Sunday, October 29, 2017

If You Wouldn't Have Screamed... What Domestic Violence Actually Looks Like

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Can we get real for a minute? October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I read that 1 in 4 women will experience abuse from their partner. In looking at stats, that means that somewhere around 5,000 of you who read this page often have experience it. And that breaks my heart. So, I invited my dear friend, Stephanie, to share her powerful story. It's raw, and scary, and heroic. After she's done sharing, please read on how to detect and fight domestic abuse, as well as how you can support domestic abuse survivors.

**Warning** This post may be triggering to survivors of abuse.

When I was going through my divorce and custody battle with my ex-husband, I was asked by the evaluator to write down a timeline of abuse. At first, I thought it would be easy and told him I could absolutely do that for him. So that night, I sat down at my computer with a glass of wine, a notebook, and my phone to pinpoint when the abuse truly began.
I had no idea that this one task was going to be so hard. As I read through all the messages I realized that the abuse had started in the very first text message he had ever sent me. That night ended with several entire pages filled with scribbled out notes, an empty bottle of wine, and me a sobbing mess on the floor.
My very short first marriage was filled with abuse. It started small, with things like “I think you looked better in high school … before you lost all this weight.” Red flag right? That’s an awful statement alone, but was brushed off as a stupid man, saying a stupid thing. But when you start compounding it with the rest, it was clearly abuse.
The comments about my weight escalated over time. He would continue to say things like, “You were so much better looking before you had kids. I wish you wouldn’t have ruined yourself before you met me.” In the same breathe, he was constantly making comments on how much he hated overweight people. So not only would I not have been happy with myself had I gained weight like he was suggesting, I knew he would have used it against me. All a part of his brainwashing.
He would find ways to punish me, without even being in the same state. I would be at my mom’s house and he would want me at home, alone. It didn’t matter that he was across the country on a marine base, if he wanted me home that was where I had to be. And if I didn’t listen, he would take all the money out of our bank account, so I couldn’t get gas, groceries, anything. Other times he would take himself away from me. Meaning, he wouldn't talk to me for several days in a row. He would also talk to ex girlfriends or any other people that we agreed were off limits and made sure that I knew about it but couldn't do anything and he still would not reply to me.
His abuse was never physical, until closer to the end.
The first physical incident, was within ten days of having our son where I had been rushed into an emergency c-section, one that almost ended up taking my life.
We had gotten into some kind of argument at home and as I went to leave the room, he wrapped his arms around my waist and tackled me to the ground. I can assure you that I was in severe pain as I was brought down to the ground by the man that was supposed to be supporting and loving me.
I started screaming and crying, begging him to release me.
Of course, as a reaction to hearing his mommy cry out in pain, my newborn started screaming and my oldest son began to cry, asking if I was okay. I took everything I could within me to stop screaming for my children’s sake and just continued to beg him to stop. I told him that I would do whatever he wanted. I would take whatever he wanted to dish out I just begged that he didn't let our children see this. That he didn't allow them to know that this is what was happening.
His reply was something like this — “This is you. This is your fault. If you wouldn’t have screamed, they’d still be asleep. You caused them to see you like this, so now you will have to deal with it.”
In order to finally get him to agree to release me, I had to promise him I would never walk away from him again. You know when you watch those shows on tv, and the bad guy does something to the parent and they are helpless as their kids are looking on? That is exactly how I felt. Utterly helpless.
I didn’t leave after that incident. Why? Because he apologized to me profusely and claimed that he only did that because I told him that holding me calms me down. In my abused mindset, I then convinced myself that he was just trying to listen to the words that I had said.
Most people think that abuse is an all the time thing. It's not. Every couple months another questionable thing would happen but in between we were “great.” No, it was not perfect and I know that now because I'm married to damn near perfection, but we were good. He made sure I had anything I could ever want and need. He was loving. He said kind things and did kind gestures. The in between times made me question myself and if the abuse was just normal marriage issues.
Months later from the C-section incident, I was attending my high school reunion. As a mom to a toddler and a young baby, I was in need of some me time. I mean everyone needs our time, regardless of the ages of their children or even if they have no children....
Within the first hour of me being out I began to receive text messages with threats and insults. Saying things like “Good mothers and wives don't go out to bars and act like 'single sluts.'”
Because the kids were at my moms, I decided to ignore the texts and continue on with my night. During my reunion there was a photo booth area set up. My best friend and I were taking a photo using it when an old high school classmates boyfriend jumped in and joined us. That photo was posted on Facebook immediately and my ex husband saw it. Then he REALLY began to blow up my phone. He accused me of cheating and using the night out to get in touch with this guy that he decided was my boyfriend. I had had a couple of drinks and I don't know if it was liquid courage or drunken stupidity but I turned my phone off and had a wonderful rest of the evening.
When I got home that night I was immediately berated by my ex. He was FURIOUS. Again I was feeling ballsy so I told him that I was not interested in arguing with him and went to bed despite his anger and yelling.
The next morning, we attempting to talk but his anger took over and the yelling began. His temper quickly escalated and he proceeded to throw containers full toys around the apartment/at me and threw a potted plant at my head. This time I was not going to put up with it, I grabbed the keys and fought him to get out the door.
I left the apartment to head to my mom's and had a decent head start. But then, he jumped off our second story balcony and raced me for the car. I lost that physical altercation so I began walking on the road headed towards my mom's house and he walked beside me, screaming. During this incident, I called my mom and she could tell by what I was saying, and things she was hearing, that things were not good. I began to tell her where I was, so she could call the police. He caught on and fled back to the apartment.
I thought maybe he was going to leave me alone but then I saw our car speeding towards me. I honestly thought he was going to run me over. This was the first time I truly believed he was capable of killing me. Thankfully, the police arrived at this time.
The police took me back to my apartment and told me that I had two choices. That I could have my children and I brought to a shelter or that I could stay at my mom's. I asked why I couldn't go back to MY apartment. It was mine before it was his. Their response was that my ex said he had no where to go. Apparently the person that has no where to go is the one that gets “ownership” of the home. That meant that because I had family close by I had to be the one to go. He had family an hour away but because he said the magic words he got my apartment.
I didn’t even leave after that incident. Why? Honestly, I'm not sure.
When I finally left him, it was after finding an exchange of text messages to a friend of his. In these texts he was making a plan, to kill me.
Yes, I just said that he was trying to have a friend murder me.
This text was completely out of the blue. We hadn’t been fighting recently or anything. Because of a previous affair, and him having actions similar to those he had back then, I decided to peek in his phone. Here I was thinking maybe I was going to find out about him cheating and instead found that he was planning out how to end my life.
I immediately called my mom and the police, and have had an order of protection against him ever since.
I was extremely lucky. Had I not decided to check his phone that day, I may not still be here.
It was a long road, and one I will walk for the rest of my life. But I’m here and I’m doing it.
Stephanie Easley is a wife, mother of 3, restaurant manager, and a domestic abuse survivor. She has launched a collaboration with small shops and brand reps through Instagram to share her story and spread awareness about a misunderstood and often silent cause. You can watch her talk about her journey in a livecast here. Get a "She is fierce. She is strong. She is mom" tank top inspired by Steph's story at the Ellie and Ellie website.

