Last week, we celebrated the work of Alpha Chi Omega of the University of Arkansas and Melissa Rogers with Fayetteville Pubic Schools at our annual Courage Award Luncheon. This lunch is an opportunity to recognize the impact of local organizations and individuals in supporting survivors of domestic violence and their children in our community.
We also heard from Lena, a former client of Peace at Home Family Shelter. Lena shared with the attendees her experience of domestic violence and recovery. If you weren’t able to attend the luncheon, you can read her powerful story below –
I will not stay silent so others can be comfortable.
I am not ashamed of my story. I want to share my story because I don’t know who needs to see the light and see the encouragement to leave if they are experiencing abuse. There may be someone here today who needs the courage to say “this is NOT how my story will end!” At any moment, every survivor has the power to leave and to have a better tomorrow. People need to hear my story, and other’s stories so it does not become their future. I will not shut up until domestic violence is eradicated from this earth.
I have been a free spirit my whole life – and one person tried to break it – but I found out that I was stronger than the abuse. Even after surviving emotional and verbal abuse, I still have my faith and love in people. There are so many good people on this earth, but unfortunately there are also people who exist that want to hurt and destroy others. I was one of those people who naively fell for the excitement and the fun of being showered with gifts, and of being told I was the most beautiful woman in the world. Little did I know, many of things I was showered with were major red flags, and I had no idea of the toxic waste that would follow. I was literally uneducated in the aspects of domestic violence. I thought that domestic violence was made up of drunk men or women who liked to physically beat up their partner. I did not know that emotional and verbal abuse existed and that the abuse could be so intense.
I dated a man who lived in Chicago. I am also a native Chicagoan and I love that city, so when I met him, I thought it was pretty exciting. He wined and dined me just like the many, many stories of other abuse survivors. He took me on exciting trips and showered me with many expensive gifts, such as luxury cars and expensive clothing. Never in my life have I ever had such nice, materialistic things and it felt exciting. I never had someone tell me all these wonderful things and tell me how great I was.
I fell for the bait and found myself with a job offer in Chicago and I decided to move there as my motto has always been “Life is short, live it!” I figured if it did not work out with him, I could easily move and do my own thing. Looking back, I wished I had been more aware of my own thoughts. Nothing about abuse is easy, but I did not know I was being abused! How could I not know I was being abused? I’m sure many of you here are thinking “how does a person not know they are abused?” It almost seems like an idiotic statement. I honestly did not know. The abuse came in what I describe as a very slow IV drip. This man slowly manipulated me. He figured out my weaknesses and he figured out how to control me. Everything started very slowly, so slowly that I did not even notice.
It reached a point where he would scream and belittle me for hours and hours everyday. If I was awake for 14 hours, he would spend at least 12 of those hours controlling me and making me question my own sanity. He was an expert in gas lighting. For those that are not sure what gas lighting is, Wikipedia says: Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.
Unbeknownst to me, I was the target of his gas lighting. I started to really question my own memories, perceptions and my sanity. He used to say “your perception is your reality” and I felt very confused for major parts of the day. He told me to quit my job and help him run 2 businesses. We did have 2 very successful businesses in Chicago and he had many people that he knew in the industries we had businesses in. Everyone loved him. Everyone that met him thought he was great and they would all say “you should marry her!” and I came up with every excuse to say no to that man. It would add more fuel to his anger and he would get very angry because I would not plan a wedding and marry him. Something in my gut kept saying “there’s something not right with this man.” I honestly could not figure out why I felt that way but I knew that I was just not not happy. I was sad and miserable.
One day, I was at a trade show promoting one of the businesses and a very good friend was there helping at another booth. She overheard him belittling me and treating me like I was garbage. She asked me if I could help her with something in the bathroom. He didn’t like that she needed the help but he told me to be right back. I went with her and she said “does he always treat you this way?” And I said “yeah, why? He’s always screaming.” She said “you do understand that is not normal, right?” And I looked at her very puzzled. She could tell I was very confused. She said “he is abusing you.” I stood there in shock and I said “no way, he doesn’t hit me.” She said “he doesn’t have to hit you, he’s abusing you verbally and emotionally and it’s not healthy.” I still stood there in shock and I said “no, he loves me, he is just looking out for my well being.” And then she said “well, I love you and I’m your friend and I’m telling you what I heard and what I saw and it’s not right. I will support you regardless of what you do but as a friend I wanted you to know I did not like the way he treated you.” I thanked her and told her I better get back to the booth before I got in trouble.
When I get back to the booth he asked me many questions on what she needed help with. I, of course, lied to him and told him she was having female issues, so he made some grunting noises and walked off. I stood there in literal shock, and I was in complete denial. Here I was, standing there with a thousand thoughts racing through my head. Was I really being abused? Was he really abusive? Maybe it was his personality. Maybe he just cared about me so much and only wanted the best for me. I was really in denial. We got home later that day and he decided to take a nap. I told him I wanted to play on YouTube and listen to music. Luckily, he said “whatever” and he stormed off to the bedroom.
