By Rebecca Lynn
I remember the exact moment it happened. It was one of those “ah-ha moments,” the ones that baffle you because how did you not know, but also make you feel relieved because now you do. I was sitting in a dimly lit room that was cluttered with mismatched couches. There was little decoration on the walls, but there was a bin of “fidgets” in the middle of the table. It held everything from Rubix cubes to stress balls, and any other stress relievers you could imagine. I chose the purple fidget spinner, as usual. There were six of us in the room, well six survivors and our group leader who I later found out was also a survivor. We all sat silently waiting for the group to start.
As I had learned in previous group meetings, we all experienced various types of abuse–some had experienced emotional abuse, one was stalked, and a couple had experienced a single physical incident. I had experienced them all, with physical abuse being much more prominent in my story than in others. At first glance, it seemed like my abuse was much more severe than theirs. The group allowed me to speak my thoughts out loud, but there was no way that they could understand what I went through. I always felt alone, as if there was no one who had gone through the things I experienced. I felt alone when I was in my abusive relationship and even though I was sitting among fellow survivors, I still felt alone.
I have always been a social person and the isolation and loss of my extroverted identity made it hard to get back to the “people person” I wanted to be. One of the biggest reasons is because I was so alone, even though I had reconnected with old friends, joined a church, and spent time with family I hadn’t seen for years. I had four kids I was essentially raising by myself who, ironically, did not know what it meant when I requested much needed “alone time.”
My sense of being alone came from the feeling that no one could understand what I went through. No one could comprehend why I didn’t leave. No one understood that even though I was out of the relationship, I would still watch my daughter do something amazing and cry because my abuser was missing it. Worse, I wouldn’t dare try to explain to others that at times I missed and even loved my abuser; yes, the very one who hurt me, put me in the hospital, and controlled my life for almost six years. No one would ever understand that. How could they when I struggled to understand it myself?
So there I sat, alone in a room of survivors, spinning a fidget spinner and worrying about having to drive home in the dark. I don’t know if it was the way the conversation flowed, the willingness of the group to open up more, or just because I was due for one of those “ah-ha” moments, but that day I went from being alone to belonging to a group of survivors so much larger than the one I was sitting with. As each person shared their story, they didn’t just share what happened to them; they talked about things that were said to them by their abusers, reasons they couldn’t ask for help or leave, the re-victimization after they left, and how they felt so alone in not being able to talk to anyone about something as incomprehensible as missing someone who abused them.
With each story I heard, the more I heard my own story. These stories that were in themselves unique were similar in so many ways. The abusers seemed to have the same consistent characteristics, manipulation techniques, and control tactics as mine–it was as if they were the same person. Not only that, but hearing each person talk about the threats from their abusers, being scared one minute and missing them the next, and how mad they got at themselves when they actually started loving the ones who had hurt them showed me that I was not alone. In fact, I was surrounded by people who were in the same perplexing, misunderstood place that I was in.
This “ah-ha” moment followed me out of that room and seemed to show up everywhere I went. With each victim advocate that helped me, I found that they too had experienced domestic abuse and it was due to these experiences that they were there helping others.
But it didn’t stop there; I soon started meeting survivors everywhere. The woman at the coffee shop where I write my blogs is a survivor. The lady at the grocery store who noticed my domestic violence-inspired tattoo is a survivor and so is the florist who opened up about her past when I bought myself sunflowers after reading my victim impact statement to my abuser. With each person I spoke to, talking about my abuse became easier and I learned that so many people have been impacted in one way or another by domestic violence. Not only was I not alone, victims and survivors were everywhere–and they were probably walking around, just like I had…feeling as if they were alone.
Everyone deals with things in their own way: mine was through writing. It was both my passion and my therapy. But it also became my way to tell my story and to tell the stories of so many others. I couldn’t have been luckier to come across a volunteer position with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.
The name of the organization stuck out to me the second I saw it. Breaking my silence was necessary to not only make others aware of domestic abuse, but also to help those who thought they were alone realize that they are anything but alone. Channeling my passion for writing and my desire to make a difference, I became a blog writer at BTSADV. Little did I know, I wasn’t just joining a non-profit organization; I was becoming part of a family of survivors who had the same passion, goals, and experiences.
Survivors have experienced abuse first hand, felt as if they were to blame, and been conditioned to protect and keep their relationship with their abuser a secret. It takes a survivor to know a survivor, and the bond created between those who truly understand because they have been there, and in a sense still are, is an amazing feeling. There is a connection and a strong emotional bond between survivors. They are family, they are listening ears,and they are understanding hearts. Every story matters, every voice deserves to be heard, and every survivor needs to know that they are not alone.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.
Share Your Story
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, submit here. You can choose to remain anonymous.
You can also donate to BTSADV here.