Winning Women with Regina Shearer

I am honored to be asked to be on the Winning Women radio show with Regina Shearer, where women share their journeys. Please join us and listen in, tomorrow July 9, at 4:00 EST. I’ll be discussing my own journey that led me to be a victim’s advocate and prompted me to run for office. Feel free to email and call in questions.

Options to tune in:

-Download the RGB Internet Radio App from the Apple or Google Stores. (It is a FREE app, broadcasting music 24/7, along with a few other shows. All you have to do is tune in at 4:00)

-If you have an Alexa, you can say, “Alexa, enable RGB Internet Radio” and after the first time, all you have to say is, “Alexa, play RGB Internet Radio.”

-If you have Google Assistant, you only have to say, “Play RGB Internet Radio.”

-You can go to the website: www.rgbinternetradio.com and listen to it from there.

If you can’t join us tomorrow, the broadcast will be available later next week. I will post the link when we get it.

I Believe I’ll Wear Green

I’ve recently decided to take a huge step in my advocacy and work to break the stigmas surrounding domestic violence. As I’ve continued to help individuals in over 36 states, as well as a few other countries, some of my biggest frustrations are the laws that we come up against. Laws that bind what fellow survivors can do to implement their safe passage to a new, safe existence. As an individual, there isn’t a lot I can do to make the necessary waves of change. I’ve found myself, in great exasperation, saying that someone has to do something. When public individuals are glorified for harmful behavior and laws protect the ability to harm, we have to start looking at how to fix it. Even in my own therapy, as I continued to heal what was on the surface, it was never as successful as digging deep and figuring out what was at the root of my decisions. I have decided to run for office, at my state’s level, but I have no intention of making this about politics. This will remain about my continued journey in survival.

To launch my campaign, I needed to get headshots done. As soon as I scheduled them, my mind started swirling. One of the bigger decisions was what color I wanted to wear. I decided on the color green. It’s actually not a color I owned, but there was something about it that felt right. After I shared the pictures, one of my friends commented on how much she liked green on me. She remarked that she’d never seen me in it. In that moment, the color green became incredibly significant. I remembered exactly why this color was nonexistent in my wardrobe. Joe hated the color green and was adamant I never wear it. I had a couple of shirts over the years, just for holidays, and he ended up destroying both. It’s funny that until being asked, my brain hadn’t even contemplated why it felt significant. Why when I first saw myself in the mirror I had to take a few extra seconds to examine it. How interesting that a color can feel like strength, independence, and hope all at one time. 

As I step into this new part of my journey, I believe I’ll wear green. 

Surviving the Beach

Every survivor I have talked to has a different definition of what life is after surviving the undertow, what their beach looks like. For some, they dry off quickly and go about skipping down the beach. For others, they sit feeling lost and look at the water as it begs them back. For me, I have the blue skies, the laughing children, the warmth of the sun, and also shells. Some that are beautiful and interesting to look at and many others that are jagged and cut my feet. A few shells hide in the sand where I can’t see them and a beautiful stroll turns into sitting and nursing a sore on my foot. Those broken shells are the ones nobody really talks about. After all, shouldn’t I just be grateful to be on this amazing beach? However, they are there as broken memories and dreams, reminding me of more painful parts of my journey. Surviving is a process. It took me 19+ years to live and get out of that existence, it’s only been five years of learning to live outside of it. It’s not a desire to dwell on the more painful aspects. Quite the contrary, I’d love to forget them. Just like many other survivors, part of my daily life is also coping with PTSD and it has a funny way of creating these broken shells for me to find. Recently, I stepped on a shell that dug in a bit and has kept a nagging pain in my foot. It’s one that brings about a certain amount of grief. A grief for what has been lost. Something that when I was so busy enjoying the “I have this great new life,” I forgot to process and throw back out to sea. This is the uglier side of surviving that so many don’t talk about because there’s a part of it that seems gratuitous. Even typing this out, I find myself deleting and typing over and over. In the struggle to survive, I lost an opportunity for friendships. Between frequent moves and trying to protect our fragile reality, setting up any lasting relationships or traditions went by the wayside. Even though “normal” is incredibly relative, I missed out on parenting in a normal way. One that every move wasn’t domineered over and critiqued. A life where I didn’t live in fear of the repercussions from any mistake made by myself or my kids. I grieve two decades of a life where I didn’t get to explore my own interests, who I was, and experiences I wanted. That’s a tough one. When others reminisce on what they were doing in their twenties and thirties, that shell wants to dig in. I don’t have a lot to contribute. I am in my mid forties and my life is starting now. My surviving looks like trying to figure it all out, later than most, and balance the loss with the hope of what can be. Recovery does not stop when you step out of the water, it’s a long process of discovery. One that I underestimated. If you are on this journey, hang in there, I’m right there with you.