I'm so thankful that Stephanie is such a brave and strong woman. She is a warrior.  And I'm thankful that she has shared her journey. But at the same time, my heart breaks for those of you who may still be fighting this battling, even if you don't realize it.
As Stephanie stated, the signs of abuse aren't always presented clearly...
Signs of Domestic Abuse
Physical abuse is hitting, throwing things, shoving, shaking, or any unwanted physical contact.
Victims of  physical abuse may:
  • Have visible injuries that are unexplained or have questionable sources
  • Wearing long sleeves, scarves, or pants out of season
  • Easily startled or avoidant of people they would normally socialize with
Emotional abuse is attempting to control actions, yelling, manipulating situations so that their target feels at fault, refusing to be content with anything their victim does, or issuing ultimatums based on behaviors.
Victims of emotional abuse may:
  • Apologize frequently, even for things that aren't their fault
  • Have low self-esteem and put themselves down
  • Avoid eye contact and appear submissive or refuse to state their opinions
  • Exhibit signs of excessive crying or sleeplessness
Sexual abuse is forcing sexual contact or encounters that are unwanted.
Victims of sexual abuse may:
  • Have difficulty walking, sitting, standing
  • Have injuries in their private areas
  • Have recurrent STDs or abdominal pain
How to Help Targets of Domestic Abuse

Don't be hesitant to call 911 if you or a family member/friend is in danger. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

If you are the target of abuse, confide in your family or close friends. They can help you to get out of your current situation.

Remember that the abuse is not your/the victim's fault. The abuser is culpable for their behavior.

An abuser isn't abusive all the time. There are going to be times where they are loving and attentive. Don't let that dissuade your concerns.
If you suspect someone else is being abused, document the behaviors, dates, times, and places that the incidents occur. Don't be afraid to call 911 if someone is in danger.

Try to find a time to talk with the suspected abused person one-on-one. Let them know that you are concerned for their safety.
Create a code word with the person being abused. This word is something that could be said or texted to let you know that they need help, for you to call 911, or to pick them up at a secret location.

Lastly, believe the person who says they are being abused. Don't make them feel guilty, or shame them. Just offer support and understanding. Their life may depend on it.

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WikiHow to Tell if a Woman is Being Abused
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