Sunday, July 13, 2008

WHY I do what I do...

Survival. It’s damn hard work. I’m not going to make you think getting there has anything warm and fuzzy about it. Oh, it’s worth it. Once you conquer the demons that had taken over your life, and have controlled those thoughts that kept you victim of your abuser(s) – That’s Surviving. It’s one thing to gain the strength you need to be strong enough to move on, but it’s another to be strong enough to not end up in another abusive relationship. How awesome you will feel about yourself and life in general once you reach where you know you belong. Reach for survival if you haven’t gotten there yet.

Never give up. You can become a part of this warm, open-armed family of survivors. Always remember, no abuse is ever the fault of the victim. EVER. I am writing to share my stories, to be a voice. Know that surviving abusive situations is handled differently for everyone. If someone experiences abuse on more than one occasion, it will most likely be handled differently for each situation. I know first hand. I am going to outline briefly each abuse I encountered and how I survived each situation to point out the differences in how they were handled.
I have survived incest, verbal and physical abuse from my parents, domestic violence and verbal and physical abuse from my first husband, physical abuse from my ex-fiancé, as well as my son almost being killed at the hands of my ex-fiancé. It took me years to recognize all the signs of abuse. I finally reached that point of recognition approximately eight years ago.

My abuse started decades before my quest for survivorship. My first known physical abuse that I can remember is when my mother pushed me down a flight of stairs that led to a concrete basement. That was during my third year of life. My first seizure, which led to a three-day coma, was only a few weeks after that push; however, I was informed my seizure was due to a “high fever” because my mother placed too many blankets on me. She took the truth with her to the grave. I’ll never really know the whole truth. However, I do have an indent on my forehead from the fall, and have had a variety of seizures since – without fever. Throughout my forty-one years with my mother in my life, I encountered many physical and verbal abuse situations with her.

Children learn what they live. I’ve heard that a million times while growing up. Each time I heard my mother say that to individuals, made me want to throw up. I learned how to survive. Because of the various forms of abuse from my parents, it didn’t take away the fact that I yearned to be loved by my parents. I never felt unconditional love. When my mother uttered the words, “I love you”, it was done with the same tone as “pass the salt”. If my recollection serves me correctly, my father rarely used those words. He is a man whom can not show emotion. I survived by receiving the attention elsewhere. I basically lived two lives.

As I was growing up in a small New England town with two older brothers, I was known to be the “spoiled brat” of the family. My second oldest brother had “all the brains, and I could do no wrong”…so my mother would always say sarcastically. She was stating this “as fact” because she was informing me that I wasn’t as intelligent as my brother, and that my father never punished me for things she felt he should. There was always an evil tone in her voice when she was degrading one of us. My mother was, as I found out years later, quite jealous of how my father treated me when I was young. Could it have been because he knew his wife pushed his three-year-old daughter down the stairs and sent her into a three-day coma and caused her to have seizures for years?

My mother never made a negative statement about my oldest brother when I was young. That came later. He was her first born, and not the son of my father. My mother also had another daughter from another man (also not my father nor my oldest brothers father), whom she lost in the courts when that child was only five. This sister of mine is 364 days younger than my oldest brother. My mother had many issues of her own, and tried to make other people own them instead of taking on her own responsibilities. In time, she would try to have me own them for her. I grew up thinking that was what I was supposed to do. Thankfully, one day I woke up from a terrible nightmare. But that wasn’t until my mid-thirties. How did I awaken? That comes later.

Thank God growing up I was able to have many pets. This, I believe helped save me in my early years. Each spare minute was savored with my pets. Whether it was time with my german shepherd, cats, rabbits, or horses. Of course the horses were the best. This is where I learned unconditional love. It took my animals to teach me. We lived on a 15-acre parcel of land, which contained endless fields for me to gallop my dark brown quarter-horse, “Mama”.

A gorgeous creek flowed at the end of our property. This was often my escape location. I would often find myself packing a lunch and riding “Mama” for the afternoon to get away from the ruckus created by my mother. Those are my favorite memories as a child. When I took my horse to the river and it was just the two of us. Alone in the woods. Nature. My horse and I had many conversations. No one argued. Not a voice was raised. The smell of the fresh air and blooming flowers in the spring helped lighten my load.

