1:4 #16, In a healing place

By the water

(Editors note: This survivor took me to a wonderful area she finds much peace in for her shoot)

Please share what happened to you:

He somehow convinced me it was a good idea to marry him after 6 months of dating, but not tell anyone. He slowly started cutting me off from my friends and family, to the point where I realized I hadn’t even seen my mom in almost a year. The emotional abuse started subtly – any idea I came up with was stupid, he “didn’t like” comforting touch so I had to sit on the opposite end of the sofa from him, he would grab my phone out of my hand unprompted and look through it, accusing me of cheating, any time I would go to run an errand he’d “jokingly” say “try not to cheat on me while you’re out” – almost every time I went out for any reason. This escalated to him making me call him from my work line in the store I was employed before I left to be sure I was there, then immediately making me call him on my cell and stay on the phone with him so he could time how long it took me to get home and “make sure I wasn’t stopping to cheat on him with anyone”.

In the last year of our marriage, I has a string of really awful events happen, the biggest of which was my dearest friend shooting himself in the head due to PTSD. I went into a depression and was having a hard time dealing. He would tell me that I was being stupid and weak. I stated that I really wanted to get back into therapy, but he forbid it because he said that it was bullshit and all they’d do was tell me to leave him and that wouldn’t help me at all. I was in the mood for sex less often, and he started to guilt me into it, saying things like “a good wife would have sex with me” and “just let me do it, it’s not a big deal”.
I was so beaten down mentally and depressed that i would just lay there and silently cry and mentally wish not to wake up, he would ignore it and just keep going. sometimes he’d try to justify it by rubbing my back and saying “see? I’m doing what you like and i don’t even want to”. Another favorite line of his whenever I worked up the courage to talk about something I wasn’t happy with was “It’s not like I’m hitting you, Jesus. No one is gonna say you’re some abused housewife”.
One day I had a mentally ill ex employee of mine find where we lived and left a long letter at our door addressed to him, detailing an entirely fabricated affair that he and i had apparently had. My ex dragged me out of bed and started screaming in my face, not listening to what I was trying to say at all, not believing a word i said even though I’d previously spoken about my concern for this employee being not well and maybe dangerous. He was getting so violent with his tone that I started to fear physical violence, so I grabbed my purse and a blanket and ran out in my pajamas, never came back. That was in 2012.

How are you now?


I’m doing a lot better now, but I still have trained behaviors I’m trying to shed. I apologize *all* the time, and my young stepdaughter has started to pick up the habit which breaks my heart, especially since I’ve   been trying so hard to break my own habit. I get defensive and shrink back very quickly. I feel guilty if I do anything for myself, if I go anywhere without my now fiance (who is a great guy). I’m miles better than I was though. I think the hardest part is that he never admitted to any of it after, when we were going through the divorce. He’d insist that it was all in my head and he never said any of that, never did any of that, and that i just wanted to be “treated like a queen and that’s not how he’s ever going to treat a woman”. It made me feel like I was crazy, but eventually I just had to work past it and remember that he’s a very hurt, damaged individual that doesn’t understand how to heal.

What would you like to tell the world about Domestic Violence?


I guess I would tell the world to stop coming down on women who are slow to get out of relationships like that, or go back to them. Emotional abusers are like parasites…they slowly dig their claws deeper and deeper in, without you even realizing what’s going on. Then suddenly one day you feel the pain of those claws deep inside, so deep that you’re now afraid that ripping them out would be even worse, so you feel like you’re choosing the lesser of two evils. Don’t blame the woman for staying in a place she’s been psychologically conditioned to feel the need to stay in.

Upcoming Show at the Dover Art League

The front of the card for the joint show starting October 7, 2016.

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be doing my first show with the photos and stories from this site at the Dover Art League in Dover, Delaware. Dover is my home town and I want to try a few things and see how it goes. The show is a joint show with Natasha Rodriguez that we’ve chosen to call “Still Waters”. In part, the name is a reference to the idea you don’t know what’s going on under the surface. I’ve come to know just how true that is, and it’s one of the themes of this site and the project as a whole. The show starts Friday, October 7th and will have all of the stories and a photo from each of them in a special display I’m very excited about. It’s more of an installation than the standard hang the photos on the wall thing. Natasha will be showing some of her new paintings for the very first time at this show. Some are autobiographical and others of her work are metaphorical. At least one is about other survivors too. All her paintings are very powerful. We will be hosting a reception on Friday from 6-8 p.m. and an Artist’s talk on Saturday the 8th from 3:30-5 p.m. We are planning to do another artist’s talk near the end of the month of October, though that date has not been determined yet. As part of the show, I’m planning on having some anonymous surveys about experience with sexual aggression and assault for folks to fill out if they choose. There are some other things happening that should make it an interesting show. I hope you can come. The Dover Art League is in Historic Downtown Dover Delaware at 21 West Loockerman Street. If you’d like a postcard like the one above, email me dave.wolanski@gmail.com with your mailing address or contact me on social media. Some will also be at the show.

I have to thank a lot of people for the support they’ve shown for this show! Gallerist Laura Mancuso from the Art League for roping me in and making me move forward from “someday” to October 2016 as a part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Natasha for getting roped in too, and making some new paintings just for the show on a short deadline with her job and family responsibilities too. My friend Lowry Wilson will be flying up from Mississippi to lend moral support. My friend Cort Anderson in Kansas is printing the photos and applying all his skills to do so. It hasn’t been a point and click exercise at all! We’ve been in close contact and had multiple phone calls, texts and emails to move from “Dave, how can I help?” to “Dave, how’s this?” to “I think we’re good, I’ll get them out for you this week”.  Nations Photo Lab offered to do the prints and framing at a significant discount for the show, and though I’ve chosen another display method for this show, it meant a lot for them to make the offer. My family has also shown immense support and allowed me the time and funds to make this stuff happen.

Saving the most important thanks for last, I have to thank the Survivors who’ve stepped forward, shared their stories and bared their souls for this site. I had to re-read each and everyone of their stories to prep the show. I felt beat up after reading all 15 in a row, at one sitting. To go through such a brutal, unforgiving course in their lives and then share it to help others is truly humbling. I, and they, think it’s worth it to help others. I’m humbled they’ve put their trust in me to do it to the best of my ability. (Darn it, I think there’s some dust in my eyes again!)

Speaking of funds… The costs to do the show have been kept as low as possible and are still in the several hundred dollar range. I have not tried to do any fundraising as I’m in my typical Ready, Fire, Aim mode and don’t know exactly how to do it to be honest. If you’d like to support the show in any way, please contact me. If not, Natasha and I have been able to self fund it. If donations exceed the actual costs to do the show, the excess will be donated to a local domestic violence group or home.

Photos from this show will not be for sale, and it will be evident why at the show. Some of Natasha’s paintings will be for sale though.

Hope to see you at the show, the reception and the artist talks!


A guest blog post by Rachel Grant: Believing that Change is Possible

(Editor’s Note: Bouncing around on the net looking at some domestic violence web sites and resources, I came across Rachel Grant’s website. Rachel has some free resources on her site and some that aren’t. I don’t get any kind of affiliate kick back if you do purchase anything. I thought her free checklist of things to help deal with childhood sex abuse recovery could be a good conceptual model for other recovery paths too. Her blog has a lot of stories related to overcoming some serious adversities. I reached out to her and asked if she’d like to do a guest post, and here we are. I think one of the themes of my site is that if you’re in a mess, there is hope. Others have gone through what you have, and made it to the other side. It’s often not pretty and almost never easy, but, finally they’ve broken through. In that vein, I’m posting Rachel’s guest blog post. I hope to have other guest blog posts in the future too. Without further ado then… )

Believing That Change Is Possible

But I’ve tried to get over this before!! Shouldn’t I be better already!? I know other people have healed, why can’t I?

