“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.”
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.
“I have come to the point in my domestic violence story where I no longer give much thought to how awful those years were, how hard it was just to get by day to day, how scared I was, or how exhausted I was all the time never knowing what was going to happen next. I could list example after example from my different abusive relationships, but the details aren’t particularly unique.
Any physical bruise I picked up along the way has long since healed. It’s the effects of the emotional and verbal abuse that lingered. It took longer than I expected for the phrases “I’ll leave you in a puddle of blood,” and “Don’t open your mouth or I’ll burn you,” to stop dominating my brain space.
Friends, counselors, even acquaintances who were willing to listen all played a role in my ability to move forward from being a domestic violence victim to a domestic violence survivor to now not really identifying with that part of my story much at all. It’s so very important for people to feel heard.
Fast forward to now and I can honestly say that life is good. There were times I didn’t believe I’d ever get here, but here I am enjoying life with my kids and grandkids and friends. Life is peaceful and fun.
If your story contains domestic violence just know that step by step, day by day you can get to a place where you are at peace. You are so worth it. Keep moving forward. “
Thank you, Tari, for sharing your story. You give hope to others who may be at the beginning of their healing journey.
“For 9.5 years all I heard was that I wasn’t good enough, or everything that went wrong was my fault, I was too fat. I was choked and grabbed forcibly by the arm and pushed. I was always made fun of, made to feel like I didn’t matter.
Wasn’t able to see friends, because they influenced my decisions. Seeing my parents was just as bad. Always cheating on me, when confronted with proof, he would say it wasn’t him. I was never his wife (we were married for 7 years), I was always his friend, the mother of his Godchildren.
I worked all the time, trying to earn money for our family, while he sat at home talking to other women and playing video games. He’d always spend out/my money on other women. Because we stopped being intimate with each other, I was cheating on him, I was hanging out with other guys.
The non-stop fighting, yelling , and the physical fights just kept going. Getting worse by the day. It had gotten to the point of severe violence where I felt my life was over. He choked me so hard, that my neck had hurt for 3 days. That’s when I knew it was time to go. Sneaking out didn’t work, so I was arrested for domestic violence. Spent 6 months on probation. It was worth it.”
I met with my therapist again this week, and we talked about how I handled Good Friday and Easter. Days that for the last ten years have brought pain and suffering for me. This year, sandwiched in between the days was the third anniversary of my mom’s death.
I didn’t flinch. I didn’t shed a tear. The pain was gone. I didn’t reminisce over what could have, should have or would have been. I didn’t put my thoughts into the dark hole of grief. The days came and went without the heaviness they usually carry.
I told her I was amazed at how effective the EMDR therapy had been in such a short amount of time. Two sessions took ten years of pain, possibly more. She said we hold memories in networks, and related thoughts can be healed, even without focusing on them. So, being able to work through my mom’s anniversary was an added bonus of the work we did on the loss of my gram. As she told me that, I thought about the possibilities that are in front of me. There is so much work to be done, but where to start?
We talked about where to go next, about the top issues that cause me distress. My mind went in circles. How could I pick the top issues? What was really causing me distress now? My healing journey has been pretty complete. Most days are OK, with days of OK with a side of sadness. Knowing that memories are stored in networks, and connected in a web, woven together by similarities, I thought about the root of my suffering. My mom.
I always feel a little guilty or cliche about blaming my mom. That’s the joke of all counseling sessions. “What did your mom do to screw you up?” For the longest time, I wouldn’t let my thoughts take me there. I didn’t want to be one of them that blamed all of my problems on my mom. I was so adamant that she was not my problem that I brushed off the first notion of it. It was only after acknowledging it, and working through it that I was able to start the true healing.
When I told her I wanted to work on some memories of my mom, she asked me which one? I didn’t really know. There were so many. She suggested I close my eyes and see what image comes to me. It was fitting, that the title of my book was the image projected on my mental movie screen.
I pictured my three-year-old self, pleading with the monster to give me back my mommy. The terror from that moment flooded me. When I was asked what thoughts this image brought to mind, I responded, “that I am annoying, an inconvenience, not worth people’s time, not good enough.”
And there we have it. The root of my self-sabotaging behavior and thoughts, the feeling that my presence is not worth any one’s time, the feeling of being inadequate, of never being enough was programmed into my tiny, little, 3-year-old brain. All of the healing in the world would not work if this block was not removed. For close to thirty-five years I have held this block in my mind, stopping short of true healing. Each and every time I get close to tackling these thoughts my brakes instantly go one, and I am stuck in tar, unable to move forward, or to shake these thoughts out of my mind. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what. All I knew was the same terror that came as that 3-year-old filled me when I came close to working on these thoughts. Frozen.
Through the process of the EMDR therapy so much happened, in such a short amount of time. As we worked through the memories, a vision of my gram came in. Her smiling face, and a bright, yellow light surrounding her. The anxiety and terror I had been feeling was lifted, and in it’s place warmth and love filled me. I saw my gram take the hand of my child-self and take her out of that bedroom with the monster. We walked away, and slowly my mom disappeared. The bed was empty, the blankets pulled up and straightened.
When I was asked what I saw, I said that my gram was going to protect the little girl, and keep her safe. Visions of my child-self and my gram playing together came, and my whole body shifted. In the past I had been told to take care of my child-self. The idea of it sounded far fetched, and honestly, a little crazy. I was told to give that little girl the love and support she was longing for. Let her be little. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.