But there was always that time I had to return home. That was the worst part of the day. I used to dream that I could just ride my horse and gallop until the ends of the earth. But even when I first started riding at the age of 9, I realized that was going to be impossible. As fate would have it, the opposite edge of our property laid our home. And inside were my parents and one of my brothers. I had to return. Why couldn’t I join the Army and be able to get away like my oldest brother? That didn’t seem fair. Why was he the lucky one and escaped?
When I was fourteen, my favorite uncle raped me. I informed my parents about the assault. Nothing was done to help me or to punish my uncle. My mother actually wasn’t even surprised. She already knew that my uncle had assaulted his daughters. My uncle had already been in a mental institution years earlier for numerous things. At this point I’m the only one in shock! Why did my mother allow me to travel half way across the country and stay at a sex-offenders home? I felt worthless. One day I’m an “A” student. A few weeks later after my vacation and being raped, I became a teen who starts drinking heavily and is verbally abusive toward her parents. Next thing I know, I am being sent to a boarding school because my parents didn’t want to deal with my issues. This confirmed to me I was worthless in their eyes.

My parents soon divorced. My father moved out of the country. He felt Costa Rica was a better location to live. I can’t say as I blame him. Who would want to live where his ex-wife drinks too much, his daughter had been sexually assaulted and was acting out, and his son didn’t want to talk to anyone? I really felt he deserted me and was selfish. Instead of providing comfort to his children, he’d rather live in a foreign country where no one knew his business. Was he was embarrassed of all of us?

When I returned from boarding school, my mother then thought life would be different. She partied constantly. She had always been a heavy drinker, but now that she and dad were divorced, she really let loose, and especially with men. She never wanted to go to any clubs alone, so she would take me with her most times. That’s right. She would take her 15-year old daughter with her to bars and pour whiskey in my coke glass to “loosen me up”. It didn’t take long to make me think this was pretty cool. I would then become her “guinea pig” for finding her dates. I would dance and attract men in the clubs. Since she was the “mother” she had the upper hand with these “men”. Many of them would come home with us once the bars closed.

One evening after a “night out with mom” I remember a self-defense tactic I used. My mother got furious with me. I was not only embarrassed, but once again reminded just how worthless I was to her. I had kept a golf club next to my bed, just in case I ever needed it. One night after going to bed after a few “of the guys” followed mom and I home, one of the men had entered my bedroom. He sat down on my bed to “talk”. As he began talking I became frightened. Without him even realizing it, I reached behind the backboard of my bed and grabbed the golf club, swung it around and clobbered him. Boy was he in shock! When he left my room and informed my mother, guess who caught holy hell? But I kept the golf club anyway. To hell with her, I thought, as I cried myself to sleep.

What kept me going for each day to arrive was my first boyfriend and his family. They were a Godsend. Forever they will be in my heart and I will be grateful to each and every one of them. Danny was gentle and loving. His parents were accepting of me, and treated me as if I was one of their family. His parents were kind to me; spoke lovingly, something I craved. However, the relationship did not start off this positive. Danny was a senior while I was a freshman in high school. His parents did not feel the age difference was appropriate. . . in the beginning. It did not take long before I was spending more time at their house than my own. I honestly don’t know where I would have ended up if it weren’t for this family. They saved a life and I don’t think they even realize it to this day. Thank you Danny, Jim, Mom and Pops. I love you all.

A few years later I was accepted into college a year early, during my senior year of high school. I was able to leave my home again and live on campus. I was more than ready at this point. I was seventeen years old, but well beyond my years. During the summer between my freshman year and sophomore year of college, I went to a river-cruise party with the insurance company I worked for. There was a lot of drinking that night. I made a huge mistake. I drove home. There were blue lights that were following me at one point. The police pulled me over. I lost my license for six months. I used this experience and spoke to the students at my college about drinking and driving. Little did I know at the time, years later I would use my voice to even a larger venue. This was just the beginning.

The following year I met the man who became my first husband. He was 31 and I was 18.He was so handsome. He made me feel so important and that I was mesmerized by every word that was spoken from his lips. He totally won me over. We only dated a few months before he proposed. I was 19 by then. We got married just two days before I graduated from college. My family knew nothing about the wedding. His father was his best man. My girl friend was my matron of honor. The cuckoo clock went off at 2:00…now I realize that was definitely an alert!

This man I had just married became very abusive, very quickly. He was an alcoholic. I was so young and in such a rush to be “rescued” from the bullshit in my life, I didn’t take the time to know the person I was getting involved with. All that mattered to me at the time was that a man was giving me attention and loving me. I was missing that in my life. He was giving it to me and I latched on him like the teeth on a shark. A week after I graduated from college we moved to Florida. We had little money. We survived on peanut butter sandwiches for over a month.

