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.

3 Things to Do When Holidays Aren’t Happy

The first New Year’s Eve after I left, I was alone. Physically separated by hundreds of miles from my family with no money for a plane ticket. Emotionally separated from the person I loved, who lived just a few miles away in what used to be our cozy apartment.

I wanted to be there. On my comfy sofa, big shower with perfect water pressure, wearing snuggly slippers, sipping a warm cup of coffee, and cuddling with the guy I’d married. We'd make promises - probably about how we'd work at our marriage - hold hands, pray, watch the ball drop in NYC (on television, of course), and go to bed. It would be one of our "good" nights. But that wasn’t my reality.

I was sitting on 1990’s green carpet in a room with a stiff full-sized bed and a small TV. I was on my last pack of instant coffee, which was all I could afford at the time. My feet were cold because my landlord didn't like to turn the heat up past 65. The house that I lived in was empty, because the other room renters had gone to be with their families. Two of them were college students and the other was a young, low-wage earning millennial professional like me. Only a few weeks earlier, the trajectory of all I thought I knew about love and marriage shifted. I was utterly alone; and it sucked.

The holidays can be difficult for a survivor. You are alone with your thoughts; tortured by a new reality not of your own preference. And no one seems to understand.

You might stop at a local bar and have a few drinks, pick up a stranger to fill a human void. Your children might not have as many gifts as they had the previous year, when there were two parents. There may not be enough food to eat. There may not be any food to eat.

During the holidays, many survivors return to their abuser. Can’t you understand why? Who chooses the hard path?

I chose the hard path, and it was rough for a long time. The better part of two years, actually. Here are three things I did to make sure I stayed the course.

1. Remind yourself why you left. Constantly.

Once a week, I’d wake up confused. Where was my husband? Why wasn’t he in bed with me? And then it would hit me; I left him. Then, the tears. But after crying about it, I’d remind myself that leaving was the best choice for me. I knew he could kill me if I stayed and I had to remind myself of that, especially when I missed him. What are your reasons for leaving? Remember them. Call them to mind.

2. Feel.

Therapy saved my life (more on that in another post). I joined a therapy group at the local domestic violence shelter. One of the first things our counselor told us to do was feel. Feel everything; acknowledge the pain. Numbing is a coping mechanism. If you choose to feel, you can identify what is hurting. If you can identify what is hurting, you can begin to heal that part of you.

3. Change your perspective.

In his book “Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart”, Mark Epstein writes, “In meditation, I had stumbled upon a new way to be with myself. I did not have to make that disturbing feeling of emptiness disappear. I did not have to run away from my emptiness, or cure it, or eradicate it. In fact, far from being 'empty', I found that emptiness was a rather 'full' feeling. I discovered that emptiness was the canvas, or background, of my being.”

A hole, void, or emptiness can be viewed as a problem, or an opportunity. Paint the canvas of your soul with new experiences. Got a few dollars? Try that new coffee flavor at the local café. Always wanted to ice skate? Do it. Love film scores like me? Join a group and discuss John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Make new, healthy friendships. The kind that don't require you to pretend; the kind that allow you to be authentic in actions and feelings.

One thing I’ve become is a realist. I won’t tell you that it’s easy, but I will tell you that for me, it was worth it.

The holidays may not be so happy this time, but there is hope.

Hopeful Holidays,