By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
She’s in disbelief.
She looks into the mirror, face sunken and smeared with mascara and blames herself.
Why did she wear that outfit?
Why did she hand you her drink?
Why did she trust you?
She lies up at night and blames herself.
Why did she hand you her glass of pink rose?
Why why did she chose those jeans, the pair with the rip above the knee?
Why did she take the seat next to you on the first day of class?
She sits through class and blames herself.
Why did she willingly hand you her glass of pink rose for 45 seconds?
Why did she chose that shirt, the one that brings out her eyes?
Why did she hang out with you the entire first semester and call you her best friend?
She slinks down at the dining hall table and blames herself.
Why did she trust you enough to think it was okay to give you her glass of pink rose for 45 seconds while she when to the restroom?
Why did she try to show off her curves on a night where she was finally feeling confident in her own skin?
Why did she ever let her guard down and trust a man knowing well-and-good he was sure to let her down just like her father had so many times before.
She sits on her bed and finally starts to forgive herself.
Why did he purposefully tell me to drink up?
Why did he maliciously slip a pill into my glass of pink rose, when holding it for only 45 seconds?
Why did he chose to target me that night?
Why did he decide to shatter my trust and rape me?
She looks in the mirror for the first time in a long time and doesn’t have the urge to punch her own reflection.
For the first time she knows she is not to blame.
She’s a survivor.
He is a rapist.
That is the way it will always remain.
By Eileen Martin, See the Triumph Contributor
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin
Protecting Our Existence
Recently, I became keenly aware of the toll trauma and violence can take on our physical bodies. As a survivor, I have been processing, healing, and focusing on my mental health and moving forward happily. All the while, I have suffered with chronic pain and just moved through it, often times with clenched teeth and with a survivor mentality. While taking steps to address my pain, it became very clear to me that my body had been tense for so long that my mind forgot to alert my body that I was safe now. I am no longer living in fear, and shame and guilt are not driving my decisions.
As victims, we spent day after day clenching, tensing, grinning and bearing it in order to protect our existence. Trauma eroded our sense of safety. We moved through our days the best we could. We were in survival mode. And here we stand, a success story.
Recognizing and Renegotiating
But now that we are safely removed from the trauma, are our bodies still responding in fight, flight, freeze mode? Specifically, freeze mode? Have we really recognized the fear, shame, and guilt that are stored in our body? Can we allow ourselves to recognize the memories our physical body has stored by what we have experienced? In doing so, can we renegotiate the terms by being mindful to how our bodies respond in our daily interactions with others? Are we still responding with fear because we have been reacting with our gut lens? You know, that guttural response of impending doom if you don’t quite get it right, or have the answers, or say the wrong thing. Are we stuck in “freeze mode” and are our bodies are trying to tell us something by aching and hurting?
Releasing and Blossoming
We can make a conscious choice to release what no longer serves us by mindfully considering how our bodies feel and react, and by taking time to tenderly care for our physical health as much as our mental health. Our mental and physical health are so intricately linked and can affect each other in such an immense way. If we can recognize when we are reacting with our gut lens, pause and consider what is triggering our reactions, process this through another lens that recognizes that we are safe, we may very well begin to heal our bodies by letting go of the constricted living in freeze mode. We have a chance to reclaim our bodies in a way that allows us to blossom without restriction.
By Eileen Martin, See the Triumph Contributor
Just Who Do You Think You Are?
It’s the little voice in your head, or sometimes the voice from others, that can stop you in your tracks while healing from domestic violence. The voice asks “Just who do you think you are?”
Just who do you think you are to have feelings, wants, and needs?
Just who do you think you are to walk away from a relationship, a marriage?
Just who do you think you are to break up a family?
Just who do you think you are to believe you can make it on your own?
Just who do you really think you are?
Honestly, there is some sense of control in holding onto these thoughts because they are familiar. You have been accustomed to having doubt and shame fuel your thoughts and, let’s face it, you have been told you are unworthy of love, that you are crazy, or that you are worthless. So now you are supposed to suddenly believe in yourself and consider the alternative? Sometimes the fear of the unknown prevents us all from considering that we may have been told a lie and our thoughts are just. not. accurate.