Independence Day

The Martin Family October 2015

Today is a day that, even before my brain realizes the date, my soul feels. It’s a heavy feeling, a bit anxious. It was a shift in our existence. It’s been 5 years. Five years since the night that would thrust us into the undertow. Today is the anniversary of our independence. I wish I could say that I had walked away, that one of the multiple times I’d loaded the kids up in the car that I’d had the courage to keep going. I can’t though. I was so afraid of what Joe would do to me or to the kids if we left. He had made his threats and done enough to make me think he would follow through. He had successfully convinced me that we were alone. I was confident that no one would believe me or help us. April 6, 2016, everything shifted. This is an excerpt of the transcript from my Protection Hearing describing the end of our last night under one roof. This comes with a trigger warning for fellow survivors. If you choose to read it, please be aware that it is intense and broken.

April 7, 2016 marks the day that we started the process to gain independence. Today, we celebrate our lives, our growth, our happiness, and our strength. I am so grateful for where we are today.

Happy Independence Day to my trio.

If you’ve not yet found your Independence Day, don’t give up hope. Reach out, you are not alone.

Surviving

I can hear the garage door opening. I start my rapid checklist of things I was supposed to do. Kids have been fed, their rooms are clean, homework is done and checked, I got most of the laundry done, but not all…..maybe he will let that slide. I have a little bit of a panic, but I only have two loads left. Emma was sick again today, so I had to bleach and disinfect the surfaces. I got that done. I have no idea what I’m going to say when he asks how I let her get sick. The dogs are in their kennels with bones, that should keep them from barking when he walks in. I can hear the boys starting to aggravate each other, so I quickly yell up, “Dad’s home.” They immediately quiet down, thank goodness. Back to my checklist. His dinner is plated and warming up. The dryer dings, but at the same time I realize too many lights are on in the house. We are in 3 rooms, but lights are on in at least 5 or 6. I don’t have time to start pulling the clothes and run around the house to turn off lights. He will hear me if I yell up to the boys and ask them to turn them off. Then I notice the door is opening. He’s home. I feel panicky. I can’t breathe. I’m drowning. At that moment I wake up with a start, my eyes quickly searching my dark bedroom. My brain is trying to piece together what I am seeing, what is reality, what is the ghost of days before. After I reassure myself that I am safe, my breathing starts to slow. I start my checklist. It’s a different kind of checklist; the kids are doing well and are happy, I am happy, I am married to a wonderful man, the house isn’t perfectly clean, there’s laundry on the floor, I am the boss of me….

What does surviving domestic abuse look like? You wouldn’t be in the minority if you assumed that it’s just about getting on with your life. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. The toll that it takes to be in survival mode for any length of time reshapes perceptions and reactions to even benign situations. For me, surviving has been complicated and has come in stages. It’s an everyday self-talk and processing form of upkeep. After being in the water for so long, those sea legs aren’t quite gone. Just as each person that has found themselves trapped in the undertow has a unique experience, the aftermath of that experience is equally as unique. There are a few common threads and mindsets, but even in the commonalities, how and when they manifest depend on the individual.

My independence day anniversary is quickly approaching. It’s been almost 5 years since I last shared a life with Joe. That means it’s been half a decade of learning, unlearning, relearning, therapy, and feeling the sand beneath my toes rather than gasping for breath in the deep water of domestic abuse. My life today is a beautiful one. It might sound trite, but it is perfect in its imperfections. Still, it’s work. My brain struggles to make sense of my journey. I have nightmares. While some are nonsensical, most are more of a memory. My nightmare I described above is a memory. A vivid one that I hadn’t thought about in years, but my brain decided to rehash. I have a few similarities in my present life. I had done laundry that day and Emma had been a little under the weather, but there’s no pressure on me for either of those. It’s just another day. That’s one of the more complicated natures of surviving. The fight or flight response might be dormant, but my mind sometimes works at keeping it at the ready. A life preserver just in case I end up back in the deep water.

