Behind Closed Doors

“He hit me and it felt like a kiss

He hit me and I knew he loved me

‘Cause if he didn’t care for me

I could have never made him mad”

~The Crystals, “He Hit Me (and it Felt like a Kiss)”

 

My main passion in terms of sexual violence is primarily sexual assault. Today I am going to talk about another form of violence, that all too often, coincides with sexual violence. I am speaking on the topic of domestic violence and choosing to compose this after a horrific domestic violence situation in my hometown community. This specific story involved an estranged married couple who made morning news involving a murder suicide within their home making the morning news on April, 19th, 2016. The most unsettling part, the murder victim, was a local journalist/broadcaster who told the morning news. The casualties were her life and three young children left orphaned.

Domestic violence is prevalent in our society and something no one wants to talk about. Sadly, its more common place than we think and is all too often not brought to proper attention until severe harm has been done. The recent revamp of the OJ Simpson case in the FX TV Series , “The People vs OJ Simpson” brought back one of the most famous celebrity domestic violence/murder cases of our time. The jury rendered their decision, I like many, have my own personal belief on how justice should have been served. This case brought to light years of domestic abuse shielded due to the male abuser having significant ties to the community, celebrity, fame, and an image that others refused to tarnish. The reality was threats of life, constant verbal abuse, 911 calls made out of fear by the deceased Nicole, and physical documentation of violent beatings leaving her bruised and battered. The reality was a domestic violence situation between and estranged couple that escalated to a tragic ending. Years later the very famous and late Phil Hartman suffered a domestic violence tragic ending. His wife took his life and then her own in a murder suicide. This left behind two children. Today’s events were of a public figure, in a warm community, a breast cancer survivor…that left three children without parents.

Just like sexual violence; domestic violence is often segmented against women as the abused or victims. I had my first brush with domestic violence in a personal matter at the young age of 24.  I was dating a man who, to put it lightly, was “the devil in disguise.” He lied to me about every part of his life from the beginning. He fabricated his entire life, his age, his values, his intentions in the seriousness of our relationship and more. He truly was one of those people who become stories on Dateline NBC about living a double life. Part of his controlly mechanism ( I was too young to recognize at the time) was to emotional abuse me and manipulate me in every way possible. Once his reality started to come crashing down around him, the lying turned to threats and more. A long story short, I was terrified he was going to harm me. I couldn’t eat and lost an enormous amount of weight, I was working two jobs, barely sleeping, and in a constant state of “on alert.” What’s sad was everyone kept complimenting me on how “great I looked” losing all this weight! I look back into photos and stare into the eyes of the myself then and it breaks my heart. My self esteem was at all time low, I was beautiful. I was thin, constantly tan (spray tans from the 3 weddings I was in that summer), smiling, on the go, progressing professionally, in a large group of friends, and suffering on the inside. During one of the busiest times of my work time (change over of apartments in the property management company I worked for) the final straw of months of torture came to a jolting end. I had blocked his number and yet he phoned me and left over 10 minutes of haunting voicemails.

Long story short, I found myself in front of my (amazingly supportive) supervisor, with tears running down my face, explaining how bad it had gotten and why I needed to leave work. She looked me in the eye and said,” take care of YOU and please check in with me tonight.” The threats he had made against me were not something I took lightly. I was allowed to leave work during my busiest time, went down to the nearest courthouse and filed for a PPO (to start the process.) My very good friend who had met this man, stayed home, and was as stunned as I was, came to stay the night on my couch to help me feel safe. I will never forget her asking me when I opened the door, “Why are you dressed so nicely? You went down to court? You’re supposed to be a mess!” nacks, and comfort and recall replying, “I wanted to look like I was okay on the outside so I put on this dress and some make up.” Her eyes of sympathy bore into me. I couldn’t believe I had wound up in this place.

