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My Story Erikah Ojaniemi, Survivor

I’d like to share my story with everyone.

Let me start off here, my name is Erikah, I’m 28 years old and domestic violence ultimately ruined the rest of my life. And it all started when I met my children’s father in February 2006 when I was 15 years old. A couple of months before we met, I was raped at my “best friends” house. I closed off from everyone until I met my kid’s dad. We were together maybe 6 months the first time he slapped me in the face. Well, I left and went home. But sob I’m sorry it won’t happen again blah blah… He wasn’t physical with me for a while in, but physiological abuse was there. Fast forward to November 2007 I turned 17 and moved out of my parents and we got an apartment. This is when it really started. From then on, I had multiple black eyes, he head butted me in the face and it broke the skin on the bridge of my nose. he literally kicked the shit out of me in his stepdad front yard in the middle of winter in Michigan.

Let me tell you, this guy is a psycho! So, couple years go by, every form of abuse he was present. Whipping steel toe boots at me, smashing everything that I valued. The verbal abuse was incredible! Well forward to 2009. I got pregnant with our first son. At one point I was sitting on the couch, and he was whipping DVDs at me like frisbees… Another time (still pregnant) I. Trying to carry a tote of laundry inside, and he kicks this fucking tote, where? My stomach. I couldn’t believe it. Fast forward to July 2010 LJ is 2 months old. The only time he ever went to jail, he’s out of control shooting me with an air soft gun, throwing shit at me, destroying ten houses. Well, I tried to get away because he’s a nut job. We lived in a trailer park, and I had a friend 3 trailers down. Well, he’s coming after me, and when he gets to me, the Cole cocks me right in my left jaw chin area and someone seen him do it. Called him in. Out the next day, court ordered protection thing automatically. I’m 19, 2-month-old baby I’m freaking out. Well dumb ass me let’s him come back. Forward a couple of years for the best of the story.

We moved to Alaska March 2013 and our 2nd not April 30th. Mental and emotional and financial abuse to the max. 2016 we buy a house… Well from May 2016 to December 2016 he pulled a gun on me 6 times, almost stabbed me in the stomach in our driveway, tried to put a rope around my throat and was gonna yank me out of the truck I was sitting in. Final straw, it’s December of 2016, cold as shit in Alaska. He tells me to get out of his house, pulls a gun on me. I walked outside and *BANG* he fires a shot. I was done I couldn’t take it anymore. Found somewhere to stay. Because my family is giving no shits about me. I had to leave the kids with him. No other choice. He never hurt the kids, ever. Well, I guess he started using meth, and freaks out, thinking people are trying to get him…and he come the best part. He takes our 4 and 7 at the time and runs off in the woods and they fuckin disappear for 3 fucking days. in the middle of May. OCS takes custody of them, and they go to stay at my parents. Their dad has already turned my parents on me.

Well, he moved back to Michigan, and I had to move back in our house. January thru May of last year I was stranded 20 miles from town. No friends, no family. never got any notification of any of the court proceedings for the fight to get my kids back. My parents are telling OCS they will pick me up for visiting the kids…. NOT ONE TIME did they ever pick me up. To shorten the story, they terminated my rights to the kids. Because I had absolutely no support system, and they said I willingly didn’t go to see my kids… This was All last year. Now here we are I’m still living in the house we started buying, there hasn’t been any payment made since April of 2017. No electricity, no water, ok plastic for my upstairs windows because dumbass broke them out… Can’t find a job because I can’t keep my cell phone service paid… No money. for ten last 17 months I have survived off of going to the local transfer site (or dump) for everything I needed, including all my food. It’s not as bad as it sounds. A dumpster diving is a huge thing here. But it’s now been 23 MONTHS since my parents got my kids, AND I’ve been allowed to see my babies 2 times. My oldest just turned 9 today (the 9th) and my youngest turns 6 on the 30th… Since I’ve been exiled from my family I’ve missed/ get to miss last year and this year’s birthdays. Because my mom has some Lifelong hate for me. And what the dad doing? He’s with some new chick with 2 kids, while I can’t even talk to my kids. my will to live and, purpose to my life gone…

People NEVER CHANGE. I don’t care what anyone (abusers) say. They are all worthless nothing’s. I’ve had depression since I first had my oldest… Like to the max! Most days I don’t even get out if bed… I find myself crying at least 7-10 times a day… I’m so lost in this shit life I’m forced to live… I really don’t even know what to do anymore… I can’t say don’t ever go back to your abuser because I did for 11 years. But my suggestion to everyone, don’t take this kind of shit… If I wouldn’t have left that December, I can almost guarantee that I would not be alive to type this half assed story. and ladies keep a close eye on your teenage daughter’s relationship with boyfriends. Because there could be abuse and you might not even know it. My parents didn’t know anything. Until I tried to tell them last year, but my Ex already made me look like the bad person for leaving. Blamed my leaving on drugs which are so far from the truth. since drugs cost money which k never had any of.

