Silenced

silenced(Warning: the contents of this post are disturbing and are only meant for mature audiences.)

“I was threatened by my adopted brother for two years to keep silent or I would regret opening my mouth. And so, I lived with my abuser for two years before I gained the courage to tell my parents.”

These words were spoken to me by a dear friend, one who wishes to stay anonymous but desperately wants her story told with the hopes of reaching someone in similar circumstances.

Do not live in silence, do not let the abuse you suffered define you.

Abuse comes in many forms and levels of severity. Each type of abuse leaves its victims tattered with physical and mental scars that may never completely heal. Some victims remain silent because they are threatened or fear ridicule or blame. My friend broke that silence and this is her story . . .

I was 12 years old and the youngest of five daughters. We had three adopted siblings that came from a very bad home situation, but we loved them dearly, and they loved us in return. One day, my adopted brother asked me to play “Hide and Seek,” which was a very normal activity for us, but on that day it changed everything. I was great at “Hide and Seek” and always found my opponents quite easily, but what happened when I found him caught me entirely off guard. Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved up against the cold laundry room wall and my pants were ripped off of me. I don’t remember if I screamed or fought him, all I can remember is that I actually feared for my life. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I only felt the pain. I often ask myself, “did I try hard enough to stop him?” Even then, I don’t think he would have stopped, because it didn’t end there. On a couple of occasions, I woke up from a dead sleep to find him on top of me, touching me, putting himself on me. He took complete advantage of my innocence. I felt helpless, betrayed, violated, and ruined.

The next two years were a blur of discomfort and unease. I didn’t understand what was going on. He told me that if I spoke to anyone about anything that he would hurt me even worse the next time. I woke up every day thinking “what did I do to deserve this?” All I knew was that my body had been violated in the worst way . . . by my brother. A brother is supposed to be your protector, someone who cares for you. We were both young, but he was older, he was supposed to know better than me. His threats had me trapped in a prison of fear. I spent a good deal of my time avoiding him, and when you live in the same house, that proves to be extremely difficult. I had trouble sleeping for fear that he would creep into my bed while I slept. I drifted aimlessly, pretending that everything was perfect and that nothing had ever happened, until my family started planning a large vacation. We were planning a trip and we would be meeting up with some of our extended family. There would be younger girl cousins around and the harsh reality that they could be victims too if I didn’t open up, hit me like a ton of bricks. I would never be able to live with myself if someone else became a victim to him, simply because I didn’t have the courage to speak up. I was a little older, and had become a little wiser to the situation at hand. I knew that I would be safe from his threats, but there was still that nagging “what if?” that kept creeping back up. Finally, the night before we were supposed to leave for our vacation, I gathered the strength and told my mom everything. I cannot express the amount of relief I felt to having that burden lifted from my shoulders, but at the same time I realized this was only the beginning of some very difficult decisions for my parents. It came as a shock to everyone, and after a short period of time my adopted brother was removed from our home. I went on to receive therapy and am doing much better today. That was almost 10 years ago and I was able to heal. I am still healing. I want others to realize that in sharing your stories and seeking help, the path to recovery becomes more clear. Do not live in silence, do not let the abuse you suffered define you.

Fortunately for my friend, she found the courage to voice her abuse, which saved her and most likely others from more abuse over the years. Sexual abuse occurs on many different levels. We want everyone to be aware that any time you are forced to do anything sexually, or are shamed into performing sexual acts, then you have been sexually abused. Penetration does not have to occur; sexual abuse takes place any time someone touches you without your consent . . . period. Sexual assault, molestation, and harassment should never be taken lightly. These types of abuse can happen to children, adolescents, and adults. It can happen between a family member and a child, a boyfriend and a girlfriend, coworkers, teacher and student, church members, and husband and wife.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) 4 out of 5 sexual assaults committed are by someone the victim knows, and every 107 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police and 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison. These are horrifying statistics! We must lift our voices up and let victims know that they will be heard and they will be believed.

