Our Fourth Story...
Hope For a Life Free of Abuse
(Written by an anonymous client of SAFE San Juans)
To this day, I still don’t fully understand when my relationship became abusive. I was fully aware of what makes a relationship healthy and unhealthy, I knew all the signs to look for. And yet I still ended up in an abusive relationship. It’s not something that happened overnight. It happened slowly, one little thing at a time, something that could be explained away or excused. It was because of the trauma he experienced, he didn’t mean to do it, he had a bad day, we just needed to work on our communication more, I needed to share my emotions more, he just needed to get help and have someone believe in him. I thought I could be that someone.
Throughout the relationship, I always had hope. I see now my hope was directed in the wrong place. I continued to have hope that he would get better, and that things would then get better for us. I continued to hope that the verbal abuse, the threats, the gaslighting, the lies, the intimidation, and the assaults would stop. Instead they continued to get worse and worse until I felt like I had barely any hope left.
When we became engaged, something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t excited. I didn’t want to tell people. This was something I had always dreamed of, and here I was keeping it a secret. I became more withdrawn, more fatigued, and more overwhelmed. My body was telling me something was wrong. And I finally started to listen.
As hard as it is for me to fully understand when my relationship became abusive, it is also hard for me to understand when I began to realize I needed to be done with it. This too happened slowly. I slowly began to reach out to friends and share little bits and pieces of what was going on. It began in desperation, like when he took my car, or when I felt too unsafe to stay at our place. It felt so good to be believed and listened to non-judgmentally. It felt completely different than how I felt in my relationship. I am so thankful for my church and SAFE San Juans for the help they both gave me during this time. They provided me the support and safety, both physically and emotionally, that I needed to get out of the relationship when I was ready. It was hard to leave him. It’s hard to make sense of or explain, but even amidst the abuse, I still cared deeply about him. Leaving didn’t happen all at once or in a neat and tidy way. But it happened.
I still have hope, but my hope is now directed towards a new life and future. While I still struggle at times, I have hope that things will continue to get better. I have hope that I will one day find a loving and healthy relationship. I have hope that I will continue to heal. And I have hope that I can also be a support for others who may be in similar situations.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The staff at SAFE San Juans want to hear from you and honor people in your life who chose to treat you with dignity, respect, and love rather than violence. Do you have a story to tell? The staff at SAFE San Juans would love to hear it and help you tell it. If you are in an abusive relationship and want help, we are here to help you think through what to do. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at www.safesj.org.
Our Third Story...
Our Story of Hope
The first part of our story is difficult to read. I encourage you to continue through the first few paragraphs to the hope and freedom that is now our journey of healing.
In 2001 I met someone who I thought was kind and loving. In 2003 I married him believing I would spend the rest of my life with him. Over the next three years the joy of a new marriage started to decline. It began with just yelling, cursing at me, passive insults, and shoving. Every action was followed by a reason as to why, a lengthy apology, and a week or two of kindness.
Between 2003 and 2006 I carried two beautiful children into the world. In 2006, 20 weeks into my second pregnancy, I was raped by the man I married. At that time I did not understand this was possible in a marriage. As the pregnancy continued and for the next nine years the yelling turned into screaming and spitting, the cursing was now on a daily basis, the insults were loud and direct, the shoving became hitting, punching, and kicking, and the rape was often.
I would like to say the children were exempt from this horror, sadly they were not. I tried so hard to protect them but many times I was knocked unconscious trying to defend them.
One may ask, why didn’t you leave? In which I would reply, I did. The times I tried, I was caught and abused more intensely. I was trapped by the lies he told to keep me in the prison that surrounded us. I was gaslighted and confused. I became a shell of who I truly was.
In 2015 I was granted freedom for my children and I to leave. I was told we could go if I left without asking for half of the home we lived in, half of our retirement, half of the pension, and no alimony. I was scared but quickly packed, signed documents, and moved to the San Juans within three weeks.
We were now in the safety of my parents home. Unfortunately, he came to visit a few times over the first few months. There was continued abuse of the children until they hid and refused to go. Then the contact with the children stopped for almost four years. I continued to experience what I now understand was financial abuse through him not paying insurance bills, child support and threats of taking me to court. However, he did not attempt to connect with the children. After four years with no physical contact he demanded to see the children. Without describing in detail the next ten months of continued financial abuse though lawyers, court and mediation it was decided that he needed to follow a reunification plan. Understanding, this was due to his lack of connection, not the abuse, as I was still too scared to speak.
