I decided to write this now, before I chicken out.
I am deeply grateful for all the attention that breast cancer receives during the month of October. Three friends are either currently battling the disease or are in remission. Two other dear friends have mothers who have battled the disease, and my ex-husband's grandmother is a survivor. The money raised to fight breast cancer, fund support groups and outreach programs, help fund treatment centers and provide early intervention is literally life-saving to those who benefit from those programs.
I am not here to detract from or belittle that cause in any way.
I am here, however, to talk about a cause that deserves some attention.
Silence is the great perpetuator of domestic violence. That being stated, I am and have always been a fairly private person. As I've gotten older, I've become more private. My life is just that - mine. My choices, and their resulting consequences, are mine to bear.
However, this is an issue on which I cannot remain silent.
Domestic violence took the life of a former co-worker this year. I have seen, first hand, how it destroys marriages, children, and innocent bystanders. October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month. For some reason, it doesn't receive the tweets, Facebook posts, or Instagram pictures that flood our feeds like a vibrant pink parade all month long. Teams don't don purple gear, there are no parades, no walks, no telethons to raise the millions that could fund the non-profits who spend countless hours trying to save the one who has the courage to pick up the phone, leave in the middle of the night, or tell a confidant what is REALLY happening. This begs the question: Why not? Is this not an equally worthy cause? Domestic violence deaths occur daily. There are thousands, probably millions more survivors who stay silent, their wounds either covered with sunglasses, turtlenecks and coverup or a Crest White Strip smile.
The key to the perpetuation of the domestic violence epidemic is simple - it lies in silence. If a perpetrator can keep the survivor (the reader might insert the word "victim" here) SILENT, he or she will maintain absolute control over the survivor. The formula is that simple.
Violence is not always physical. Once the violence becomes physical, the survivor is actually in grave danger and has likely been suffering for an extended period of time. Most domestic violence starts with manipulation or a sense of control. The perpetrator tells the survivor that they are stupid, no good, fat, ugly, that his or her family aren't good enough, etc. The perpetrator questions the survivor's judgment, motivation, strength (either physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional), and slowly whittles away his or her sense of self. The emotional and/or verbal abuse then escalates.
After a while, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years (this depends on the survivor's personality - it took me about two years to really start breaking down), the survivor will lose his or her sense of self, acquiese to the perpetrator's requests, agree during arguments just to keep the peace at home.
The problem is that it doesn't stop. Like breast cancer, without treatment, it gets worse. It matasticizes, seeping into every part of the survivor's life. My relationship with my nuclear family suffered. My sister told me at one time, "Every time I talked to you on the phone, it was like you were interviewing for a job. You put on your best self, you hid what was really going on."
My health rapidly deteriorated. Always prone to migraine headaches, they began to worsen, becoming almost chronic. My myofascial pain developed into full-blown fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed with four autoimmune diseases, which were all exacerbated by stress. Consequentially, my job performance suffered. For more than a year, I did not work a full five-day work week. I had great insurance, but the medical bills overwhelmed me, controlling my life.
But my marriage was "a private matter." One girl at work knew that my marriage was fiery, but hers was no better, so we merely swapped war stories, swearing that things would change, it would get better, that we could FIX them, CHANGE them. Sworn to silence, I trudged on.
After a particularly scary incident after work one evening, and a subsequent incident on the car ride home, I woke up sick (again), and trudged to work on Friday morning. My husband drove me as I was unable to do so, crippled by pain. We were living in Hanford, and I worked in Fresno. Exhausted from work and sore from my commute, we planned to stay at my parents' home for the evening. I convinced my husband to stay overnight due to plans in Fresno that weekend.
Saturday morning came, and alone with my Mom in Target, everything that was going wrong in my marriage came out like verbal vomit - the horrible arguments, scary car rides that nearly resulted in accidents, screaming, everything. (As I said, I'm a very private person, so no, dear readers, you don't get all the details.) Sobbing in the middle of the toy aisle (it was my niece's 1st birthday), I was shocked when, rather than being met with shame, ridicule, embarrassment, judgment, and every other negative emotion I thought I would receive in return, my mother hugged me, cried with me, and told me, "Aimee, I will help you in whatever way I can. I love you." No judgment, no shame, no blame. Nothing but love and acceptance.