I would never be able to live with myself if someone else became a victim to him, simply because I didn’t have the courage to speak up.

It is not your fault and you should not have to live in fear anymore. If you, or someone you know needs help, rainn.org offers different options, as well as a national hotline. It is important to contact someone. We need to work together to end abuse. We need to work together to end the silence. Speak up and you may save someone’s life.

~Christa G.

House Ablaze

This week’s post comes to you with much heartache. I cried while writing it. I cried while reading it to my husband. My sister cried when proofing it. But it is not just my story to tell. And it is not my place to make it public. I am sometimes too candid, too open. It was an experience that I find still deeply troubles me. When you have a loved one caught in an abusive relationship, that loved one is not the only victim. That loved one’s abuser has affected your life too. For years I watched my sister give in to the oppression of her abuser. The emptiness in her eyes, the ghost of a weary warrior, haunted me. I wanted her back. I wanted her happy again so we could all be happy again.

You have to resist the instinct to “rescue” your friend from her situation. In order for her to gain freedom, she must have the freedom to choose to leave.

. . . she is trapped and she is burning, but she stays because it is her home and she cannot leave.

You may want to shake her and scream at her, “Why do you stay?! He is awful to you! How can you not see?!” You may want to simply order her to do as you say, “I don’t care what you say, you’re coming with me, I’m getting you out of here.” All of these actions will only drive her further away from you and she will not feel comfortable coming to you for help in the future. The best help you can give is to offer your support. Let her know that you are there when she needs you and that you will never judge her. Offer her specific help, like money or transportation or a place to stay. Offer her anything that will enable her to leave and do not demand anything in exchange. For further help on this matter, read this article and know that there is hope for your friend.

Helping a loved one in an abusive relationship is one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things you could ever do. Imagine a friend or family member caught in a burning house. The entire structure is crumbling around her, everything is engulfed in flames. You cry out to her, pointing out a clear path, beckoning her to a spot of safety. But she remains, claiming the house is fine. She can put out the fire. She has it under control. But you see the flames begin to lick her legs, she is trapped and she is burning, but she stays because it is her home and she cannot leave.

Do not give up hope. Be there for her. Be always ready to help her once she escapes the blaze.

We have received numerous comments from our readers in the blogosphere and our readers on Facebook, commending us for our courage and our bravery in sharing our personal experiences in an effort to raise awareness. And I don’t think I fully understood that compliment until now. With every past experience that we write, we are reliving that moment of our history. And sometimes we worry about being too offensive. Part of me feels like we are still cowering under the control of our past abusers. Part of me wishes all of our readers were strangers, then what would it matter? But the truth is . . . some parts of our past need to remain private for just a little longer. Perhaps one day we will share my first draft of this post. I don’t know.

~Lindsey V.

Faultless

Christa . . .

What was I thinking?! Maybe I really am crazy! What if he really has changed this time? My mind raced non-stop, as if it was in constant replay mode for months after I left. I was caught in a perpetual personal viewing of the nightmare I had been living, and yet still second guessed my decision to leave. Because maybe, just maybe, he was going to straighten up his life for good. What if he meant it this time? What if I don’t give him one more chance? What if everyone blames me for putting my children through the divorce because I didn’t take him back? Luckily, after two months of battling with myself and trying to find a way to justify his actions over the years, new lies crept to the surface. The entire time he had claimed that he was trying his best to win me back, he was spending that time in the company of another. It had all just been more lies. I realized that he was merely trying to manipulate and control me once again. And I knew that he would never change until he finally accepted responsibility for his actions.

For me, healing after my verbally and emotionally abusive relationship was a difficult and accelerated process. I had three children to take care of. I had to remain strong to help them adjust to the major changes that took place when we left, and it wasn’t easy. I had my moments of emotional breakdowns and worries of how I was going to muster the strength to make it through the day. However, the most difficult part rested in the fact that I struggled with blaming myself for falling prey to the control, to the lies and manipulation.

