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 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 email@example.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.
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.
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 was with my bf for about 3-4 years total, off and on. The whole relationship was rocky to begin with. I never figured it out, then one day it clicked. He didn’t want to work, help support anything. Everything was to make him happy. My father was dying and he had to be stuck to my side to “be there for me”. I didn’t want him there and neither did my father but he had to follow me. Out of respect for dad I couldn’t go see him or I’d have a shadow, and disrespect him while I was there. Anyone I was close to left me. They didn’t like him and I couldn’t see why. We have a child together. He used him as leverage to keep me when I finally had enough of feeling depressed and lonely and never good enough. Told him I didn’t love him. He told me I’d never have my son and he’d make sure of it. I stayed. I tried to leave him for 1.5 years before I was finally able to. The last few months when I finally made the decision I had to leave regardless what he said. We fought. Told me I’d never be good enough for anyone else and no one would want me. I’m a useless, waste of air. Said he wished he was a female so he could beat he sh*t out of me and get away with it. Literally push came to shove sometimes. I’m 5’3 and he is 6’4. We were nose to nose a couple times. He’s told me I should kill myself and wreck my car and make everyone happier not to deal with me. A few days later the brakes went in my car. He called Child Protective Services on me a few times, and brought me to court numerous times trying to make me look unfit. For my birthday I went out with my so called close friend. I ended up being drugged, carried out back of the bar and left there. I’m not sure who or how I got ahold of him to get me but he came. Child Protective Services woke me up the next day. Said I was accused of being an alcoholic. Come to find out my friend was fooling around with him and helped him drug me and make me look unfit. I slept with a knife under my pillow for a long time. The last couple court dates I had an escort out to my car. The court guards actually asked me because they seen him hanging around outside. Before I got out of the house I had at least 2-3 CPS visits and at least one court date started. Since then, I moved back to my mothers house. Got a better stable job. A man who picked up the pieces and helped me grow. He built a house for us. Things have done a complete 180 for me. I feel loved and wanted again. Something for the longest time I didn’t think I was allowed to feel.”
It started out with small things early in our relationship. Firstly, small decisions being made without really asking for my input, even though I always liked to include my partner’s opinion in everything we wanted to do in our plans or future needs. Decisions like buying items that weren’t budgeted for, or making arrangements to do certain things without asking if I was available (from work mostly).
These things were no big deal at the time, as we were a couple and loved each other right? We would work through any issues that came up in our lives together, just like other couples did.
This was also the beginning of what ultimately was my denial of a serious underlying problem with our relationship.
We ended up having five children – the first of which was born only two weeks after I left hospital due to major cancer surgery. This was a very difficult time for both of us, especially for my then fiance, whom was 9 months pregnant and also having a partner that might not have come home from the hospital.
The small issues from the past weren’t so obvious, but they were still there, as I just was too unwell to see it at the time.
Fast forward to the mid 2000’s and the real abuse started. This was mostly in the form of psychological blackmail, when it came to relationship issues like sex, money or decisions about our family’s future. While I was by no means the perfect partner or father, I was always 100% committed to my wife and family, and would never consider doing anything to put that at risk. It seems this was known by my partner and used against me.
Eventually, bigger decisions were made without my input at all. Such as my partner travelling interstate without telling me, and leaving our five children in the care of friends. The first I knew about these events, was when I would receive a phone call from those friends to ask when I was picking them up that day. I worked 2.5 hours drive away at the time, so this was not so simple. I was told by the friends that my partner had told them that I would be picking them up, while she went interstate. I said I knew nothing about this.
When she returned, there would be sex for favours, or to otherwise try and make up for the past week. This was very a very common method of abuse in our relationship at the time. There was no real personal involvement from her, it was just her way of making sure things worked in her favour. I later learned about the cycle of abuse, and immediately recognised this behaviour as abuse.
Any questions about what my partner was doing were met with silence. Eventually, large sums of money were going missing from our accounts, a lot of miles were being put on the car, without any obvious reason for it. The kids were going hungry, the house wasn’t being kept, all the while I was working away trying to build a future for my family.
The end came with her weaponising the children, and essentially never having to deal with the emotional stuff that had occurred. This was very damaging to me, even though I had been through a lot already with cancer etc, and heavily relied on my partner to take part in the relationship.
Thank you, Rod, for sharing your story. You are strong. You are brave. You are not alone. Thank you for being one of the two men that shared for this project.
“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.
Economic abuse is another form of abuse and control, and can sometimes happen slowly enough you are unaware of what is happening. It can also be a deciding factor if a person can leave or not. For me, my abuser took my money, and then ruined my credit. I was the main source of income in the household, but had very little access to the funds. My check would be deposited into our joint account, and before I had time to pay the bills the money would be gone. I spent countless hours rearranging things and planning what bill needed to be paid. If checks were used, sometimes the money for that check would be spent before the check hit the account, making a mess of everything.
The one thing my gram always told me was how important it is to have good credit. When I met my abuser, even though I was only 21, I had excellent credit. I had a credit card that I used, only to pay it off at the end of the month. I did not have a car loan, or any other monthly payments. I had a small savings account as well. When I became pregnant early into the relationship I was the one who had to pay for everything the baby was going to need. Soon my savings were gone, and my credit card bill was more than I could pay off each month.
When we moved in together, the first thing he wanted to do was add his name to my bank account. As soon as he had access to my money it was gone. The money he was spending was not being spent on the baby on the way, but for porn, beer, and cigarettes. The money disappeared quicker than I could understand. When I asked questions about the spending, or even sharing the expenses for the baby, he made me feel guilty for even asking.
While I was at work he would sign up for new credit cards in my name since he now had access to my social security number, and all of the needed information. Since I was at work, he would get the mail, and before I knew it, the cards would be maxed out.
When I took rolled change, and birthday money to the bank to open a savings account for my son, I mistakenly left the paperwork out where he could find it. Before long, my son’s account was empty. As the kids got older and had money from gifts, he would “borrow” the money, but never paid them back. He started this with my gram too, asking to use her credit card to do nice things for me (like flowers after a fight, or a hotel room away with the kids), and never paid her back either.
During our relationship I received two inheritances, totaling around $30,000. I wanted to use the money to pay off my debt, and buy a laptop so I could start writing. Before I knew it, the money was gone, and I still had my debt and no laptop.
Without access to money or credit, I was stuck. The house we owned was in my name, and if I left I would have to pay for the house and an apartment, but there was no way I could do that. This was all part of his power and control over me and the kids.
Some information about economic or financial abuse follows:
Economic or financial
abuse is when an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area
of finances. This abuse can take different forms, including an abusive partner:
Giving an allowance and closely watching how you spend it or demanding receipts for purchases
Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it
Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts
Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work
Maxing out credit cards in your name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin your credit score
Stealing money from you or your family and friends
Using funds from children’s savings accounts without your permission
Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
Making you give them your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns
Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities/shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, or medical care and medicine