So, who DO you think you are?
What are you telling yourself?
What are others around you saying?
What seeds of doubt have been planted in your mind from your abuser? Your family? Society?
Have you ever given yourself permission to question your thoughts? We all have some negative thought patterns that feel really heavy and burdensome. But life feels so much lighter and things often look brighter when we can really recognize and challenge the negative thoughts and replace them with a kinder gentler version.
Have you ever questioned what you have been told to believe? About yourself or how life ought to be?
Well, now you get to choose your own version, your own reality, your own thoughts and that can be pretty powerful indeed!
Planting power seeds: Recognize and challenge negative thinking patterns
When I recognize my own negative thoughts, I ask myself a powerful question:
Would you say to a friend, sister, or daughter or anyone you care about what you say to yourself? More than likely the answer is no. We all deserve the same amount of care and concern we afford to others we love. So lets start there.
Be mindful when you find you are saying anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone you love and care about. You are deserving of loving and caring thoughts and words, and most importantly, self-forgiveness when you mess up. We all inevitably mess up. We all are human. Remember, YOU are someone’s friend, sister, or daughter.
Firmly Planting: Recognize and challenge what others say to you
So, get curious. Pay attention to your reactions when talking with others. Recognize what feels right and what makes your stomach lurch a little bit. Why is your body responding? Become aware of your body and how it responds to others. Your gut instinct is a powerful tool in discerning between what is meant to harm and what is meant to heal.
Now it is time to firmly plant yourself in solid ground by self-nurturing, by being gentle with yourself if you make a mistake, by recognizing your amazing ability to put one foot in front of the other when life comes at you hard. At the end of the day, you are strength and you deserve to bloom.
A Letter to Survivors
By: Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
For all those times I have not quite been able to find the words to say, and all of the times that I didn’t speak up when I should have. For all of the words that were never uttered from my lips--I choose to say them now.
I believe you. I believe your experience to be true. I believe all of the hurt, fear, shame and pain you have experienced. I believe you even if you have no physical bruises, photos, or evidence. Even if the police disregard your story, or probe you with more and more questions; I believe you. Even if your assailant was not held accountable by your school or never sees a day in jail, I know you are telling the truth. Even if your friends, peers or teachers don’t believe. Even if you are questioning each and every detail, every possible ‘missed-step’, every word, answer, fuzzy, discombobulated memory--I believe you.
It was not your fault. Abuse is NEVER okay. Regardless of whether it’s physical, emotional or sexual, abuse is abuse. Nothing ever justifies that person’s actions; not what you were wearing, who you were texting, what you said, who you were with, what you drank, what you chose to do or not do. The only person who is ever responsible for abuse is an abuser. I know right now it may feel like it’s your fault; that person may have told you that their abuse was your fault. Heck, society has likely told you this too. It’s not. Let me repeat that--that person's actions were not your fault, and they will never be.
You will be okay again. Maybe not right now, not tomorrow, or next week. In this moment, you may feel like a mirror, shattered on the floor in a million pieces--a mess that seems too much to ever put back together. You are likely overwhelmed, scared, confused, hurt, mad, and upset. Allow yourself to be, you have the right to experience all of these emotions. The multitude of emotions will likely ebb and flow for awhile. In time these emotions may seem less intense. One day, you may find power where you once felt weakness. You may find a voice where it seemed to have been stolen from you. This experience will likely shape your life. It’s not something you just forget but, it does not mean that you are broken forever, just that you are a survivor.
You are beautiful. You are breathtakingly beautiful. I am not just talking about your physical appearance, but your being. Your being is what makes you beautiful. The way that you approach life is beautiful and triumphant. Simply the fact that you wake up every day and exist is beautiful. With or without scars, blood shot eyes and a runny nose, you exude beauty. Currently, you can’t see this beauty, only the hurt sunken face looking back at you. Nevertheless, I see it. I see your beauty shining through the pupils of your eyes like a ray of sunshine, a small glint of hope. One day, I hope you see this beauty too.