You will never be able to heal until you realize that you were not responsible for the abuse you endured.

I had become bitter toward everything that had to do with love. My only solace was in the constant love and support of my family and close friends. But not everyone has that luxury. Some have to rely solely on themselves. Fortunately, there are many different self-help articles available to give victims suggestions on how to heal after abuse.

Over the past two years, I discovered that the most important aspect to healing is FORGIVING YOURSELF FIRST! You will never be able to heal until you realize that you were not responsible for the abuse you endured. You were not at fault for ending the relationship. You need to forgive yourself. Stop taking the blame for everything that happened. I know you’ve all heard the saying “Forgive and Forget,” but if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “Screw that!” Forgiving anyone that has done you wrong is the hardest thing to do. I never dreamed that forgiving myself would be ten times harder. You may constantly criticize yourself for being dumb and naïve. However, you are not dumb! You may have been a little naïve at first, just enough to fall for their charm, but that’s how all abusers start. They’re your dream come true. They treat you like royalty and convince you to trust them with everything you have. This allows them to subtly manipulate you and gradually increase their control over your life. It is in no way, shape, or form your fault. Time to put your foot down, tell yourself you’re sorry, and move on to healing and gaining control over your life and your happiness.

Ending an unhealthy relationship is very much like enduring the death of a loved one. You may have dedicated years to continually trying to nurture it, hoping one day it would grow into a healthy, more meaningful partnership. But your abuser destroyed it, smashing your hopes and your dreams. In fact, your partner now seems like a stranger to you because the mask is gone. You are left with nothing but the remnants of your shattered self, delicately holding the pieces in your hands. You will go through the stages of grief (which we will cover in a later post). For now, simply understand that it is perfectly normal to feel this way. Seeking the guidance of a therapist or counselor is extremely beneficial in allowing you the opportunity to understand your feelings.

Manipulators belittle and degrade their victims in order to make them feel that they are worthless, that they aren’t capable of being loved by anyone else, and that they are crazy or high-strung (a cruel and sadistic technique known as gaslighting). Abusers also instill many other insecurities to make you believe that they are the only person that cares about you. Once you truly understand that you are none of the terrible things they called you, then you can start the healing process. When you are able to see yourself clearly, without the interference of abuse, you can gain the strength you need to move on with your life. It may help to stand in front of your mirror and create a daily mantra: “I am beautiful, I am intelligent, I am lovable, I am me.” Remind yourself that you are on the road to recovery, to a happier, healthier you. This is a long journey that will happen gradually, but as you feel yourself gaining confidence, becoming more independent, and enjoying life instead of dreading it, you will begin to look forward to the future and the recovery of the real you.

Lindsey . . .

One of the saddest, yet happiest moments of my life involved crying over a plate of nachos. I sat alone in a restaurant in the LAX airport, waiting for my return flight home. My California vacation spent exploring the beauty of King’s Canyon had been wrecked with constant arguing and constant verbal abuse by my boyfriend . . . my ex-boyfriend. That plate of nachos represented my emancipation. He never liked my choice of food. He blamed me for his weight gain. And he always picked the restaurants and our entrées. So as I sat alone, marveling at my ability to eat a plate of nachos without the persistent nagging and disapproval of my significant other, I cried. I cried in anger over the deep sense of loss inside my soul. And I cried in relief to finally regaining control of my life.

The next few months were hard. Luckily, I had the support and love of my family during this healing process. Not once did they blame me for staying in such a relationship. Not once did they shame me or ridicule me. My parents were continually supportive of all my decisions and efforts to rebuild myself. I started writing again. I started painting again. I started thinking for myself again. This was not a magical self-detoxing, though. I had professional help. I had recognized a destructive pattern of behavior in myself that would require some sort of exorcism. I needed an ordained priest. And my ordained priest came in the form of a professional counselor.