We eventually found a job together. We managed a hotel near the strip. We lived there and managed the hotel together. Together 24/7. This became stressful, as we could not go anywhere together. One of us always had to be at the hotel at all times. My husband drank alcohol daily. As the stress became worse, so did his drinking. With the stress and the heavy drinking came his heavy hand. His words were even worse. He would use my previous sexual assault from my uncle to make me feel guilty or ashamed if I would not happily comply to having sex with him. My husband was a very physical man and wanted to be having sexual relations at least two or three times a day. When the comforting kind words were a thing of the past, so did my feelings of wanting to be close to him.

At that time of my life, I knew no differently than to give in to him. Each and every time. I relentlessly gave him my mind, body and soul. I would lie there; eyes wide open and pretend to be somewhere else. I continued to feel worthless. I was taught as a young child to give in. I was taught that I was worthless, so this situation to me was normal. There was a part of me, however, that was fighting my decisions. I could constantly feel the pull. I survived this two-year relationship because I felt I had an angel watching over me. That angel was the pull I was always feeling.

My husband would instruct me as to how the towels would be folded, how the dishes would be put away, etc. He would yell if my chores were not done correctly, and if I was ever late in the day with any chore, when he had had too much to drink, a fist would meet my face. Whenever I would go grocery shopping, he would question me as to why I was gone for as long as I was, who was there, etc. He had me so programmed to my timing, my moves, that I literally became a robot. We eventually changed hotel management jobs after about a year, which allowed us more freedom in our personal lives. I don’t think my husband wanted to manage the hotel through another spring break. There were a few of the individuals that thought he was my father, and I was at the age of these college kids, and this made him feel very uncomfortable.

The second management job we were fortunate enough to conduct did allow much more freedom. We again did live on the premises. Individuals owned these apartments, we didn’t have to worry about people coming and going. However, do to the fact that there was more freedom, did end up being what saved my life in the long run. My husband and I partied more and more outside the home. With his partying came his loss of control. One night we were fighting and it started like any other fight. Something stupid. But ended worse. The Sheriffs were called. The domestic violence laws were different back in the ‘80’s, so even with my bruises and informing them my husband had thrown me up against the dresser, wall, punched me in the face, that I threw his gun into the ocean, because we were wrestling over it, my husband was not arrested. Long story short, I left my husband the next day.
The next morning when my husband stated he was going out for a while, I picked up the phone. I wanted to call my mother. I hesitated. I knew if I called my mother and informed her of what had happened I had to leave my husband. How could I stay with him after telling her what he had done to me? I had never told anyone that Richard had ever been abusive. That would have been too embarrassing to me. I put down the receiver. Without hesitation, I picked it up again, and called my mother. I told her everything. I just needed to tell someone, and for some reason I felt that if I told my mother, that would make me leave. I knew she would make me feel guilty enough if I didn’t!

My next step was to call my youngest of two brothers who lived in the next city. He came by and we just threw items into his car. We drove for a while then stopped his car to pack my suitcase. My brother purchased an airline ticket so I could return to my mother’s house in New England for a while. In retrospect, my mothers’ house was not the best place to have gone, but the only place at the time that my brother and I thought was best. You do what you can, at the time to survive. Sometimes you have to think quickly on your feet to save your life. To save your future. You have to do whatever seems the best option at that time. Once you are safe, you can always catch your breath and then re-think your steps as to what to do next.
Throughout the almost two years of the abuse with my ex-husband, I kept hoping that the man I fell in love with would return. He didn’t. I would live my life day in and day out yearning for that man to walk back into my life. In the meantime, I would be walking on eggshells daily. Taking each hour as it came. Watching each movement my husband made and reacting appropriately so as to not upset him. Of course that didn’t always happen. That is how I survived that marriage.

Living with my mother once again at the age of 20 was a sort of survival in itself. It seemed that a part of her was happy to have someone there to party with once again. She never really mentioned anything about my abuse that I endured, except that my husband was a jerk. That was about it. For me, nothing had changed since I was younger. Six years had gone by since my sexual assault with my uncle. Now my husband had abused me and she treated this almost in the same way. At least she acknowledged this abuse and said my husband was a jerk!