Often the first hurdle to jump over in this journey is to put to rest (or a least put on mute for awhile) your inner critic and doubter. I know you’ve been to therapy, I know you’ve read books, I know you’ve tried just about everything under the sun and you’re still running in circles. Don’t worry, I did, too! Or maybe you’re just for the first time ever admitting to yourself that the abuse happened and that you need to deal with it. Either way, there is likely a part of you that is wondering if you can get better! I invite you to allow yourself to embrace recovery as an adventure, an exploration. Be curious, check things out – and try to leave off stressing about end results. We each have to walk our own path of recovery. Sometimes, it takes just one thing to make things fall into place. Sometimes, it’s a variety of things.

For me, I tried all sorts of things before finally coming upon the ideas that I’ll share here that made the difference for me. I hope you can be open to the journey and remember there’s a lot to learn from turtles.

Lessons from a Turtle

“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because they are looking for ideas.”
~Paula Poundstone

How fabulous is that! I know I’m still certainly wondering about what I’ll be when I grow up, and I know many of the folks around me are thinking about this, too.

For me, though, there are the added questions of, “Is it too late?” & “Shouldn’t I have accomplished more by now?” I took a bit more time to finish my undergraduate studies than usual; then I spent some time roaming the halls of an elementary school trying my hand at teaching and learning a lot about myself.

When I came to California, I focused on child development (and napping) as I nanny before turning my attention to psychology & coaching. Seems a bit schizophrenic, but each stage has in some way built upon the previous one. Now, most days, I appreciate my wiggly journey. Still, I do sometimes agonize about this, because I am many paces behind those who followed the straight and narrow.

When we feel the pressure to make our mark, crave the pride of achievement, desire to experience ourselves at our best, or want more than anything to be fully recovered, our first point of reference for measuring where we stand is often what others are doing or have done. Is there real value in this exercise of comparison? Well, I suppose it depends on what your ultimate goal is.

To my mind, I see two possible outcomes from engaging in this sort of reflection (to be sure, there may be others). If your goal (though possibly an unconscious one) is to reinforce negative ideas you have about yourself as being less than, incapable, flawed, etc. – comparing oneself to others is like a gateway drug to self-deprecation. There can be real value in seeing how you measure up to others, but if you can’t compare yourself to others without becoming depressed, self-critical, exasperated, defeated, pitiful, and chagrined then this is not a healthy choice for you.
However, if your goal is to do something about your current situation and to move forward despite time, age, circumstances then it might be possible to become inspired, motivated, encouraged, and educated as a result of comparing where you are with others who have acquired the same things you now desire but don’t have. In other words, through curiosity and studying their very straight journey, you may add some arrow-like qualities to your own path.

My point is, I can look to a coach who is my age, has my education but is much further along in building her business and making a living and think to myself, “Damn it, see, if only I hadn’t…” or I can look to see how this person got to where she is and learn – and, perhaps, learn fast! Likewise, we can keep ourselves in a loop of comparing where we are in our journey of recovery to others or lamenting that we aren’t there yet, or we can set about doing the work and learning from those who have gone before us.

We only have one life journey. Whether it be a wiggly one or a straight & narrow one – it’s ours. So, for all of my wiggly friends out there – move, be active, learn and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by self-deprecating thoughts.

Just as we might discover who we want to be when we grow up from kids, we also do well to remember the age old Aesop fable The Tortoise and the HareIt’s not how quickly you can get to where you want to be – it’s whether you get there at all.


(Editor’s note: I hope that you,my readers,  found some of these insights useful on your journeys. You are not alone. Thanks again Rachel for this great article and the work you’re doing to help others! )

1:4 #13, The Art Teacher

Art Teacher

Please Share What Happened to You:

Domestic violence is no joke. It is a disease that is fatal and destructive. It is a darkness that is plaguing our country. It is a generational curse that kills the spirit of dreams and passions and takes away the richness of what life can bring to the human race.

I live with the fact that my father, who was the breadwinner and passionate artist, was killed at the age of 28, while working as a postman in New York City, on his way from work. His death was the start of my abandonment issues. My mother was a widow left rearing two daughters ages four and three. My mother missed the love and respect she received from my Dad. She dated weak men, lived with an alcoholic, and remarried a womanizer and had two more children. My mother came from a Latino background and always worked two jobs because she kept her children in Catholic school. She had a house note and having men who never provided enough money to support us took so much from her. She was so beautiful the men usually were jealous and insecure.  These men would beat and yell at her and after losing our home we moved occasionally to escape the madness.

I was shy and had low self-esteem as a child.  My friends and boyfriends abused me so much that my mother sent me to private High School down south.  After graduating out of High School I shacked up with a drug dealer in Harlem while going to community college.

My boyfriends and husbands were always on drugs. My mother always gave us spiritual guidance so I never used drugs and hated the taste of alcohol. The yelling, hitting and ignorant thinking from my boyfriends took such a toll on me that I was in the hospital.  I returned back to the Bronx to live with my aunt and back down south to complete my college education.  Education saved me.

I was getting physically and verbally harassed and physiologically manipulated and abused. I had married one husband twice (who had died from AIDS) and the other husband was a crack addict. I had one man arrested after he beat me so bad I could not see. I found out later he would also beat his 65-year-old mother. He served a three year sentence.

My oldest son beat the crap out of his crackhead stepfather. My co dependence issues led to bad credit, homelessness and lots of lies. My false pride caused me to be in poverty while sending my son to Teen challenge in West Virginia.


How are you doing now?

Today I am an advocate against domestic violence who has worked in great companies like Merrill Lynch, Lockheed Martin and Johnson and Johnson. I have a BFA degree in fine Arts and a Business Degree. I own a small art business working my passion of visual arts. I have traveled domestically and internationally and tried to engage with people of purpose who changed my whole view point for life. My past will never define me. My children are healthy men who are great fathers and husbands who are making their way respecting woman and being encouraged to give, not take, from their community.  I have a great life and thank God everyday.

Today I have clarity; I have been fortunate enough to learn some great lessons early in life. The strength and endurance of my mothers prayers and learning the importance of a good education helped me not title myself a victim, but a survivor. A lot of forgiveness seems to help me to get out of the circle of domestic violence.

happy now

What would you like to tell the world about Domestic Violence?

You can get out of this! You got this! There’s help if you ask for it!



1:4 # 12, The face in the crowd

Woman in a Crowd(Editors note: This survivor has asked to have her photos be done anonymously to protect her kids from being embarrassed. As this wasn’t the first time I’d heard that idea, I was glad to do so. This lady is the first to ask for anonymity and be assured that was doable, and be willing to push through and do the project. Others have asked but decided not to push forward. She doesn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as she did. It has taken her many months and several discussions to come into the light. )

Please Share What Happened to You:

I have been abused in a couple ways, physically and sexually, by people I trusted and knew and by neighbors I thought I could trust too. I guess after a while and hiding all those little secrets you cannot even comprehend what is real or right especially when nobody even taught you about sex or your body and how it functions. Not back then anyway. There is always that gut instinct and my gut told me it wasn’t right, but how did I really know?

