This weekend is a celebration of life for my friend Brooke Briggs.  It is a fundraiser for her scholarship, just as she would have wanted.  If we are going to gather, why not let it be for a cause?

check it out here: facebook.com/events/194828290921579

Brooke and I met about the time that The Universe was kicking my butt in gear toward all things philanthropic.  I joined Beach Ambassadors (shout out!) and was invited to a WAV (Women Against Violence) luncheon by a great woman and friend.  There I met Brooke, and let me tell you, as busy as she was, she was unshaken and her smile could invite anyone to a good chat.  She was the kind of overly kind human, that just makes you want to help more, to follow her lead, and just do what you can, however you can.  I shared with Brooke, all I had been through and fast track a few months, I was on the speakers series with her support helping me right along.  We had many mutual friends, and I just knew we would be friends forever.  We worked together on several events and she was the guidance I sought when I started sharing my story, on a mass scale.

I never imagined that the last time I would see Brooke, would be the last time.  Pause please while I wipe my tears for a sec… shew I miss her.

But that last time I saw her, truly left me with a feeling that will last forever.  If I was forced to pick a “last” with her, I will say I am grateful for this one.

I arrived to give my speech, one year after meeting Brooke, at the very luncheon we met at.  I was SO honored to not only be speaking on behalf of Samaritan House at the WAV luncheon, in the company of psychologists and other esteemed professionals, but at the very luncheon a year before, that little guiding voice inside me said “you must be a part of this, you have a story to share, and you need to help others”.  Brooke saw that in me, she helped me dial it in, and she was the smile in the crowd that delivered the calm strength I needed.

As I have mentioned, I have anxiety.  Terrible anxiety, like there is any other kind… but not in speaking, I am clearly ok talking to anyone, anytime.  Shoot, I would talk to a wall if I was left alone long enough.  But the emotional kind, the kind digging up old bones of the past brings on.  I was not scared of telling my story, but the emotional charge that comes when speaking to 150 people on a topic that is largely an emotional one.  As Brooke was introducing me in the most amazing way possible, I honestly forgot she was introducing me, she beamed as she said ” … so help me welcome my good friend Tracy”.  As we locked eyes I knew I was capable of doing what she knew I could.  I gave the speech below, I received a standing ovation, and lots of tears in the audience… panic… emotion, oh no!  As I stepped off the stage, she grabbed me and pulled me in to one of those hugs that just puts you back together.  She not only gave me the strength to share my story, to speak for Samaritan House, she also gave me what I needed to not fall in to the pending anxiety attack, at least until I was out of there ;).  She told me how proud she was of me, and I told her how grateful I was for her and our friendship.  OK pause… damn dust in here!

Hearing she had passed was shocking and devastating, but I felt her pushing me to remember our last time.  She was my friend, and she changed me forever.

06/2016

Good afternoon,

First and foremost, I would like to extend my gratitude for the opportunity to speak with you all today.  Just last year, I was sitting in this audience, listening to brave women tell their stories, resonating so deeply for me.  I knew immediately that my story had a purpose, and that I wanted to share it on a bigger level.

Domestic Violence is a thief of normalcy, peace, and lives.  As a survivor, I would like to share some of my story with you guys, there is enough to fill a book, but I will try and stay on track here. Before I dig in to all of that, I would like to review some of the many staggering statistics with you:

Shockingly, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime… look around you, 1 in 4, and that is based on reported statistics.

Out of those 1 in 4, and 1 in 7, those numbers make up some of the 41% of all homicides in Virginia being related to domestic violence.

And the children, the children that are exposed to domestic violence, are at an increased risk of also being abused and neglected in these situations.  The boys become 3 times more likely to be abusers, and 50% of the girls will become victims as adults.

It is appalling to say the least. And we have to break this cycle.

I have talked about my journey openly, to anyone who wants to know, and even some that don’t.  I joke that I could talk to a rock for a couple hours and enjoy doing it lol. But sometimes, finding your voice is one of the hardest parts of surviving.

You see, domestic violence is not limited to physical violence.  In my case, my knight in shining armor started in with control through manipulation.  He would, for example, buy me clothes that I wouldn’t have picked for myself in a million years.  But as a gift, I couldn’t be rude and not wear them.  He was just being nice after all.  He would scorn me for buying the wrong groceries, like 2% milk versus fat-free saying we needed to be healthier, and then would throw away things he didn’t allow.  Small things that never seemed “that bad” at the time. He then began to alienate me from certain friends until in the end, I had one friend left.  This continued escalating until parts of who I was, disappeared all together.  My vivacious nature slowly hid in his shadow.  My very best friend will tell you that I was even brainwashed by him.  Financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, professionally – he destroyed and devastated every aspect of my life.

I just wanted to please him, the highs were magical and I couldn’t let them go, thinking I would never find them again, but the lows, they were absolute hell.  After a few years the physical violence began, and his need for control intensified.  I was help up and choked by my neck, slammed on to a pointed surface causing a mild concussion, pushed against walls, and cabinets resulting in back trauma and once had to pull about 20 shards of glass out of my legs when I refused to engage with him in yet another battle and he proceeded to launch everything that was breakable in our bedroom.  I was picked up by a detective once, running down the street away from his vehicle, after his attempt in breaking my arm, but I was too scared to report him.

His response when the rage would subside “why do you make me do this to you?” Talk about emotional damage, this was my fault?