After nine more months, with no attempt to begin the reunification process, without warning while we were asleep he showed up on our doorstep pounding, kicking, and screaming to let him in. I froze, the children hid, I eventually called 911 and a deputy responded. What followed was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. However, this is where the true hope and healing began.
What followed was me finding my voice and strength to share the trauma of the life we endured. I trusted a few people who loved, provided shelter, safety, and supported me without question. My advocate and the staff at Safe San Juans believed me without judgement, provided me with endless hours of support through legal paperwork, attorney appointments, sitting in court and mediation, and surrounded me with safety. I learned and began to believe that what happened was abuse. I learned and began to understand and believe that everything that happened was not my fault. I began to trust.
One of the results of this part of the healing journey is my children and I have the safety of a domestic violence protection order. The expansion of the healing that has continued since the order was granted is beautiful. We have hope of a life without fear, we have slept through the night without being woken by a night terror or nightmare for the first time in thirteen years, we have a new understanding of safety, and we have the freedom to not live in constant vigilance of countless fears.
The healing process of trauma does not happen quickly but with the support of my friends, my family, my advocate, and counselors I truly believe it is possible.
I am forever grateful to each individual who provided me and my children with the safety to trust, to believe and know a life without abuse is a reality, and the hope of a life without fear is possible.
I was believed, I was heard, I was supported without judgement. I am a survivor!
Do you have a story of hope to tell? The staff at SAFE San Juans would love to hear it and help you tell it. If you are in an abusive relationship and want help, we are here to help you think through what to do. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at www.safesj.org.
Our Second Story...
Hope: with Will Blackmon
This “story of hope” is comprised of excerpts from an interview with Will Blackmon (Friday Harbor) and is part of SAFE San Juans (SSJ) Domestic Violence Awareness Month “Stories of Hope” series. This interview was conducted by Courtney Smith, SSJ Program Manager.
Courtney: Will, did you experience domestic violence?
Will: Just like a lot of discipline … .and the discipline was different that’s for sure. I didn’t know you could just get woopins for anything. It was just the way my parents were raised. My mom’s and dad’s parents weren’t really in their life. They didn’t know what to do, so they disciplined us the only way they knew how, which transpired into anger.
Growing up I seen lots of arguing, fights, and family members…you know, just how they would treat women and how they would treat each other too. It just gets passed on. There was also some sexual abuse with a family member. That plays in your brain and it really does mess with you. Like “Why did it have to happen to me?”
Courtney: How did your upbringing effect your family and relationships?
Will: I was very angry …did some stuff I’m not proud of. I was just angry period. It translated to my household when I started having a family. I still needed to deal with my own inside and what I went through. I really didn’t know how. People that are angry tend to take it out on the people that they love, which is crazy that its like that, but it is.
I also lived with thinking that even as an adult, I was still going to get hurt. I kinda had that childhood memory thing where you’re still scared… like dang, what if I go to this person - how are they going to react? Even though I was in my 20’s and had kids and stuff, it still clicks in your brain … like, still being fearful of that person.
Courtney: When did you realize that the abuse you suffered as a child was playing a part in your family life?
Will: When I woke up one day and I was like “I can’t keep doing this to my family.” And, I didn’t want to keep suffering. I didn’t want to keep living like that. I was living knowing that I had this messed up thing inside of me.
Courtney: Was there anything in particular that helped you heal from the abuse?
Will: Going to counseling. It was the tools that the therapist gave me. You know, a therapist can’t save you. You take the tools that are given and you apply them to your daily. That’s what I did - I applied it to my daily, and then I just started feeling good about myself.
Courtney: Did you ever talk with your family about the abuse or confront the abuser?
Will: I did. I confronted the people. They understood what they had done and caused. Once I did that everything was cool, and I started to feel better. But the last abuser was a hard one. That took me a while, the sexual abuser. It actually took me two years after I told the first abusers. I was like “Okay” … I took a deep breath and called. I didn’t really care about the outcome as long as that person heard me.
Courtney: Did confronting the abusers that physically assaulted you heal your family?
Will: It sure did. It did because growing up I did everything … I’m talking about cook, clean, take care of my brothers and sisters, and stuff like that. You don’t understand why you is getting treated like this if you is doing all this stuff and you’re a kid. I feel like my whole childhood, my whole teenagerhood, was wiped, wiped out, taken, gone. That’s why I’m living my young life now, my best life you could say.