**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’s YOUR Raw Truth?

Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences. If you are inspired to share your story with us, complete the form below. You can choose to remain anonymous.

My Survivor Story; Danielle Tyra

abuse, trauma, domestic violence, anxiety, PTSD

How does one go from confident, successful, and living her best life to
being homeless, unemployed, ashamed, and wondering how did this happen? Let me
start with saying this is just a snippet of what I endured over 3 years of
marriage. 

In 2016, I met the man of my dreams. He was caring, selfless, financially
stable, a business owner, educated, charismatic and the stars aligned…or so I
thought. Shortly after meeting him, I started to see red flags that at the time
I ignored. He had a few different names he went by, he always blamed everyone
else for what has happened to him, he didn’t have any friends and had an
extremely volatile relationship with his ex-wife even after 7 years of divorce.

I knew he had been to prison for violating a protection order (and lying about
it) with his first wife but he made sure I knew that he was “wrongly convicted.”
That it was all “her” fault. I believed him. I mean he told me in advance, he
didn’t try to hide that he went to prison, and he had a successful business and
appeared to be back on his feet and doing well. The signs kept coming and I
kept ignoring them. The mental, emotional, and intellectual abuse began and
then lead to physical and financial abuse. He “supported” me leaving
my 15-year career to pursue my own dreams as well as working within his
business. What I did not know is that this was the control he would later have
over me.

He would accuse me of hiding things and stealing from him. I recall one
event where he yelled at me for hiding the stapler and when I said I did not he
started banging on the kitchen table telling me I did. I walked into the room
he was in, and the stapler was sitting in front of him. If I ever question him
or he thought I was against him, he will become very angry and yell, cuss, or
slam/throw things. He would get up in the middle of the night and turn lights
on and do things that were loud or disrupt those sleeping. Originally, I
thought it was just him not being able to sleep until I question it. It then
would turn into a fight, and he would keep me up all night yelling and trying
to keep me awake. I later learned this was a form of abuse. Sleep deprivation to
wear me down mentally. The lies continued and became so ridiculous that he had
me question if he was lying or not, because why would someone lie about that.

For example, he said he was at the store getting milk and he would be right
home. A few hours later he came home and did not have milk. When I asked about
the milk, he would dismiss me and tell me to get it. I learned not to ask where
he was. The ending was never good. He would lie about anything and everything
and for no reason. Even his name. He went as far as telling me about his
current name on his driver’s license was what he was born with, and his birth
certificate was wrong.

Again, one would think why lie about this? And did I really care what his
name was exactly, no I did not but the act of him lying was what was so
disturbing? One day while I was working from home, I started to clean up the
living room and went to find the tv remote to put it where it belonged and
texted him asking where it was and he said, “I caught you.” He purposely hid
the remote so I would not watch tv. What I did not realize then that I do now,
is that he was hard at work to break me down. Attempting to distort my reality to
make me believe I was crazy. Break me down to make me feel worthless. I
couldn’t tell you how many times he called me a whore, cunt, bitch, and other
words I cannot bring myself to even repeat. Early on I would argue back, try to
disprove his lies, and question him. This eventually led to physical abuse.

He already mentally wore me down so that when he physically hurt me, I would
be less likely to fight back. He would tell me that if I called the police, he
would just tell them I hit him first and they will believe him. In fact, he
even threatened to call the police and let them know I went crazy again and he
was defending himself. I was so broken, that I let him spit in my face, punch
me in the face, kick me while I was on the ground, slam my head into the
console of our car, put a pillow over my face, and throw the kitchen garbage on
me. I was ashamed, worn out, tired, and feared what he would do next. It became
so bad that I could not function daily – I was mentally and physically paralyzed.

I stayed home so no one would see the black eye, swollen lip, the gash in my
forehead, and the trouble I had sitting because he kicked me in my tailbone so
hard. I started trying to figure out what was wrong with me. How did I go from
confident, successful, and happy to being depressed, tired, exhausted, and
crazy! How can the outside world think I am still that confident person but at
home, I am not?? I did a great job of hiding it and no one knew except for the
neighbors who would have heard his yells and thrown stuff out the windows and
doors. I lied to him to hide the abuse. I would tell people how great of a
business owner he was. How honest and caring he was. It was all a lie. I was
afraid of how he would turn the truth and what he could do if I didn’t support
him. Once I started trying to figure out why I was crazy is when I started to
see what was really going on. I started opening about little things and doing
research on my own. It led me to read stories like the one you are reading
now. 