You deserve love. You deserve to be loved by family, friends, romantic partners when you are ready, and most critically yourself. You are not damaged goods because someone chose to infringe upon your power and control. You are not unlovable. In fact, I believe that you deserve the most pure and authentic kind of love--self-love. You deserve to bathe yourself in loving words, compliments and good feelings because you are so worth it. You deserve loving, healthy relationships with every person who is in your life. Please don’t accept anything less.
You are strong; stronger than damn near everyone that I know. Stronger than I am, I’m merely here to support you. You are the one doing all the work--the one being vulnerable, bearing all of your hurt. I admire your strength. I admire your ability to get up every day, sometimes in spite of yourself. I see this incredible strength, it’s there behind your sunken eyes. Someday when you look back on this I hope that you see just how strong you are. I’m sorry that you have to use up so much of your strength right now. It’s not fair; there you are, nonetheless, a mountain holding strong in the face of an unforgiving wind.
You inspire me: inspire me to get up, to get dressed, to go to work, to fight, to exist, to love.
By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Contributor
When someone shares that they are experiencing domestic violence, it can be easy to assume that they are ready to leave their violent relationship and fervently start thinking of ways help them get out. If, however, we hear that they are not yet ready to leave the relationship, sometimes our enthusiasm to help falters. We can get so caught up in trying to convince them to leave or judging them for making “poor choices” that we forget that this is a crucial time for us to be supportive. In fact, it is important for us to be willing to support survivors of domestic violence no matter where they are – in the relationship, leaving the relationship, or out of the relationship. There are other great posts regarding supporting survivors that you can read, so I won’t go into great detail, but here are just a few ways that survivors in all stages of DV may need your support:
There are many reasons that one might be unable or unwilling to leave a violent relationship for the time-being. While it may be tempting to spend all of our energy giving them a million reasons why they need to get out of their abusive situation, those who are in a violent relationship need to be the ones who decide to leave, and our efforts can be better-spent in other ways. For example, you might be a part of your friend’s safety plan and provide a safe haven when things get difficult. Perhaps they need someone who is willing to watch their children for an evening to keep them out of harm’s way. Or maybe they just need someone who knows about their situation and can check in with them on a regular basis.
Those who are in the process of leaving an abusive relationship need support in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. They may need practical support, such as a vehicle to help them move some of their belongings or a place to stay while they determine their next steps. They may also need help navigating the process of taking legal action to gain custody of their children or to keep their ex-partner from harassing them further. They, too, may simply need emotional support as they deal with the transition of starting a new life.
Once survivors have left a violent relationship and appear to be out of harm’s way, sometimes we forget that they still need support. But the effects of domestic violence remain well past the last violent incident. Survivors of DV may still need practical and emotional support long after we may think they should be “over it.” They could need help rebuilding their support system. They might need help determining red flags for future romantic relationships. And, yes, they may need help healing emotionally as well.
When offering support to someone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence, it is important to offer the support with no strings attached (e.g. “I’ll only help you if…” or “Once you leave, then…”). Whether they have decided to stay in the relationship, are trying to get out, or have already left, survivors of domestic violence need us to be willing to support them in whatever ways we can. Remember that everyone’s experience of domestic violence is different, and the best thing you can do is simply ask how you can help and follow through, no matter their situation.
Support After The Storm
By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Contributor
Anyone who has faced grief and loss can probably relate to my experience of losing my grandmother, one of the most important people in my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her for some reason or another, and she passed away almost three years ago. And I still cry – not as frequently or as long, but it happens. Yet, about a week after my grandmother’s death, the cards, hugs, and questions from my support system quickly dwindled off. Nobody asks how I am doing or how I am getting along without my grandmother to call when something exciting happens or when I simply have a question of which spice to use in one of her recipes. The fact is, other people’s lives move on and they forget about your pain when the initial shock is over. It’s not that people stop caring, they’ve just stopped thinking about it.
