This is my story

At first I wasn’t scared of him. He was sweet and we fell in love very quickly. By 6 weeks into the relationship I was staying at his house many nights of the week. We were sleeping together and most of the time we used birth control. I was in college and my grades started to slip. Eventually I moved in with him after about 6 months at his parent’s house and dropped out of college. Things were good. We were in love, we spent time together and I believe he genuinely cared about me.

I remember very clearly one night after one of our first fights his dad told me “You need to get away from him. Don’t get stuck in this family like I am.” He was a very wise man, and I remembered his words long after he passed away.

Eventually we moved out of his parent’s house and things changed. He wasn’t as sweet sometimes. He didn’t buy me gifts or flowers, but I assumed it was because we had more bills to pay now. We’d fight and he’d get in my face and scare me. But we were still in love and happy most of the time, so I stuck it out.

About 2 years into our relationship things really started to escalate. When we fought he would say really vile things to me like “You’re just a whore with her legs up in the air” or “You’re an ugly cunt”. But I stayed because I was working a job which wouldn’t allow me to have my own place, I had no other supports in the area, and I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends. They would ask me if I was ok, and I’d lie and say that I was fine, or blame some other reason I was upset or in a bad mood. He’d tell me my friend was a “bad influence” and tell me to stay away from her. I’d listen to what he was saying about her, and at the time it made sense, so I stayed away. About this time he started really scaring me. I’d lock myself in the bathroom to get away. He’d tackle me or shove me onto the bed. He’d grab my wrists so hard it left marks or bruises.

3 years into the relationship things started to fall apart. We fought a lot, probably more than we had good days. But he had asked me to marry him: center ice of a hockey game. It was so romantic and he planned the whole thing by himself. That tiny piece of compressed coal on my finger was accomplishing a goal I had wanted for so very long. We started planning our wedding, the stress from wedding planning weighed heavily on me. He wasn’t happy with the wedding my parents could afford, so I felt less. I felt like the wedding I had dreamed about wasn’t good enough for him. His mother offered to help pay for things, I reluctantly agreed. We planned a church wedding and began marriage counseling, which led to more fighting. He’d yell at me for disclosing that we’d fight or the things we’d fight about. He’d tell me that if I made more money our finances wouldn’t be so tight. I was working my ass off as it was, and going to college at the same time. Fights continued to be physical. He’d slap me across the face, and sometimes punch me in the head or ribs. He left marks and did not care. I hid them from my coworkers and friends (so I thought). I was careful in everything I did not to upset him. I avoided my friends. I didn’t interact with anyone at work or school unless it was necessary. I learned to wear a mask to hide what I was going through.

Finally my friends had enough. Two of them invited me over to one of their houses on the premise that we’d be doing a makeup or pedicure party or something like that. Once I got there, they sat me down and had a kind of “intervention” about my fiancé. They told me they were scared for me. They said I might be killed. They told me they would support me in leaving him. They said I could stay with them until I found my own place, or become their roommate as one of them had a 2 bedroom apartment. These were my closest friends in the world at the time, and I hadn’t seen them in months. To this day I am thankful for this interaction, but at the time I minimized what I was experiencing. I was only 21 and didn’t know what a healthy relationship really looked like. I had seen my parents fight. I argued that every couple has fights. I defended him. I gave excuses and I lied to my closest friends that I was fine. Inside I told them if things got bad that I would leave him.

I left that house with so many mixed emotions. I was angry at my friends for saying such horrible things about my fiancé. I was hurt that they would say that. I was confused as to what to do. I knew they were right, but I had no place to go and no money to be able to leave with. My parents would have helped me, but I was to proud to ask them for help and embarrassed to share what I had experienced. I thought it was my fault because I let it happen. I didn’t know any resources for women like me. I was stuck. My friends had planted a seed which sprouted almost immediately into doubt in the relationship.