On 11/13/2019 I left my husband for the first and last time. It wasn’t easy
and still isn’t, but I know that I am safe and so are my doggies. Since leaving
I have continued to endure abuse. He has broken into my car, abused my dogs,
not followed court orders, and continues shaming me to others. I was able to
obtain a protection order, however as any domestic violence survivor knows,
that while this might deter them or slow them down, this does not stop them. He
has continued to violate the orders and make attempts to shame me by speaking
out against him.

Through the help of local domestic violence organizations and amazing
friends/family, I have been able to continue to have a voice, stand up for
myself and not be afraid to speak up no matter how big or small it is. The
worst abuse that I endured was mental abuse. I still struggle with what is real
or not real. I still check the back of my car each time I get in to see if he
is hiding in there. I still cringe when someone raises their voice, or I hear
loud noises and struggle to sleep at night. I still struggle to believe
anything anyone says. I still wonder what he will do next. The journey to
healing will be just if the abuse or longer but what I do know is that I am not
crazy and that I will recover.

My Survivor Story

I never thought that I would be in an abusive relationship.

I told myself over and over that I would never stay with a man that hurt me. But, in fact I was a very typical victim because of my age I was 18, and in the United States, women ages 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be a domestic violence victim as women of other ages, and over 500 women and girls this age are killed every year by abusive Partners, boyfriends, and husbands in the United States. Over 85% of abusers are men and domestic abuse happens only in Intimate, interdependent, long-term relationships; in other words families the last place we will want or expect to find violence which is one of the reasons why domestic violence can be so confusing. I was also a typical domestic violence Victim because I didn’t know the warning signs or the stages of domestic violence. 

The first stage in any domestic violence relationship is to seduce and charmed the victim. The second step is to isolate the victim. The third, introduced the threat of violence and see how they reacts. I never thought of myself as a battered girlfriend until after. Instead I was a very strong woman in love with a very deeply troubled man and I was the only person who could help him be better. 

Why didn’t you just leave? To me this is the saddest and most painful question that people ask because we the victims know something others usually don’t; it is incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser. The final step in the domestic violence pattern is kill to her. Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship, after she is gotten out. Because then the abuser has nothing left to lose. Other outcomes include long-term stalking, even after the abuser has remarried. 

So to understand everything I have to start at the Tipping Point which is surprising because there are so many. It starts off that we are at the brick getting food; at the time we were homeless living out of his car and a tent during very bad summer storms and floods. I had the option of living with my grandparents but Vance and our dog weren’t welcome so at the time I didn’t want to lose him and couldn’t think of any other way but to just stay with him.

I’m inside the brick getting our boxes of food when he comes in with an officer behind him, he hands me his phone and his car keys; he’s being arrested for unpaid fines. I didn’t know what to do; I had no idea. I’ve never been in a situation like this. I had a dog in a hot car, a box full of food, and I needed to be at a job interview. I drove over to one of our old roommates house where he had said he would watch the dog and I could store the food and sleep until I figured out what was going on. 

Two three days went by with little to no word from him or his mom but plenty from his friend. I didn’t know what to believe at that point. Was he actually really back on drugs? He knew how I felt about things like that; it would explain a lot though was he really lying to me again? At that time with so much on my mind and a broken heart I decided I couldn’t do this no more I was done with him. 

Later on the next day I got a call from him saying that he was out and how much he missed me and that we needed to be picked up from the jail. I was on my way to work so I turned around and headed towards the jail to find him standing smiling on the sidewalk. He got into the car and his first question was as I started to drive towards work I was already late. “Where have I’ve been staying?” When I told him that I was staying at his friends house he snapped from Jekyll and Hyde. Slamming his fists into the dash and the window yelling as loud as he could. I thought he was going to hit me,I didn’t what to do. I slammed the car in the park and it immediately turn the car off throwing the keys into the passenger side floor. He’s already slamming his door closed and heading to my side when I got to the back door and started throwing my work bag amd my other duffle bag across the parking lot along with my shoes. I knew if hr drove off I might not get my stuff back and that was all I had other than one more bag of clothes at his friends. He grabbed me hard yelling in my face “Where’s my dog?” “Where are my clothes?” He tried to rip my phone from my hands but I managed to get it back, then he shoved me to the ground. By this time he caught the attention of a woman exiting her car and one of my co-workers who starting to walk over. He got in his car and floored it in reverse. I could see in his eyes when you put it in drive that he was going to hit me. I jump backwards just in time as he hit and ran over the Walgreens bag I had dropped in the fight. 