NOTE: For those of you who suspect you may have a survivor in your close circle - PLEASE follow my mom's example. In addition, she respected my privacy and kept my confidence. She did not tell a soul, not even my Dad. She let me tell him when I was ready. She acted totally normal when she returned to her home, where my husband was still sleeping. I cannot imagine the restraint and love that took.
I stayed at my parents' home that night and went home and taught a Mother's Day lesson at church on Sunday. I decided to give it one last-ditch effort. I talked to my bishop (he's like a pastor), and told him that my husband and I had been arguing. He encouraged us to make amends, make the marriage work. Frustrated, I decided to ask him to do three things on Monday - look for a job, schedule a meeting with a counselor, and build a resume.
None of those happened.
That same Monday, my husband had scheduled to go camping with his dad and his best friend. After work that night, scared to death and with my mom at my side, I went to my apartment, took my most prized possessions, and didn't look back.
I thought that would be the hardest part.
The hardest part was dealing with the subsequent trauma.
The hardest part was grieving, not blaming myself, not feeling like a total failure, and not going back.
For those of you who are in this type of situation. I cannot tell you what to do. I could barely tell me what to do. I knew for at least a year before I left that I deserved better, that God wanted better for me, and that what was happening was NOT okay. Had anyone told me that, I would have defended my husband to the death. I still say that he was a good man who made bad choices and didn't know how to turn things around.
That being said, there came a time, after much prayer and soul searching, that I knew that if I stayed things would NOT get better. So I left.
So to those who are in this situation, know that life will most likely suck for a long time after you leave. Know that you will want to go back. Know that you will think you don't deserve better. PLEASE ALSO KNOW that you DO. It will get better. You will look back and it will feel like it was a dream (or a nightmare). The nightmares will get better. They'll be less frequent, less intense. Get a good therapist, someone you can trust implicitly. Have a good support system. Change your surroundings. I had 4 jobs and lived in 2 different states in one year. (That was just what worked for me.) Don't be afraid to ask for help. My parents let me sleep in the spare room, my job gave me time off to cope, my siblings still have an open door policy when I need to get away. Once you feel like you're moving along, once the flashbacks don't happen every day or every week or every month, reach out! Help others! Share your story! Remember, silence perpetuates violence! Don't be afraid to tell others. You don't have to share all the gorey details, but let someone know that you made it, you survived, and they can too. It somehow makes the suffering worthwhile.
I'm a huge advocate of getting a counselor. But in addition, find a support group. Many non-profits have FREE groups, and they're all confidential. There are listings on both websites listed below, and you can find a list of 12-step programs for friends and family members of addicts on addictionrecovery.lds.org. I found that stopping co-dependent behaviors and learning to use Jesus Christ's atonement will help in the healing process tremendously. This is the program I used, but you can find one that works for you!
To the family and friends, be patient, understanding, and loving. Be patient. Did I say be patient? I didn't listen very well for about six months. It's a grieving process. Let survivors feel their emotions. Encourage them to cry, scream, yell, talk. They haven't been able to do that for months, maybe even years. The survivor doesn't see himself or herself the way you do. So just be patient. Celebrate every success. Remind them that they're worth it, that they're special, and that they can succeed. One of the best things my mom ever said to me was, "You need to have a success experience." And my brother, bless his heart, said to me, "You can either let this define you for the rest of your life or you can let it make you a better, stronger person." Best.Advice.Ever. Encourage survivors to be strong.
If you read this, thanks. Share it. Please raise awareness!
Visit www.rainn.org for information about how you can get involved in raising awareness and preventing sexual assault. It's a great organization.Visit www.nrcdv.org for information on the domestic violence awareness project. They've been doing great work since 1981 to help end domestic violence.
If you need someone to talk to, please call 1-800-799-7233 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Someone is there to help, and it's confidential.