Our physical wounds heal, but not the mental and emotional damage.  It is much tougher to overcome. I was ashamed, scared, anxiety ridden, and I blamed myself.  On top of all that he was doing, I would lower myself more by defending him by saying “well it’s not like he has punched me in the face”  Because that would be “real” abuse, right?

And then there were the kids, they were not spared from his abuse, mentally or physically.  I would intervene as often as possible to my own demise, but I could not always be there.  The anguish and guilt I felt was almost as big as my hopelessness.  I didn’t know how to get out.  I had no money, no resources, and no one really knew.  Those on the outside who did, and to the majority of people in general, felt it was my fault for staying, “why don’t you just leave?” people would ask. I knew that even if not for me, I had to do it for my son. I could not let him continue to be another statistic, or worse, turn in to him.

Slowly the the fights became more frequent, I wasted away physically, losing over 30 pounds at one point, and I knew that something had to change or I would die in that house – at his hands. Or even scarier for me, to live with something happening to my son, I wouldn’t survive it.

I began to unravel over the other women.  I knew of at least 7 other affairs, including a year long girlfriend I found out about after the fact, and a two year relationship with a married woman.  The lies and insults were detrimental.  He made me believe I was crazy, until I finally realized that I had to stop letting him.  I had to stand up on whatever strength I could draw from and I had to get my son and I out.  Was I going to let him grow up to become this man?  I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself for that.

Of course as I became aware of the moves I would have to make, I knew he would not be one to be left, nor go down without a fight.  Emergency court orders came, but attaining them and praying they wouldn’t push him over the edge, were hard. Sadly only 23.5 percent of those who are killed, had a protective order.  It took me about 2 years to break free, but I did.  I slipped and fell a lot, but I forced myself to plow ahead, even if not for myself at times, I stayed strong for my son.

If I had known about the resources that Samaritan House and other organizations provide, it would have felt god-sent.  Things that you wouldn’t even think of, like court companions.  You see, then, victims were not allowed to bring in friends for support against their tormentors.  My one friend had to wait outside, while I had to walk in court alone and find the courage to tell the judge what was happening to me and my son, knowing there was a grave danger as soon as I walked outside.  Having an advocate could have changed so much for us.

Samaritan house provides that, and so much more to those who need them.  Samaritan House began in 1984, and uses the scattered site homes idea, this allows for individual homes throughout VB to be able to provide shelter for women and men, as well as mothers with sons.  Some of the current services and programs that Samaritan House offers include;

-A 24 crisis hotline which means victims can reach out for help whenever they need it.

-Emergency and permanent housing

-A comprehensive victim advocacy program, including community education and training.

-Therapeutic services for children and youth, immediately or even years later.

Now this is huge, I took my son to therapy, because he never wanted to open up to me.  He would say “mama, I don’t want to make you cry more.” Heart breaking right? I knew he needed to talk to someone though, and he stayed in counseling for a long time.  Over the years, he has been able to express things to me, some of which I never knew.  It is tragic on ever level to know that he had to go through what we did.  The therapeutic services are so so necessary for these children, it really can save them.

From getting out, to staying out, to beginning the healing process and survival journey, they are dedicated to stopping the cycle of abuse.

That word, survival… being a survivor has a lot of meaning for me.  A few years ago my son and I were having a conversation.  He is an awesome kid and a stellar human despite all of the negativity he has faced in his life.  We were discussing religion and faith and I said to him “you know, sometimes, in my darkest days, my Faith and you were the only things that pulled me through” and he responded with, “yea mom, because you are a survivor”

As innocent as he is, it nearly dropped me to my knees, because for him to see me that way, meant two things.  One that I was becoming successful as a survivor and two, that moving forward I better be sure to own it.  His belief in me, and showing me that I was, I am a survivor, is why I am speaking with you all today.  I tell my story openly, honestly and freely.  It isn’t always comfortable for people to hear, but that is exactly why it needs to be discussed.

Victims need advocates, support, love and strength.  The movement #why I stayed, has thousands of explanations, but they all had the same result.  We all stayed.  Imagine leaving all of that bad and coming out in to a world full of judgment and condemnation.  We hear of women being victimized in the news and on social media, but instead of lending support and love, they are addressed with ugliness, scrutiny, and lack of compassion.  ”she is getting what she deserves for staying” is a frequent sentiment.

Do you think leaving that bad of a situation where you are forced to bob and weave through life seems easy or more safe when the world you are entering is unknown and often vicious?

I implore you, as a call to action, in every day life, and always with a victim of domestic violence, stand with them, do not silence the little voice they may be able to muster.  The courage it takes just to act, to speak, to seek help should be noticed and revered.  If you don’t know how to help, or what to say then connect them to a resource that can help, or seek some advice on how to help yourself.  Leave the judgment and condescendence behind.  Lift them up and be love, you may just save their life.

In closing, please keep in mind that not all domestic violence is physical violence.  If anyone is creating negativity in your life by means of manipulation, control, anger, neglect, or other, it is not okay.  There are resources to help you and your family.  From housing to job placement assistance, transportation, children’s groups and advocacy, court accompaniment and more, Samaritan House knows domestic violence affects your entire world and will do anything they can to help stop the violence and keep you safe.

Lastly, do not shame or silence the victims, domestic violence should not be a secret.  Help them by lifting their voice, providing support and suffocating the problem.

 

Survival is possible.