As my co-workers help me inside I called his friend and told him not to give him my clothes. He could have his dog, his clothes, his car, that I was just done with him. Later that night he showed back up at my work to profess his love and asked me to marry him when I told him he needed to leave he tried to jump over the counter. One of my co-workers had to tell him to leave otherwise he was going to call the cops. The next morning he broke into his friends house by pushing the AC out and standing on a chair climbing through the window and knocking over a TV. I left it up to his friend on whether or not he was going to press charges, he did end up calling the cops. We give our statements after that I packed up my things I knew I wasn’t safe there. 

After that, I got a restraining order with help from the women shelter but like he told me even before he laid a hand on me it was only a piece of paper. He proved that by approached multiple times after that telling me I had nothing to be afraid of that he “,just wanted to be my friend,” or when he saw me walking he asked if I wanted a ride each time I told him know that if he didn’t leave at call the cops. It was about 2 months after this when I unblocked him for some reason and sent him a message. I don’t know what made me think that he would have changed. But he invited me over to see his house that he was renting that had plenty of room for a family. He told me that the dog miss me too. All those things, it just sucked me right back in. From then on it was his goal two break me and isolate me from my friends and family. Don’t get me wrong the first month I was back it was great we made that house our home, we went out and did fun things but as time got closer to his court date things began getting worse. He would destroy one room at a time throwing me through and against furniture, trying to burn my clothes in the closet; but still I stayed I didn’t ask for help. I was literally brainwashed. I hope that I could help change him or he would stop because he really did love me but instead the punches kept coming. It didn’t matter when I got home from work and was exhausted he said,” you’re mine I do what I want at things that are mine”, as he held me down and forced himself on me. The following days consisted of him saying that he was going to leave and “go end it all”. He always came back though.

Now it’s October 17th …..

I still remember it like it was yesterday and probably always will. I’m in a sports bra, teal T-shirt, blue basketball shorts and fuzzy slipper socks. I was in bed that morning from just getting home from work. He had left to go cut wood with his friend. I was awoken by very loud frantic bangs on the front door as soon as I open the door he pinned me against the porch wall. Something is pressed to my neck he was screaming spit flying in rage “What did you do? Tell me what you did? I Know What You Did!” Over and over. By this time my chest is starting to get wet and I’m screaming that I had no idea what he was talking about. He grabbed me by my hair dragging me into the living room; that looked like nothing had happened the night before. I always cleaned up and tried to fix what I could but this was different there was something in his eyes. He pushed me into the chair and told me to shut my mouth. I remember touching my neck and feeling something warm and sticky on my hand blood. How bad is it? What am I going to do? I tried to get up to get something to stop the bleeding but he he grabs me and throws me through a glass top coffee table, he picks me up by the collar of my shirt and this time through the matching glass top end table. 

Now I’m lying on the floor there’s glass all around us he grabs a big shard of the broken table. I immediately grabbed his hand knowing his intentions. That’s when it really hit me. He was going to kill me and I needed to fight or I was going to die. After finally knocking the piece of glass away from his grasp, I couldn’t believe it, like a rabid dog he latched on my lower jaw biting down so hard I thought he was going to tear flesh. He stood up over top of me with this Twisted look on his face and with his new boots I got him he began to stomp and stomp on my chest. Then he said, “I’m sure glad these are waterproof because well what is whatever percent water,” and then Wham the boot with what felt like the force of a train behind it hit me right in the face. “Now maybe that’ll keep you down,” he said as he walked over to the chair and sat down. What felt like hours was possibly 20-30 minutes long I don’t know all concept of time was gone at that point. I could feel in each and every piece of glass that was underneath me but I didn’t dare to move. Then the friend he was with earlier that day came through the door he saw what was going on the blood, the glass, the destruction. He tried to talk to him saying things like “,it will work out that there were other ways”. But even a childhood friend, a man like a brother to him was not getting through to this man I no longer even recognized. He got back on top of me grabbing me by the collar of my shirt slamming me against the floor into the piece of glass even more. In a collision of bodies his friend was on top of him yelling “,you have to stop let’s talk,” Vance’s reply was this “none of you are leaving today I’ll make sure of that,” in that moment I didn’t know where the strength came from I couldn’t see the whites of either of their eyes. I ran through the dining room, into the kitchen, to the back door. It’s locked! My hands felt like spaghetti and all I could think of was he was right behind me. I finally got it and started running I didn’t even stop to open the screen door. I just had to keep going one more block no… that’s not far enough two blocks. I’ve got to hide! I ran up the alley to the second house, the odds of picking this house. 

The back door was unlocked I ran in so fast and duct below the window as I slammed it shut. I started clenching my neck from behind I heard a women’s voice, “What are you doing in my house get out!” I turned to see this woman and the color fade from her face. She puts her arms around me guiding me to the kitchen. “Who did this to you?” As I caught my breath I explained that my boyfriend had just attacked me but he tried to kill me. They insisted on bringing me to the ER right away I pleaded with them a few more minutes. She took me into the bathroom to clean up my face and assess the situation. 

