Dayton, Ohio native Diona Clark is lucky to be breathing after being shot in the chest at point blank range by her ex-boyfriend in 2006. The fact that she is alive with a healthy lung after it collapsed from the bullet is a miracle — one that she doesn’t take for granted. With the support of her mother, and the rebuilding of her self-esteem, Clark has discovered her purpose.
Thanks to her mom’s persuasion, she was able to find her voice again through Zumba. Clark has since become a Zumba instructor and started the organization Live Out Loud to help other women find their voice and advocate for domestic rights and gun laws.
Clark spoke honestly with us about the long-term effects domestic abuse has had on her and her family ten years after her nearly deadly attack and how she’s healed over time.
What were your thoughts about domestic violence before you entered into an abusive relationship?
I wasn’t too concerned about domestic violence before. I know my aunt experienced it, but it was never in my immediate family. I knew people who experienced it, but it wasn’t a big issue for me.
How did your relationship begin and transform into abuse?
I met him in 2005 in Columbus, Ohio, its an hour away from my hometown of Dayton. My sister resided in Columbus and I would drive back and forth to the city just to get a feel for it and visit my sister. At the time I was considering moving to Columbus.
I was at my nephew’s football game and this guy happened to be there. It was the cousin of my sister’s husband. He was a nice looking guy and I asked my sister about him. She told me that he asked about me also. From there he and I switched numbers. We kept in contact, and I would still go back and forth from Dayton to Columbus.
I remember there was a time we went on a date and he asked to see my phone. I let him see my phone and he went through it. He told me “the next weekend that you come up here all the numbers of your male contacts better be out of your phone.” I thought to myself that it didn’t sound right and didn’t feel right. When I got back home, I called and told him, “At this time I don’t think this relationship should go any further because I feel uneasy about you saying, ‘I need to have all my male contacts deleted by next weekend’ and we haven’t been dating that long.”
He apologized and said he would “never go through my phone again” and that I didn’t have to worry about it. He told me when I come back up the next weekend he would take me shopping and I’ll get to buy whatever I wanted. I decided to put on my blinders, forgive him and moved ahead in the relationship.
Eventually, I ended up moving to Columbus for the wrong reason: to be with him versus for better opportunities. My mother pleaded with me not to move in with this man, but I did it anyway. When I got to Columbus tI noticed he drunk a lot of alcohol. I ignored that, but then we began to argue about little small things. He stopped working because he felt that he and I didn’t spend enough time together. This left me to pay all of the bills and take care of a lot of things financially. He began telling me what I should look like and what I should wear. I allowed it to go on for a long time.
Even going back to Thanksgiving that year he said to my family, “When I get through with Diona she’s going to be better than all of you guys.” My sister asked if I heard what he said, and even though I did I played it off. When we got back to Columbus I was uneasy about that comment.
He spoke negatively about my family and I let those words get to me too. I began to cut them off and act different towards them. I allowed him to manipulate me and separate me from my family.
I was never afraid of him until one time I went out with his sister. I told him I was going out with her, but when I got back home he was in the living room sitting in the dark drilling me with a bunch of questions. It didn’t feel right because I told him what I was doing and where I was going. I went up to the bedroom and felt like I really needed to get out of this relationship. He was controlling me. I no longer thought for myself, and I was moving through the relationship without a brain. Everything I did was based off of his way, and what he wanted me to do.
How did the relationship finally end?
One day, I told him I think we should separate and he agreed to it. I got my own place to stay, and he helped me move. A week later, he called while I was on the phone. I told him I was on the phone with someone and couldn’t talk to him. In a matter of minutes he was knocking at my door.
I was actually on the phone with my mother. When he came over my mother said, “don’t answer the door.” I said, “It’s okay he’s not going to do anything.” When I cracked the door he ended up pushing his way through and searched my home to see if anyone else was there, then he left.
My mother said, “you need to get a restraining order in case this man tries to kill you.” I said, “No momma he’s not going to do anything.”
Sure enough that following week he told me he wanted to come over and get some dishes he let me borrow. I got off work and he was in the parking lot. I noticed he was drunk so I told him to come to the house when he wanted. He comes and goes upstairs, comes back down, and starts to argue with me. I told him I didn’t want to do this right now and he could leave.
He pulled out a gun, and I ran to my door. He pushed it back in and pinned me up against it so I wouldn’t get out. I was screaming, yelling, and crying while he told me to be quiet and said he didn’t want to live anymore. He said he wanted me to “See what you’re doing to me.”
“You left me, and I don’t understand why. I really wanna be with you,” he said.
I’m still crying saying, “You don’t want to kill yourself.”
He said, “Yes I do. I can’t take it anymore.”
We went back and forth for an hour and a half. He finally let up off the door I went to grab it and he shot me twice at point blank range- in my left hand and chest. I ran out to look for help while the blood was gushing out of me. I could literally hear the blood coming out. A neighbor finally answered their door and I’m screamed for them to call the ambulance.
My left lung collapsed, and I had to have micro-hand surgery on my left hand because there was nerve damage. The detective said with the cases he’s seen like this the victims don’t survive. I’m thankful to God I’m still here.
Now I stand against domestic violence and what it’s doing to not only women, but children that are involved mentally and emotionally. The scars heal but the emotional and mental effects are still there and last longer.
What happened to your ex-boyfriend?
Come to find out he shot himself in the head. He was on life support for a month. He survived, but the bullet is still lodged in his brain and he’s paralyzed. I went to the rehabilitation center where he was and told him what happened. He didn’t know what happened. I told him I forgave him. He apologized.
