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Survivor Story: My Abuser Repeatedly Strangled Me

Written by: BTSADV Survivor

I was almost 14 years old when the verbal and emotional abuse had started. It was when I was pregnant with my son that he began hurting me physically. He mentally abused me for months before it escalated, and I never realized that he was the reason I was harming myself. I thought when I had my son it would get better, that we would be a happy family. But it only continued to get worse until one day I was finally able to escape.

The first time he ever put his hands on me was when he threw an electrical cord at me while I was pregnant, and it shocked me. After that, the physical abuse worsened, and he started to abuse me sexually. He would choke me until I could only see blackness and scream at me to shut up. One time after he strangled me, I was crying and looking at my late sister’s picture. When he saw this, he told me “It should have been you instead of her…” and then proceeded to strangle me again.

The abuse happened every day we were together. However, we had good times as well – unless I would play around the wrong way, say the wrong thing, or try to talk to my family. So, I started isolating myself. I had to hide the marks around my neck. I remember playing the bruises off as hickeys and the bruises from hitting my arm against something. After he would calm down, I would take a shower. If he heard me crying in the shower, he would come in and strangle me while I was in the shower.

After I had my son, I became pregnant with my daughter. When I told him that I thought I might be pregnant, he hit me in my stomach. My kids were taken away, and I am currently in the process of getting them back home. After I gave birth to my daughter, she was taken away from me. When I went back home without her, I was severely depressed. He had to help me get in the shower, get dressed, and eat because I wouldn’t have done it myself.

There is one day that I remember so clearly. He was washing my hair over the bathtub, and it hurt. I was trying to tell him that he was too rough, and he told me to shut up. I didn’t stop, so he strangled me. My mom overheard us and asked, “Are you okay? Come out! What’s going on?”

I told her there was nothing wrong, that he was just washing my hair and I loved her. Still, I continued crying, so he made me sit on the toilet as he at first talked to me then yelled. I was listening, but I wouldn’t look at him, so he strangled me and then spat on me. He left me there just sitting on the toilet depressed with his hand prints around my neck and his spit going down my face.

Of course, every time he would physically, sexually, or mentally hurt me, he would try to blame it on my attitude or claim that he didn’t know he was hurting me. He made it seem like it was my fault, but he would also apologize.

For the longest time, I was only able to see the good qualities of him. He is the father of my children, and most of my family loved him. He was nice to me sometimes and did things like make me breakfast. I didn’t love myself back then, so I honestly didn’t think twice about what was happening.

One day, I was “lucky” enough to be hospitalized with conversion disorder. My mom and I watched a movie, and it got me to open up to her about everything that had happened. I still remember her reaction clearly to this day, and there are still things people don’t know that he did to me.

My family, for the most part, has supported me through this. I will admit that leaving him was extremely hard because I only saw the good parts of him. I didn’t want to believe that I would allow someone to do this to me – make me weak and vulnerable. I had reached out to him many times since then, and every time he says he doesn’t remember or tries blaming it on something else. He has admitted it to some of my family but refuses to admit it to me.

I am still trying to recover from the emotional damage he caused me. Just recently I have begun to wear scarfs and necklaces again, although some days I can’t. I don’t see the bruises that used to cover me anywhere near as often, but I do still suffer from night terrors and flashbacks. I still suffer a lot. However, a year ago I didn’t think I would be alive now, but here I am standing healthy and happy and still going strong.

I am getting my children back while he decides he doesn’t want to be around for them. I am setting goals and achieving them. Here I am alive and working toward becoming a future doctor. I am facing my abuser and not letting him hold power or control over me. I am alive, and that is the important thing.

The doctors told me if I stayed with him that I would not make it out alive, that I would be another victim killed because of domestic violence. I am not a victim, no. I am a survivor.

Love should not hurt. Please if you are in a domestic violence relationship seek help immediately.

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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What to Expect from Therapy

By Emilie Trepanier

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and do that thing everyone keeps saying is necessary for your well-being: Go to therapy. First, I want to be sappy and tell you I’m proud of you, and I admire your strength. Realizing therapy is your next step may not have been easy and choosing to do that only proves how serious you are about getting stronger. When you feel your throat is on fire and have a tendency to get strep throat a lot, you go to a professional, get a prescription, take your antibiotics, and get better. Your mind and heart are no different.