A friend from work gave me the number for a local family counselor. I usually went into those sessions unsure of how someone could help me with my own neuroses. But the more I opened up, the more I realized how much I needed to talk to an objective person. I couldn’t talk to my parents or my friends like I could to the counselor. I would cry and cuss and vent about my past experiences without fear of ridicule or judgment. I found it a religious experience, like taking my sins to God and having my slate wiped clean. I discussed my childhood, my religious upbringing, my debt, my past manipulative relationships, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. It was a great purge, and it did not come easy for me at first. In my mind, there was still that stereotypical depiction of the patient laying on the couch, gushing out her problems to a man with a beard and a notepad asking, “And how does that make you feel?” I grew up under the misguided notion that people who went to therapists were weak and didn’t want to deal with their own problems. This is not the case.

My ordained priest exorcised the demons of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and self-blame. He helped me realize my “retail therapy” addiction and why I had accrued so much senseless debt. It was a sort of euphoria, buying something new and knowing that it was now mine. It brought a brief moment of pleasure into my otherwise bleak life. But those brief moments turned into years of indentured servitude, worsened by my abusive relationship. My ex demanded that I pay for things he knew I couldn’t afford. He liked to snowboard. I had to buy expensive snowboarding equipment in order to show I cared enough. He liked to eat out. I had to buy dinner so as not to take advantage of him. He wanted me to meet his family in Virginia. I had to buy my own plane ticket and take off work with no pay. He inflicted all of this financial demand, knowing full well it was ruining me financially. And knowing full well that he made three times more than me. He often bragged about how much income he would make after graduating his residency program. All the while, I was struggling from paycheck to paycheck, accruing more debt just to make him and myself happy. After I broke up with him, I continued this pattern, keeping myself a prisoner to my debt.

My counselor told me I should train my brain to find it euphoric every time I paid more of my debt off. And to realize that every time I tried to make myself happy with a new purchase I could not afford, it would make me unhappy in the long run. He wasn’t pushy and he wasn’t condescending. We discussed my problems and he offered suggestions and ideas for change. I’ll never forget him and how he helped me overcome the trauma of abuse.

I had recognized a destructive pattern of behavior in myself that would require some sort of exorcism.

If you or anyone you know is in need of counseling or help after, or during, an abusive relationship, please hesitate no longer and get professional help. These are deep wounds and scars. Patients recovering from surgery are usually required to go through physical therapy during their entire healing process. This is vital to them regaining control and mobility of their faculties. Similarly, victims of abuse need therapy or counseling to regain control of their mental faculties. It is difficult to reclaim a life stolen from years of abuse. It is difficult to train the brain to think differently after living a life of servitude to the tyranny of an abuser. It is not admitting defeat and it is not stating you are weak. Get the help that you need to heal your mind. There are plenty of organizations, like Safe Connections in St. Louis, Missouri, that offer free services, such as counseling and crisis intervention. They are a truly remarkable group of people that are helping to end relationship violence and rape. There is nothing to lose from their help, except the hold your abuser may still have over you.

Harmless at a Glance

“Whose shirt is this? It’s not mine.”
“I don’t know, it’s probably your cousin’s, he is living with us right now. It must have ended up in our laundry by accident.”
“Well, I don’t recognize it.”

While this conversation is seemingly harmless at a glance, it was, in actuality, heavily drenched with accusation. On many occasions, I found myself on the receiving end of an interrogation brought on by my partner’s paranoia.

At first, I was flattered by his jealousy, mistakenly attributing it to his love for me.

When I voiced my concerns or my hurt, he minimized the abuse or twisted it around, blaming me for his bad behavior. In fact, most victims don’t even realize they have been abused because their partner has successfully manipulated them into believing they somehow deserved the treatment or “blew it out of proportion.” I was a victim of the blame game on so many occasions that eventually I lost my voice in my relationship. I had no say in anything that took place, and if I tried to stand up for myself, my concerns would somehow become my fault or were drastically minimized so that it no longer mattered. I stopped caring. I stopped voicing my opinion. I stopped trying to better my situation. And finally, I turned to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication to help me get through a dictated and controlled life. There was a complete lack of communication. Only his voice was ever heard and only his voice was all that mattered.

