Letters to My Sisters: Discussions on Domestic Violence

For My Sisters...

It's been a while since I last published an article -- I have been busy working on my novel. However, as I worked on that project, I realized that there is an issue that plagues America that you often only hear about on the evening news. That issue being domestic violence.

Letters to My Sisters will be a series of discussions on the topic of domestic violence and its impact on the lives of those who are victims -- both the actual victim of the violence, as well as those who surround her in her life. They, too, are victims of this senseless and damaging crime.

You may ask on what authority I have to write such articles. Well...to answer that question is to state that I have first-hand knowledge of this crime and what it does to the victim, the children, and the loved ones in that person's life. I am a survivor. Not only have I survived, I have thrived! And now I'm here to talk about a topic that everyone seems to sweep under the rug...

I encourage your input, thoughts and comments, as this will be an ongoing "work in progress" spanning multiple articles. These Letters to My Sisters are from my heart to you, my sisters, who may find hope, encouragement, and empowerment in my words and my story. We can no longer turn a blind eye on this terrible crime in hopes it will disappear. It has touched the lives of too many.

My Story

It may be useful for you to know that I was raised in a single family home, with both parents present. I was educated in Catholic schools all of my life, from nursery school through high school graduation. To my knowledge, neither parent endured the physical and mental pain of domestic violence in their lives. There certainly wasn't any between them. You may be asking yourself how is this information relevant. Well...one of the unfortunate stereotypes of domestic violence victims is that they live their lives doing what they saw growing up. That is NOT my case! There was no known acts of domestic violence to anyone I know and love during my childhood. See...I've already broken the mold.

Domestic violence for me came with my first marriage. Not initially though. Initially he was a loving, protective provider. He took care of home, made sure I had the necessities of life -- along with some of the privileges -- and made sure his job could support us. He was what most women prayed for.

I don't want you to think that our relationship and marriage was doomed from "I do." It was a few years before the violence came. In those years pre-violence, we shared some wonderful memories, including the birth of our son. About 2 years after his birth, my ex-husband got involved in drugs. Not selling. Using. He became a cocaine and heroine addict. I don't know if I can fully blame drugs for the domestic violence; however, it wasn't until he was heavily into them that the violence came. I don't try to rationalize what the trigger was, especially after so many years of "bliss" -- with its usual trials and tribulations, but nothing major. I just note that the violence didn't come until the drugs came.

I was young -- 19 when I married him. Our son was born in our first year of marriage. I guess the violence started about 2 years later. Timelines are pretty much blurred at this point. This experience is something I definitely try not to remember in detail. I will NEVER forget...but I don't have to remember the minute details either. First it started with yelling and screaming and name calling. You know...belittling me and destroying my self-esteem. I was young, a young mother, and far too "in love" at that point to stand up for myself. Frankly, I was scared. Scared of being alone. Scared of losing "my man." Scared of the thought of raising our son on my own. Just plain scared.

He took advantage of my low self-esteem and my unconditional love. He manipulated me. He taunted me. He knew that I would never leave him -- even if I ever threatened to leave. He knew I loved him "too much" to leave. The deeper he fell into drugs, the harder I tried to stand by my man and get him to stop using. Being raised the way I was raised, it was my first experience with addiction and I just didn't understand. I thought that his love for me and our son would eventually win him back and get him to go and get help. I thought that the longer I stood by his side, upheld him despite everyone else telling me to leave him unless and until he went into treatment, that he would eventually see the light and come around. I was wrong. Dead wrong -- almost literally...

The hitting came later. Maybe 6 months or a year. I don't even remember the first time he hit me. I just know that once it started, it didn't stop until I left him. Being young, scared and having no support caused me to stay in this situation far too long -- 4 more years. (Let me explain something Sis, staying one HOUR after you have been abused is far too long. NEVER forget that! If ever you are a victim of domestic violence, leave IMMEDIATELY and don't turn back. If it happens once, it WILL happen again.) His own mother washed his hands of him during this time period due to his drug use. But me, no, I stayed. I stood beside him. I endured the DAILY beatings.

When I say beatings, I do mean beatings... Some of the wounds I received during those 4 years included 2 simultaneous black eyes, being strangled nearly to death -- I saw stars and was seconds from passing out before I got him off of me, being strangled with a belt, being kicked and dragged around the house shortly after being in a major car accident where I was still recovering and still on medication -- this beating alone added to the physical scars from the accident as I received 2 or 3 silver dollar sized scrapes/rug burns on my back...right where the pain from the accident was (and evidence of those scars are still with me today...20 years later), stitches in various places on my face and body -- I can't even remember them all...

He beat me when he ran out of drugs. He beat me when he ran out of money to buy more drugs. He beat me because the one thing I did stand up for was I was NOT giving him the money I earned for drugs -- I needed that to take care of our son and try to keep a roof over our heads and food and clothing. He stole more than $1,000 from me out of the settlement money I received from the car accident and then beat me when I wouldn't give him any more. He beat me when he realized that he screwed up his money, his life, his family.