Looking back at this moment and reflecting upon today, I can understand so very much about domestic abusers and their victims. Its hard for me to think about, much less share with anyone. I wound up being legally protected from this man, and even offered support to the other female victim he was further hurting (told you he had a double life.)  He eventually went to jail for stalking her some 6 months later. I supplied information to her lawyer to help. Stalking is a felony in the state of Michigan (thank God!) I finally slept the first night I knew he was in there. Finally felt peace. Finally felt the eyes of worry, concern, judgement and more go away. I am reflecting on this as I heal from my sexual assault six months ago, absorb the news of this beautiful female piller in the community, and think about how close to home domestic violence may be to all of us. It was for me, and I’ve always valued my strength and feminist independence.

(The picture below is of me the summer I went through the turmoil of everything in 2009 at the age of 24. Pictured in a wedding with two of my best friends. These photos are a reflection of external portrayed happiness and internal despair. A true oxy moron)

 

The bottom line is that as a culture we do not wish to intervene into the cues of perceived notions or clues of abuse. Often times the person who tries to help a victim out becomes the enemy or the threat of violence worsens.  As a culture; we have not successfully closed the gaps of women being victims of abuse and violence. All of these encompassing emotional abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual violence. We owe it to ourselves to do more.

The statistics are haunting and staggering.

Were you aware that every NINE seconds in the United States a woman is beaten or assaulted?

Did you know that domestic violence is the leading cause of inury to women? This is higher than car accidents, muggings, and yes even rapes combined.

For those of us with Human Resources, domestic violence victims have to call into work more often; enough to constitute nearly 8 million days of pair work annually. This is ust in the United States. (Look around your professional work space, take a deep breath and think about who amongst your professional peers may be in the category.)

A number as high as 92% of women surveyed wished for reduction of domestic violence and sexual assault as their TOP concern. Not equal pay, not maternity leave as paid family time, but violence of their own gender in this capacity.

When I worked in Residence Halls on a large college campus I observed an influx of what I perceived to be forms of domestic abuse at an alarming rate. I believe the new generation coming into the world and the exposure of social media opens them up to a new type of domestic violence and abuse. I would often hear students state, “he hacked into my Facebook again and threatened all my male friends to stop talking to me.” “He was able to see exactly where I was due to my instagram…that is how he found me there and dragged me out to talk to me.” “He couldn’t handle the rejection of us breaking up so he kept making up new screen names to harass me, call me names, and threaten me.” “I’m not allowed to have my own passwords apart from my partner, that would make him/her very angry.” This is all abuse in my opinion. Its a hidden form of abuse that is condoned as misuse of technology and another control tactic. Where does the line get drawn between healthy sharing and controlling another person?

This morning I awoke to an unsettling news story that opened with reports of a “murder suicide.” I instantly felt an icky feeling in my gut and thought how awful. The idea of things don’t happen like this in our small town crossed my mind. Then there was a face put with a name and a community in shock. I put out there some of my own brushes with domestic violence and have been very vocal about sexual violence that came into my world. I have grown a lot since I was 24. I now understand what are forms of emotional abuse and control are (and NO they are not love.) I also sadly still witness them in relationships around me and wish I could intervene.

The person that chose to inflict violence on me last October was a complete stranger. As difficult as it is to move past what happened; today I had a thought. How much harder would this be if the face of a stranger was replaced with a partner I loved? With a boyfriend? With a friend? With a husband. Sadly, many victims of severe domestic violence, sexual assault, and escalated domestic violence (usually resulting in death) are at the hands of a person that was once of love, affection, and comfort. How difficult is that thought to swallow?

I am thinking tonight about what happened and how as an individual, as a woman, as a community, as a MAJORITY we need to take a stand that the very behaviors that lead up to domestic violence will not be tolerated. I think far too often we see the aftermath, the guilt, the shock, the disbelief, and the photo of the smiling woman who no longer has a life with us. We see the person we used to make eye contact with at the grocery store and smile at. The woman who always volunteered at our children’s school and was so sweet to the children. We seem the high profile cases and faces of those like Nicole Brown Simpson. We think about how senseless this control game of violence was that escalated into taking their lives.

As I close this piece, (which I admit is a bit rambling for me) I have to thank a few people. These women stuck their neck out on the line for me and made themselves available. My supervisor in property management during my trying time who made it very clear to me, “she would support me in any way she could, that no job, busy time in housing was more important than my safety and well being. That she would be there for me day or night and could help find me a place to stay if I didn’t feel safe.” She was an amazing women and supervisor. She also could’ve dismissed my concern, put the tireless hours of work in housing first, and potentially even disciplined me for missed time in office.