I was about ten years old when a neighbor and coworker of my fathers, I’ll call him Mr. 1 had me sit next to him on the couch. He was probably in his early fifties. He asked me to sit closer to him, but I didn’t and my parents, who were in the room, prompted me to sit closer. So, I scooted over closer to him. As my mom and dad sat there talking with him, he slowly put his hand down the back of my pants. I sat straight up, eyes wide open as if to say, “um, hello!! Are you seeing this?” Nobody said a word. I got up and excused myself. Whenever he would come around, I would leave or go outside although he always begged me to come sit next to him. He always drove slow around the neighborhood looking at all the girls. We all called him a pervert. My mom would do ironing for his wife to earn some extra cash and one day she sent me down there to take her some shirts my mom ironed. I prayed the whole walk there that she would be home. My younger sister went with me. I knocked on the door and he answered. I asked if his wife was home and that I came to deliver the shirts my mom had ironed. He insisted we come in. I told him no that we had to get right back home. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted we come in. My sister was not afraid because nothing had happened to her so she was fine with going in and went in. The house was poorly lit and he went in and sat in his chair and asked me to come closer. I wouldn’t. He kept trying to tell me not to be afraid and to come sit on his lap. I still said no. Then he asked my sister who is four years younger than I to come over and sit on his lap. She started to go towards him and I grabbed her arm and told him we had to go and I ran out of the door with her. I wouldn’t allow that perv to touch my sister!!! I avoided him at all costs from then on out. I finally told my mom and dad five years later about what he did, right in front of them and how all the girls got the creeps from him and my father was ready to go to his house and kill him. My mom stopped him, thank goodness.

His next door neighbor was no better. I will call him Mr. 2. I babysat for Mr. & Mrs. 2 a few times and on this one night (I was 14) Mrs. 2 was still upstairs getting ready. So, I waited downstairs with Mr. 2. I was at the back door watching their daughter play outside when Mr. 2 asked me if I would like a beer. (Wait….what?) I told him I was only 14 and not old enough to drink alcohol. He put the beer back and started walking up behind me. I stood with my back turned to him. The next thing I know, he wraps his arms around me and starts to raise his hands up to grab my breasts. I pushed on that door handle so hard and fast and flew out the door!! I didn’t go back in until Mrs. 2 yelled to me that they were leaving. I never babysat for them again.

I was just about seventeen years old when a good friend introduced me to my first husband. He was the oldest of five children to a well-known doctor where we lived. Shortly after meeting him, he was involved in an accident. My friend asked me to go along with him to visit him in the hospital and told me he really liked me and wanted to take me out on a date. He really wasn’t my type and I really didn’t want to go out with him. Going against my gut instincts, I agreed. We dated for about a year when he slapped me across the face because I didn’t want to leave a party we were at and he did. I was shocked. I was stunned. He apologized. Same scenario as most situations like that. I forgave him. He didn’t want me to wear make up. He would make me go back in the house and remove it immediately if I had it on. I would do what he said out of fear. We broke up for a while.

After the breakup, I shared an apartment with my best friend. Eighteen years old, out on my own, doing what I want, nobody telling me what to do, taking care of myself. We didn’t have a lot of furniture. What we did have were hand me downs from our parents. We had lived in our apartment for a couple months and were just starting to get to know our neighbors. There were two guys who also shared an apartment in our building. One day, one of the guys was working on his car. I talked to him for a while through my apartment window as he worked on his car and then I invited him to come up for a beer when he finished. We sat on the floor, drinking our beer, talking about jobs, friends, roomies, etc. when he leaned over to kiss me. I allowed that, but said “hey….I didn’t invite you here for any more than a beer”. He said “come on….we both know why you invited me here and pushed me back the whole time I was telling him no. He held me down and forced my pants off and then he forced himself inside me. My roommate was in the next room and didn’t hear anything!!! How could she not hear my cries?? How could she not me my struggle? When he was finished raping me, I laid there in a ball crying and he said, ” oh come on…you know you wanted it too!!” I felt so dirty. So inhuman. So disgusting. Emotionally paralyzed. I moved out of the building a few months later.

I ended up making up with my boyfriend and moved in with him. Everything was fine. No more abuse. He was nice to me. Treated and spoke to me fine. A year later, we married. I was nineteen. He was 22. A month after we married, I got pregnant. I was so excited!!! I always wanted my own baby. My own little person to love. Who would love me….. That is when the regular abuse started. Especially when he drank. Nobody ever called the police or came to my aid. I was alone. Physically, emotionally alone.I would play dead so he would stop. He would slap, punch, kick and choke me to almost unconsiousness. I couldn’t go out into public because of my bruises and black eyes. How could I explain them? Everyone knew who he was. Who his dad was. He always apologized and swore it would never happen again.

I avoided arguing with him because I knew…..I could tell by the look in his eyes when he was in the mood to beat me. He told me once that the reason he hit me was because I reminded him of his mother. (I thought, well go beat her then, but I never said it out loud.) I was nothing like his mother. Nothing at all! I had two children with him. I did use birth control to avoid having another child with him, but it failed and I ended up pregnant a second time. I love both of my children with all my heart!! I don’t regret having either one of them, but I do regret not making the right decision when I had the chance the very first time he hit me when we were dating.

I tolerated his abuse for six and a half years until he told me he would kill me and I knew then I had to get away. I couldn’t bear to allow my children to see any more violence. I couldn’t allow him to kill their mother and leave them parent-less. He would be in jail and I would be dead. I hated the idea of a divorce because I was a child of divorce and I didn’t want to put my children through that, but exposing them to the beatings, the name calling, the degrading, hateful comments would have been worse. (He told me I was the laziest white woman he ever saw. I had the body of an eighty year old woman. I was fat. Ugly….you name it, he called me it.) He left without incident, but my neighbor would see him parked up the street in the early am hours (like 3am). Just sitting there…staring at the house. My neighbor finally told him to go home. That he was only tormenting himself and it wasn’t doing anyone any good. I was petrified for my life!!!

After we split, my friends and neighbors would tell me things he would do to my children when I wasn’t there. He would pick my daughter up by the hair on the top of her head and carry her across the street when she wouldn’t come home when called; he stepped on her belly when she was three years old because she would not stop crying. I was so upset nobody told me when it happened and their response was they didn’t want to get involved. THEY WERE DEFENSELESS CHILDREN!!! I did see a couple times how he would grab their noses by his two fingers at the knuckle, pinch hard and pull them to where he wanted them. It would bruise their little noses. I told him to stop that and to stop hurting them, but he did it anyway. I deal with a lot of guilt because of that and the fact that they were exposed to his violence. His degradation of us. His bullying.

So, I stayed and tolerated the abuse. The physical and the emotional abuse for six and a half years. Exposing my poor babies to this monster, to the screams, the crying, the bruises, the pounding….. What a horrible mother I was to do that to them. I can never forgive myself for that. And I won’t put them through anymore and that is why I am remaining anonymous to save them the hurt and heartache. They love their dad. They have a relationship with their dad. I just don’t need to put them through the embarrassment of poor decisions I made.

Woman's Hand

How are you doing now?