At about the 4 year mark that seed had grown significantly. He had lost his dad the previous year. Wedding planning came to a complete halt. His mother was a wreck and he asked for us to move in with her. We spent most evenings at her house keeping her company. The nights we didn’t, we fought about things. Mostly we fought about the usual things, but sometimes also about how much time we spent with his mother and sister’s family. He began to drink. At first it was only a little. Alcohol wasn’t the reason he started getting physical, I knew that, but things got so much worse. He’d threaten to kill me if I called the police. He’d call me names and say hurtful things about me. He’d chase me around the apartment with a knife. He’d hold me down on the floor with the knife in my face. When I hid in the bathroom he’d pound on the door and shove the knife under the door saying terrible things about what he was going to do to me. I was terrified and feared for my life.

 

The next time we fought was when  I started to fight back. He had me pinned down on the living room floor and was screaming and spitting in my face. He lifted his hand to slap me and I punched him right in the face with my left fist. The engagement ring that I treasured so much made a jagged cut in his cheek. He stumbled back while grabbing his face and I ran into the bathroom to safety. He started crying. He cried at the bathroom door while pleading with me to please forgive him, and that he was so sorry. This was the first time he had ever said something like this about the abuse. Eventually I opened the door and he cried in my arms and we made up for the last time.

His mother threw me a wonderful (and very elegant and expensive) bridal shower. I was happy and it felt so good to see all my friends and all his family members. My family wasn’t really welcome and was only invited as a courtesy. Invitations had been hand made (by me), addressed (by me), and sent (also by me). I was finishing up last minute duties having to do with the wedding.

The next week we had our last counseling session with the pastor who would marry us. We had a big fight about an hour before the session. He didn’t come home the night before, and I thought maybe he was cheating on me pretty strongly. My car window had been broken a few days before, and he told me some story about this woman at work that was crazy and may have broken it. He told me he wasn’t going to attend the session because he was busy and wouldn’t give a reason or tell me where he was. I screamed that I would go on my own. I left for the church. He called my cell phone about a dozen times in the 15 minutes it took me to get there. I ignored every call. Eventually I turned off my phone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand him lying to me or hurting me. I couldn’t marry this man who didn’t trust me and who had nothing good to say about me. I went into the pastor’s office and just broke down in tears. He asked me what was going on and where was my fiancé, I told him everything. I told him about the abuse, the threats, when I fought back, everything I could tell him. The pastor said “Jodi, I’m afraid I can’t marry you after hearing about all of this.” I nodded and told him I understood, and that I didn’t want to be married to him.

About a minute after I finished, he walked into the pastor’s office. Regret instantly hit me like a ton of bricks. He was so angry already. He changed his face quickly and sat down. He asked the pastor what we were working on this week. The pastor said he needed to cancel the session and that he thinks we should take a break from our relationship or end things. He said more, but I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my own breaking heart. This man hurt me both emotionally and physically. He beat me on a nearly daily basis for the past 2 years, he threatened to kill me, he held a knife to my throat and I was still in love with him. It hurt so deeply. I remember leaving the pastor’s office, he grabbed my arm and practically dragged me out of the church. He screamed at me across the parking lot, but I didn’t hear any of it. I got in my car and he said “We’ll finish talking about this at home.” and drove off.

When I arrived home, I called the police. I knew that things would be bad, and I thought this would be the end of my life. I didn’t want to die at the hands of this man, so I called the police to help me leave safely. When I got inside I went straight to the bedroom and started packing as much as I needed and planned on staying with a coworker for a while until he and I figured out what to do about the apartment we shared and dividing everything out after the breakup. He wanted this to be a true break, and wanted to maintain contact, but I told him I didn’t want that. I was terrified that he might hurt my cats, but I couldn’t take them with me.

About a week later he called and told me he had moved everything out of the apartment he wanted and that I could live there. He signed papers with the apartment company saying that I was taking over the lease. I had no idea how I was going to pay for the apartment. I didn’t have living room furniture and the bed I had was a piece of crap. Everything reminded me of him. I felt conflicted because I knew we shouldn’t be together, but once again all those emotions came rushing back both good and bad.