To another friend, who worked with me at the same company in my first office location starting there. She was bold enough to pull me aside and say, ” I don’t care how busy/on the go you say you are and trying to be healthy. Something isn’t right with you and I suspect I know what is going on. I’m your friend and I’m worried about you. If you lose another pound I am going to sit down and hope you will really talk to me. This isn’t about work, its about YOU!” What a rare find and the first to not “celebrate” my shrinking appearance.

To my dear friend who stayed with me during this time and listened. She did not judge. She was just as alarmed as I was at how rapidly the situation escalated and how deceitful this person really was to me. She was reassuring with words like, “who cares what they think!” (when the mutual friends that introduced me and this man turned on me during this mess.) “Anyone can paint a pretty picture, you know the truth and are using the law as your tool for justice and safety. You are making sure this never happens to another person at his hands again.  You’ll get through it.

Lastly, to the women who moved a community with her zest for life, drive to use her own experience with Breast Cancer as a foundation for philanthropy/awareness, a mother to three children, a daughter, a friend and more; you deserved move. You will be missed and I sincerely hope whatever kind of good can come from something like this prevails.

Resources because LOVE should never hurt:

http://www.thehotline.org/

http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/states/michdv.shtml

http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,4669,7-192-29941_30586_240—,00.html

http://safeplace.msu.edu/

And for Denise:

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2016/04/radio_host_murder_suicide_leav.html

 

Statistics obtained from domesticviolencestatistics.org for proper credibility

http://www.domesticviolence.org/

 

 

 

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Broken Wings to Flying

broken_angel_wings_by_madretierra-d31e0bo.jpgYou live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn

~Alanis Morissette, You Learn~

The number thirteen has never been arbitrary to me. I came into this world on Sunday, May 13th, 1984. Nearly three weeks late on Mother’s Day. As I child I would count to thirteen of specific things to separate them out and make this number a good omen. I was aware of the stigma of black cats, the number thirteen, and superstitions at a young age. I will be sitting at my desk wearing the grey/pink striped maxi dress I set out in 13 hours from now. Its been 13 years exactly since I started my amazing journey at Michigan State University. One of my favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy was just renewed for its 13th season. My first childhood friend Keith Herman was born on April 13th; exactly a month before I was. I’ve learned to clear my mind during meditation for a solid 13 plus seconds (this took MONTHS!) In thirteen days from today it will have been six months. Thirteen days from this moment will bring me to the half year anniversary. The anniversary of my horrific sexual assault.

Thirteen.

Although my number is thirteen, I have to stop and reflect on six months. SIX MONTHS. Half a year has gone by. How is this possible? How did I get here? What did I learn? Am I okay? Have I moved forward? Do I acknowledge this? As a victory, as a small notation in my planner? As what? I may not want to, but I have to acknowledge how very many things I have abosorbed, hated, cried about, accepted, loved, embraced, failed at, exceled at, and integrated into my life the past six months. The past six months that in thirteen days changed who I was forever.

Deep Breath.

Here Goes.