A few months after our separation, I met a wonderful, hard working, caring, trustful and trusting dependable man that was great with my kids. They loved him and visa versa. He loves me and I him. Has it been easy? NO! We both brought baggage to this relationship, but we were determined not to let that baggage interfere with what we had. He has taken great care of us for thirty years and has been a wonderful supporter, provider, partner and friend. We have taught each other that you can trust. You can love unconditionally. You can depend on the other one without doubt. And above all, you can love without fear of hurt or pain. (A little background also…..I was abused by my mother as a child. I was the one she took it out on. She never believed me even though I told the truth. She slapped me, punched me, back handed me, pushed me against the wall, screamed at me, punished me for things she thought I did, but I didn’t. So, maybe that is why I allowed the behavior from my ex. I used to think that was my reason for being born. My ex told me that he had a talk with her and asked her why she treated me like that and he said her response was she got pregnant with me to save her marriage. Her marriage failed, so she blamed me for it and so, the abuse. She denies having that conversation with him, but it kinda makes sense. I have forgiven both of them, but I have not forgotten.) I feel sad for me sometimes because I so desperately wanted to have a close relationship with my mom but, she didn’t. Years after my second marriage, my parents disowned me and cut off communications for ten years after I shared my feelings and confronted them with a certain situation that happened between us. We are just now working towards reconnecting. Everyone only has one life on this earth. There are no do-overs. This is not a dress rehearsal. She cannot give what she took away from me and neither can my ex. But, I was lucky to have survived. I was lucky to be given another chance. I was lucky to find someone who truly loves me and gives me the life I deserve. One without violence. One with love, support, care and friendship. And for that I am truly grateful!!

What would you like to tell the world about Domestic Violence

This project helps let women know they are not alone. I felt so alone. Like I was going through it in silence but I was screaming inside. They need to know they are not alone!! Even in anonymity, I am hopeful that I can help just one person find the strength to tell themselves that they can do it!!! That they can leave, that they can survive and that they can be truly happy. This is not a dress rehearsal. Go….be happy


1:4 #11, the Warrior

Domestic Violence Survivor #11( Editors Note: The usual format for these posts is for the survivors to answer the three questions. In this case, the Warrior went with a little different format. I think you can pick out the answers from the story)

As humans, we all experience the pain of abuse, at one point or another in our lives.  Whether it be physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse or even abandonment.  Unfortunately, it’s almost inevitable.  It’s the nature of the beast…us.  The human “beast” if you will.  As for me, I can only speak of my own experiences- which by the way- I am ready to share.  I state that I’m ready to share these experiences because the majority of my life I held them in.  Held the memories of these shameful, embarrassing happenings that I would let fester within me..which would only , ( as I see now), dim my inner light.  I know now that it’s not healthy to withhold things like this in…and also..it’s equally important to let it ‘all out’ for the process of healing to be able to begin.  In sharing my abuse, I also realize that I am speaking out for those who cannot…I’m helping to put a voice into the atmosphere for those individuals and I am possibly giving them inspiration..to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel…and that they too, can grow from this.  Lastly, it’s damn time to share.

    I was born in 1980.  Culver City (a city in western  Los Angeles County).  My parents are both from the East Coast.  The BX (The Bronx) and The Bricks (Newark, New Jersey).  My father and mother both left the east coast at different times- both with the intentions of starting a new life and making a fresh start for themselves.  At the time my father was struggling with addiction and figured the change of scenery from New York City could help get him cleaned up.  My mother was running from a severely abusive past in New Jersey. When my mother and father met by chance in Los Angeles, they fell in love for their own reasons with one another.  It goes without saying: this is when yours truly, was conceived.

    According to my mother, she was extremely naive to the world- being that she was raised in a controlling and abusive house- so she wasn’t “hip” to all the things that my father was at that time.  She states that the first time she realized my father was an addict was when she was 8 months pregnant with me and she caught my father shooting up in the bedroom.  This is where my story begins…..

    I was born into a household where there was a lot of anger, angst, resentment, abuse, deception, abandonment, and poverty.  I’ve heard the stories about my father being gone for weeks with no call.  I’ve heard about how we had a mattress in a studio apartment with no food and just the clothes on our backs because my father was taking the little items we did own and was selling them to support his habit.  My mother had her second child with my father in 1982.  By then we had moved back to the East coast and was living in the Bronx; of course for another “fresh start”.

     I was also told about how my mother didn’t have diapers for my sister, and was wrapping her up in my father’s boxers.  My mother didn’t have money for milk to feed my infant sister, so she would give her rice water, and because of this my sister suffered from diarrhea and diaper rash.  And because my mom wasn’t eating properly she couldn’t produce the milk to breastfeed my sister.  I heard about the stories how my mom would  have to walk blocks through the snow to the nearest church to beg for money from the priest so she can feed us.  I also heard how, as a 3 year old, I would never complain about how hungry I was, or how cold I was, or how tired I was from having to walk all that way.

    Somewhere around this time, my mother grew very angry and threatened my father with a divorce.  So this is when we made another move …yep, you guessed it, for another fresh start.  We moved to sunny Naples, Florida.  Promises of sobriety from Daddy and a better life for all of us.  This is when I started having my own memories of our life.  When things were good…they were amazing!  I remember as a child hearing my mother and father laugh together, and I remember thinking in my little 5 year old mind, how beautiful my mother looked when she smiled. I felt happy, I felt safe, I felt LOVED.

    But…like they say..all good things must come to an end..and surely they did.  I noticed that Daddy wasn’t home as much.  I noticed the familiar look of worry on my mom’s face.  And when my mom was worried…or sad…I felt it was my responsibility to be worried and sad with her.  Though, I didn’t completely understand what was going on, I knew it had something to do with my Daddy.  My mom was so wrapped up in the whereabouts of my father that she didn’t know, nor would I dare bother her with it, that at 5 years old, my older half brother- who was also a recovering addict ( briefly staying with my mom and dad until he could get back on his feet) was molesting me almost everyday.  He was 19/20 years old around that time. I remember it feeling wrong, but I remember being told that this was my fault and if I told anyone, they would know that it was my fault.  Not his. At one point, my half brother had held a gun to my head – this I actually don’t remember.  I know I was being babysat on this particular day and he held a gun to my sitter and to my head.  This is probably one of those repressed memories that I’m waiting to come out at some point.   So, all in all,  I kept the sexual abuse I endured inward until I reached my 20’s.    As far as with my mom and dad,  things became worse (again)- the fighting started.  Screaming, banging, crying.

    I remember this one instance where my mom put my sister and I into her Toyota.  I could tell she was on a mission.  I asked where we were going and she said: “I am going to find your father!”.  I remember we drove to a very sketchy neighborhood in Naples called George Washington Carver Apartments.  I knew from overhearing my mom, that this is where Daddy spent a lot of his time.  When we arrived, before exiting the car, my mom told my sister and I to lay down in the backseat and not to get up for anything!  I will never forget what I saw when she exited the car.  In my child’s mind it looked like something out of a zombie movie.  As soon as my mom had closed the car door behind her and locked us in, there were many people that looked like literal zombies that walked up to my mom’s car and looked in the windows down at us.  I sat up slightly, because I was worried for my Mom.  I saw her standing there with a gun in her hand pointing it at the “zombies”, “Where is LOUIS!!??  Get Louis here NOWWWW!!”

   Domestic Violence Survivor Looking Away Moving forward, about a year later, my mom came to her senses and finally left my father.  I was in the first grade.  I worried for my father because he was alone, and because I knew he was very sad.  I failed the first grade because all I did was cry and refuse to partake in school work.  My mom struggled.  She worked 3 jobs and was in and out of relationships with men that I hated.  And in between relationships my mom was miserable, angry and would direct her blame on me.  Yes, this wasn’t how I perceived it at the time.  This is exactly what it was.  Just about everything was Natasha’s fault.  I was always screamed at, cussed at. I was beat, thrown and punched.  I was called a whore before I even knew what the fucking word meant!