“F*%# you, you crazy b*%#@!”
I heard this phrase far too often.

I’ve been called just about every name in the book. Name-calling is an example of emotional and verbal abuse. You may ask, why would anyone put up with being called names and subjected to so much abuse? Remember, the act of minimizing and deferring blame, makes the victim feel as though it is either their own fault that they are being abused or that the abuser is being influenced by outside sources (aka, bad day at the office). They blame their victim for being the cause of their outbursts and promise it will never happen again. THIS IS NOT OKAY! Nor is it normal. If you find yourself in this type of situation, you are in an abusive relationship.

Toward the end of my relationship, my younger sister managed to get me away from my house and away from my partner. As we ate lunch, she confessed to me that her ex-boyfriend abused her, verbally and eventually physically. She didn’t realize this until much later because he had convinced her that she was either crazy or too sensitive. But one day, the abuse reached such a climax that she decided she had to leave him or he would destroy her both physically and mentally. She read to me a list, detailing the signs of an abusive relationship. I found that I could relate to 90% of that list. That was a terrifying moment, yet liberating, because it helped me understand the source of my misery and that I needed help.

In fact, most victims don’t even realize they have been abused because their partner has successfully manipulated them into believing they somehow deserved the treatment or “blew it out of proportion.”

A few months after our meeting, I ended that abusive relationship and began the healing process to move on with my life. It’s important to support and educate others so they too can avoid or escape unhealthy relationships.

If you or a loved one are unsure of whether or not you may be involved in an abusive relationship, ask yourself these questions: Do you find yourself in a relationship and yet feel utterly alone? Do you often feel that you have nowhere to turn? Does your partner monopolize or control all of your time? Do you feel as though you have been wronged but can’t pinpoint why, or when you question it, you are made to feel that you are responsible for your current situation? Do you feel that you are blamed for everything, including your partner’s bad behavior? There are many more questions, if you answered yes to any of these, please see this list. You can tally up your points and it gives you a summary of your possible situation based on your final result.

There are red flags that everyone should be aware of in any type of relationship, whether it be intimate, work, or family. The first step to freeing yourself from abuse is to learn the warning signs. Looking back on my relationship with my former partner, I remember circumstances that were huge red flags. But I was young and naïve and never dreamed I would fall victim to something I thought was so easily avoidable. I mean, why not just leave if you’re unhappy, right? Unfortunately, it is never that simple. He would dictate who I could hang out with and who I couldn’t. I was not allowed to have friends that were boys, I couldn’t talk to boys at school, or sit next to any boys. I was an innocent 17-year-old and therefore didn’t know any better. At first, I was flattered by his jealousy, mistakenly attributing it to his love for me. But soon I resented it because his demands were completely one-sided; I could not talk to boys but he continued to hang out and talk with girls. Jealousy and control early on are significant signs that you are in, or will be in an abusive relationship. Guilt trips are also a common way manipulators gain control over their victims. It is not normal for someone to shame you into doing something that you are not comfortable with, or to keep you from being involved in something that is beneficial to your daily life. Under no circumstance is it ever okay for your partner to delegate who you can talk to, where you go, or how often you see your family. Neither is it acceptable for them to keep an obsessive record of your daily activities or ask you to provide details of everything you did. These are indications that they are manipulative and controlling, and this behavior CANNOT BE CHANGED.

This type of relationship is not healthy. It will eventually wear down the mental state of the victim. The victim will suffer from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. If you are reading this and find that you relate to these circumstances, then you need to seek help. There are many ways to seek help that are confidential, educational, and supportive. If you find that you are in an abusive situation, try some of the links that are included on our Helpful Links page. There are 24/7 hotlines available to help you come up with a plan to get away from your abuser. We desperately urge you to contact someone before it’s too late.

Once you learn the signs of abuse, you can take the next step toward a better tomorrow . . .