You may think that the physical beatings were bad. And they were...they were terrible. But he ensured that the icing was not left off the cake. Not only did he beat me, he emotionally tortured me too. Domestic violence does not only come in the form of physical abuse. The physical abuse is the outward sign. What people fail to realize is that there is sure to be emotional abuse as well. Never could you imagine the emotional pain he put me through...

Fastforward to the end of the relationship... You will never guess what was my wake up call -- what the straw was that broke the camel's back. It was one night at 2 or 3 in the morning and he had not come home from work. He was not answering his beeper. No one I called had seen him. I laid in my bed in sheer terror -- terror that the police were going to find him dead in an alley somewhere from an overdose. So I began calling hospital emergency rooms asking if they had a man by the name of {name withheld} or if they had any John Doe's matching this description. After calling about 5 emergency rooms in the area, I decided to start going through his pants pockets to see if I could find his suppliers' beeper or telephone number. To my surprise, I did find a number. And actually, indirectly it was his supplier's phone number. It was the supplier's sister's number, who I learned that night he had been cheating on me with.

That, believe it or not, was the end for me. Not the constant, daily beatings. Not the emotional distress. Not the drug use itself. The fact that he had cheated on me...

So I put him out. And yes, I was able to put him out easily and without fear of retribution because at the time I made this discovery, we were living at home with my parents. What could he do? He couldn't tell me he wasn't leaving. He couldn't come back and bust up in the house and come after me. All he could do was leave. Although my parents obviously knew what was going on the whole time -- they had seen the black eyes and the scars and the stitches -- they never stepped in to help. I don't fault them...they were from the old school. Born in 1929, marriage was "until death do you part -- NO MATTER WHAT" for them. That's how they were raised. That's how it was back in their day. I understand their mentality...  Think of Celie on The Color Purple.  Harpo came and asked her how could he get Sophia to obey him.  Celie's response -- "Beat her."  That was acceptable back in the day and those were the days when my parents were growing up.

Fast Forward to Today...

Many of you may be horrified by my story. You may feel sorry for me. You may feel pity for me. Don't! All of my life's experiences have made me stronger. All of them have helped to shape me in to the successful, thriving, vibrantly alive person I am today. That experience helped me to know ME. It gave me street smarts that I hadn't learned during my upbringing due to the sheltered situation I was brought up in. I learned many many things from this experience -- the most valuable of which is that YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A VICTIM! Walk away. RUN if you have to. Seek the assistance of the local police, the courts, and the programs available for victims of domestic violence. Relocate to a homeless shelter if that's the only way you can get away from the perpetrator.

If you do become a victim of domestic violence and manage to get out of the situation, do not let it defeat you! The perpetrator is at fault -- not YOU. YOU did nothing wrong. YOU did nothing to provoke the violence. YOU are not a bad person. The perpetrator is at fault. It is he who is to blame -- NEVER EVER are you to blame!

I gave you a brief synopsis of my story of domestic violence, and it doesn't end there. But the rest is for another article. Know that I am well. I am happy. I am happily married to a WONDERFUL man. I am a successful businesswoman, holding down a near 6-figure salary in corporate America in today's economy -- with job stability and no fear of lay off. I am an accomplished writer. I am a successful entreprenuer -- owning several businesses that are successful, even in today's economy. What reason is there to feel sorry? Humph... He may have gotten me down over 20 years ago, but that glorious day when I found that telephone number set me FREE!

Sisters, keep your head up. Seek help if you are a victim. Do NOT be ashamed. Heck...I just published my story of domestic violence on the Internet for millions of people to read. I want them all to read it -- I'm not ashamed. It happened. It's over. And in a way, I'm better because of it. Certainly I don't want ANYONE to go through domestic violence as a means to be better to themselves. But if it happens to you, BECOME A BETTER PERSON and don't let it defeat you!

Until My Next Letter to You...

My next Letter will detail some resources for those who may be dealing with domestic violence in their lives now.  I pray that it will be a source for those who don't have any support to get the support and assistance they need to pick themselves up and get themselves out of a bad situation before it is too late.

But do NOT wait until my next Letter!  If you are in a domestically violent situation, pick up the telephone NOW and call the police.  And when they arrive, LEAVE and DO NOT LOOK BACK.  Allow them to take you to where you can be helped.  File criminal charges against the perpetrator and then FOLLOW THROUGH TO CONVICTION.  Do not let him sweet talk you with "it will never happen again."  Trust me...that statement is a lie.  If he hit you once, he will hit you again...

Much love to my Sisters.  Be strong.  Be steadfast.  Seek help and don't be afraid.  There IS a better way...

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