So when I confronted my sexual abuser, man I was nervous. My heart was pounding, and I was even sweating for no reason. When I called, I was like “I know what you did” and this and that. He just listened, and he was like, “I’m sorry that I did that to you”. I was like shocked … shocked. You know I really didn’t know what to say, but “thank you.” After that It was like “oh man”, like both of my shoulders felt light. It was extremely healing, even in my mind too.
Interviewer’s note: It isn’t unusual for someone to suffer abuse and then abuse. But, as Will so candidly explained, abuse does not have to be the final answer. You can choose to treat others differently, and there is healing for the scars. Thank you Will!
Do you have a story of hope to tell? We would love to hear it and help you tell it. If you are in an abusive relationship and want help, we are here to help you think through what to do. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at www.safesj.org.
Our First Story...
Breaking the Cycle
I never met my grandma Ruth. The only pictures I have of her are as a nurse during WWII and then of her posing in front of her west Texas farmstead many years later. Her slight frame seems to hide the anger that knew no bounds. I see myself when I look at pictures of her face, but I know we are different because I am not consumed by rage. Badly abused by her father (my great-grandfather), she chose marriage as a way of escape. Sadly, her husband and two children suffered at her hand as she too had suffered. She hated marriage and hated men. At 18, Dad left home. Shortly thereafter, his parent’s marriage ended in divorce. I read the divorce papers. They were simple and awful. Grandpa chose words like “cruelty” and “emotional abandonment” to describe his experience. Dad rarely talked with us about those days; the pain of his childhood was something he didn’t want his children to carry. But, when he did talk, “cruelty” summarized his memories of a mom he hadn’t seen for decades.
Behaviors are learned, patterns are reinforced, cycles are repeated. I don’t know the family history beyond my great-grandfather, but I do know that what we call domestic violence was deeply entrenched in my family by the time Dad had his own choices to make. That I didn’t experience abuse at the hand of my dad (or mom) is a miracle. Dad attributed it to three things. The first was his own dad who treated him kindly. The second was another family which took him under their wings and included him as one of their own. The third happened around the time he married my mom; he learned about the love of God displayed in the person of Jesus. It was a message that convinced Dad he was loved and he mattered. When it was his turn to relate to a wife and children, Dad chose the path that matched his new sense of personal worth. He chose love and shattered the cycle of abuse in his family. Dad liked to explain what shaped his decisions; but whether a person will be abusive or kind towards their own family is a choice that cannot be blamed on or credited to anyone else. Each person is personally responsible for how they treat others, and a history of experiencing abuse is no excuse for continuing it.
We will all be remembered; those who follow behind will consider the outcome of our lives and decide if our choices are worth repeating. Dad died in 2017. Shortly before he died, my Dad’s medical partner of over 40 years told me, “Your dad is the most loving and grace-filled person I have ever met.” I agree. Dad was highly successful too, but the memory I carry is of being loved by a kind and grace-filled father. His family was never his problem; we were always his joy. We did not stand in the way of his success; we were a measure of it. Our needs were not a burden, he delighted in supporting us and seeing us thrive. Dad chose to see every person through the same lens he saw himself – loved and they mattered. In the many decisions I must constantly make over how to treat my own family, I consider the outcome of Dad’s choices and find them worth repeating. As I work alongside SAFE San Juans’ staff to carry out our mission of seeing domestic violence end, I find hope pointing towards Dad’s example and saying, “Be like him.”
Domestic violence is deeply rooted in the dynamics of power and control. Perhaps it makes more sense to look at it in reverse. In order to maintain control, people will exercise whatever power is available to them; if someone gets hurt, then so be it. But, love is rooted in the desire to seek the welfare of another person even at one’s own expense. Domestic violence demands control; Love shares. Domestic violence is intensely self-centered (as is sexual violence); Love is intensely other-centered. Domestic violence displays power; Love requires the courage to set aside power. Domestic Violence asks, “What can I take from you?”; Love asks, “What do you need from me?” Domestic violence is destructive (even to the abuser); Love builds all involved. There is a choice to make. Don’t just choose to not abuse - Choose to love and show others they are valued human beings who matter. Men are not the problem when it comes to domestic violence – and neither are women. Attitudes that devalue others and seek to control them are. The response to violence is to change how you see yourself and others. I find it helpful to point to those who have chosen the better path and say, “Be like them.”
Dave Dunaway, Executive Director,
SAFE San Juans