Three days later I was served with a no contact order listing him as a victim. It said I had to show up to court and that he was claiming I had abused him. His mother had also filed against me citing that “her husband died” and “Jodi threatened to hurt me” and “She’s much bigger and weighs more than I do, so I fear for my safety (she had criticized my weight the entire length of our relationship, so I knew this was a dig at me being “fat”).

I was terrified at court. I brought a friend with me to court who was male. That didn’t go over well, I could tell he was furious as we sat in the hallway. I was shaking on the witness stand, and crying so hard, he was giving me dirty looks and I could see his fists ball up and his shoulders tense. The judge was kind and patient as I gave my testimony. I don’t remember what he asked, but I remember crying so much and seeing my ex’s angry face at the desk. Then I had to listen to my ex talk about how he was scared of me. He cited the time I fought back and showed the judge the scar on his cheek. He told the judge that he was the victim. He blamed me for the abuse. He lied. The judge dismissed the order and arranged for us to exchange the things I had left at his mother’s house.

Finally it was over, but it didn’t feel real. I was terrified to see him out in public. I avoided where he worked, and everyplace he went on a regular basis. I was still scared for years. For the first 5 years after we broke up, he messaged me about once a year to berate me and try to hurt me. He’d say terrible things, but as time went by I wasn’t scared as much anymore. Sometimes I’d cry, but it got better.

12 years later I realized how much I have healed. That’s why I chose now to share my story. In my work as an advocate, I’ve seen similar stories to mine. I’ve spoken to victims about the reasons they want to stay and how long it will take to fully recover. I’d like to tell them how long it takes, but the truth is that I still have times when I’m weak as well. But I am not the woman that I was then. I will not be his victim anymore. And I will no longer let this story hold me back from whatever I want to do!

So here it is, my story and I hope you will learn from this that you’re not alone. It’s ok to love your abuser. It’s ok to miss the relationship. It’s ok to remember the good moments and forget the bad. It’s ok to stay and it’s ok to not call the police if you don’t want to. There’s things that people in your shoes do that many people wouldn’t understand, and that’s ok. You do what you need to do to stay safe and serve your own needs. But if you are ready to leave, there’s help, you just need to reach out. There’s people like me who know what it’s like and can support you through the changes that will come next. There’s resources available for people who need them. Best of all, there’s hope.

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Life of an Advocate

I wake up. I try to come to grips with the fact this today will be busy, but I will make it through – I have a 100% statistic so far in my life of getting through the day.

I slept like garbage last night, I’m exhausted and I no longer own a coffee pot. I also don’t have the money to buy coffee or the time to make an extra stop on my way to the courthouse.

I throw myself together in 5 minutes and hope that I look presentable enough for court. (Hey, I showered and brushed my teeth, I’m wearing clean and professional clothes, so that’s great, right?)

I arrive at the courthouse and drive around for 10 minutes before finding a space 2 blocks away.

I run to the courthouse so as to avoid being late and accompany my client. Things go smoothly.

Finish my first appointment at late 10am and my next one starts at 10am… across town. I’m definitely going to be late.

Run to my car and try to obey the speed limits as I’m driving, but it’s so tempting. I think to myself “Getting a ticket will make you later and broke.”

Client doesn’t show after all that rushing. Oh well, on to the next. I shake it off.

I return to the office and it’s an absolute mess from yesterday and all the work I did. I clear enough space to start working.

My phone is ringing off the hook and I have 8 phone calls to return already.

I have 3 clients with financial needs waiting for an answer and my director has still not responded.

I have 12 emails in my inbox and most of them require a response today.

I shove a snack into my face as I try to call back a client, no answer. I leave a message. I pray to God my garbled message is understandable. I make a mental note not to eat when I’m calling a client, but who knows when I will be able to get lunch?!