Just like seeing a physical therapist is at first painful, uncomfortable and difficult, the same goes for exercising your mind in therapy. My first week of therapy for my assault ended with me making a total fool of myself at a gathering with my friends. My advice to you; if you drink alcohol, refrain from it when you start therapy. That first week or sometimes longer causes long-buried negative feelings to resurface.

My first two weeks or so, my therapist used a technique where she would tell the story of my assault, with as little or as much detail as I opted for. What this ultimately did was train my brain to recognize this trauma from a third person perspective. At first, though, hearing my story was, understandably, painful. Feelings from the day it happened began to resurface, along with a wave of newfound anger, and more. Don’t let this scare you away. I encourage you to stick with it. Our bodies get itchy when they heal, and they sometimes hurt; but if not properly taken care of, they become infected and the pain and wound worsen. Approach your mind with this perspective and be patient with it.

It is easy for all the important discussions and advice to get lost in the muddiness of our minds during therapy. I recommend keeping a therapy journal. Taking the time to reflect and organize your thoughts immediately after each session will give you the opportunity to look back. I recommend viewing each session as an hour longer than it actually is. This way, when you put it in your schedule, you’ll have that extra hour for yourself to process what happened in therapy. Going straight to regular life after a therapy session may feel jolting. Again, remember this is a part of your healing journey. Be gentle with yourself.

Give it time. There have been times in therapy where I was sobbing my brains out, and other times I was laughing until my stomach hurt. Then, one day, I felt like a weight had been lifted. On another day, a whole other weight I didn’t think I had lifted, too. I still have little helpful nuggets I kept from going, and I use those in times of crisis or when I’m with a friend going through a crisis. I specifically remember one conversation where I was venting about a family member and at the end of it, I not only felt heard and validated; I understood the family member’s perspective. Sticking it out not only helped me feel validated and understand myself; it opened my eyes to other party’s perspectives.

This is an hour all about you. That may make you uncomfortable, as selflessness and self-centeredness don’t tend to be shared traits in one person. If you aren’t a talker, this could also be a weird transition. Try talking to your therapist about this. There are all kinds of therapy; art therapy, for instance, where you could maybe just draw how you feel. A good therapist will listen, respond accordingly, and ask the right questions.

Have high expectations of your therapist. I don’t mean you should put them on a pedestal or view them as an all-healing deity who has all the answers and will “fix” you. Look for a therapist you trust, connect with, and feel like you’re hanging out with. Find someone who you feel isn’t judging you, and who seems to understand you. I saw several therapists before finding one who really seemed to make a difference for me. I am glad I waited until meeting her before opening-up. For me, I needed a therapist who I felt I could just be me around and crack jokes with. She even entertained my interests in astrology, something I’m sure she had no actual interest or belief in. Her goal was to help me feel comfortable and understood, and that included feeling like I was just chatting with a really wise girlfriend.

Therapy is different for everyone. Healing is not the same for everyone because our experiences differ. While therapists use similar techniques to reach a similar goal, they are going to have various approaches that have similar but different outcomes. Even if something sounds like it can’t work, give it a try. We are all unique, but at the end of the day, we are also all human.

Don’t go into it thinking you’ll be who you once were. Life is meant to push us forward. Even when we are being held back, life is pushing us. That’s how I try to view the hard days. Sometimes I get snarky with life and tell it “um, not helpful!” like I told my dad as a teenager, and that’s fine. In the long run, I know I’m supposed to change over time. Experiences always change us. Trauma will change us. Therapy will help ease your pain, build new pathways in your brain, teach you coping mechanisms, help lift your burdens, build confidence and see the world with a new hope. It will change you, but it won’t change you back. That may sound harsh, but you don’t ever want to go back. Life is always moving forward, and nothing can stop you from becoming the best you.

I’m excited for you to find the best you. You got this. Now lie down on that couch and tell that new friend how this article made you feel.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Empowerment Through Self-Defense

By Rebecca Lynn

The word self-defense is often defined by stereotypes and myths. To a domestic violence survivor, it may bring to mind the movie Enough. Jennifer Lopez transforms from a defenseless victim into a lean, mean killing machine. She seeks revenge against her abuser and in the end, gets it. Like most movies, she lives happily ever after without any legal complications from his death. It’s okay to admit if you were cheering her on; she made a strong statement–and clearly had enough. Bu, the self-defense I am referring to is not about revenge or murder, but rather empowerment, protection, and healing.