She took me out drinking as soon as I returned to New England, even with the black eye. I was more or less in a state of shock at the time; I went along with most anything. And that is what led me to more abuse. Two or three nights a week my mother and I would go out with some of her friends. She would still use me as her “magnet for men”. I never realized it then. The way to survive this life with my mother was to go along with it at the time. I knew no other way of life. I honestly did not know anything was wrong with it, except that it didn’t always feel good inside. Once again friends would come back to the house with us. If I didn’t go to bed with them, my mother did. This even happened with one of my school friends. He wanted to sleep with me; I refused. The next morning I found him and my mother in her bed.

Once the divorce was final, I decided to move back to Florida. Not to my husband. He had since left Florida and moved on. Where he lived, I have no idea. I just knew that he was no longer at the condominiums that we once managed. I had to leave my mothers’ home. I felt I did not want to be in that atmosphere with my child. The only other place that I knew of was Ft. Lauderdale. So off I went. I found an apartment. I found a job.

My father actually helped me financially with a car. He informed me that I should place the baby up for adoption once the baby was born. He did not feel that being a single mother would be an option at all for me. He did not think I was capable of raising a child on my own. That I would be able to financially make it work, nor would it be the best thing for the child. I actually believed him. . . for a short time.

My beautiful son came into this world on June 5, 1986. The love of my life! My angel. And boy, do I believe that. And now, twenty-two years later, he is still proving that to me.

My son and I managed quite well together for the first three years alone. My mother had moved down to Florida, I had a wonderful boyfriend who was in law enforcement. Life couldn’t be better. But unfortunately, not everything lasts forever. I dated this boyfriend for only two years, then I decided it was best if we went out separate ways. If it was meant to be, we’ll get back together. I started seeing someone else about a year later.

My quest for survivorship started the night my then five-year-old blonde hair; blue-eyed son was almost killed, which was seventeen years ago. My “very well known in the community for his vice-president of a real estate company and leadership in the Chamber of Commerce ” ex-fiancé had been abusing me. But once he abused my son that was my breaking point. No one was going to hurt my son! The cycle ends here. He abused my son in ways that I never thought possible.

My son and I moved out. First we moved just to the next city. That did not stop this monster from harassing us. I was continuously looking over my shoulder and subsequently in high anxiety mode. I made a phone call. The boyfriend in law enforcement that I had previously dated rushed over. He came to visit us and was a total comfort. Although he had informed me that he had recently re-married, I was happy for him. Funny what true love will bring to one’s emotions at any time.
I couldn’t take the harassing, being watched, followed, etc. anymore. It was time to leave once again. So we then moved out of state (not that that kept my ex away from us) to begin our journey of healing. My son and I began counseling. This helped both of us tremendously.

It took many years of counseling, and medications, for my son to reach his level of survivorship. However, it did not help with my guilt.

Each man that I subsequently met I yearned for attention, yet did not trust them. It has been a long journey of healing. If you been a victim of any type of abuse, you need to work on your issues before becoming involved in an intimate relationship. This was a hard thing to do as a victim, because I wanted to be close with someone. I always did. Each time I started getting intimate, or they showed any type of affection, I pushed them away. My “wall” went up so fast they didn’t stand a chance. Many times I would take out my aggressions of all the abuse I endured onto the men that wanted to be close to me. I never realized what I was doing to these guys. I never understood why.

Learning where my actions stemmed from was the beginning of the healing process. It took the love, care and patience from my current husband to actually point out the fact that I was acting out my aggressions. And it took my willingness to accept my actions. It takes time to accept the fact that you could actually be hurting someone you love.

This was how the physical abuse started. It has now finally ended. There were a lot of years in between the first day and the last, and a lot of work, sweat, and many tears. I hurt a lot of people along the way to my survivorship. For that I am deeply sorry and hopefully in time, they will or have already forgiven me. I am still learning to forgive myself. The abuse I endured wasn’t my fault. The pain I inflicted on others because of what I went through was my own doing. I never understood why, until I decided I wanted to know.

Time and patience is one of the biggest factors of survivorship. I feel I am the worst when it comes to patience! Others tell me differently. You really have to look long and hard at yourself, and recognize issues from your past. Who likes to do that! Please acknowledge all the positive influences in your life - that counts. But until you recognize not only the signs of abuse in your current relationship(s), or in your past relationships you will never gain access to the road to recovery. Take your time with each issue and work them through. It may take years.

Confronting your abuser (if this is a safe situation) also helps the healing process. I was fortunate enough, and strong enough at one point to confront my uncle. My confrontation was conducted over the telephone. My words were said. His words were said. My uncles statements only confirmed just how sick an individual he is.