I imagine that survivors of domestic violence have a similar experience after sharing their stories with others. At first, those with whom they have shared ask them questions, provide solutions, check in on them from time-to-time, and let them know that they are there whenever necessary – and that’s awesome. But, eventually, the fervor dies down and those who were so involved start to wait longer before checking in or forget to ask about the relationship because nothing has changed for so long and there are other things to talk about. Or if the violent relationship has ended and the survivor seems to be moving on, sometimes it feels like an unnecessary conversation. But the truth is, the memory of the domestic violence, as well as some of the more tangible consequences, such as having to start a new life from scratch without many financial resources, can continue to haunt survivors for longer than many of us might expect.
Though this feels simple compared to some of the amazing blog posts and resources regarding supporting survivors that have been written and shared this summer, it is an important reminder: Survivors of domestic violence need support long after the initial shock has worn off and you’ve stopped thinking about their suffering. Don’t forget to continue to check in and ask how you can support those you know who are experiencing, or have experienced, DV. Long after the violent relationship has ended survivors continue to need support in various ways, whether it be a shoulder to cry on when a memory is triggered or someone to provide a practical need. You might be surprised by what you can still do for someone who was victimized years ago if you just remember to ask.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Today’s blog post is for anyone who is currently in an abusive relationship who has tried reaching out for help, but when you did so, you were met with an unhelpful (or worse, harmful) response from the person you reached out to.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence for people when they reach out for help. We’ve heard it countless times from many of the hundreds of survivors of past abuse who participated in one of our research studies. Some of the survivors told us that, when they reached out for help, they were judged or blamed for their abuse, such as by being questioned about what they did to bring it on. In other cases, however, friends and family members simply didn’t know how to help, and therefore they provided less-than-helpful responses. Unfortunately, even professionals may lack awareness about the dynamics of abuse, as training on this issue may be lacking among certain professional groups.
So, what should you do if you’ve reached out for help because of abuse you’re experiencing, and you’re met with an unhelpful or hurtful response, whether it’s from a friend, family member, professional, or anyone else? Here are some suggestions for moving forward.
First, know that you’re not alone. Again, it’s not uncommon to encounter unhelpful or hurtful responses when you seek help related to an abusive relationship. Of course, just because this happens doesn’t mean it’s okay! In fact, I believe it’s a tragedy every time this happens. You deserve help and support, not judgment and blame. Keeping in mind that you’re not the first person to encounter an unhelpful response when seeking help for an abusive relationship can help you know not to take this experience personally. You are not to blame for your abuse--nobody deserves to be abused! Remember, when people judge or blame you, that their response says more about them than it says about you. If this happens to you, you can remind yourself that this unhelpful person most likely doesn’t understand the dynamics of abusive relationships. Acknowledge your feelings about the unhelpful response--it’s normal to be very upset if this happens!--but keep telling yourself that you don’t have to let it hold you back from moving forward toward safety.
Second, remind yourself of the strength and courage it took you to seek help in the first place. We know it can be very difficult to reach out for help if you’re in an abusive relationship. Many people who are in abusive relationships hide their abuse for a long time--years, even--before they reach out for help. There are a lot of reasons why people may wait to seek help, such as being afraid of being blamed, being threatened by the abuser, not knowing where to turn, and not feeling certain whether to end the relationship. It’s normal to be afraid to reach out for help. And, it takes a lot of courage to do so. If you reached out for help, and you didn’t get the help you needed, it’s natural to feel discouraged. You may even wonder if it was worth reaching out for help in the first place. Even in the midst of these feelings, try and remind yourself how brave you are for taking that first step toward taking care of yourself and reaching out for support. There were a lot of forces working against you to hold you back from taking that step--the fact that you did it is a testament to your courage and strength. That courage is still inside you, no matter what response you received when you reached out.
