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It has been several years since I first wrote this article. I think it was 2014? I share it every October. And every October I receive numerous emails and messages from women for various reasons. And so every October I will continue to share until all the stories have a different narrative and a different ending. I ask YOU to share this article on your social media every year as well. You truly never know who needs to read it and who needs to get help and support. There are a few updates from different years at the bottom.
Every fall I think, “I think I’m ready to tell my story this October.” And every October, I’m not ready. It’s a rough story to tell on its own. And honestly, the thought of telling thousands of people scares the bejeezus out of me. But tonight I can’t sleep because that voice in the back of head will just not shut up. And it’s 3am, so the part of my brain that says “this is a bad idea” is sleeping. While I’m still not ready to tell the nitty gritty of my story, there are things that should be shared.
I am a survivor of an abusive relationship.
Toxic. Crazy. Surreal relationship. The relationship ended over 7 years ago. And to this day, I look over my shoulder. (Update: it’s now been over 16 years, and I still look over my shoulder.)
The juxtaposition/irony/whatever of my social anxiety, checking my rear view mirror 14 times, sleeping with one eye open, jumpy fear that I still haven’t quite grown past in my personal life and the path that I’ve ended up on with my job is not lost on me. I have a 30 minute panic attack and throw up at some point every single time in the 24 hours before I am on television or at a big event. Every time. I pray a lot on those days.
I also try to rationally remember that I am safe.
I am prepared. I am smart. I am loved. I am strong. I am a survivor.
Abuse starts in baby steps.
It’s not like everything is peachy keen, and then one day he knocks the mess out of you. It’s baby steps that condition the victim to accept what is coming next. That one time he talks you out of going out with your friends eventually leads to total isolation. That one time he calls you “bitch” in a fight leads to strings of names and obscenities. That one time he pushes you just a bit or “rough houses” a little hard leads to hair pulling and spitting that then leads to full out insanity. (Seriously, I’ve heard so many survivor stories mention hair pulling and spitting, including my own.) And then one day, you look around and thing “Oh God, how did I get here? How did this happen?” It happened because you were slowly and steadily conditioned to accept it. And at some point, you finally ask the question, “What do I do now?” The answer from the outside looking in is leave.
“Just leave” isn’t that easy.
Most victims have been total isolated from their friends and family.
Most victims have been isolated from their finances or ways to earn income.
Most victims have slowly lost all self worth and courage. It’s all about control for the abuser, in every possible form.
Most women are scared of what people will think and, more importantly, what will happen to them.
News Flash – a restraining or no contact order is not worth the paper it’s printed on.
One person with Lexington County told me that they couldn’t do anything about “a few phone calls and a few visits.” The same investigator finally called one day to say “We finally pulled his phone records. Did you know (he) called you over 500 times last month?”
Really? REALLY?!?! Yes, I knew! And even then, there wasn’t much they could do. Breaking a restraining order is very hard to “prove” and usually only results in a “contempt of court charge”. So look at this from the victim’s perspective. She’s thinking, “He is going to be furious! He’s going to hate me! He’s going to kill me!” And she may very well be right. That piece of paper is not a magic bubble. Add in lack of money, lack of support system, shame, children, any number of factors and it feels impossible!
Terrifying and heartbreaking statistics
*Updated statistics are below in an image of the 2023 report from SCCADVASA.*
SC ranks #2 in the country for the number of women killed by men. Over 60% of those women were in a relationship with the man who murdered them. 65% of DV homicide victims had separated from their abusers prior to their deaths. On average, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women are 5-8 times more likely to be victimized by an intimate partner. (It does happen where the woman is the abuser.) On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students reports being abused by a boyfriend. Only 33% of teens who have experience abuse told an adult.
Scary, isn’t it? I wish I had a magic wand to make it all go away.
Here is my advice.
Don’t be silent any more.
If you are in an abusive relationship, get help. Call one of the places listed below. They can help you with resources and with a plan.
Listen to me, he’s not going to change.
The next “good time” will not last.
You can not “fix” him.
You are worth more.
You deserve more.
I don’t care what secrets you hold or what threats he makes.
You can do this!
Call and let people who’ve successfully help thousands help you!
Take ownership of being a survivor.
If you are a survivor of domestic violence, tell your story to at least one person. You never know the effects that will come of it. Take care of yourself. Go to counseling. Work through all the mess and baggage. Still scared? Take self defense classes. Do what you can when you can to build up your strength mentally, physically, emotionally.
Teach your girls what is and is not okay.
I sat down with my oldest the other night and had a three hour conversation. (When she told me and confirmed that she and her brother had no real idea what all was going on, I cried. The one ray of light in the darkest years is that I managed to shield my children from 95% of that entire situation.) Have an ongoing conversation with your girls about warning signs, choices and communication. You can’t just have the conversation once. Do your research and talk, talk, talk.
Teach your boys what is and is not okay.
Teach them to treat others with respect. Teach them to regulate their emotions. Have the same conversations about warning signs, choices and communication, just as often if not more than you do with your daughters. As you’ve seen, males are most likely to be the abusers in a relationship. But if they are the victim, there’s a MUCH lower chance they will speak up. Do your research and talk, talk, talk.
Support local organizations.
Check the websites below and see how you can help, whether it’s donations, time or just sharing the message and contact info. They also have other resources and information about dating violence, internet safety, trafficking awareness, and more.
Links and Resources
http://www.sistercare.com – As a nonprofit, United Way partner agency, Sistercare’s mission is to provide services and to advocate for abused women and their children, and to promote prevention of domestic violence through community awareness and training.
http://www.sccadvasa.org – South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
http://www.thehotline.org – The National Domestic Violence Hotline
On paper he was great. The good times were amazing. I thought I could fix him. Or I thought if I could do more, be more it would make it better. The “honeymoon periods” swept me of my feet. He was always sorry. I protected my kids. But the bad times were … beyond bad. Control. Denigration. Violence. It wasn’t ever threats to kill me. It was threats to separate me from my children … in some pretty awful ways. It took a year and a half from the time he was arrested the first time to the time I got “out”. And damned if he didn’t try to have my kids taken away and do all sorts of other crazy things over that time. But I survived. I got out. My kids came out unscathed. Well mostly. As happy as I was to hear my children really knew nothing. My daughter told me, “All I really knew was that one day. And on that day, I thought you were going to die to protect us.” I still have nightmares and still have some weird, um, quirks. But I survived. And I learned to love again. And I learned to let others love me again. That’s huge. While I am not proud of the situation I let myself get pulled into, I am damn proud of where I am today.
So there you have it. I hope someone got something out of this. I am going to bed now to try to sleep and not let my own fears get me tonight. Be strong! Help others be strong! Hugs!!
Update the year after I wrote this:
Years ago when I finally found the courage to write, I was literally terrified. I posted it at 4am and finally slept for a bit. By the time I woke up at 9, my inboxes were overflowing with messages and notifications of love, support, sharing, seeking help. I literally sat on my floor and cried. And cried some more. Since then, I still share this a few times a year. And I will continue to do so every year. South Carolina has horrendous statistics. And this must change!
Update in 2017:
A few things to address that I get asked often. No, this is not about my first husband. Yes, I have seen who this is about since I wrote this. It was actually Christmas Eve 2016. The time in the same space was short but the story is long. Not gonna lie. It was … there are no words. But I’ll tackle that one story another day.