Writing how you feel, keeping a journal helps with surviving also. Years ago I wrote a letter to all family members informing them of the incest (some of them already knew by my mothers whispers) and the abuse of my ex-husband and ex-fiancé all at the same time. Boom! One letter photocopied to everyone. I wanted to make sure the record was set straight, from me. Not that those family members had started rumors or anything! Ha! Our family was never all together in one room, so this was the only way for me to get my voice heard. This action was at the recommendation of my counselor. What an awesome feeling as I placed those envelopes in the mailbox! I felt a hundred feet tall.

I also confronted my mother on numerous occasions as to how she made me feel as a child growing up and not comforting me after I was raped. I do not recommend confronting a verbally abusive alcoholic of your “feelings”. They may continue to try and knock you down each and every chance they get. I feel it bothered my mother that I was on my road of recovery. Or maybe she was jealous deep down inside and she was lashing out. Unfortunately she could never reach the same road as her daughter before her death. If the individual you are confronting isn’t willing to work with you on certain issues, make your statement and enough said. You can’t discuss anything to anyone that is in denial.

Denial has no room in surviving. It places roadblocks. Be open and honest with yourself and others. Receive counseling like I did. If you’ve received counseling in the past, go again if you feel the need. If you didn’t like your counselor, get another one. If you can’t afford counseling, call your local women’s center and they can refer you to free counseling in your area.

Call a helpline to speak to someone whenever you feel the need. During recovery and possibly throughout the rest of your life, you may experience a variety of “triggers”. Please don’t be ashamed. This is perfectly normal. How the triggers affect you is what’s important to deal with. Talk to someone you trust about these triggers. In time, these too will diminish. There may be days, months or even years you may not experience a trigger. Then all of a sudden one day something may happen or you’ll smell a certain scent, hear a sound, etc. Breathe. Relax. The assault is not happening again. Just realize that these reactions are normal. Please do not re-live these situations alone. Talk to someone you trust.
Read as much information that is available about abuse. Understanding the “why’s” and all definitions helped me tremendously. There are great books available and the web is a fantastic resource. Become familiar with all the signs of abuse. I still read for hours! Take your time absorbing the information. Be aware it can actually become frightening to realize all the behaviors you have been accepting in your life from the people you love.

Surviving abuse has been one of the hardest things I have endured in my life. However, I would not change one thing about my past. It has been one of my greatest purposes in life. I believe God paved my way to become a VOICE for children. I now educate middle and high school students about violence prevention; dating violence, sexual assault, child abuse, bullying, sexual harassment, etc. I also speak at colleges, universities, as well as professional conferences about my own personal domestic violence situations. This is my passion.

When my son was in high school, he and I started volunteering at the Women in Distress of Broward County. We spoke at high schools and churches. Our first year together, we received the award entitled, “Speakers of the Year”. It is amazing to put turn something so awful and into something so grand. We felt a power from above to drive us to volunteer. If we were going to go through such abuse, we wanted to share our stories to help others.

When I moved to another state, I located the closest rape crisis center and continued with my volunteer work. I started with the next available crisis training. I answered the crisis calls. Soon I was asked to be on the Board of Directors. It wasn’t long thereafter when I was asked to be a part of the staff.

I am the Peaceline Coordinator for The Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley. I educate middle and high school students on violence prevention; which includes, sexual assault, dating violence, healthy relationships, etc. I speak to over 4000 students a year. I also speak within the community and share my personal story, and conduct my own workshops. I am on the Speakers Bureau for RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network), as well as being a Team Manager for Angela Shelton’s Army of Angels. I am an Emergency Advocate for sexual assault victims and meets them at the hospitals or police stations. I am not going to stop the awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence for people because the epidemic is so great. I have come to realize that if maybe someone was willing to help me when I was younger, that may have helped prevented me from having many unhealthy relationships in my life and possibly prevented my son from being abused. I am also in the process of writing my first book. I would like other survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence to have the power to come forward and lend their voice to help others.

Not only does my voice help educate others about violence and abuse, but each time I speak, is a healing process for myself. I learn more and more about the children of today and try to better their world, as well as mine. Children disclose abuse situations and I bring them to safety. Students will enlighten me as to situations that are happening in their schools, and I will inform school officials.
I am honored to inform those I meet that it is okay to speak up about abuse; there are people who care about them and there to help them. I am here when they are ready to speak up!

When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to have a voice. I now have a VOICE and I will never shut up! Join me with your voice!