After I could hear him snoring I started to Google different forms of abuse. I started reading about verbal, mental and emotional abuse. Everything I read was eye opening. I sat there in disbelief, it was like I was reading about my own life. I quickly cleared out the history and didn’t read anymore but it was gnawing at me. The following day he left to run errands and told me he would be gone for at least 2 hours. This gave me the opportunity to call the domestic violence hotline. I was nervous to call because he kept tabs on every call I made. I decided I would have a story about why I called them in case he asked me about it.
When I called the hotline the lady on the other end confirmed what I was in denial about being abused. My life had become lies, lies, and more lies in order to protect myself and my daughter. I made up more stuff in the 5 years I was with him than I ever did in my entire life. I sat there stunned thinking “how could I have become such a skillful liar?” After I did more reading, I realized that lying was part of survival. Survivors – I hate saying victims – who are being abused will lie to protect themselves, just to have some sense of normalcy. I lied to myself, lied to him, lied to friends, family… I lied in order to keep peace and to look like I was happy. I did not want anyone knowing that I was utterly miserable.
One day he got very angry at me because I left a cereal box on the counter top. This man was a hoarder of epic proportions so I was actually surprised he even saw the cereal box. He lost his mind. He bullied me, screamed at me and pushed me. He barricaded me in the bedroom, knocking me over, and he tried to pin me down. I was able to push him off me and run past him only for him to catch up to me at the front door where he proceeded to pin me against the door. I was helpless. My hands were pinned down to my side and he was shouting in my face and slamming me against the door.
I remembered a self defense class that I took and how to get out of the situation. I tried it and it 100% worked. He was screaming in pain and I ran out of the front door. I ran down the street with no shoes and just a t-shirt and shorts on. I ran until I saw someone mowing their yard. I stopped them and asked them if could call 911. In that moment I KNEW I had to get out and that I was done. I was done being put down, called names, belittled and made to feel like I wasn’t worthy of anything. This man who wined and dined me ended up treating me like I was the worst scum of the earth. I took my daughter and we moved into the women’s shelter in Chicago. I knew that my story was not going to end in Chicago and it certainly was not going to end with him!
With strength, encouragement, perseverance, courage, and support of family and friends, I got out. It was very hard to leave. It is not easy for a survivor to just leave. It is not as easy as “pack a bag and leave the jerk!” Many people tend to say “just leave the jerk!” but it is difficult to just leave. Many times survivors are scared out of their minds, they are insecure due to abuse, they have children, they have no financial means… it is not a simple task for a survivor. It is frightening. The man that abused me was also financially abusive so it made leaving difficult. I was very thankful for the women’s shelter in Chicago. I was able to work a temp job and save my paychecks. I was able to utilize all their services for everything I needed including legal help, resume building, job leads and counseling.
I moved back to Arkansas as I knew, if I stayed in Chicago, I would be subjected to stalking and to his non stop harassment, and I knew the cycle would never end. I knew that I had to leave and I had to leave right away. I lost many of my personal belongings but I knew they were just material things. My sanity and my daughter’s sanity were more important than things that I could replace later on. Upon my arrival in Arkansas, I called Peace at Home and asked if they had any programs I could utilize to get back on my feet, but that I did not need shelter.
They welcomed me with big open arms and offered me counseling that was priceless. I participated in the art therapy program which was instrumental in my own self – healing. I used their counseling services and I was blessed to see a therapist every week. With every therapy appointment I learned more about myself and how to love myself. I learned how to break the cycle, because even though I moved away from Chicago, that man was still trying to be in my life and control me. It took me a long time to fully break out of returning to that same cycle. The therapist was conducive in helping me turn my life around. She said that I was the one who did it all, but honestly – if it had not been for her – I’m not sure where I would be at this moment. Peace at Home saved me and my daughter, as did the Wings shelter in Chicago. Without these shelters, I know I would still be stuck in the cycle of abuse, because I know I would have not been strong enough to do it alone. Programs like this save everyday people like you and me. One thinks they will never be stuck in an abusive relationship, but it happens and it happens to the best of us.
My story does not end in abuse. My story does not end in being miserable and my story does not end up as another statistic. I decided to take control of my life and I am glad I did. With lots of therapy, I became me again. My life won’t end until God comes to take me. But my life has changed, and it has changed for the good that I had hoped to find. I asked God to put the right man in my life and that this time I wouldn’t do things on my own. I would believe in His higher power and that I would be patient. God put my husband in my life and he is a good man. He is patient with me, he treats me with respect, love, and kindness. My story has a happily ever after and that, my friends, is called having “peace at home”.