A burden was lifted when I saw my child-self was in my gram’s hands now. I wouldn’t have to care for her, but I knew she would be safe, and happy. When I was asked to do a scan of my body from head to toe after the session, I felt something I had never felt before. A clear flow of energy. No blocks. No tension. Nothing in the way of the energy circulating throughout my body.
A notable thing to mention is that as I was doing the scan of my body, I said that I felt like I was finally inside my body. With the damaged little girl in the way, I was never fully able to experience life as me. I had never thought of it in those terms before, but as I finished up the scan, I noticed that I could actually feel my feet on the floor. As in, I have never noticed that sensation before.
When I shared this with my therapist, she smiled at me, and said how exciting it will be to get to know myself. The thought brought tears to my ears. I never expected to get to a place in my life where the pain and thoughts were not overwhelming. To think that this can happen for all of the areas of trauma in my life is beyond exciting, I don’t even have the words to describe how this all feels.
As we talked at the end of our hour together I told her how interesting it was that we had worked on the loss of my gram first, because without that work being done, seeing her come to take my child-self would have been crushing. It would not have worked, because the emotions tied to that loss were so intense. Also, the timing of this all worked out well. The groundwork for the foundation of my healing had been laid. I was ready. There is nothing left to do now, except heal.
Who am I to question how all this works?
Be kind to yourself. We are all healing from something.
April is almost gone, just twelve days to go. Usually, grief latches on as the calendar page turns from March to April. Depression soon fills all the creases and crevices from my inside out, leaving little room to breathe. The pain of knowing what April stole from me was unbearable, no matter how healed I thought I was. The pain was still there, taunting me from a far off place.
This year, my therapist and I started using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ) therapy. EMDR is used to help people who have been through a traumatic event reprogram their thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the trauma. This process helps remove the block a person created in order to cope with the traumatic event. Once the block is removed, healing can begin.
I had heard about EMDR, and saw it used when I was at Onsite last year. It was just by chance that my therapist asked me if I would be open to trying it. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I decided to give it a try–I had nothing to lose.
The first session was just days before April 1st. It was perfect timing to test the results. If April could sneak past me, without depression following it, I knew it was working. The first part of the session was used to create a safe space, and a feeling that I could pull up if I needed to. Then I was to think about the two most upsetting memories or beliefs about my gram’s death. That was easy, because, even after so many years, the guilt still haunted me. My first belief was that I killed my gram. A nurse at the ER even cast the blame on me. After my gram’s surgery, I had not filled her prescription; mostly as an order by my gram who just wanted to get home. The following day, I forgot to fill them after work, and then she was on her way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance. I was told it was irresponsible to not get the prescriptions filled, and it was my fault that my gram had a heart attack. My next regret was that I did not follow the ambulance to Dartmouth when she was transferred. I wanted to, but my gram insisted that I go home to my children; who were eleven months, three and five years old. I felt guilty that I listened to her. I felt guilty that she arrived at the hospital alone. I felt guilty that I wasted minutes I could have spent with her.
As I explained these thoughts to my therapist, I told her, “Logically, I know I didn’t kill her.” But logic doesn’t always come into play when there is trauma. The doctor at her bedside after she died told me it was not my fault. And, if I had not listened to her, and followed the ambulance, she would have been angry at me. I know these things, but the guilt was overpowering.
During the session I went through that day step, by step, and pulled up memories and feelings that have been swirling inside of me for the last ten years. I cried. I smiled. I felt sensations throughout my body. I was exhausted. It felt like years of pain and memories were lifted out of me, shook around, and re-positioned. I seemed to have responded to EMDR quickly, and effectively.
The following days came and floated by. The dread that usually arrives with April was not there. I was able to think back to those last few moments with my gram without the overwhelming pain, without the longing, without the deep sadness. A few tears fell, quietly, and quickly on the ten year anniversary. But, they stopped as soon as they started. I felt comfort and even smiled at some of the thoughts that came.
She was ready, and she knew I never would be. She picked how and where she wanted to die. She was in charge, and went peacefully. There was nothing more that I could ask for. She deserved to die with dignity. After ten years, I let her go. I let her go, and accepted that she will never leave me. Her love and guidance are with me everyday. And, for the first time, I actually believe this.
Since her death happened on Good Friday, Easter has also haunted me. This year, as we approach Good Friday tomorrow, I am free. I am free, and so is she.
What I first noticed about this book was the main character, Jessica. She struck me as a Phoenix. Despite the horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she survived as a child, with each negative she still rose again, like the fabled bird determined to rise above her circumstances.
An important theme of the book which is highlighted again and again is the importance of having an anchor. A family member, a grandmother, a friend, who will stand up and say no more. Even if the abuse continues despite the pleas and the lies of survival, these anchors provided a respite of sanity, when the childhood world around was nothing but chaos for her.
The repercussions of Jessica’s childhood abuse can be seen clearly as she grows, feeling unloved and unwelcome, she enters her adult world looking for the love she never received, through whomever will give it. Thus her abusive childhood ripples and transforms into abusive relationships and eventually even affects her children.
Still despite it all, despite her mother’s drinking and depression, despite her horrific life of abuse and neglect she still finds her way to peace and a resolution with her mother and thus becoming a shining beacon to survival. Her life while fractured by others, in the end Jessica herself builds into a beautiful mosaic of hope for the future.
The book is a must read for those looking to understand the complexities of abuse and the long-term effects abuse can have.
For anyone who may leaving or reporting abuse, the following agencies may be able to help