  1. People will still let you down and hurt you. One of the hardest parts of my journey post assault was the people I thought would forever be there for me no longer being in my life. I have this image of myself as a baby robin that has fallen out of its nest and broken its wing. A baby robin can fly again with proper nurturing, healing, and support. I had a supposed good friend tell me when my “wings were healing” that they “could no longer be engaged in this friendship anymore with me. That I am not a terrible person and should know that. This is too emotional for them and they can no longer engage.” This was after I thought I was going to come into town, reconnect with this friend, and even stay the evening at their home (confirmed over the phone as okay.) This person avoided me for a few days after this conversation and finally responded to me after blocking me on all forms of media (yes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it.) I finally emailed this person directly and asked “why?” I got my response. I replied that I wish to respect how a person feels and the boundaries they need for their own emotional needs in their life. I cannot put into words the amount of hurt this caused me or the tremendous set back this caused me in my journey to heal. This was a friend who trusted me to watch their children, I openly shared everything with, I texted back and forth quite frequently, I picked up (they don’t like to drive), used to work with, and I thought was forever going to be in my life. I may understand on some levels why they chose to protect their own feelings and emotional stability; however I will never understand their approach. I stand behind what I said in writing in this same email, “I wish you would’ve stated to me how you were feeling before taking such drastic measures so I could have been supportive to you as a friends.” I still let this friendship “divorce” and person cross my mind daily. I know me. I’m a loyal friend to a fault and have to acknowledge the deep hurt I experienced. I never thought someone could kick me while I was down or my “wings were healing…..”
  2. Moments of happiness accompany moments of guilt. I’ve had this happen so many times. I have a great day, things click, I feel confident, interactions with others go well, and I smile to myself about the blessings I have in life. Then I have the burden of guilt that comes with it. I question myself. “Am I allowed to be happy?” “Whoa, can I feel this way. Does this mean I’m forgetting?” When something tramatic happens to a person there is a blank slate placed in the person’s mind (in my opinion) and its often filled with negative, binding, overwhelming thoughts of how I should feel. I’m not supposed to smile at my reflection as I notice my new concealer covers my scar and I am starting to resemble who I used to be. I’m not supposed to feel content, happy in the moment, or catch myself laughing along with others at something humorous. The dichotomy of these feelings blending together can be overwhelming. Grief for my former life comes with guilt associated with new happiness.
  3. I still have hope. I experience butterflies for the first time in about a year this past week. Butterflies associated with presenting in front of others for the first time in a long time. Presenting and public speaking is a huge part of my professional identity. I relish in it. I’m confident in saying I am good at it! I gave up on this portion of my life when this happened. I had a physical scar and an emotional scar to my soul that ran deeper. I never thought I would be comfortable in front of an audience ever again. These butterflies proved to be a beautiful reflection for my soul. Somehow in my pain, my healing, my attempt to move on; a seed was planted. A small seed of hope that I failed to recognize. A seed that proved to be a late bloomer…but a bloomer. The self-actualization/self-realization that I still had apsirations and hope for myself was one of the most postitive points in my healing process to date. I still have a voice that believes in myself. I still have hope for more. Even more important, the seed planted carries roots growing that I am worthy of and deserve more.
  4. I make people uncomfortable. Lets just call a spade a spade. I am open about what happened to me. I acknowledge it. I address it. I write about it. I have a streak of teal in my hair as a symbol of advocacy for sexual assault awareness. My not sweeping this part of my life under the rug makes other people uncomfortable at times. My growth and attempt to move forward openly isn’t as well received as I would have hoped. In an evaluation setting, a person of HR status said to me, “you have a streak of green in your hair.” (Mind you I have had this since November, but depending on how I wear my hair could be overlooked.) I casually stated, “You mean my advocacy streak?” He stated yes, that streak of color in your hair and inquired the meaning of its advocacy. I replied matter of fact, “My streak of teal is two fold. It stands for Sexual Assault Awareness in April and Ovarian Cancer Awareness in October.” My response as a knee jerk, “Good for you!” The burning of this person’s cheeks were a blatant physical indicator to me that I had made this person uncomfortable.   I am aware that both of my causes that I strongly advocate evolve around women’s issues. one is due to the physical make up of men not having ovaries. The other is that we further stigmatize male sexual assault survivors and “demonize” women as the victims of this. I am aware that hair is not a protected class in the State of Michigan (thank you Dr. Tina Riley for my CHRS from MSUHRLR certification training!) I am also aware that the more openly I wear my advocacy and show for cause; the more uncomfortable about it. Is it I make people uncomfortable, or perhaps issues segmented towards women make people uncomfortable? I say this on Equal Pay Day April 2016 as the only person in my professional setting to ask if this is recognized. I was generally curious, and the question make others uncomfortable. My advocacy, openness about being a survivor of a brutal physical, sexual attack, a physical attack on my right ovary (a sex organ) make people uncomfortable. I think I am going to try to trend the hash tag #awkwardsilence or the 80’s song lyric #enjoythesilence! Get comfortable with the uncomfortable people!