In that moment, looking in the mirror I didn’t even recognize the person looking back. My hair was in gobs mangled from the sticky blood, my shirt was torn down the middle almost in half and covered in blood, on my face a dark purple bruise was already forming where he bit me, my eyes are black and blue and a nearly perfect boot print covered the side of my face. My lips are split and then I really saw it. It was like a Nike Swoosh across my neck still bleeding we held the damp paper towel to it before I finally let them drive me to the ER. Still in my fuzzy slipper socks and blue shorts I walked into the ER. From there I went to a safe house for the night with 12 stitches in my neck ….2 more centimeters is what I was told just two more .. He was taken into custody by law enforcement the same day. Initially charged with attempted first-degree homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, domestic abuse, false imprisonment, Mayhem, strangulation and Suffocation, and bail jumping. He was found guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, and domestic abuse. It took a year for the finally go to court. A year since I’ve seen the man I thought cared about me but then tried to take my life. Most of the things said in court are mostly just a blur now. He made me feel pathetic scum-of-the-earth, he stripped Away my self-worth layer by layer until there was nothing left of the person I used to be. I felt the weight of the world was bearing down on me and suffocated me to the point that I’d disappear and no one would even know that I was gone or that I was to blame for what was happening to me. But I realized you must not hate people who have done wrong to us for as soon as we begin to hate them we become just like them; pathetic, bitter, and untrue. Most people know me as the girl who got her throat slit; concerned with why I stayed in abusive relationship, rather than all the terrible things that happened. 

Now I am focused on my family and my finance who is the sweetest man I’ve ever meet. Abuse only thrives in silence so I change you and others around you to be silent no more talk to your significant other, family members coworkers, children, even strangers about the effects of domestic violence. If you hear someone even joking about domestic violence speak up tell them that that’s not okay and if they want a joke about that they should do it somewhere else. Together we can do something.

**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’s YOUR Raw Truth?

Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences. If you are inspired to share your story with us, complete the form below. You can choose to remain anonymous.

My Survivor Story

My mother was abusive, and I replaced her in marriage. She followed me across the country and made good friends with my ex-husband, who drinks a lot and goes Jekyll and Hyde. I made the mistake of moving on too quickly as I tried to escape the abuse when I was pregnant again and fell right into the arms of another abuser. As I tied to extricate myself again, I went no contact with my ex and mom, not knowing that the new man was stirring the pot to hide his addiction to drugs. For years I tried to escape, and they ganged up on me because I cried abuse/help, stop hurting me. The addict didn’t want to work or be homeless, and he defended his status with me viciously, all while messing things in the house, stealing, and withholding affection. The addict hit me. I was bruised badly, so I called the police, and he and scratched his arm slightly and convinced the police to arrest me, saying my daughter said she witnessed it.


I didn’t see my oldest daughter for a year, not knowing why she had lied about it. Later I found conflicting records he had given, proof he had lied. My ex-husband told everyone I knew and didn’t know embellished versions of the gaslight, and the stories got more intense as he drank. It was horrible because I was forced to take care of an addict who couldn’t parent and wouldn’t leave. Addict was out of control, and I demanded he goes and he brought kids to the mom who put a restraining order on me for coming over to get my kids because I had called the police to collect them, and she grabbed the phone and said I was trying to kill her. I didn’t see kids for a couple months, but I had time to collect evidence. I found medical records that showed the addict had sent suicide messages from my phone After Mom kept it. She never apologized to me; I just wanted to tell sensational stories to the family because she had always told them I was crazy and made up stories about people hitting me since I was 3. It took a couple years more for me to gather enough evidence and uncover his drug stashes before I could get him out, but my relationships with my friends and family were all but destroyed. I even defended myself on my own in court against a lawyer and came out not owing to a dime and getting half time, but the damage has been done. There were times I was so alone because they isolated me from hundreds of contacts to keep me quiet about their abuses.


I used to hang with my family a lot, and she got jealous they stayed with me instead of her and devised a plan to make herself the center of attention again by cutting me out of the picture. That was my punishment, to shut me up. So now I don’t drink, date, do recreational anything, and quietly collect evidence every time I communicate. I carry bags of evidence around me in case I get gaslighted again. I record everything I can. The scariest times now are when my ex is drunk and abusive, and I try to protect my child because he lashes out and accuses me of what he does. He smokes pot with a kid and tells my mom I do that, and she says I am projecting my lousy behavior on him and really doing the things I accuse others over.


I have even taken voluntary random drug tests multiple times to prove I do nothing, but the results don’t change their twisted stories. My mom even called my doctors and told them I was a psychopath, which seeds doubt in their minds. Had to leave two doctors. Mom/ex use Facebook like a weapon to hurt me. I went no contact with all my family except for my children.