In continuing to work with other survivors, I’ve learned that it’s important to shed light onto this part of the journey. The complex PTSD and learning what’s “normal”. This will be the start of a series of posts that dives into what life is like after the undertow. I will talk more about the pull of the deep water, setbacks, and learning to live out of the water.

What does emotional abuse look like

In a world that has become increasingly aggressive, it can sometimes lead us to a guessing game as to what constitutes ’emotional abuse’.  For me, I had a hard time in the beginning of my past marriage and in a subsequent relationship to reconcile the difference between my partner being difficult and it crossing over into emotional abuse.  There is a fine line. Not fully understanding where that line was led me to staying and accepting the behavior much longer than I should have. The unfortunate side of that is that once the behavior starts and is tolerated, it only escalates. It’s that pull to the water and the splashes in the face that lead to being submerged and held under.

As outlined on the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website (https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/) these are some warning signs that you might be in an emotionally/verbally abusive relationship:

  • Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
  • Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
  • Trying to isolate you from family or friends
  • Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Demanding to know where you are every minute
  • Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving
  • Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
  • Punishing you by withholding affection
  • Threatening to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Humiliating you in any way
  • Blaming you for the abuse
  • Gaslighting
  • Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships
  • Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
  • Cheating on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatening to cheat again
  • Cheating to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are
  • Attempting to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  • Telling you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them

 

A person’s situation may involve one or many of these.  I experienced the majority of these.  However, not all at one time. They happened in waves, one of them here or there, and always with the excuse that I was to blame for what was happening. The manipulation that I was at fault for it led to shame, self-correction and internalizing. It wasn’t until I had escaped the deep water that I was able to reflect on what had happened and how it spiraled in the span of 18 years.

I thought I had all figured out and knew all of these signs. As a single mom determined to make better choices for my children, I was committed to learning why I had ended up in the deep water. I went over and over what had happened and how to avoid it. Joe had been hostile and aggressive in his abuse and that was what I was focused on. What I had yet to learn was that a more passive aggressive approach to control was still abuse and incredibly damaging. After talking with many other women and my fantastic therapist, I had to expand my knowledge of what constitutes abuse. I think this is an area that many survivors with children can find themselves in. These aren’t as typical in public descriptions of abuse. While the article talks about “jealous of your outside relationships,” I never could have imagined that that could be about my own children. Besides a couple of the listed warning signs, isolation from my children was something I hadn’t experienced in my marriage, but came to learn about in that next relationship.

Isolation from my children became a hallmark and is abuse. I had a hard time balancing this in my head because I was protective of my children after what they had been through. We had not had anything of a typical life together thus far. I had taken the time to build a firm layer of trust and bonding between my kids and myself. When my next relationship started he was very supportive of that and complementary. That became intermittent as complaints of how attached to me they were. I struggled. I knew that I saw more typical family situations where the children were even more clingy and dependent. Due to the fact the my parenting had been a constant criticism in my marriage, I was already in the habit of questioning myself.

What started out as simple as being annoyed when my children would interrupt a phone conversation, led to being annoyed and showing great disdain anytime the younger two needed me. Chastising the decisions I was making for my children became regular. Jealousy seemed to be at the forefront, not even wanting my daughter to sit beside me. With my oldest son it came to fueling his teenage angst with me, as his parent,  against me. The bond that I had created with my kids was quickly feeling like I had done that all wrong. He wanted to be first and for my kids to be minimal in my life. Luckily, my love for them drew me back to the beach at a quicker pace this time. Once again, I thought it was the other person being difficult. I came to learn that this was a form of emotional abuse and isolation.  Coupled with many other instances of control, I realized that I needed to explore further what abuse was and my own tolerance of them.

There were many things that were eerily similar between these two relationships, but handled differently. The one similarity that is the most alarming, is the fact that with both I ended up thinking, “I wish he would just hit me.” The pain that emotional abuse causes and the undermining manner in which it operates, made me feel invalidated.  I thought that the emotional pain was not enough to constitute a departure from that relationship. To feel that kind of torment emotionally and to have that thought was my biggest warning sign. No one deserves to be held under the water and made to feel like they deserve it.