I have a client at the front desk wanting to speak to me and an appointment in 5 minutes.

I’m stressed out to the max and my stomach is growling so much I’m worried someone would be able to hear it through the phone.

I needed to pee at 9 am and still haven’t gone, it’s now 1pm… my bladder may explode.

I’m sitting in a meeting when I get an email from the accounting department about a client financial item. They are issuing checks today… right this minute…and if I don’t get my request in now it won’t get paid for another 3 days.

I leave the meeting and run to my desk and then downstairs to accounting. I run back up to the meeting and try to regain focus.

I shove some food in my face between phone calls. My phone continues to ring off the hook as I’m on the phone and trying to eat.

I have an appointment in another hour. I’m sure she has a lot which needs to be addressed and I know my workload will get worse before it gets better.

I suddenly wonder what it would be like to work in the corporate world again. It would be so nice to have predictable hours, predictable needs and predictable workloads. I can picture my life as boring and average. I wouldn’t be helping people in need, but my skills would still be in high demand. My day would be filled with , human resource functions such as staff trainings, creating documents, running reports, employee files, background checks and interviews.

I’m bored at the simple thought.

Would my life be easier doing many other jobs? Of course it would! But I wouldn’t ever want them. As stressful as my life is, it an be very rewarding. As hectic as it can be, it can be filled with client victories and progress towards risk reduction. As ever-changing as it is, it can sometimes be boring and mundane still. As much as I may travel and it annoys me to “waste my time” on the road, it’s not wasted because it’s bringing vital services to clients who need it. I’m making outreach in rural areas which need me. I’m assisting some of the most vulnerable people on this planet with vital services. Is it sometimes challenging? Absolutely. Is it sometimes very sad and hard to listen to the stores I’m told? Hell yes. There are days where I wonder how someone could hurt another human being like that. But as hard as it is, it’s important to listen to victims. It’s crucial to their story and it’s a huge first step to getting their needs met.

Being an advocate can be hard as fuck.

But I wouldn’t want anything else right now.

Baby Birds Leave the Nest Eventually

I’m a domestic violence victim advocate. We don’t always have good days. Some days feel like failures. Some days are hard.

I wanted to write today about one of the most amazing and beautiful days I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been working with someone for a while now, and she’s had struggles, triumphs and everything in between. I’ve been with her every step of the way. I’ve celebrated with her, I’ve tried to help her plan when things didn’t go as planned. I’ve watched as her children grew. I’ve felt her pain and her joy. I’ve calmed her fears and I’ve watched as she slowly learned that she needed to do something to protect herself and her children.

Today was the day she metaphorically left the nest and moved on from my services. We met at a gas station to say goodbye. She thanked me for all I had done. I wished her well. We cried in that gas station parking lot. We hugged one another and we cried for all the times we’d been there together. I didn’t care that she’d been busy living her life and hadn’t showered in 2 days. I didn’t care what other people thought. This woman is one of the strongest women I have met to date, and I wanted nothing more than to wish her well, comfort her one last time and send her on her way; to allow her to leave the nest by giving her the last gentle push she needed to keep moving forward on her journey.

It was heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time. This woman has seen so much more evil in this world than some can even imagine and yet here she was, still here. Still moving forward and still with a positive attitude. It was time. She was ready to move on to the next chapter in her life. And I know she’s going to do great things with her life.

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Women like this are why I love what I do so much. I can’t save everyone. I know I can’t. I can’t put all the injured, vulnerable and unsafe victims of domestic violence in my pocket to protect them. But I can empower them to do what they need to do. I can connect them to what they need. I can help them reflect on how strong they are. I can show them all the progress they have made and help them acknowledge that. I can be with them in their good times and their hard times when no one else is. I can be someone to talk to when all their friends have gone away because of their partner or former partner. I can make them laugh when they need a smile. I can believe them when they share their story, and there is so much value in that. I can support them in their choices.