Third, tell yourself that you deserve to be supported by helpful, informed people and organizations that will help you get safe and get the resources you need. Ideally, any person who is in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship would easily be able to reach out for help, and they would find countless supportive resources at their disposal. When you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you’ve likely experienced a good deal of trauma and hurt along the way. I believe that people who’ve been traumatized deserve the very best support and resources available. There are many wonderfully supportive resources available to help you, but it may take some time and effort to locate the exact resources that will be most helpful to you. Even if you encounter some unhelpful reactions along the way, keep reminding yourself that the support you need is out there, and you deserve to receive it.
Fourth, if possible, find a supportive person to help you navigate the process of seeking help. This may sound like a counter-intuitive suggestion for a post on navigating unhelpful responses when you’re seeking help. Also, it’s normal through the process of an abusive relationship to become isolated and separated from your friends and family members, as this is often a part of an abuser’s tactics to keep someone in the relationship. So, it may not be possible to find a supportive person around you, or you may not know where you can turn to find someone. But, if you can think of someone who’s asked you if and how they can help you, one way they could support you is by helping you to navigate the process of getting help. For example, they could come along with you to meet with a victim advocate, to fill out the application for a domestic violence protective order, or to file a police report. If you don’t have any friends or family members available to be in this role for you, consider seeking help from a victim advocate at your local domestic violence agency or by calling a resource like the National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/; 1-800-799-7233) to help you navigate the process of seeking help. The main point to remember here is this: You’ve been through a lot in your abusive relationship, and this can leave you feeling tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged. If you can find a supportive person to stand by your side as you seek help, they can help you navigate that process and provide you with encouragement along the way.
Fifth, consider all your options of resources for seeking help. The resources available to help people in abusive relationships vary from community to community, and in certain areas (especially rural ones), there may indeed be a lack of helpful resources nearby. However, there are a wide range and many different types of resources that may be available to you, including at the national, state, local, and organizational levels. National resources include advocacy organizations, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Internet-based social media resources and support groups, and web-sites with educational information about the dynamics of abuse. State resources include state domestic violence and/or sexual assault coalitions and governmental agencies. At the local level, resources can include law enforcement agencies, court-based resources, domestic violence advocacy organizations, mental health agencies, and support groups. Organizational resources that may be available to you include those offered by your workplace, school, and faith-based organization. And, consider if you know anyone in your social network who may be able to provide more informal support, such as a friend or family member who has experienced abuse and understands what you’re going through. Once you've sorted through all your options, decide which ones may be most helpful to you right now, and try to figure out the best, safest place to start.
Sixth, keep trying until you get the help you need! If your first attempts to get help aren’t successful, or they don’t provide you with the support you need right now, keep trying. I know it can be very hard to stay persistent in seeking help when your initial efforts don’t pay off, but we heard a lot of examples from the survivors in our research how they continued their efforts to seek help and eventually found one or more supportive people to help them. Again, even though it can be hard to do this, try not to take unsupportive responses personally, and reach out to another source of support until you find someone who will be there for you and offer you support without judgment. If ever you feel that a professional you encounter along the way treated you in an unprofessional, harmful manner, you may want to consider talking with their supervisor. However, that step may be more than you are able to take on right now. Focus first and foremost on taking good care of yourself and continuing to take steps toward becoming safer.
Unfortunately, we still live in a world in which, sometimes, people who’ve been abused don’t initially get the help and support they need. This can be very discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Help and support are available to you, and you are worthy of receiving it!
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
A safety plan is a basic tool that victims of domestic violence can use to identify risks to their safety and well-being and plan strategies for protecting themselves in the face of those risks. A couple years ago, my Family Violence Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro developed the Safety Strategies: Safety Planning for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Their Children booklet as a resource for professionals to use to conduct safety planning with their clients who face domestic violence. Our goal was to use the information we learned through our research with professionals working with 9 domestic violence agencies to present a comprehensive, practical approach to safety planning.