Some nights, like right now, I feel I can barely go on, but I know I’m so fortunate to have survived, and I now live on my own. A domestic violence survivor who had been gaslighted horribly and put through the court system coached me every step of the way and saved my life by challenging me to take responsibility for my life and stop giving my information away, stop explaining, to stop reacting to abuse, and to protect myself and my children without involving toxic people who could hurt me. If your parents/spouse abused you, be cautious of choosing because sometimes people can gravitate to what they know. If you haven’t healed, you can be attractive bait to a narcissist. I’ve been battered, beaten, and blamed for trying to do the right thing, and I feel like it nearly killed me, but now I’m stronger and a better person. Although I often feel deep pain, it is starting to subside, and the little things in life, like holding my child’s hand, give me great joy, and I no longer have to live day by day under abuse feeling life my brain is scrambled.

Medicine for the Soul: How giving can heal the broken pieces of a survivor’s heart

By Dana Rutherford

For a survivor of domestic violence, the word “giving” can bring back memories of distorted views from years past. Giving often meant of themselves but not in a healthy way. In these cases, victims repeatedly give of their bodies, emotions, mental states, money, etc., completely neglecting themselves all to appease a human being who never had their best interests at heart, to begin with. It can feel exhausting to think about giving one more ounce of yourself because it simply feels like there’s not one left to give.

Your gift of giving as a survivor of domestic violence isn’t just beneficial to many, but it’s also healing to a wounded heart that deserves to be mended.

Many have heard the statement that one of life’s greatest joys is giving to others. It feels good to have a hand in people receiving a blessing, especially when they are grateful and appreciative. Healthy giving is a stark contrast to unhealthy giving. One is beneficial to everyone involved while the other only profits the selfish needs of the person on the receiving end who is far from thankful. Martyring and giving are two very different things. 

So, how can we give healthily as survivors?

For one, we can give our story. As Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence states in its name, speaking about the things that we have endured can save lives. It may be uncomfortable and take some time, but eventually, giving this world your story is a gift. It bursts through the barriers of what many societies, religions, families, and abusers would love nothing more than to see lie dormant and never be mentioned. The moment you open your mouth you are exuding power, and as a survivor, it feels incredible to take that back after feeling helpless and without it for so long. Numerous people have yet to find their own voice and will be inspired by yours, so think of it as one of the greatest gifts you will ever present to this world.

We can also give our time. Find something or someone who is in need, and simply be there. Maybe it’s a single mom who needs a break and could use a babysitter for a few hours, or maybe it’s an organization that could use a volunteer. It may even be another survivor who needs a shoulder to cry on. Whatever the case, your presence is valuable. Look at it as such and find what is worthy of it. Survivors again have spent so much time on people who didn’t see their value, and it’s critical to expend your energy elsewhere.

Lastly, we can give of our resources. It’s not about a certain amount. Some have more to give than others. Again, it’s about finding something or someone who stands out to you as in need of help. It can be as broad as finding a charity or nonprofit organization to give to, or it can be more personal in helping a friend pay a bill. Many love to give presents to children for the holidays. BTSADV has a wonderful campaign called Holidays of Hope that helps families in domestic violence situations receive gifts for the season. That is just one example of numerous foundations and events that are close to the hearts of survivors. If money is tight, bake some cookies for that person who may be struggling. The possibilities are endless in terms of giving!

What it all comes down to is that many have given to us along our own journeys, especially in the moments of getting out of abuse. It is such a full-circle moment to return the favor to someone else and pay it forward. It’s never out of obligation. What someone did to bless you shouldn’t guilt you into giving back, but instead, it should inspire you. With that inspiration brings unexpected healing to those pieces of the heart that may still be broken.

Giving truly is medicine for the soul.

What I Learned (and Had to Unlearn) from Witnessing Financial Abuse

by Rick Dougherty


What We See

I grew up in a house in which the threat of violence was omnipresent.  It wouldn’t happen all of the time.  It wouldn’t even happen most of the time.  The physical violence was just a small part of what my mother and I had to endure, especially in my teenaged years.  In no way do I want to diminish the trauma associated with the physical violence my father directed at my mother and at me, but I often feel that the physical violence hasn’t had the lasting effect of the other forms of abuse. 

Here at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, we are spending all of October highlighting financial abuse, because it is so misunderstood by the general public.  Part of the problem with it being misunderstood, is that people don’t notice some of the long-lasting effects of the abuse on those who suffer through it.  According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 99% of domestic violence situations contained some form of financial abuse.  Even with that staggering number, 78% of people don’t consider financial abuse to be a form of domestic violence (NNEDV, 2016).   This means they probably don’t understand how it looks when it is happening, and what is does to those who experience it. 