THIS IS WHAT I DO. I ADVOCATE.

I’m not a super hero. I’m not a savior. I’m not a miracle worker. But sometimes, just sometimes, I’m able to do something amazing. And that’s all that I can do.

Dear Survivor

Dear victim of domestic violence,

I wish I could tell you all the things which were so apparent to me. You believed all the lies which your partner told you. You had been pushed down and silenced so often, that it was easier to believe the lies than risk standing up for yourself. I wish I could tell you how special you are. I wish I could tell you how beautiful and unique you are. I wish I could tell you about all the wonderful things I watched you do regardless of how hard they were, and tell you what a great job you did. I wish I could show you the beautiful soul you have. I wish I could show you how talented and amazing you are. I wish I could show you how strong you are. I wish you believed me when I tell you how strong you are. There are few people in the world capable of enduring the hand you’ve been dealt, but you managed it all the best you could and you survived. You made the best of that hand, and you never gave up. Not once. I wish I could tell you that you are the only person who has felt alone, abused, hurt, neglected, unloved or unlovable, but you know it’s not true. So many women have sat in the chair you are now in. You are not alone. I wish I could tell you it gets easier with time, but that’s not true for everyone. I wish I could show you what you look like in the eyes of your children. They look up to you and watch your every move. They think you are the best parent ever. They love you more than you can ever imagine. I wish I could show you what your future holds so you can prepare for it. I wish I could tell you about all the wonderful things you can look forward to and all the ways this experience will change you. I wish I could make the hurting stop. I wish I could make your abuser stop doing the things which hurt you, not just the physical pain, but all the other hurt you’ve endured. I wish I could save you. I wish there was a way to put you into a bubble of pure joy where no sadness would ever touch you again, but I can’t. I wish I could be there for you when you are hurting, to comfort you and dry your tears and tell you it’ll be better soon, and know that it will be. I wish I could help you go back in time and undo the choices which led you to this. Hindsight is both a blessing and such a curse for you. I wish I could do more for you. I know what your barriers and needs are, but sometimes there just aren’t enough resources for all of them. I wish I could help ease your burden every time you need me to. I wish I could give you more tools to help you cope. I wish I could help you change your unhealthy coping skills. I wish you didn’t need these coping skills to begin with. I wish I could protect you. I wish there was something I could do which made you less vulnerable. I’m sorry that someone took advantage of your loving heart. I wish that the systems in this world supported you better. I know how frustrating it can be to seek help but be unable to gain justice. I wish I could take away your anger. It’s truly infuriating to feel like you have no control over your own life. I understand. Most of all, I wish you joy, the greatest joy you’ve ever experienced in your entire life, and I wish you to be able to enjoy that joy with your whole heart. I wish you peace. I wish that you can find someone who truly loves and deserves to be with an awesome person like you are. You truly deserve it. I wish that you live the rest of your life free from violence, that no one ever victimizes you again. You give others hope who will sit in this chair in the future. I wish that you would get to tell your story and that it would empower you. Your story is unique and needs to be told. I wish you pride in what you’ve done, it wasn’t an easy road. Lastly I wish you all the best. I don’t know where your story goes from here, but I am so grateful to have been able to be a part of it. So thank you for sharing with me. I am a better person, a better friend and a better advocate because of you. You have been such a blessing to me in more ways than you can ever imagine.

With much love and many blessings,

Your advocate

The end of April

April has been a tough month for me. It’s had ups and downs. The new man and I have done a lot of “discussing” (aka arguing) about various subjects. We’re hitting that 3 month window when things aren’t new anymore, and we’re still finding out about one another. In our discussions, I’ve found out more about his ex than I have about him, which is a little frustrating. I wonder if it’s because he’s just such a simple guy. I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing. I love simple. It’s drama free.

Now my life on the other hand, is not simple. I’ve been through some shit, some of which I’ve shared and other parts I haven’t. Needless to say that some of that drama came up in our discussions, and caused a bit of friction in my current relationship.