Definition

Self-defense is made of two separate words, each with their own meaning. Stereotypically the word is seen as protecting the self through physical means, learning to become a fighter, and gaining physical strength. However, looking at the words individually provides a more accurate description of self-defense.

The word “self” tends to be minimized when placed next to a word like “defense.” But like so many domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, the idea of self may bring up feelings of weakness and fear. This is where empowerment comes in. Empowerment is a word that is consistently used when talking about survivors recovering from abuse. It is essential to healing, gaining back the power that was taken from you, and learning to see the importance and strength in yourself. The end result of self-defense is gaining the empowerment needed to recognize that you are worth protecting.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary; defense is “the capability of resisting an attack” or something used to protect yourself both physically and emotionally. Self-defense is not about learning how to beat up your abuser, but rather how to become more aware of your environment and learn essential survival skills that protect both your body and mind.

But what about…

Although self-defense classes are increasingly popular, especially those focused on empowering survivors, it is sometimes still met with skepticism and resistance for a variety of reasons. According to domesticshelters.org, some of the more prominent reasons include:

  • Lack of knowledge about the true definition and benefits of learning self-defense.
  • Concern over legal issues and jail time involved in defending themselves.
  • Feel too weak, helpless, or incapable of protecting themselves
  • Worry about the guilt of defending themselves against someone they love
  • Not wanting to use violence to fight violence.

What to look for in a self-defense class

Not all self-defense classes are the same. As a victim or survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, there are several characteristics a self-defense program should include. According to Self-defense; An Intervention Technique to Empower Victims of Domestic violence, it is essential that a program contains these philosophical points:

  • Focus on the mind, not just the body
  • Empowerment-driven; focuses on building self-confidence and support, and reducing anxiety and depression.
  • Reinforce the importance of self-defense to avoid, interrupt or resist an assault.
  • Teach survival skills such as awareness of the environment, assessing escape plans, protecting one’s self-using mental, physical and verbal techniques.
  • Highlight prevention by teaching boundary setting skills, identifying red flags, increasing assertiveness, de-escalation, understanding choices and options and trusting their instincts when in dangerous situations.
  • Reassure the survivor that they are not responsible if they are unable to stop a future assault. The perpetrator is to blame, regardless of what the victim chooses to do or not do during the attack.
  • Does not tell what “should” or “should not” be done, since each situation has its own unique circumstances.
  • Provide a safe environment where victims can become empowered together by sharing stories and socializing.
  • Teach street safety, defense from a variety of distances, basic strikes, kicks, and blocks. In addition to an understanding of vital body points that will distract an attacker, so the victim can get to safety.

Empowerment self-defense resources

According to Research on Self-Defense, self-defense can decrease the risk of assault, especially in cases of rape. Victims whoare educated, empowered, and aware of potential danger are more likely to prevent an attack or escape one. Empowerment self-defense courses are becoming more prevalent and accessible through local businesses or non-profit organizations. The National Center of Domestic and Sexual Violence provides a list of resources on Self-defense classes. Contacting your local domestic violence and sexual assault agencies could help provide additional resources.

Empowerment is a process, one that requires goals, knowledge, and action. Making the decision to learn self-defense allows you to regain control over your life.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Survivor Story: Devine Faith

By Jamey Sheesley

Devine Kelly grew up in a home with domestic violence. Her brother was abusive to his girlfriend and Devine heard the screams and the punches. She saw his girlfriend run out of her brother’s room with a bloody face. It was then that she knew that she did not want to be in a relationship like that, but she eventually found herself in a relationship full of control and abuse.

At 18 years old, Devine was young and seeking validation. However, she found it in the wrong person. The person who Devine found herself with was already in trouble with the police and heavily used alcohol and drugs. When she met him, she was about to graduate high school and he was three years older than her.

Her whole life became about him. What she did not realize at the time was that he started to manipulate her. He used everything to get her under his control. After graduation, she moved into his house and became even more isolated.

“He was smothering, constantly wanting to get me in his control all the time and I remember thinking it was completely normal,” Devine stated.

She did not realize or understand it, but she was already in love with him. Once she moved in with him, everything of hers became his, like her debit card and car. It was not his fault he could not get a job, or at least that is how he made her feel. To be a good girlfriend she needed to support him. She hung out with his friends and cooked the food he liked and became his slave.

The mental abuse turned physical one night when Devine got mad at him and called him a bad name. He took his hands, wrapped them around her neck, and strangled her. It took two people to rip him off of her.