My father did not want my mother to have a job.  He wanted her to be completely and totally financially dependent on him.  When she would have a job, he would try to turn me against her.  He would tell me that she didn’t need to work for our finances, and she was doing it because she didn’t want to spend time with me.  My father was very cliché, being raised in a small, depressed town with very regressive views on gender roles, race, and religion.  His family of origin had very strict views on how the family should look.  I recall being in the wedding parties when my aunts and uncles got married and how the wedding officials would preach about women being subservient to their husbands. 

Even the women in his family didn’t think women should be treated equally.  When I later married, they mocked my wife for not taking my last name.  This didn’t come from the men in the family.  It came from the women.  The patriarchal family structure was comforting to all of them, as a protection from a scary world.  Even if that structure suppressed them, it provided a feeling of safety.

My mother, on the other hand, was raised in a family of high-academic achievement.  While her Irish-Catholic father was certainly working-class, he carried himself with dignity.  He didn’t believe that being a man who showered at the end of a day’s work meant that you had to act in toxic ways.  As the father of five daughters, he also wasn’t too keen on the sexist tropes so common to his era.  All of my aunts who survived to adulthood are strong women.  While they all eventually married, they all also had success in the work world before and after settling down with a spouse.  My father could see that women in my mother’s family didn’t need men to support them.  That tortured him.  He knew that she didn’t need him.

The Inevitable Conclusion

For a few years while I was in high school, my family hit a big financial crunch.  This was a time that a healthy couple would hunker down to handle the situation.  My father was having a hard time finding steady work that paid enough money.  When there was an opening for waitresses at a restaurant in town, my mother took the job.  It made my father furious.  He hated it.  I believe what angered him the most was that he needed the money.  No longer was he in a situation financially that he could claim she didn’t need to work.  The more he lost the ability to financially abuse her, the more he would physically abuse both of us.  The abuse got worse-and-worse. 

At the time, I had a “job” mowing my great-aunt’s lawn.  I put the word “job” in quotes, because a lot of the time I didn’t have to do the labor.  My maternal grandfather really was a great guy.  I had basketball and baseball practice, and I was going to dances and meeting girls.  Most of the time, he would mow her lawn for me, but I still got the $20 per-week.  As strange as it sounds, my father hated this.  Even $20 per-week was giving me too much financial independence for him.  By this point, he was overweight and out-of-shape.  I was getting to the point at sixteen where I was taller than him, and the coaches had me in the weight room three times per-week.  His window for intimidating me physically was closing, and now I was starting to have a little pocket cash. 

One day, he picked me up from the mall, I had just bought an album I was waiting to be released for months.  Instead of spending the $13 to get the CD, I bought the cassette version for $9.  I knew money was tight, and I was willing to save money where it was possible.  He screamed at me the entire ride for wasting my money.  It was his mission to let me know that even when I was making the money, I had to go through him.  He wanted control. 

He hollered, “I don’t have a job right now, and I can’t be wasting $9.”

To this day, I am not sure if any accomplishment I have had or will have in the future will live up to the feeling I had when I responded.  “Well, it’s a good thing I have a job, and I can spend the $9.”

I put him in his place.  I didn’t need him.  My mother was working.  I was working, and the money was coming from my mother’s side of the family.  His entire web of control was showing itself to be a house of cards. 

The irony of the situation is that, despite the abuse, my mother and father did one thing the right way.  My father started working again, and my mother worked her job.  Eventually, they got enough money to buy a nice car, and move to a nice home.  Had my father not been so focused on being the one controlling the income, he would have been able to take real pride in providing for his family.  If he didn’t need the woman in his life to be subservient to him, he would have been able to take solace in a positive masculine accomplishment.  He could have thrown toxic masculinity to the side, and worked with his partner as an equal.  They dug themselves out of the hole, but the marriage didn’t survive it.

Decades of trying to keep her blind to the fact that she could leave, made it an inevitability when she saw that light. 

It Didn’t Stop There

Even after my parent’s divorced, the financial abuse continued.  While a normal father who leaves his child would have to pay child support, my mother wanted to prove that she could do it on her own.  The years of being told she couldn’t do it made her determined to do it out of spite. 

Occasionally, we would need money for something, or we would need his signature on a financial document.  It always came with some sort of quid-pro-quo.  We had to go get pizza with him.  I would have to hang out with him for a few hours.  He was still using the absolute bare-minimum of his responsibility as an excuse to claim we owed him.  The money was nothing more than a form of control. 


The most pathetic of these transactions came on his last Christmas on this planet.  The holidays are an expensive time, and my mother needed money.  Because of that, my father would only agree to it, if I would go with him to see his family.  My mother begged me to do it, and used the fact that I would get some presents to grease the wheels.  The only other thing she asked was that I got him a present.  I went to Sears, and purchased a $5 wallet.  With tax, it came to $5.30.