I guess from my perspective it was no big deal. Just something that happened in the past that I’ve moved on from. Apparently from his perspective it was a big deal, I think the reason is that it changed the way he thought about me. He had pictured my past in a certain way, he had pictured it a lot like his past. But my past and his past are nothing alike! Not at all.

All this has caused a little bit of strain on things, but I think it’s getting better now. Hopefully we’ll work through things and it’ll all be fine.

It’s Running Season!

Here we go! Shoes on, legs ready to go! It’s running season and I’m totally hitting the ground running every single time!

Last weekend was my first 5K race. It was about 25 degrees outside, so it was chilly and windy!! Brr! Barring all of those obstacles, I got an amazing time of 36:40! I’m thoroughly impressed with myself.

There’s something beautiful about putting your feet to the pavement and watching the world fly by beside you. There’s something grounding about listening to your breathing, your foot falls and the sounds of nature around you. Feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair.

Some people can’t run without music, but I can’t run with music! There’s too much outside to enjoy. I like to be able to take it all in. I like to see, hear and feel everything I possibly can.

Now 5 years ago I did NOT run. I haven’t always been a runner. My decision to run came after I got bored on my break one day and got myself into some trouble. After that I started walking on my breaks to keep myself busy. I started with 8 blocks in an hour. That’s it. As the weeks went on I added more and more blocks and I began to jog a few blocks.

Eventually I was coming back from my break so sweaty that it was no longer feasible to run on my breaks. I switched to running in the mornings and I started at 2 miles a day for 5-6 days a week. I’m much more reasonable now and only go about 3 miles 3-5 times a week. If I really push myself I’ll do less workouts to let my muscles heal better.

There’s so much freedom in running. You get to choose where you go. You get to choose how long. You get to choose how fast. You get to choose what you wear. You get to choose how you do it. You get to choose streets, sidewalks or trails. You get to chose whether or not you compete. Every other form of exercise has some kind of rule, but with running the only rule is whether or not you do it!

The plan is to run another 20 5K races this year and possibly a 10K. We’ll see where I get on it, but I should be able to. I figure this will be the last year I’ll be able to do this many races both because my body is getting older (and knees especially) and because soon I hope to be busy with family things… maybe that will take another few years. Who the heck knows anymore?! I certainly don’t.

Run. I dare you.

Things I learn from spending time with my ex

I spent time talking to my ex today.

My ex and I have a past. For years I tried to get him to change. For years I tried to convince him that I was right. I tried to tell him that he should be more of an adult, that he should hang out with different friends, that he should stay out of trouble. I tried to convince him to stop smoking, to stop drinking, to go to bed early and wake up on time for work.

He didn’t listen to any of it. He brushed me aside. We fought about it constantly. He thought I was trying to make him be someone he wasn’t. But I could see the person he was capable of being, and it was a person I wanted to be with.

But things ended.

I never got to see him be that person. He wasn’t that person in the end. He was wrong for me and I was wrong for him. We wanted different things and it ended in a violent outburst that was not only unexpected, but something the person I thought he was would have never done.

I’ve got a new guy and my future is not with my ex, but my past is. My current guy doesn’t think that. He’s jealous and worried when I spend time with my ex. But my ex was my friend first. He IS my friend. So why can’t I have both my ex (who is my friend) and my new guy?

My new guy has ambition. He has a great job, he owns his own business. He wants all the things that I want out of life. He thinks about our future. He makes plans. He makes promises and keeps them. He’s amazing. I love him.

It’ll take time.

Time and trust.

Someday soon I hope he can understand that it’s not about the relationship we had, but the friendship we once had. It’s not about what I wanted to be with him because that’s dead and gone. My ex is becoming someone else, and I hope that takes him down beautiful paths. I’m moving on, and I’m thrilled to see what that brings me. I’m excited for plans, promises, and a future.

I’m moving forward with my new guy, and life is beautiful.