Reader Submission: Celebrating Surviving Domestic Violence Two Years Later
It’s taken me two years to tell my story. I’ve written this piece to free myself and take pride in being a survivor. If I can inspire just one person to unleash the power of their voice and take one step towards freedom, then my journey has been worth it.
She’s one in a crowd of 50 women clinging onto every hope-filled message from a panel of entrepreneurs whose sole mission is to empower and incite. Their command – “Love yourself!” – breathes life into her dormant state and inspires thoughts that were once distant memories. The words resonate throughout her entire being, but before she obliges, she’s already outsourced the job to others.
Loving herself requires a courage she has yet to tap into and a voice she has yet to find. There’s an emptiness that no significant other or professional accomplishment can fill, and she can feel herself retreating into doubt and discouragement. As she internalizes her opposition to the speaker’s advice, thinking “Easy for you to say,” she feels the focus turn inward as if all eyes are on her. It’s as if the room can see her scars, the pain pump through her veins and the guilt ooze from her pores.
She doesn’t see the beauty in her story. She doesn’t feel the power of her strength. In fact, she’s running from her past and resisting the fact that by choosing to remain quiet, her voice will never fulfill its intent. She senses that people can see her running.
It’s been two years since she became a survivor of domestic violence. At 24 she stared death in the face. A verbal argument spurred by jealousy turned violent at the hands of an abusive boyfriend who took pleasure in degradation, threats and humiliation.
On New Year’s Eve, she stared into his rage-filled eyes, attempting to connect with his conscience as he pinned her body to the ground and strangled her with his bare hands. The harder she fought, the more sensation she lost. This panic-stricken quarrel left her defenseless. As gasps for air became progressively shallow, she prepared to succumb to his chokehold.
When you realize you may die at the hands of someone you voluntarily let into your life, there is an incomprehensible feeling of vulnerability that paralyzes your humanity.
She had fallen back into a cycle of abuse that once tormented her childhood. To admit that she remained vulnerable, that the roadmap of her life would only lead her back into the care of abusive hands was the ultimate betrayal of self. The similarities to her past were apparent and uncomfortably comforting at times. Her addiction to vicious men mirrored her mother’s — tying purpose to how successful she was at teaching her partner how to cope, resist rage and fight internal struggles.
She thought she could prevent him from giving into himself. That was wishful thinking with dangerous consequences.
The proof of her struggle was evident with bruises indented around her neck and a loss of voice. She celebrated New Year’s Day alone in a hotel room packing on concealer, perfecting her scarf placement and refreshing a search history of women’s shelters, legal jargon and domestic abuse hotlines. Google had simply failed to provide a data-driven solution for a 24-year-old whose life had been instantaneously shattered.
Battered and abandoned, she deleted her web browser history, packed her bags and picked up her life to face an unforgiving New York City in the dead of winter.
The grieving process for domestic violence is long and relentless. It’s bitter and foggy with no guidebook. The pollution of guilt, fear and anger would carry the same suffocating consequences as her ex’s chokehold. It fueled her exit, but silenced her, trapping her in a labyrinth of disorientation. Surviving came naturally, but self-identifying as a victim remained incomprehensible.
Her purpose was unclear and many nights she found herself sitting in the eye of life’s storm, alone, rewriting the accounts of her abuse in the hopes that she would one day have the courage to speak up.
The bruises cleared but the scars lie deep within. For the next two years, she would fight depression and high anxiety, surviving on autopilot as she navigated a new city and job, powering though work hours with a whiskey (or two) on the rocks to numb the fear of isolation. She had not accepted her pain nor celebrated her strength and through this denial, she lost her ability to connect – a core value she once swore by. It would take stumbling upon a powerful quote to change everything. She kept it close by:
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” – Zora Neale Hurston
That’s when she realized the importance of embracing her voice.
What she experienced throughout the past two years of her journey would change the trajectory of her life. The universe had conspired to reveal the power of ordinary women practicing not-so-ordinary behavior – self-love and unapologetic storytelling. Every display of courage through vulnerability reconnected her to the essence of humanity and the strength gained from a woman’s constant bout with adversity and their courage to speak up.
Only through the revelation of self, acceptance of our stories, can we find community and inspiration to create change. The strength to love oneself is to accept the remarkable with the mediocre, to celebrate your daily perseverance through oppression and admire your survival through victimization.
Image via Shutterstock