 There was this one instance where I was playing outside our apartments, and my mom told me to stay within yelling distance.  I was always and imaginative child.  I loved being outdoors and looking at the clouds and trees, and imagining all the far away places I wanted to visit.  I had seen a few beautiful peacocks outside- and I remember following them- anxiously waiting to see their tails open up into that beautiful display of colors I so much loved.  I guess time had caught away with me- because when I finally made it back home I was greeted with an ass whooping of my life.  Remember that game: Airplane?  Some parents would lovingly play it with their children?  For those that don’t know: You grab a hand and a foot…and the parent would turn round and round until the centrifugal force would build up enough to make a child’s body go upward in a flying motion..like an airplane.  Well..in my mom’s rage- she played her own version.  She grabbed me by my foot…and a fistful of hair…swung me around and around to build up that good ol’ centrifugal force…but she let me go airborne.  I remember hitting the ground with such force…and the severe pain of all the air in my body being knocked out of me.  This was common place when it came to punishing me.  Especially on her bad days.  Let me not excuse this behavior…it was horrific- but my mom was not healthy mentally.  She grew up with abuse beyond most human comprehension.  I’ll leave that up to her to tell her own story on that one.  I believe in her mind, I was lucky I wasn’t getting beat like she use to.

    My mom was so wrapped up on trying to find a boyfriend/husband that my sister and my emotional health were not priority.  As much as that may sting, that is the truth.  When you bring many men in and out of your children’s lives, only worrying to fulfill your own needs- despite how your daughters (children) may feel, it’s a selfish act.  Many times, we witnessed full out fist fights between my mom and her boyfriends.  When this would happen, I felt it was my duty to protect my mom and my little sister.  I have kicked in doors, I have jumped on grown men’s backs and clawed at their faces and pulled their hair- all to protect my mother.  Later in life, I was even arrested trying to stick up for her.  For the majority of my life growing up, I had felt the need to Protect- despite how I may have been treated.  Despite who I may have been exposed to.  Despite how my feelings always seemed to be irrelevant.  This treatment is what I grew to know as “normal”.  And sadly, I took this into adulthood- but later retrained my brain and way of thinking.

    Going back to my father, he on the other hand finally got his life together.  We would spend weekends with him.  It was like heaven!  My father clean and he was absolutely amazing in so many ways.  The memories were amazing…and we connected with him like daughters should with their father.  We got to know him…and he got to know us.  Three years of being clean and then he finds out he has Full Blown AIDS.  He lived for 3 more years with Full Blown Aids, remained clean from using and made the most out of his time with us.  He died in 1993.

    My mom did remarry to a man that provided a good life for my sister and I.  He fulfilled his promise to my father to protect and take care of my sister and I. But of course, that didn’t last too long either.   Still, growing up into a woman without my father was excruciatingly hard.  I had a rough start in life and not much self confidence or self love was instilled in me.  I became deeply depressed because all that kept replaying in my mind was the unconditional love and affection from my father that only lasted a few short years.  I wanted and needed that in my life so badly I started to seek it in men.  My first marriage ended in physical violence.  My second marriage, I stuck through the shitty times even more because I thought that is what you are supposed to do instead of just running.  There was a lot of emotional abuse that I saw was affecting my first born from my first marriage.  I had my second child in my second marriage, but things increasingly became worse, so I left that one after 5 years.  Then years later finding out that my 2nd husband, while married to him, had been raping my first born child.

    Our justice system is terrible, and he got away with it.  I had to fight him in court for custody of our daughter…they gave us joint custody, but thank God he hasn’t tried to even see our daughter.  My last relationship is where I had my last child.  He couldn’t be monogamous and we physically fought.  I did have a moment where I looked at myself in the mirror and I started to see my mother.  I was repeating her life.  I knew I loved my children more than life itself.  I knew things had to change.  I sought   counseling on and off.  Read many self help books, and started to learn to be thankful for the blessings in front of me.  My three beautiful children.  My three rainbows in my storm of life.  I decided that they were more important than my want to be loved…or my want to have a husband to have that house and white picket fence fairy tale.  I saw that I was enough for them…and that they were enough for me…and mostly…I was enough for myself.

    I took you on a brief magic carpet ride through the hurricane of my life.  All this shared to say this:  The abuse that people endure have nothing to do with the abusee and everything to do with the abuser.  Just like with my mother.  She loved my sister and I , in her own way.  But she was a damaged individual who never got proper help nor was able to have the insight enough to make her life better/ parenting skills better, (to put it lightly).  She never had the self love to know she deserved better…and so did her children.  I had taught myself, with the help of some great loving friends and some good counseling…and books…that I have the POWER!  The power to make my life something GREAT or something SHITTY!  And the so- called power we may think our abuser has…is given to them by US.  I will repeat.  We give the abuser the power…so when you take the power away…you GAIN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE!  Now, with innocent children in mind, such as myself and my own child- we were too young and didn’t understand what was happening.  We were vulnerable to the abuse.  Thank God we survived it.  And in survival- as I taught myself- and am teaching my son as well…you do NOT claim the name of VICTIM!!  NEVER THAT!!  You claim the name of: KICK ASS SURVIVOR!!!!!  And you take the pain…and you don’t EVER hide from it.  You speak about it…until it becomes easier…until it doesn’t hurt as bad…and you turn it into a story of survival…and a story that could bring LIGHT into other’s lives…a story that could potentially SAVE THEIR LIFE!

Domestic Violence Survivor #11 final

1:4 #10, the Student

1:4 # 10

Please share what happened to you:

My story started when I was just a baby. Around the time I was six months old and I was very sick. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and I almost died. My mom took me to the hospital, where all these different doctors looked at me and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Until one, finally figured out that I had an abscess in my throat. He saved my life. That’s when I started going to him. I don’t remember much from the earlier years of going to him because I was to little, but I do remember that every time I went for a visit, he would pick me up and give me a huge hug, shake my mouth up and down and then I would get to pick out a toy.
I loved going because I knew that I would be able to get to pick out a toy. Little did I know that was the beginning of the abuse. That was the grooming process. At the young age of 5, I understood what good touch and bad touch was, but that meant from strangers. This was someone we were taught to trust and that other then mom and dad was allowed to touch us. I didn’t realize at the time what was going on. The next couple of visits are blank holes in my memory. I remember the rooms and can describe in detail what they looked like but I don’t remember what happened in them. My mind has blocked them from my memory. But as I got older it got worse. I remember the main abuse, or at least what I think is the main abuse but your mind has a funny way of protecting you and that’s to cut out the bad memories so you don’t have to relive them. I remember every time I would go for a visit, I was molested. Every time he would do it, he gave the excuse of trying to figure out when my period was coming. Mind you, this started when I was 7 or 8. My period did not come any where close to that. I remember being that little girl wanted to scream and yell because I knew something was not right. But I couldn’t because this was someone we are taught to trust from a young age and I thought no one would believe me. This was someone who saved my life. It was something that happened every single time I went to him. Even if I went for a cold. He would always end it with that hug and moving my mouth up and down. I began to cringe and hated going. The molestation went on until the time I was 13. When I was 13 I stopped going because I went to high school and it was easier to just go to the wellness center. I was thrilled that I didn’t have to go there any more but I still didn’t fully understand what happened until the day he got arrested and the day I broke down in class. I showed signs through out the years that I was being molested but no one ever thought anything of them. When I was in elementary school, I used to wear my belt so tight that it would dig in to my skin. I was sent to the counselor but I refused to loosen it. But no one knew what was going on and so it got brushed off. I finally told someone when I was sitting in my high school Spanish class and my teacher was talking about the news story and his arrest. I had a panic attack and my teacher pulled me out of class. I told her what had happened and she took me to the counselor. Finally my torture was over.

(ed note: The perpetrator is serving 14 life terms, plus 165 years, without parole,  for the 529 charges he was convicted of.)