After he dropped me off at my car, he looked at me with pain in his eyes.  “Um, I didn’t know we were doing presents.”  He handed me a $5 bill.  I had spent more than that on his stupid wallet.  Even Christmas gift giving was an excuse to use money as a symbol of his lack of respect. 

The Final Insult

That Christmas was his last Christmas, because he would be dead the following November.  By this point, he had regained his footing, and was making very good money at a job he loved.  He was thriving so much, that he was offered a promotion across the country. 

It was a Saturday in the first week of November.  Once again, my mother thought that it would be a good idea to be there when he left.  I told him that a full-time job was opening up where I had been working since I was sixteen.  This was going to my chance to start climbing the latter in my career.  In retrospect, it was fitting that the last thing I told my father was that I was becoming more independent.  He got in the car, and started driving towards I-80.

The following Saturday, when I arrived to start a part-time shift at work (one that would give me another chance to impress my bosses), I got the phone call that my father was dead.  My bosses wouldn’t let me work after getting the news, even though I was so determined to get this job, that I was still prepping my day after answering the call. 

It wasn’t until he was dead, however, that I learned about his one last attempt at financial abuse.  To him, money was control.  Behind my back, with the assistance of that entire side of the family, he had gotten married one week before he died.  He also signed over all of his money and assets to his new wife.  He threatened to take this promotion at the other end of the country, expecting us to stop him.  He thought we needed his money, and wouldn’t be able to survive without him.  When we told him that he should go, and do what was best for his career, he had to find some way to get revenge.  Instead of providing his son with a little financial security while that son was trying to make a name for himself in his chosen profession, he found a way to use the money against us one more time.

The Aftermath

I was nineteen when my father died.  That was well over twenty years ago.  I have lived more of my life following my father’s abuse, than I lived experiencing his abuse.  That being said, as every survivor knows, I still live with the ramifications of that abuse. 

My father wanted my mother and me to rely on him in all aspects of finances.  While some parents would teach a child how to do taxes; how to start a bank account; or how to apply for a credit card, my father didn’t want me to know how to do that.  On a day-to-day basis, I didn’t see why things were going well for us financially.  Still, I did see the ramifications of the bad economic times.  This gave me a fear of credit.  Some of the most impressive things I have done in my adult life are because of the financial ignorance I developed from his controlling nature.  In 2015, I bought a brand-new Toyota Prius.  I walked right into the dealership, and wrote out a check for $27,000.  My fear of having a car repossessed was so strong, that I waited until I saved enough money to buy a new car to own one.

The trauma I experienced due to financial abuse lingers to this very day.  Two weeks ago, I was in a theme park, when I saw a t-shirt that I really liked.  Standing in the middle of the theme park, I texted my wife, who was at work.  I asked her if I was allowed to buy the t-shirt.  It wasn’t until she was at lunch, and told me that I had permission to buy it, that I went back to the store to and purchased it.

That is a very common interaction with my wife.  I am so afraid of someone yelling at me for spending money, that I feel that I have to get permission.  If I make a bad financial decision, I will have an anxiety attack.  If I wait to get gas, and find myself forced to fill up where gas is more expensive, I will constantly apologize…even when I am the one who is losing money. 

On a positive note, I did develop one positive habit from witnessing and experiencing financial abuse in my youth.  My father wanted to use money to trap my mother.  He didn’t want her to feel she could survive on her own if she left.  That seemed so pathetic to me.  As an adult, I have always wanted to make sure that my significant others are able to earn their own money.  My wife makes substantially more money that I make at this point in both of our careers.  Some men tease me about this, but I take pride in it.  If my wife makes enough money to live on her own, that means she is staying with me, because she wants to stay with me.      

I do not mooch off of her, which would be a completely different form of financial abuse.  I never want her to feel she has to justify purchases to me.  We trust each other to understand our financial big picture, and that neither of us would do anything to jeopardize it.

Moving Forward

While this is a personal anecdote, I do think there is something to be gained from everybody reading this.  If my story makes one woman realize that her children may be witnessing behavior that will make it harder for them to function financially as adults, maybe she will get out of that relationship.  Even if she can’t escape at the moment, maybe she will think to have financial conversations with her children.  While kids need to understand the value of money, they also shouldn’t grow up in fear of it.  They shouldn’t view financial security as a justifiable reason to stay in an abusive relationship.  Most importantly, your children will learn better financial habits by watching you struggle to survive financially, than by watching you stay in an abusive relationship to have your needs met.           

Reference

NNEDV, 2016, Financial Abuse Fact Sheet, https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library_EJ_Financial_Abuse_Fact_Sheet.pdf

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