Domestic violence altered the course of my life in a way that I never possibly would have imagined ten, twenty even forty years ago. As a woman nearly sixty years old still struggling with effects of abuse, particularly chronic, complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); I understand how difficult it is to manage life sometimes even if it means surviving simply moment to moment. Today, I am no longer restrained though by abuse or perpetrators who prey on my vulnerabilities – I learned ways to take back my life, my power and my voice. My choices were not easy and sometimes I felt as if I had no choice at all. It was in those moments that I simply held out for something I couldn’t see or feel yet knew had to be there. Some people might call it hope or faith, others might think of it as support. I slowly held out and began educating myself and cautiously allowed others in who were trying to reach out to me.
This COVID-19 pandemic has placed survivors, victims of domestic violence and their children at great risk for many poor outcomes in life if not addressed, recognized, validated and brought into conversations with professionals, advocates and victims and survivors. As stated on the National Coalition for Domestic Violence website (NCADV | National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, n.d.), victims of abuse experience the following: isolation, depression, hopelessness, withdrawal, distancing from family and friends, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and more. These experiences and risks are magnified with COVID-19 upon us and untold numbers of families are clustered in homes together with abusive partners, nowhere to go and no help in sight. Survivors living alone might be feeling effects of PTSD caused by social distancing and stay at home orders recently put into place in their home cities or states.
It has been challenging for me, living alone during this time as a survivor to be by myself, away from everyone I know and love. It’s difficult to be alone on any given day for me even when there isn’t a global pandemic happening. So, I think about people who are feeling trapped right now, perhaps who felt like I did some years ago. I put myself in that space and remember what it was like to try not to upset “him” so that he wouldn’t hurt me or my children or even my dog. I remember his smell after he turned into a monster. To this day I can’t stand the smell of dark liquor. For the purpose of this piece of writing, "he” isn’t just any one partner of mine. He is a composite of many. Perhaps you may be familiar with “him”, he might be just like someone you know.
I used to predict how my day was going to be in the mornings by what kind of mood he was in when he woke up. My predictions were like clockwork. In recovering from fear, eventually I learned to manage my own emotions instead of adhering to his controlling and abusive behavior. It took a lot of courage and I was scared sometimes, but I found it confused him and he didn’t know what to do with the way I was beginning to set myself free. One day, I was finally able to leave and today I am no longer feeling broken.
My process of freedom didn’t happen overnight. My story isn’t unique but my voice is, just like yours… and my soul is free and beautiful. Today I know it always was and it took sifting through so much pain to get here. I loved “him”. Sometimes more than I loved myself. I was always searching for love. In trying to find it – to find him, I found more than I bargained for. I found myself forced to do things no woman should have to do, I woke up from multiple surgeries with injuries caused from abuse, and I suffered broken bones, blackened eyes, bruised organs and other bodily injuries. I also suffered a traumatic brain injury from taking multiple blows to my head. With that came a mental health diagnosis and the stigma right along with it. Stigma and diagnosis do not define me today.
Writing and journaling was something that gave me peace of mind during the times that I was being hurt. I couldn’t talk to anyone because he was always listening to me. He regulated my friends and isolated me from my family, even when I had children. There were times when he would even try to control my writing by standing over me, taking my paper away or making fun of me, but somehow I would always find a way to get a few words in and if I couldn’t write on paper; I would write electronically or by some other means. It didn’t matter whether or not it was permanent either. I would just write. There were times I remember helping my children with their homework and they would write stories. I would help them and while they were doing their homework, I would sit and write beside them. Just a few words or until I couldn’t stop, whatever I could – whenever I could, I just wrote.
I played with my children whenever I could. In their rooms, away from him if I could. Especially if he was irritated. It made me upset that he would always control the television, especially if the kids wanted to watch something, but I would try to get creative and do something positive with the kids. We would make art. That was a fun thing for me to do with them if he wouldn’t ruin it for us. We played with clay, beads, and paper, whatever was around in the house. Making forts and trying to become invisible was always a favorite because it gave my children a sense of power for a period of time.
Sometimes I felt guilty because I had to give my undivided attention to “him”. Telling my kids repeatedly “In just a minute”, or “I’ll be right there”. Knowing that it would be longer than that because I was putting out a fire at the hands of my abuser, hoping that it wouldn’t escalate and move toward the children. With COVID-19 here, escalated abuse is a real threat victims and survivors are facing right now. It is possible that the abusers they are living with also are abusing substances or alcohol and the patterns may increase during stressful times. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a website that offers support suggestions for families experiencing abuse or are in stressful situations (CDC, 2020).
Safety is a word that may feel unattainable to victims of domestic violence living with abusive partners. I made plenty of mistakes trying to keep myself and my children safe while living with my abusers. However, there are online websites that have support for victims of violence that offer support and safety resources. I learned to use these resources as well as other self-help materials to support me during my time trying to escape domestic violence. A good site for support right now is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. One of the tips on their website that might have helped me is stated clearly as “Don’t run to where the children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.” (Path to Safety—National Domestic Violence Hotline, n.d.). While quick and immediate reactions may be needed in abusive situations, safety planning is essential and thinking before moving is something you may not have done at one point, but you can always think about to plan in case there is a next time. You can also help to prepare children and assist them in preventing violent confrontation. Helping them children to understand violence is not acceptable and how they can get help supports them and will empower all of you during this time.
Browsing the internet if possible, reading self-help materials, writing, talking to outreach advocates, reaching out to family or friends on the phone in whatever capacity one is able are ways that I began slowly healing. I was only able to do these things in bits and pieces. Each stepping stone is a milestone celebrated in a survivor’s journey. Planning the journey even one moment at a time is an accomplishment. If you need help safety planning, click on some of the resources listed here, there are suggestions on how to begin.
The decision to leave is a courageous, brave and many times extremely dangerous thing a survivor can do. It is frightening, sometimes lonely and so very difficult. It also is challenging, refreshing, renewing, hopeful, and life changing. The possibilities and experiences that happen during and after this decision altered my life forever and supported my decision to leave. The people I talked to that supported my decision, also helped me after my leaving and so I didn’t feel so alone in my new life. I was able to have some foundation in my new beginning. That is how I began my life as an advocate for victims and my desire for more knowledge continued on. I believe it is essential for people to continue to connect in this crisis. If you are a victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or your local crisis line.
Today is the day that I am compelled to place my fingers on the keys and write something for myself – something for others, something that isn’t academic or impersonal. Today I sit alone, with my dog; in self quarantine as so many of us are, and celebrate my son’s 38th birthday. He is my miracle. I’ve shared that with so many people over the years many times over, but I feel it so deeply right now at this very moment because I am unable to see him. He is protecting me from potential risk of COVID-19 exposure. I am very moved right now because thinking back, as I do quite often; I literally fought to keep to keep my tiny premature infant alive so he might become the man he is today.
Because of the violence I endured during many years of his childhood, although I did the best I could at times, he was left unprotected from abuse. He honors me, on his birthday in staying at home, even though I had hoped to see him during this truly unstable time. I invite you to know that you are not alone in your isolation, even in your chaos. I am an advocate, student, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and survivor of many things. My passion is my family, writing and I love to paint and craft. I have Graduate Certificates in Addictions Counseling and Eating Disorders Treatment and an MS Degree in Inclusive Early Childhood Education and Curriculum and Instruction and am earning my third Graduate Certificate in Sustainability. I completed all my graduate work at Portland State University.
Effective October 6, 2022, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) have joined together. To learn more about this exciting venture, to expand the eco-system of holistic and inclusive support for survivors and advocates, please visit Project Opal.