1:4 # 10 2

How are you doing now?

I’m doing a lot better then that junior in high school who had a panic attack in the middle of class. But its been a process. I have had more panic attacks than I can count. The biggest issue I face is with change. When something changes I don’t feel in control and all I want to do is feel in control. When my routine is different I feel as though something bad is going to happen. It throws me of for the day and it could be the littlest thing. But I have gotten a lot better with change and routines in the past year. I started counseling and Ive become a much stronger person. I also have a hard problem with trust and opening up to people which has affected my relationships. I am terrified to tell potential boyfriends about the abuse because I’m afraid that they will think I come with to much baggage, and they wont see me they will just see the abuse. It takes a while for me to trust them and this puts a strain on the relationship. I need to be reminded that they do love me even when I am not being lovable. If they do take the chance, I learn to trust them and I give them my all but it hurts 10x’s worse when they eventually leave, and they do because the attacks become to much for them. But if you look at me now compared to where I was a year ago, I am a much better person. Thanks to counseling and listening to survivors I realize I am more then my abuse and that I’m not going to let it affect my whole life.Ive worked through the memories and have processed them. Now I know how to turn them off or move on from them when they do appear. I don’t get stuck in this cycle of remembering the memories. I am now a junior at Delaware State where I major in Communications. I plan on working in radio but I eventually want to become a spokesperson for sexual abuse. I am also competing in Miss Delaware this year which I have competed in for multiple years. But this year is different. I have changed my platform to “Victims to Victor, Helping Sexual Abuse Victims Find Their Voice” I am helping others find their voices by sharing my story. I also want to make sure that victims know that they can survive the abuse and not let it affect their whole lives. I have also partnered with Senator Lopez to co write a bill called Erin’s Law. If passed, it will require schools to teach students K through 6th about sexual abuse, things like good touch, bad touch. It will also teach them to tell an adult if they are being abused even if it is by someone they know. It also will give teachers the tools to know what to look for in a victim. I’m done being silent on an issue that affected my life for 10 years. I’ve become a much stronger person since the abuse started, yes I still get a panic attack every once in a while but now I have the tools to cope and get through them.

1:4 10 4

Is there anything about domestic violence you’d like to tell the world?

I first want to tell the victims that they aren’t alone and they don’t have to face it alone. I promise you there is someone out there they can talk to and will understand what they are going through. I also want people to know that we are more than our abuse. We are people. We have baggage yes, but we are more then that and we want to be accepted as people. Lastly, if there was anything I learned from the abuse is that you choose how you react to the situation. You can chose to let the abuse control your life for the rest of your life, you can let the perpetrator win. Or you can chose to let it make you a strong person. You can chose to take back your life and take back the control. You chose if you are going to win or lose. Even after something bad has happened to you, you can still do everything you set your mind to. You can survive it and move forward. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be a long road but you can and will do it. Have faith that you can do anything you set out to do.

1:4 10 3

1:4 #9, The Photographer

DSCF9381  Please share what happened to you:

He was (of course) unlike anyone I had ever met. He was also quite charming and good-looking, and he was paying attention to me. He gave me an awareness of the connectivity running through everything…a love of coincidences that has reappeared in sobriety. I felt we were brought together by magic…he told me so and I believed him. It was fate that had brought us together; we were soul mates.

I wanted all these things so badly…had wanted them for as long as I could remember. I turned all this need into worship. Any power I might have had before was given over to this man…and I was lost: Immediately, hopelessly, and dizzyingly lost.

And this was only the beginning.

“Tell me everything,” he said, and I told him.

“Tell me about your past relationships,” he said, and I told him more.

He wanted to know everything about me, and I wanted to give it to him. I felt safe—loved. He wanted to watch over me, and I craved it. He placed himself in the role of savior, and I believed I needed one.

I showed him excerpts from my journals, hoping to give him understanding. I carried a weight, too, and wanted him to lift it. I kept only small pieces, tucked into myself unseen, not wanting to hurt him—not wanting him to think less of me.

He took it upon himself to find them anyway, reading my journals without permission, and when he had armed himself with my complete story; when he knew everything, he began to break me down.

“Who was that?” he asked after we ran into Sam as we were out walking. “How do you know him?”

I told him the truth. I thought it was safe. He knew my history, he knew I slept around a lot before I met him, but it was my past—it was behind me, I thought, forever.

“Did you fuck him?”

In the bar I watch him drink shot after shot of whiskey while beers slide down his throat like water. There is a moment—if I could slow down time to show each second lingering like a hummingbird, you could see it—the twist inside him; a snapping of a twig. I can see it in his face, and I get to know this moment well.

Before this moment he loves me, caresses me, kisses me. He is kind. I am happy.

After this moment he is someone else, someone new to me the first time it happens, but one who eventually replaces the boyfriend I thought I had. He despises me, suspects me, yells at me.

“Who are you checking out?” he hisses into my ear. “Do you want to fuck that guy? Is that what you want? You are a fucking whore, you fucking bitch.”

I sob. I cry and protest and beg forgiveness for things I haven’t done. I am begging forgiveness for things I have done. Please love me again, please love me again, please love me.

We end up in screaming matches in the bars, out on the street. Friends are helpless to stop it. He leaves, I curl into myself even further, sobbing, drunk, alone. I often find myself in doorways or in alleys, holding onto the pavement to remind me of this world.

I try to keep my eyes to the ground; to only look at the drinks in front of me, the bartender, him. I only stare directly at the person reading on stage. I am shell-shocked. I don’t want to give him reason to hate me. It doesn’t matter, of course.  He can’t stop that twisting inside from happening unless he stops drinking. We both know that he will not.

He flirts. It is a different woman every few weeks, it seems, and he leads them on. They each fall for it as I have, thinking he will stay with them, but he keeps coming back to me. He loves me, I think.

But no, he owns me. I let him.

I lived in fear of these moments, moments that repeated and repeated; my heart too big for me as I shrunk further into myself.


            A definition of insanity:

            Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.


If I could just be what he wanted; who he wanted. If I could just figure out what that was. If I could only; if he would only…I held on to the magic of those first few months, when I had been swept up into love like dandelion pollen blown to bits.

His birthday one year…our housemates are at a hotel to celebrate their anniversary. I make a special dinner. I wrap gifts with loving hands. I open the wine, light the candles and wait.

I wait while the dinner gets cold. Is this what I have become? Have I been reduced to a caricature of the put-upon female? I am afraid now. He will be drunk when he comes home—if he comes home.

He stumbles in the door reeking of whiskey and cigarettes and laughs at me for being mad. I tuck it away, again, and say a silent prayer for salvation. We sit to eat; we drink wine. He opens his present of books (of course). I am terrified. I know that he reached that turning point long before he came into the house. This is not the man I love, yet over and over again I pretend he is.

I don’t know what set him off this time, but it was only a matter of time for it to happen: hissing insults, hurls of accusations and then chaos—screaming, crying, violent turmoil. He lights the book on fire and throws it at me. My crying and pleading only make things worse, enrage him further. He is upstairs now, destroying my things. He smashes my stereo with his foot. I scream for him to stop, please stop, and he throws two chairs, one after the other, down the stairs at me. Old needle pointed cushion chairs from my parents, chairs from my childhood, turn end over end down the staircase, smashing into the kitchen. My rage begins to surface and I run upstairs to fight him, to stop him. I pull on him, hit him, shout in his face and he only laughs at me and curses me.

These fights blur together in my memory, pock-marked with holes left by drugs never to be filled in:

A door slammed so hard the full-length mirror shattered in pieces onto the floor.

