#WhyIStayed: Year One

I stayed because he was my best friend.
I stayed because I didn’t have money of my own.
I stayed because he was good to me, most days.
I stayed because I wasn’t ready to leave.

Every now and then I’m reminded of the reasons why I stayed. At times, I lay in bed and think of where I was just five years ago.

At a university event this past spring, a student hugged me and said, “my friend stayed and it hurt me. All I wanted was for her to leave.”

Intimate partner violence hurts. It hurts the victim and it hurts loved ones.

There is still so much confusion about “staying”. After #WhyIStayed went viral, subsequent (and necessary) hashtags arose, such as #WhyILeft and #HowIHelped. So many voices were heard that day, and it was beautiful.

But society is not opposed to victims "leaving" or communities "helping". It is “staying” that is the scandal.

It is staying that society at large condemns. It is staying that breeds victim blaming. It is staying that we struggle to comprehend. We rejoice when survivors leave. We celebrate when communities help. We demoralize victims who stay.

So, I think we must reexamine our reactions to the power of individual choice. I stayed because I knew what was best for me. I stayed because I wanted to make it out alive.

On this one year anniversary of #WhyIStayed, let's recenter our thoughts on those who have made this impossible choice, and learn how to support them right where they are.

And after we recenter, let’s begin to ask victims of intimate partner violence the question that only they can answer: what do you need?

(used with permission, all contact info intentionally omitted)

How Hotels Inadvertently Donate to Domestic Violence Victims

After reaching out to a few brands, I still had no corporate backing for the Bolt Bag Project. But as my grandmother always said, "one monkey don't stop no show!"

I still don't know exactly what that means, but I figure I should keep the party going with or without support. In the beginning, I purchased about 200 items myself + bags. But that is simply unsustainable. 

The afternoon of my very first speaking engagement, I checked in to the hotel and headed straight for the bathroom to take a shower (it's now a ritual of mine to take a steaming hot shower prior to speaking - it's calming and opens up the lungs). When I walked in, I saw four bars of soap, lotion, mouthwash, shampoo, and conditioner. One me won't use four soaps in one night.

So I opened one soap, and put the rest of the toiletry items in my suitcase. The next trip, I did the same. And the next. And the next. And every hotel I've stayed in since, even if it's for leisure, I'll collect unused toiletry items. If you stay more than one night, guest services will replenish the items every morning (I collect every item, every single day).

And that is how hotels have inadvertently donated to domestic violence victims. See, one thing I've learned is that you don't need permission to reach a goal. You need creativity, determination, and motivation. My motivation is the memory of survival. Every time I see unused bars of soap in hotel rooms I get so excited knowing it will refresh the beautiful skin of a person who has escaped a nightmare.

Domestic Violence Resources and Advice

The first place you can look for resources is at your local domestic violence organization. Unfortunately, many of these organizations are limiting their capacity (or closing their doors) due to budget constraints. But all DV organizations offer Resource & Referral information. Do an internet search for “Domestic Violence Organization [insert city here]”.

Alternatively, most city halls, human service departments, all police stations and some religious institutions offer similar resource information for your area. Law enforcement stations are required by law to have these referrals. Dialing 411, 911 non-emergency and 211 in many cities will connect you with someone who has information.

Along with information for DV organizations, city halls and human service departments can also provide information regarding food stamps and medical assistance. Some cities even offer cash assistance in the event that you’ve been locked out of your joint bank account or have no money at all. If you’ve never considered assistance please… set your pride to the left. Now is the time that you need help. You will not need it forever, and I suggest you let it go as soon as you’re stable. But this is just the beginning of your journey and there are long days ahead. Lift some of the burden by getting help.

The second thing I guarantee that you will need is counseling. Most DV organizations offer free counseling to clients; individual and/or group. I suggest enrolling in both types if you can. Counseling saved my life. Not only did I meet women who were in different stages of healing, I was provided with basic essentials (toothpaste, deodorant, etc), physical protection (an armed police officer stood watch at the entrance of the building) and a sense of community. Divorce puts your immediate family unit through the shredder. Friends will disappear. Church may shun you. Otherwise rational people you’ve known for years will become judgmental and say inane things. Everyone will suddenly be an expert on marriage. Genuine community cannot be undervalued during this time. A lifeline of people stronger than you, more experienced than you and who understand what you’re going through is waiting with open arms. Be open to the help, open to making new friends, and open to the possibilities of tomorrow.

Lastly, I know this is a big step. It is embarrassing. It is difficult to admit you need assistance. You will cry. There will be a massive burning lump in your throat. Don’t let that stop you from getting the help you need!

A Progressive Understanding of Domestic Violence

"Many other survivors still choose to stay silent, and I don’t blame them. But at the very least, if they’ve read the news this year, they’ll realize they aren’t alone." - Ann Friedman

You are or aren’t. You stay or leave. You do or don’t. You can or can’t.

We don’t give “I’m unsure” enough space to breathe. And why not? It’s clear that domestic violence is too complex to fit in our righteous, binary structure.

I’m not so different than the majority of society. Before I was in an abusive marriage, I couldn’t have imagined staying with a man who hit me. One and done. I said things like, “If he ever hits me, I’ll [insert parting action here].” But then I lived it, and I found out a hard truth: I had lied to myself.

Fortunately, I think society is wiser than me. When we say things like “you don’t understand because you’ve never been there”, we do empathy a disservice. You don’t have to catch a cold to know that congestion makes breathing difficult. You don’t have to touch a flame to know that fire is hot. And you don’t have to experience domestic violence to know that abuse is multi-layered.

So, my New Year’s Resolution (if I can even call it that) is to convince the world that domestic violence is an issue that we would be better off understanding. I’m going to share my story, open up about more details, write, hope, and take action. I’m going to affirm the experience of survivors.

We have to learn the language; every person must be fluent in domestic violence. Terms such as “batterer” and “predominant aggressor” should be commonly understood. We need to teach the Power and Control Wheel. We must have a progressive understanding of trauma. And we need to identify domestic violence as a Public Health crisis.

If you think 2014 was a banner year for domestic violence then hold on to your seat; 2015 is here.