“I just remember thinking, how could he do this to me,” Devine said.

This should have made her run, but instead had the opposite effect. She did not want to lose him. After seeing what her brother did to his girlfriend, Devine convinced herself that this was not that bad. He did not punch her or beat her, so she forgave him. The next day he apologized and she thought all would be okay. Instead, the abuse progressively got worse.

She started losing weight, around 15 to 20 pounds.

Not only was she living under his control but Devine was also going to college and working. One night after school, she requested to be picked up and taken home so she could focus on her homework but he did not listen. Instead, he picked her up with a car full of friends like he always did. She got in the car with an attitude because he disrespected her wishes. When he took her home, she slammed the door and he got mad at her.  He was embarrassed by her attitude with him in front of his friends. When Devine went to grab her car keys, he picked her up, and body slammed her into the memory foam mattress. She was in complete shock. She was able to push herself off onto the floor and away from him. The first thing he said to her was, “Look what you made me do.”

He grabbed her car keys and left her on the floor, crying in the dark for hours.

“I didn’t realize it then, but it was a blessing in disguise that he left me on the floor because I could have been a paraplegic if I would have moved really fast,“ Devine said.

She did not realize that when he slammed her onto the mattress, he actually broke her neck. The next day she begged him to take her to Urgent Care because she was in so much pain. She had x-rays done and four doctors and nurses came into her room and told her not to move. They transferred her to the hospital right away.

Instead of worrying about herself, Devine’s first thought was to come up with a story of how this happened to protect him. Once she was transferred to the hospital, she went through a 12-hour surgery.

“It was a gruesome process, I was in the ICU for seven days and in the hospital for two weeks,” Devine stated.

After her hospital stay, she was 110 pounds of skin and bones. She was filled with shame and felt like a broken vessel with no idea who she was. She lied to everyone about what happened. Her main concern was to make sure the relationship still worked.

“My insides were screaming at me to leave him, but because I was so filled with shame, I didn’t want to be judged for telling the truth,” Devine said.

She kept swallowing the shame but she had many talks with God during this time. She said God kept telling her that she needed to leave him.

Devine was in a neck brace for three months and soon after the brace was removed, she found out that she was pregnant.

She had a rocky pregnancy and cried every time he raised his voice at her. After she had their son, the abuse continued to escalate as her abuser would shake her up daily. Every voice inside her was screaming that this was not going to work.

One particular argument happened as they were getting ready to go to a Christmas Eve celebration at her parents’ house. Devine finally had enough. She was tired of being told she was never going to be a good mother and that she would never find anyone who would love her as much as he did. She was tired of having her son snatched away from her and being locked out of the house. Devine decided to leave her abuser.

She got a new job, a new apartment, and a new car. Life was starting to get better, but Devine noticed that she could not emotionally support her son. She would completely shut down when he started having tantrums.  The connection just was not there.

“The co-parenting was so hard, pretending that the person who abused me didn’t trigger me [sic] was the worst,” Devine said.

Her life started to change when she signed up for the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence Survivor Sister Retreat in 2016. It was an amazing opportunity that opened her eyes to the fact that she was not alone. She was finally able to let go of things she held on to for so long and she felt empowered. This was her mission; she knew she needed to take action.

Devine graduated from college; she was a survivor and a mother. She was 24 years old and an assistant manager of a big retail corporation. She beat the statistics, but that was not enough. She was still searching for herself and her son. She saw that her son had very aggressive tendencies, but she also saw love and compassion in him. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she knew this was from him living in two different environments, one with her and one with his dad.

She tried behavioral modification techniques, but no matter what she did, she knew the time he spent at his father’s house was reversing her efforts. She knew where the aggressive tendencies were coming from.

Even though Devine was working 60 to 70 hours a week as a retail manager, her job started requiring more. She was in a very dark place and God was telling her it was to get away. She made the jump and moved from California to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Since moving to the Springs in January 2019, Devine has already noticed a significant change in her son’s demeanor. He is rarely aggressive now and just has normal kid tantrums instead of the hitting, screaming fits he used to have. While Devine still has a lot of healing to do, she is in a much better place.

“Opportunities will show themselves, you just have to have faith and jump into them,” she said.

She no longer calls her broken neck an accident, but an attack because it was not an accident and it was not her fault. Devine continues to rely on her faith in God and is enjoying her new beginning in Colorado Springs.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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