Standing on the side of the street in a shoving match, crumbling to my knees because I just don’t have the energy anymore and cops stop their vehicle. They don’t get out. He convinces them I’m fine, just dramatic and a woman. I think they laugh. I know they drive away.

A wish to escape. A bottle of valium left behind. Swallowing one after the other. He’s passed out now upstairs in our room. The silence envelops me as I sit on the couch, holding the empty bottle. He’ll see, I think. He’ll be sorry. There will be no more of this.

Waking up to my friend shaking me, my housemates have home to a war zone; their poor dog cowering in the basement, the cats all scattered.

I am alive, and I am disappointed.

He left me but came back to torture me often (I let him). I was an addict. Then I was a pregnant drug addict who finally hit bottom. I went into rehab, pregnant with his child. I still wasn’t away from him for a long long time after that. He told me in rehab that he should bring me a razor blade so I could kill myself. This, after bringing me Chinese food and worrying over me.

I had so much guilt over keeping the pregnancy a secret, I still allowed him to dictate terms. I bent over backwards to let him have a relationship with our daughter. I didn’t tap his checks for child support. I was flexible and kind even when he constantly tried to push my buttons. I was a fucking doormat, in other words. It wasn’t until many years later when our daughter stood up to him for the first time for me to finally see him more clearly than I ever had. A narcissist. A misogynist. An asshole. Things I knew, but constantly made excuses for. My daughter is the strong one.

DSCF9411How are you doing now?

I am ok, mostly. I still don’t know what a good relationship looks like (though I got closer than ever with my marriage). I still catch myself being submissive with men once there is romantic or sexual attraction. I defer. I stay quiet. Not as badly as I once did, but it is there. At least I have some awareness of it now. Being under that kind of control with that much intensity leaves a mark, even without punches being thrown.

DSCF9405Is there anything about domestic violence you’d like to tell the world?

I want people to understand that anybody can find themselves caught up in a bad relationship before they realize what is happening. None of these relationships start out horrible. They change subtly at first and once you get into making excuses and start believing that the problems are your own fault, the pattern gets locked in. If it escalates, then you are terrified to do anything different. The abuser has you right where he wants you. It is all about power and control.

1:4 #7, The Psych Nurse

Psych Nurse in DC 1

Please share what happened to you:

What happened to me?  My mother.

I was born to an 18 year old girl who had recently endured the unexpected death of her father and who had been raised a witness to and victim of domestic abuse herself.  Unlike my father, who was essentially tortured by his father but had a good mother, my mother was not able to empathize with those she would now be in a position to abuse.  So, she carried on the multi-generational legacy of physical and emotional family violence.
She told me once that she pulled my hair then smacked my face when I was less than 2 years old, because I didn’t get her a towel fast enough.  When I was 12 and sad that I didn’t have a boyfriend, she said, “Fat girls can’t have boyfriends.”  I mentioned two overweight girls who had boyfriends, and mom responded, “Fat girls only have boyfriends if they have sex.”
When I was 14, she could tell somehow that I’d been kissed by a boy and she wheedled it out of me.  She wanted to ‘share.’  Two days later, I came home a few minutes late because of torrential rains.  She greeted me at the door screaming at me that I was a whore and a slut.  She slapped me repeatedly and in the process scratched my forehead deeply.  She threw me to the ground and kicked me repeatedly in the stomach screaming that I was a whore.  My sister finally got mom to stop and I was told to go to my room.  The next morning, mom asked where I got the long scab on my face, and when I said ‘From you,’ she denied any violence or name calling.
Many years later, when I was telling my mom about a group on self-forgiveness that I was teaching at the time, mom asked me to suggest an event she could use to go through the self-forgiveness process.   I reminded her of that beating and verbal abuse because frankly I’d never forgotten it.  Her enraged response: “Your [now deceased] dad just sat there.  Why aren’t you mad at him?”  Then she wrote me a long email which I did not finish, but which began by telling me how awful I am.
In fact, my brain had decided dad must have been at work, but my sister confirmed he had been there and done nothing.   It was later that same year, when she ordered him to beat me with a belt, that he came into my room, sat down, and cried, telling me he could not hit me anymore.    He went on to do much better at protecting me, but she is a narcissistic whirlwind of anxiety and abuse that cannot really be contained.
Before his death, he had told her he wouldn’t bring her to my house anymore if she criticized my housekeeping while visiting.  After his death, I hosted her, in her grief, for weeks at a time.  Once, when she was pointing out my lack of housekeeping skills, I mentioned dad told me about not wanting her to do that anymore.  She replied, “Well, your father’s dead now, isn’t he?”
He died while I was performing CPR on him and while she was repeatedly punching me on the back as I was doing the CPR.
She continued to hit me when it suited her well into my adult years, and only when she hit my kids did I call her out on her abuse.  Her response was to hit me, laugh, say it was nothing and I should loosen up.  She continued to blend verbal abuse with sexual guilt;  six years ago, when I told her about a man I was dating, she grabbed my stomach and said, “Do you think he could love you with a stomach like that?  Do you think any man could love you with a stomach like that?”
She took my oldest son to Italy and got him drunk when he was 14.  She then proceeded to tell him for hours what horrible parents he had.  He never had a relationship with her again, as he is very very good at drawing boundaries.  I’ve learned a lot from him about that.  One day, during her grief travels, she was again at my house and I heard her saying the same horrible stuff to my youngest son.  He was 11.  I laid in bed and cried, waiting until she went to bed and then I got my son and we went to 7-11 and bought kettle chips and coca cola, and ate them at the FDR Memorial, (which is quite gorgeous at night.)  We talked about what she had done, and that I had failed to protect him, because I didn’t feel strong enough to confront her.
I told the man who liked me well enough despite my stomach  of that event.  He said, “How long are you going to let your mother abuse you and your children?”  I was stunned.  He’d listened to me complain for 18 months, and thank goodness he finally told me the truth:  I was responsible for what happened from this point on.   I  started setting limits on the number of days she could stay on visits.  She can’t keep herself together long enough to not be verbally abusive during her stays.  Finally, last February, when she asked why I was not answering her daily emailed question about whether the gent who likes me despite my stomach was calling, I said, “I don’t think at my age, I need to tell my mom every time my boyfriend calls me.”  To which she responded, “You are low.” Maybe I’m wrong about my responses here, but it feels dangerous to let her anywhere near my relationships.  I’ve tried to share  a few things with her about this man, and it never goes well.
After she told me I was low, she kept writing, and  I didn’t answer her emails, but I posted something cute to her on Facebook.  I chose that because every single email was a manipulation of drama, feigned concern, and even talk of (false) money woes designed to get me to answer the emails.
Two days after the post, she sent police to my house telling them to check on me because she hadn’t heard from me in so long.  She warned me in a text that she would do this unless I called her immediately.   I could not tolerate the manipulation another moment and allowed the police to arrive.  I’ve not answered any of her calls, texts,  or emails since.
It is probably not surprising that I rarely dated.  When I was 19, I was living with a man who beat me so severely I had two black eyes and pain all over my body when he was done.  He beat me at a concert while dozens of people looked on.  When he got off my stomach, which he was sitting on in order to better punch my face and chest, people then asked if I wanted help.  They disgusted me more than he did, I think.
I got back in the car with him because the concert was in a very bad part of town and I was in danger regardless of where I went and who I was with.  The boyfriend only wanted to know, day after day afterwards, if I would leave him.  I did eventually, because I found a man who was very smart, made me laugh, could earn a living, and wouldn’t beat me, cheat on me, or live off me as the violent boyfriend did.  I married this second man, and he was terrifyingly emotionally abusive and extraordinarily manipulative.  Within a month of our marriage, we were walking over a creek on a footbridge.  He pushed me over the low wall and then grabbed me back.  He denied what he had done and, perhaps in keeping with mom always denying what she had done,  I convinced myself I was wrong.  But I was afraid of him after that.  Once, when I said I wanted to vote for Jesse Jackson for president, he screamed at me for so many hours, I finally locked myself in the bathroom and slept in the tub.
When I wanted to go to a show (with him, but he would never go) or out with friends after we married, he would say “I guess I’ll have to get used to being without you.” or “Why don’t you just divorce me if you don’t want to be with me?”  He would become so enraged while driving, and always blamed that on me, that he would make left turns into oncoming traffic – left turns, you see, puts me closest to that oncoming traffic.  Once, he ran a woman off the road he was so angry.  I did stop driving with him, and do  not, to this day, allow him to drive our children anywhere.  When we were first married, he told me he knew how to kill people without getting caught.  When I was leaving him, he said at the dinner table that he had read a story in a magazine.  It was a horrifying tale of a woman leaving her husband and he broke her fingers so she couldn’t open the car door to get away. I screamed at him to shut the fuck up.  And my kids said – mom, it’s just a story.  calm down.  He pulled a butcher knife out of a drawer, held it up, and said, “Hey, wanna be in a carnival?  All you have to do is stand still.”
He only hit me one time, very early on – and again it was my fault; he had to slam his fist into my knee making me limp for a week because I had emphasized a point I was making by hitting the back of my palm against his shoulder.  I did learn not to do that again!  And I also learned to make my life very narrow to avoid enraging him.  I think many people do not understand how abusive a home can be if they don’t see bruises.  I lost a lot of friends when I made the decision to leave him, but then again, I lost out on a lot of friends by staying with him all those years.
He  threatened suicide off and on during the marriage.  I wanted to save him, help him heal, show him life was worth living.  And in doing so, threw so much of my own life away.  He threatened suicide in front of our children two years before I left.  That night, I prayed that he would do it, then knowing awful for my kids it would be, I  tried once again to get him to accept help.  He told the doctor he was under stress.  I told the doctor how he screamed at us all the time and the doctor put him on medication for bipolar disorder. When I moved out, he said he didn’t need it anymore because I was the only person who upset him.
I would wake up in the morning and there would be rage in the air.  Rage that I hadn’t initiated sex with him.  He could have initiated sex with me but never did.  So, I would do it under fear of his rage.  This to me was rape, coerced sex.    Or sometimes I would just not do it and our house would seethe with his rage all day.  He would sleep with his arm pushing down on my diaphragm, and when I  complained that I couldn’t breathe, he told me I didn’t love him.  Which eventually, of course, became quite true.  He monitored my clothing, my makeup, my jewelry, all my comings and goings.  He would make my young son run errands with me, even on snowy or rainy days.  When I would say – he should stay home, my husband would say, “No, I worry about you.  I want someone with you.”
I decided to leave when four events spread over about 4 years happened.  No doubt, my father’s death at a young age alerted me to the fact that time could be running out for me.   The other events included intense public verbal abuse in front of our kids and dozens of hikers.  That was the last straw, I think, but I was also profoundly touched by the realization that strangers were nicer to me than my husband was.  I especially saw this when he was yelling at me on the phone when I said I had a flat tire, yelling because he said he just knew I’d save the tire changing for him.  As I was reassuring him I would never do that, two men knocked on my door, said they’d noticed I had a flat, and could they please repair it for me.  Angels, perhaps they were.