Wether it be aggressive in nature or more passive aggressive, both are damaging to the psyche.  If you are in a situation where you are questioning or doubtful of what is happening, I encourage you to reach out and explore. It is much better to walk away with a splash of water than to be struggling to survive after being completely submerged.

My Moment of Awakening

To someone who has never experienced an abusive relationship, I’m sure it seems like common sense to be aware that a relationship is abusive. For me, that wasn’t the case. Despite fading bruises and healed fractures, four years ago I could not have said that I was in an abusive relationship.

From the very beginning of our relationship Joe had an edge to him.  I had this thing I would say to myself (and sometimes to others) that I could take the 10% jerk because 90% of the time he was fantastic.  By the end of our marriage, those numbers had completely flipped.  The most drastic flip was in my own mindset.  I remember in the second year of my marriage, before any of my children were born, I had a constant thought, “I wish he would just hit me, then it would be an outward sign and I could leave.” What Joe was putting me through psychologically and emotionally was intense, but I wasn’t sure it was a valid reason to break my marriage vows.  The ups and downs of approval and disdain were hard to manage.  I fell into believing that his unhappiness was solely my fault, which was exactly what he told me day in and day out. I thought I was worthy of the treatment that I was getting and I was always working and trying to become what he demanded. I was losing myself to his whims and in an internal battle that I had been dealing with my entire life, that I needed to be more and do more to be worthy of love.

It would be 10 years after wishing he would hit me, so that I would have visible evidence to leave, before he did.  By that time, my emotional state and my self-confidence were completely depleted. I was barely treading water anymore. I didn’t see it. I was ashamed that he would “have to” resort to that to correct me.  It took me a couple of months after he was removed from our home to be able to articulate that he had been physically abusive. At that time, I had only been aware that our relationship was abusive for six months.

At Joe’s request, I entered beauty school.  He said that I needed to work and he thought that would be good for me.  However, it came under the stipulation that he and the kids always took complete priority to it and that I was not to work on any male clients. I looked at it as an opportunity to turn a hobby into something that I could have for myself, so I enrolled.  I relished my time there.  It was a group of amazingly unique, accepting, and loving individuals.  I started to gain a little bit of myself back. As part of our curriculum, the local women’s shelter came and talked with us about domestic abuse.  Not only was there a chance of someone sitting in our chair and opening up about abuse, but people in our profession have a high chance of being in one ourselves.  Before the talk began, they took all of our cell phones away so that we wouldn’t be distracted.  They started discussing personal stories of abuse and certain scenarios that are labeled as abusive. My heart was pouring out to my fellow students who were being overcome with emotion as they listened and thought back to their own experiences. Then, I had my own moment of awakening.  The speaker started discussing harassment and abuse through texting.  She asked, “if you get a call from your significant other and you don’t respond immediately, how is that handled? Do they begin to text repeatedly, do they become angry that you aren’t responding….” There was a list of things.  I sat there and thought to the many times that I didn’t answer a phone call or a text at the very moment it was happening.  I thought back to my time working for the county recorder’s office when Joe had called when I was helping a customer and became irate when I told him I would need to call him back.  He was always the priority, I should be grateful that he wanted to talk to me.  I’m not sure what the next 30 minutes of discussion was because my mind was starting to scramble.  Then it happened.  Joe texted.  I did not have my phone, but I could see on my watch what he was texting.  It was not anything that I could reply to on my watch.  He was asking a question.  A minute later he sent another text repeating the question.  My heart felt like it stopped.  I was panicking that I couldn’t get to my phone, which quickly switched over to, “Wait, this is me.  The woman at the front of the room is talking about women in my situation.  This isn’t right….” I began to hyperventilate and ran up the stairs and out of the school.  From that moment, I realized that maybe it wasn’t  just my lack of being good enough, maybe Joe was abusing me.  It was 6 more months of scrambling, trying to figure out how to survive and what to do in this new state of awareness, before Joe was taken from our home.

My marriage lasted 6,519 days.  It took me 6,337 days to realize that Joe was drowning me in the deep water. It took an additional 182 days for me to gather the courage to make my way to the beach.   Getting out of an abusive relationship is incredibly difficult. The first hurdle is to realize that you are in one.