Ideally, safety planning is done with professionals who have experience working with victims and survivors, because they are trained to help survivors identify the most pressing risks and helpful strategies to reduce those risks. If you or someone you know is currently experiencing domestic violence, I recommend you reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://www.thehotline.org/; 1-800-799-7233) and/or a professional in your local community to walk through the process of developing a safety plan that reflects your current circumstances.
Based on the Safety Strategies booklet, we offer the following safety planning suggestions to help people who are currently facing safety risks due to a current or former abusive relationship:
By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
Over the course of this summer See the Triumph is focusing on ways that survivors can be supported. We focus a lot on how survivors deal with all of the hurt, anger, fear, etc. from these relationship--topics that are extremely important. Nonetheless, in this post, I’d like to discuss something a bit different; something I’ve personally been struggling with for the past few months. I want to talk about how friends, family, and allies of survivors help themselves.
Being an advocate is hard work, not only because of the long hours, or typically the less-than-amazing pay, but because it’s hard on the mind and heart. It takes a special kind of person to work day in and day out dealing with others' problems. I say this with nothing but respect; I choose to deal with others' problems. I want to advocate for them, to help them, to care for them. It’s what I love to do and I would never, trade my career choice for one that was less meaningful, but came with a larger paycheck. However, advocates usually know what they are signing up for; friends and family members of survivors usually don’t.
See the Triumph has spoken about how friends and family members can help survivors of abuse or sexual assault, which can be found here. My question though is, how do these folks help themselves? Knowing a survivor, listening to their stories, trying to support them, again can be difficult. It takes courage, empathy and strength. As an ally, sometimes it feels as if you are living in that abusive relationship, just without all of the mental and physical scars. And I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s scary! Not knowing whether you’re going to get that call that your friend has just been brutally beaten, or worse, is enough to make you sick. It’s also scary because it’s hard to know when to speak up, when to step in, and when to say something, because you don’t want to push that survivor away, and you don’t want to lose them.
Advocates and allies of survivors can deal with what’s called vicarious trauma. Simply put, this is trauma that results from consistent meaningful, empathetic, engagement with survivors. Vicarious trauma is real, and it happens more than you think. That’s why it is so important for those who listen to survivors’ stories, who feel their pain--who worry, care, and cry for them--to take good care of themselves. It is a must that we practice good self-care--that we are able to step away from the situation and give our minds and hearts the approval to step away from that space.
Practicing good self-care is something that I spend lots of time talking about and practicing with the group of peer educators that I work with. In fact, I used an entire meeting just to teach them some basic meditation skills. It struck me the other day when one of my typically upbeat and engaged students seemed spacy and withdrawn. Later, I found out that she was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff, as she was dealing with (what seemed to me) some vicarious trauma. She was so concerned about the well being of a friend that she didn’t even realize that it was affecting her. The advice that I gave her and the advice that I am working on accepting for myself is that it is okay to take a step away.
Yes, I said it! It is okay to tell a survivor who’s a friend or family member that you need to take a step back, that you need to take care of yourself. As an ally, the abuse and pain is not yours, and you cannot own it. You can empathize, support and help, but please do not own it! I look at it this way: you’ve got a figurative backpack of gunk--pain, hurt, anger, fear--of your own. It’s not healthy to take on the gunk of others’ backpacks. I acknowledge that this is way easier said than done. It’s really hard for me to allow myself to take a step away. Why? Because it feels like I’m abandoning my friend; it feels like I’m being a crappy person! What I want you to know though, is that you are not abandoning them or trying to hurt them. You are only trying to better yourself, so that when they really need you, you can be there for them.
Practicing good self-care means that it is okay to respectfully, tactfully let your friend, brother, partner, whomever, know that you need to take a step back. Or, that you just can’t handle a story on that particular day. It means you can give yourself a green light to let them know that you are going to be really busy in the next few days and may not be as readily available as you have in the past. I can assure you that running your own emotional and physical well-being into the ground is not going to help you, or a survivor. So, speak up and be honest; it is okay to put your own needs before others, in fact, sometimes it’s necessary.