“When I was three years old, my mom, brother, and I moved into a new home with my dad. I had not known my dad for long before this move, and I was not sure what to think of the change. The nice man he had shown me before the move changed overnight. My home became a place I didn’t want to be, and was no longer safe.
My dad and mom would yell and fight. It was rarely quiet inside our home. I developed migraines at a young age, and the noise became that much more painful. My mom would cry, and my dad would yell louder. He called her awful names, and if I was around, he called me them too.
When my mom yelled back, he would hit her. When I tried to stop him from hurting her, he would leave her alone long enough to take his belt buckle to my bare behind, and then go back to hurting her. At night the sound of their fights would wake me up, and I would tiptoe out of my room to watch, to make sure he didn’t kill my mom. I had to be very quiet, because if he saw me, he would beat me for getting out of bed.
My mom found a new man and began cheating on my dad. When she was invited to live with him, she told my dad she was leaving him. It was then that he first threatened to kill her, and us. For the next five years, my dad stalked my mom, and broke into our house to try to gather evidence to prove she was unfit and have me taken away from her. We did not stop being on guard until we got the news that he died, even then the PTSD from the abuse and never knowing where he was, or what he was going to do kept us as his prisoner.
The new man my mom moved us in with was not a safe choice, and he began abusing us, and the pets. My mom was unable to find a safe partner, and continued with this type of abuse each time she found a new partner. Growing up in this kind of environment, I never learned what a healthy relationship looked like.
I found my own unsafe men, and continued the cycle. The only thing that helped me see the pattern I was stuck in was when I started to see my own worth. When I knew I didn’t have to tolerate the abuse, I started to break the generational cycle of domestic violence. My hope is that my children will know what love looks and feels like, and they will know when to walk away.
It doesn’t have to be how it always was. A new life can start with you.”
Thank you, Jessie, for sharing your story. I am glad you know that loved doesn’t hurt. I am glad you are safe.
“We has met in 2000 via a college friend. He said all the right things, and made me feel love like none other before. Soon we were making plans for my move almost 1000 miles away to be closer to each other. After a month his lies began to unravel. He became possessive to the point that I was unable to leave my apartment without him or his mom. I knew no one, and he used that to his advantage. He would say I was “ignorant”, “insane”, and “no one wanted me”. I was “too fat” and “too disrespectful”. He took all my important papers, debit card, ID and Social Security card. This was to ensure I was unable to get away from him. He would scream at me at the drop of a hat. I never knew what would trigger him. One evening I cooked dinner just as he requested. I prepared his plate, and asked him what he would like to drink. He looked at me, didn’t respond and looked back at the tv. I set his plate down, and waited in the kitchen for a response. After 10 mins I asked again. He picked up the plate of food backed me against the wall, and screamed at me about the need to learn respect. He turned to walk away then turned back to me to smack me in the face with the plate of still hot food. He then dragged me by my arm to the door, and pushed me into the breezeway. I knocked on the door begging him to open the door. He told me I was not welcome in “his apartment “ (the apartment was in my name and he legally resided at his parents residence). I walked barefoot and bleeding to the complex office to call 911 fir help. The police arrived and had me walk to my building with them. Another cruiser was already at my apartment where he and his mother (who he called as was his usual pattern). The police were manipulated to believe I was the abuser, and though I was bleeding, burned and covered in bruises while he had not a scratch on him. The police told me to have the EMTs help me stop the bleeding. Once in the ambulance they took me to the hospital where I assumed I would be helped with my wounds however before I knew it I was in the Psych Ward. They had told the police I was suicidal and the wounds were from him trying to keep me from hurting myself. I was released after less then 8hrs, and his mother picked me up. She told me that I “needed to learn to behave myself, and do whatever he wanted”. Thankfully I was able to connect with a lady at church ( one of the only places I was allowed to go as long as his mother was monitoring me) whom helped me escape from him.
I know I am worthy of better. I am a beautiful person inside and out. I am not insane. I was strong enough to get out and away from him, BUT most of all I was strong enough to fight back through the use of the judicial system that failed me when I called for help. I have an order of protection which he violated 5 days after being given. He spent 75 days in jail, and was also charged with criminal threatening fir repeatedly saying how he would kill me in front if 5 local police officers. I had to fike the charges myself as the police were unwilling to do so on my behalf. Each day I get stronger. Each day I’m regaining my happiness.
This is a glimpse into my year long nightmare. Just know there us hope in the darkness. I’m living proof.”
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.
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.
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.
As I searched the TD Project Survivor Stories Facebook page, I knew I had to reach out to the founder. After talking with Kourtenay, I learned about what led her to start the TD project, and was moved by her desire to help others. Her story will also be shared as part of this project, because like many of us, domestic violence has touched her life. I encourage you to take a look at her Facebook page, and read the stories that have been shared. Her project covers all different types of trauma, and I am certain it will speak to you on some level.