How long were you in the hospital after the shooting?
I was in the hospital for seven days. Those seven days were extremely hard because I was in shock. After I was released from the hospital I went back to see the lung doctor and he told his assistant from the picture my lung looked normal. His assistant had to explain to him who I was. He said, “Wow she healed up pretty fast. I don’t need to see her anymore. Her lungs are perfect.”
Although I healed pretty quickly when I got home I couldn’t bathe myself or even sleep alone. I was sleeping in the bed with my mom for two months. I had nightmares and was afraid that someone would come to my house or he would come to finish what he started. It was the emotional and mental part that I struggled with the most.
Did you get counseling?
Its funny that you ask that because when I moved back to Dayton I went to counseling one time. The counselor told me,“It seems like you’ve mentally compartmentalized everything successfully. You sound and look good.” I interpreted that as I didn’t need to go back and see her.
For a long time I didn’t go back to counseling. I talked to my mother and she was in such a state of shock that she didn’t force me go back. But about two years ago I started counseling again. I went into social work and I was dealing with families with domestic violence. Certain things with these families started to trigger emotions in me and I wasn’t doing my job effectively. I took a mental break from work and started to go to counseling. It has helped along with other self-help programs to overcome those feelings. I still see my counselor every other month.
What other self-help programs do you do?
I do imaginary thinking. I listen a lot of CDs, and one CD stood out to me by a psychologist who had his students imagine that they were in a certain place or experienced something. When it was something you were trying to overcome he’d have you think of something different then take your body through that different experience. When certain things trigger me I take myself through that process and the outcome is totally different. I no longer have the anxiety that I would normally have.
I also have affirmations all around my home to remind me to always think and be positive. Speaking on domestic violence is another outlet for me and keeps me positive.
Zumba is also a big part of your life and recovery, how did you get started?
I was home and depressed, staying to myself a lot. My mother knew I liked to dance and she said, “I heard there’s this new exercise where it’s all dancing.” She and I took some classes and I found an instructor I really liked. After a while of participating my mother suggested I become an instructor. I got certified and began to teach my own classes.
Through participating in Zumba it took my mind away from what I’d gone through. I was able to channel the negative feelings of that experience through exercising, and when I became an instructor I put a little twist on it.
Instead of women coming there and experiencing only something physical I wanted women to come in and have a change mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I made the environment conducive so that could take place, and the women could feel invested in. After you dance I’m going to pour into you and inspire you through words so when you leave you change your eating habits, become a better mother, or go back to school. These were the type of reports that would come back to me.
Women would tell me “I listened to you after class and those words were so inspiring that I built up enough strength to leave this man who did me wrong for so many years.” I’ve even had a woman tell me “I don’t have to take my blood pressure medicine anymore” because of going to the class.
Because I know I could’ve died it makes me feel like I have a purpose in this life, and I can affect somebody in a positive way. I don’t just give 100% or 110% when I teach. I always give 200%. It could be 5 women or 100 women, I’m going to give my best because I keep it in the back of my mind the experience I went through. I look at it as I didn’t go through this for me, but for somebody else.
What’s your organization, Live Out Loud, about?
Live Out Loud came from my experience of being a passive, shy, quiet person with low self-esteem. I didn’t live my life to the extent that I could’ve because of that. I let other people’s thoughts and opinions of me override everything, and felt like I was lower than the bottom of someone’s shoe. A shoe steps on any and everything, and that’s how low I felt about myself.
My mother and father separated when I was going into the 9th grade, and the presence of my father wasn’t there because we weren’t able to see him a lot. In high school, I missed out on forming that relationship at a time when my dad would’ve been able to show me and make me feel the way I’m supposed to feel when I’m around a man. I would’ve been able to gauge better when things weren’t right.
I’m not blaming anything on my father, but there was an effect on him not being there. When it came to men I was with them for all the wrong reasons.
Live Out Loud is investing in other people by building them up and making sure they know they’re worth. Not only know they’re worth, but understand it’s not based off how other people perceive them and the things they have, but what they make that mean for themselves.
The domestic violence aspect is giving women the space to speak up and say “Hey, I’m being beat up by my boyfriend or husband, and I need help.” I feel like it’s my job to be there for that woman that’s afraid because I was that woman. Now that I’m out of it I’m going back to that place and community where women are experiencing domestic violence and saying “There is a way out and I’m going to show you.”
I’m meeting people going through domestic violence where they’re at and not shaming them, but showing them the way.
With gun violence.I was shot at point blank range. I feel like with everything that’s going on in the world every time you turn around somebody is getting shot, whether it’s by the police or black-on-black crime. A gun is always involved. Guns are easily accessible, but if there was a longer process that people had to go through before being given a gun maybe a gun wouldn’t be put in the hands of a person that has the intent to hurt or kill somebody.
Compare dating before your abusive relationship to how you date now
Dating in my younger age I fell prey to whatever I felt a guy wanted. Now I have standards, values and I’m willing to express what I require for you to be with me. That’s just what it is.
Now as far as me thinking “Is this man going to kill me?” Yes, that’s always in the back of my head. What I do is look at them, not hunt for it, but when certain traits are displayed I know it’s time for me to make my exit out of the relationship. I don’t want anything like that to happen to me again.
Also, I want to be an example to other women. I’m not saying I’m perfect or expect a man to be perfect, but I know when certain things are shown it’s time for me to back up.