psychnurse by Washington Monument

How are you doing now?

I am doing very well.  I am out of my abusive marriage more than 7 years now.  I used to always say – “I just want peace.”  About four years ago, I realized I was starting to feel it, to feel at peace.
I was lucky to be born with a very optimistic, sunny nature.  I laugh a lot.  I hope.  Spending time outdoors is very important to me and it’s a commitment to myself I rarely forgo.  I must walk.  I must be outside.
Finances are a huge struggle for me, and a big source of stress since I ended things with my mom, because there’s no one to call if I need, say,  four new tires, except the landlord to tell him I’m gonna be late on the rent.  There’s no margin for error and no savings.  The peace is worth this stress and my daily walks help.
I get immense satisfaction from my work as a psychiatric nurse, but I struggle with the authority figures.  I keep expecting if I am good at my job, hard working and honest and manage to have a profound and positive impact on my patients’ struggles, then I will be treated with respect.  This is not the case.  Co-workers tell me it’s not personal, tell me how they struggle with abuse from our bosses, too.  I can see my brain is different from theirs, my response to difficult people is to personalize it.  Sometimes, I feel scared.  I wonder too much about fairness.  Fortunately, after years of therapy, I don’t really think there’s something wrong with me.  I just can’t shake my futile expectation that things should be fair, people should be nice.
One other co-worker is a product of a violent, abusive parent.  She struggles like I do with worry about treatment from the bosses, worries in a way our co-workers who weren’t raised this way just don’t.
My sons are good young men, and are smart and funny and enjoy spending (at least some) time with me.  It makes me very happy to hang out with them and they always inspire and teach me.  I try to do the same.
The man who doesn’t mind my stomach is still in my life.  He has a troubled background too, and we continue to teach each other about vulnerability and trust and love – and most days, I think we’ll make it to happily ever after.  In the meantime, we are smart and funny and loving and supportive for each other, and that is very good.
(My foster sister thinks I chose a long-distance relationship to stay safe.  I say I hate that aspect of things, and just happened, because of a chance meeting in a game, run into the man I should’ve met so many years ago.  There’s probably something to what she says…)



Is there anything  about domestic violence you’d like to tell the world?

I know now, as a psychiatric nurse, which I became when I left  after 25 years of marriage, that my husband’s suicide threats were more about a personality disorder than depression.  I cannot possibly explain to you how I could leave my children at home with a man who I really believed might kill himself.  In the end, he never has, so I suppose my tormented decisions were correct, but I opened my front door with trepidation hundreds of times.
Why do I say this?  The precarious juggling of decisions about how to survive abuse, how to make it moment by moment, how to choose between all bad options is made even more challenging because abuse fills you with self-doubt.   If it’s a parent that does this abuse, it’s a struggle to believe one has a right to happiness.  And abuse is very isolating.
Don’t expect your friends who are or were abused to look at things the way you do.  It changes us.  We are by no means monolithic in response or opinions, but our calculus could be very different from yours.  You can judge us, but it’s better if you walk beside us.  Tell us hard truths, but don’t expect us to follow your advice right now.  We may already know what we should do and are working on the strength to do it.
Kaiser Permanente did a study called the ACE study.  ACE stands for adverse childhood events.  The study proves that domestic violence is a public health issue.  Experiencing domestic violence in its many forms increases exponentially the odds that one will be an addict, that one will die young, that one will have multiple illnesses of a psychiatric and non-psychiatric nature.  Do what you can, do what makes sense to you, to fight this public health emergency.
AND! Speak up when you see a child abused.  Speak up at least to the child when you can – whisper – “this isn’t normal and you don’t deserve to be treated like this.”  I wish to God one person had said that to me when I was a child, and I’ve said it to a few children since becoming an adult.  “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” is a wonderful child-rearing manual, especially for people who want to parent differently than their own parents did, but haven’t a clue how.  I love this book and it made all the difference in the world for me and my children.
I think of this poem a lot.  I’m not as cynical as Larkin.  Domestic violence is undoubtedly a generational sickness, but every generation can do better than the last.  You owe it to your children to try.

Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.