  5. Social Media has become my backbone. I am tremendously overwhelmed by the amount of online support and new online friendships I have formed. I anticipate the day I meet some of these people and cannot wait to hug them and let them know how very much they have helped me grow as a person. I have a support system nearly 24/7 at the touch of my fingertips. Thank you to all of those who have been there for me. I look forward to my weekly chats and touch points with people. I consider these folks to be my friends and lifelines! I encourage anyone struggling and wanting to reach out to what survivor conversations are out there to tune into a few. The hash tag: #SolidarityChat is a weekly chat every Monday done by Hannah Stein. This is a fabulous group of individuals who cover these tough topics and connect. I look forward to it, engage, process, and use this as an important way to heal. I’m forever grateful for Social Media and opening up my eyes to other victims/survivors out there.
  6. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I was a nanny the summer I was 20 years old. This was not a typical nanny situation, and I will also reflect on this as one of the hardest jobs I will ever have in life. I was a nanny to a family that had lost their mother in a horrific auto accident in January of that year. I started working for their Father, son at 6 1/2, and daughter of 3 that May. This family had grandparents (maternal) that had moved across the street and a grandmother (paternal) who lovingly went by the German variation of Grandma “Omi” that I spent a great deal of time with. This family was also in the process of building a beuautiful new home on Lake Michigan’s beach. There was a lot going on. Early into this position I had spent the morning with Omi and the little girl at Omi’s house (down the road.) A crazy storm came through, turned the sky black as night, ripped trees from their roots, caused us to loose power, and sent a large tree crashing down 6 inches from the home we were in. Omi called her son (my boss) immediately to come check the damage as it was over. He was already on his way. She and I were both very shook up as the 3 year old was napping in the room where this happened. Her son calmly hugged his child, and told his mother, “We will just have to get a chainsaw to chop this up later this week.” Totally calm. When he left, Omi looked at me and stated in her warm accent, “When you have been through the things my son has, you don’t sweat the small things or make a big deal.” This moment has forever stuck with me. I now understand it. I am a planner and bit of a control freak. A stain on a shirt, delay in travel, meeting that runs over and more used to rattle me. I no longer care about these things and can now assimilate with my former supervisor. Trauma and grief change a person. The things that used to make me fret and worry are no longer the large scale items I used to create stories about being problems in my mind.  Moments that used to cause my high strung, perfectionist self to unravel no longer hold the same meaning to me.
  7. I am forever Changed. I have had stubborn moments of utter denial that I have changed as person. You must understand, I used to fear change. Change meant my planning might not be going the way it was supposed to. Change means I have to accept I am human. Change made me very uncomfortable. Change brought out triggers in my myself that also initiated my go to “withdrawal/put up walls approach.” Its the oddest thing, I am not afraid of confrontation when going to bat for a cause I believe in or for a person that doesn’t have the courage to speak up. I am often the “go to person” for matters of difficulty that need to be discusses and have a them of change or advocacy. Applying these same rules to myself have never been the case. I have a different perspective on change now. I still have growing pains, I still have anxiety and stress about the unknown, and I still have curiosity about what could be. I will face days I have firm denial anything happened. I have had these days.  Days I wish my fears weren’t my reality. I am changed. I cannot be the person I was before. I can’t be that person ever again. That person had never lived through what I went through. I have had to dig deep and embrace change. After all; “you plan what you can and adjust to the rest…”

These are a few thoughts I have had after a busy, complex, somewhat overwhelming, emotion laced week. I had a thought today. Do I wish this never happened to me? The answer is of course. The second internal question was further complex. Do I regret my journey since then? I don’t not for a second. I embrace some of the lessons, heartache, and realization I’ve encountered. I go back to the salon tomorrow to get my highlights redone. Something I’ve been doing since I was 16 years old. Here is the thing though, now I get my teal streak touched up. I didn’t even blink or think about it while getting ready for tomorrow. Who I am as a person was drastically changed 13 days to six months ago. The person I’m growing into is going to be even better. I’ll be even better and with a fabulous streak of teal in my hair. I’m “toughasteal” and working towards 13 days to 6 months…