~Christa G.

Learning to Love Ourselves

The main ingredient to any healthy relationship is respect. And how can we respect our partner until we respect ourselves? How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value? This is something I still struggle with, almost on a daily basis. I grew up not really seeing myself as skinny or ugly, but my environment and my surroundings were a constant reminder of how different I was.

We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality.

A classmate in grade school called me “anorexic girl”. A boy at my lunch table told me I looked like a beaver because of my buckteeth. A girl at my bus stop told me I looked like a starving Ethiopian child. A boy I had a crush on told me if I were fatter I would be so sexy. These idiotic comments continued well into my adulthood, growing on my mind like a malignant tumor. It seemed that every day was a struggle to accept myself.

It is actually quite miraculous that any of us make it out of adolescence moderately sane. The media is perpetually throwing images of perfectly proportioned models with perfect skin and perfect figures. We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality. So no wonder we feel it is normal to have a “loved” one point out these flaws. No wonder we are so accustomed to having our self-esteem continually torn down. And no wonder we have so much trouble loving and respecting ourselves.

So how do we learn to love ourselves after all the garbage and nonsense the world has thrown at us? Forget everything you learned as a kid. Forget the disproportionate Barbie dolls, the airbrushed images of pristine models, the Disney princesses with their perfect hair, impossibly tiny waists, and big boobs. Forget the hateful comments your classmates may have tossed at you. Forget your own feelings of inadequacy and doubt as you watched your body morph throughout puberty.

Forget everything.

Now who are you? What are your passions? Your goals? Your life pursuits? What makes life worth living in your own world? No one but you can answer these questions and no one but you have control over everything that defines you. But how do you convince yourself of this after living a life of lies? How do you get past the criticisms of parents, teachers, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends, or you?

Start small and start simple. Find a quiet place, at least for a few minutes everyday. Take those moments to either meditate, pray, self-reflect, or simply sit back and close your eyes. You may find that your mind becomes clear and you immediately relax. There is an actual science to improving yourself through self-reflection. Maintaining a healthy level of self-awareness is vital to setting realistic goals. How can you set goals if you are unsure of what you want out of your life? How can you learn to maintain your individualism in a relationship if you don’t know who you are?

We all need something to work toward, otherwise we decay or remain stagnant. After years of self-medicating with “retail therapy”, I had built up an overwhelming amount of credit card debt. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute helplessness that swept over me as I looked at one of my card statements. It stated that if I continued to pay only the minimum payment due I would have paid off that balance in 105 years. 105 years! I could live for maybe another 60 years and I couldn’t afford to pay more than the minimum at the time, while still using the card to help buy groceries and public transportation passes.

So I set a small goal for myself. I planned to pay off my credit cards one by one, starting with the smallest. That way, I could see the progress. I now have manageable debt that I am still slowly chipping away, piece by piece. My credit score is actually quite good and I now have a desirable credit history. I could have thrown that statement away in disgust and said to myself that I would never be able to pay it off. Instead, I did my research and sought out professional advice and made a plan to better myself. So whatever your goal may be, set a plan, set specific deadlines, and don’t feel bad if you have to extend those deadlines. These goals can be small, like learn how to paint, exercise more, eat healthier, or travel more. Most importantly, make these goals obtainable. You want to build up your esteem, not tear it down by continually setting yourself up for failure.

How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value?

Notice how these two simple things do not include changing who you are. Self-reflection and goal setting is merely a way to get to know yourself better, to know what you are truly capable of and how you interact with the world around you. Never let anyone try to convince you that you need to change. Never let anyone try to shame you into thinking you need to alter your looks, your personality, or your life pursuits. You can, however, allow others to influence you. You can allow others to motivate you. You can allow others to educate and inspire you. Once you discover who you are and what you want out of life, then everything else should fall into place. Do not let others dictate your future. We want to challenge you to take control of your own life today. Start small and start simple. Love all that makes you, you.

~Lindsey V.