“My story and purpose of this project . My story didn’t begin on March 16 , 2013 , it began far before that . March 16 , 2013 was only the spiral that lead to me coming out from other traumatic events .Most don’t know my story , many will be shocked . First and foremost I am not ashamed , and I am okay . March 16 , 2013 my father was shot multiple times along with his friend by his friends ex-boyfriend , who committed suicide shortly after , her two sons escaped through a window . That’s the thing with PTSD , it likes to hide, block , disassociate. It likes to tear you down blind you with depression and anxiety. My story began when I was 4 , I was ” touched ” by a family friend . It was one time , but not the last encounter I would have . At 15 I became an alcoholic, now that doesn’t happen with reason you could say I was dealt those cards as my family history has a long record of both substance abuse and alcoholism. I began to run away , bottle my feelings , my Mother tried her best with mental health facilities and rehab , but I ran . At 16 I was jumping house to house until I met a boy , he loved me and well I loved him ” teen love ” when I found out he was sleeping with someone else and threatened to leave him , he beat me , this happened numerous times , until one day I left while he was at work . He did save me in one way, I no longer needed to drink from the time I was with him . This only led to one unhealthy relationship to another, I didn’t know what love was or what it felt like . At 18 I worked at a restaurant ( my first time waitress) .Six months in I got had gotten fired for not properly ringing out add on salads , they had threatened me with law enforcement ( I never was properly trained working the computer system ) I thought I would need a lawyer, I never had gotten fired from a job , he took care of it ( I trusted him, he asked me to go to his office to sign paperwork and talk about what was going on . I was sexually assaulted , there was no paperwork . He instead have given me a gift certificate upon leaving , that week was followed by indirect threatening calls . I didn’t say a word for 10 years . I finally told my therapist when I was seeking help for dealing with PTSD . I would come home that night crying and told my husband ( no details ) he would be the second person. Then there was quite again until the Me Too movement where I felt triggered , again I went back to therapy but a sexual assault therapist . That was this year, where I would tell my mother what happened as well . It was suggested to get a lawyer before coming out but nobody would take my case. I am not ashamed , but I am scared and that’s okay, I don’t need to come out I just need to be okay with what happened to. I felt shame and disgusted for so long until this year . After my father was shot and killed in a double murder suicide , it brought on such intense feelings I even contemplated life itself . But these last 2 years I have found myself , I picked up a camera and well taught myself everything , it’s like I have came out of the darkness , I have found me again , I have found the light .A spiritual awakening. A few months ago while I lay wide awake I came up with this idea of empowering woman , it took a few weeks to get over the am I crazy part ( Lol ) but the idea wouldn’t leave my mind at night . I wanted to spread a message empowering one another , I wanted to make a statement like ” Hey , this is me I have something to say !! ” so the ideas kept flowing and well one post led to another which led me to create a private group , and well everything else. Everyone has a path , something they are MEANT to be doing , it’s up to you to find it . This is why I am here, no shame , no embarrassment, because I’m not alone , I have a mission to do . ❤ A movement I have created and a vibration that has been felt in all 50 states .
I have photographed several woman in Rhode Island as well for the Rhode Island part of the project and also the first state to start . The project has not only helped me in finding my voice but it has sent a vibration across the country as it travels to now it’s 15th state ( Wisconsin ) ! It doesn’t end with 50 states only traveling once this dress will then go to a number of different countries and I will be also adding two more dresses to travel all over again , we all have a voice and I think we all need to be heard . “
Thank you, Kourtenay, for sharing your story, and helping so many others share theirs. Your project is so important, I am grateful I found you, and the TD project. The world is a better place, when we take our pain and use it for good.
” For those who understand no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand no explanation is possible”
August 15, 2017 is now a date that has become a day myself and my family dread. A day we fear and a day that rocked my entire world, forever. It was the day my beautiful sister was found murdered in her own home by her ex-boyfriend. Even harder to grasp my mother, her mother, found her.
My Sister, was a stunning, eye-catching woman. Everybody knew her in our small community. She was strong, independent, and loved her family and life.
She was not just my sister, she was my best-friend, my business partner, my life! So how could my sister who had so many wonderful qualities be a victim of such a horrific crime? She was robbed of her life, her motherhood and had no choice to live or die. He took our everything the night he murdered my sister.
It wasn’t until two months after my sister’s life was taken that I received a notification on domestic violence. I froze as I read about the traits of the abuser and how the victim reacted. “how could this be?” My sister was a victim of domestic violence?? I then reflected on the 3 year term my sister had with this man. It was all there, from the love, to denial, to control and then the reason she didn’t leave sooner.. death.
Living in a small town in New Hampshire, everyone knew my sister and our family. My sister was a successful hairdresser, owning her own business in our small town. This tragedy could not be swept under the rug. It was all over social media, newspapers, reporters. People mourned her death, people talked about the horrific scene, people gossiped! People comforted myself and family in a time of need. Some bailed, it was too messy, too ugly. It became evident in a short time who were my people. My circle became smaller, my life became different.
