or someone you love need help, please reach out to your local domestic violence support center. Please don’t feel ashamed because you’ve been there before. Please don’t stay in an unsafe situation because you don’t think they will understand. Please go. Please ask questions. Please read pamphlets if you’re not ready to talk. They will understand. They will not turn you away. They have heard and seen so much, and they have answers and listening ears. They have compassion, and most of all, they have hope.

Resources

If you or

someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, and you are ready for help,

please reach out to a domestic violence program in your area.

Umbrella- St.

Johnsbury, VT (802) 748-8645                            

Support

Center at Burch House- Littleton (800) 774-0544

Vermont Statewide

Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 228-7395

New

Hampshire’s Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline (866) 644-3574

National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233 or go to www.thehotline.org for live chat.

#DomesticViolenceAwareness

#DomesticVilolenceAwarenessMonth

#SpeakUpSpeakOut

#YouAreNotAlone

#YouAreLoved