Anger has been my first and last feeling. Anger has stayed too long. Sadness for my nephew without his Mom. Heartache for my Mom who lost her baby. Unanswered questions from her niece and nephew to why did he shoot her? I could stay bitter, I could hold on to the past. What and how does that serve my people and myself?
I pulled myself together. The anger has slowly been leaving as I focus my energy on what I do have, and not who I lost. I have slowly let go of the anger and acknowledge the lesson.
Life is short and I am grateful for the 39 years I had with my sister. I am an Aunt to her wonderful son and a Mom to her Nephew and Niece. These little ones watch my every response and more. Her death may have rocked my world, but I wont let it define my soul.”
Cassidy reached out to me, after another survivor from the Stand Up to Domestic Violence told her about the project. After talking with her, she told me about another project she had been apart of, the TD Project, where trauma survivors wear the same dress and are photographed, and share their story. The story and photo used in this post were also shared as a part of that project.
Cassidy shows courage and determination to share her story. Sometimes after we have been hurt, and our world shattered, it is easy to become angry and give up on the world. She shows us there is beauty in the calm, and has not given up, she aspires to make change and raise awareness.
Thank you, Cassidy, for sharing your story, and being so honest. Thank you for turning your pain into positive change.
The Stand Up to Domestic Violence Project is dedicated to:
With brave wings she flies
I never had the honor of meeting Chrystal, but I have heard so many stories about her. When I heard about what happened to her, my PTSD was instantly triggered, as it is every time a horrific act happens. It brings back all of the fear, and the memories. It makes my heart drop as I grieve for someone I don’t even know, because I know it could have been me. I am familiar with the fear, and of the unknown. I am familiar with the secrets, and the ugly truth about domestic violence. In those moments, I think about all that she lost, and I think about all the people who lost her. I am angry, sad, terrified, heartbroken, and left questioning.
Domestic Violence can happen to anyone. Beautiful, successful, intelligent, it doesn’t discriminate.
Because of all of the love I have felt as people who knew and love Chrystal, I knew this project had to be dedicated to her. I knew, from the stories I have heard, she would have spoken out for others. I know people who have not met her, need to see her face, and hear her name, they need to see the love that she radiates.
I can’t take the pain away. I can’t change what happened. But, I will speak my truth, and help others speak theirs to bring awareness. Domestic Violence will not remain in the dark on my watch, on our watch. Together, and with Chrystal, we will be the change. We will say uncomfortable things, and share the secrets we hold to help others. There is strength in numbers, and we are powerful.
In August, I met with Jourdan Buck when she was hosting her Journey to Self Love event. It was there that I asked her if she would be willing to help spread awareness for domestic violence. Without hesitation, she said “Yes.”
At that time, I wasn’t sure what it would look like, or if there would be much interest. We set a date in September for the first of the Stand Up to Domestic Violence event. There, nine survivors came together, some traveling over an hour, to have their photo taken and share their story.
Umbrella stopped by with some information, in case the event brought past trauma to the surface. Amy Ash Nixon, from The Caledonian-Record was there as well and interviewed some of the participants and took some of her own photos.
The day was energizing, and connections were formed. When Jourdan posted the photos that she had taken, and the stories that went along with them, more people began to reach out. We set another date, to include all who wanted to be apart of this project. Others sent their stories by private message and email. Others were not ready to share, but reached out to thank the ones that did.
One October 4th, Amy asked me to call her to talk about the project. She has been running a story every Saturday, featuring a participant from the project. On that call she told me that the publisher of The Caledonian-Record, Todd Smith, wanted to print a special color insert that included the stories and photos.
This was huge. This was the chance to share our stories with thousands of people. The likelihood the paper would fall into the hands of someone that needed to see these stories skyrocketed. My heart raced at the thought. A simple idea, formed in the rain one summer day was turning into a life changing project.
The second photo shoot was scheduled for October 12th, so I said I could have the completed project submitted by Tuesday, October 15th. I spent the week leading up to the event reaching out to all of the people who had expressed an interest in sharing, but had not yet. By Sunday evening, I had 34 stories in hand, most with pictures. Jourdan worked hard getting the photos together, while I put the stories together.
Everything fell into place, and it was completed and ready to be sent to Todd a few hours short of the deadline. This project will be available in the Saturday, October 26th edition of the Caledonian-Record. Please purchase a copy, and keep the project to share with someone who may need to know they are not alone.
I want to thank each survivor who shared their story, and made themselves vulnerable in order to help others. I want to thank Jourdan for her time and talent, and capturing gorgeous photographs of beautiful people. I want to thank Umbrella, for providing support and advocacy to people in the community, and helping people find safety and resources. I want to thank Amy Ash Nixon, for her dedication to Domestic Violence Awareness, and her giant heart and kind soul. I want to thank Todd Smith for his help in making this project become something more than a dream, and for covering the cost of it all, because of his desire to share these important messages.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Together, we have helped at least 34 people find their courage and their voice. We have helped countless others know they are not alone. We have raised awareness of something that usually stays in the dark. Together, we have lit the path to healing.