“It took all the strength I had not to fall apart…” ~ Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive)

So, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and although I’ve written about this before, it’s such an important problem to understand and address with so many myths abounding about it.

Let’s take a look-see at some facts which clearly illustrate what an epidemic DV truly is:

  • 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner in the U.S. Total number: 10 million a year. Now take a look at this, peeps: by the time you read through this blog post which I’m going to gauge at 5 minutes, 100 people will have been physically abused by the one person in the world who is supposed to love them. And remember…I said PEOPLE, not women. BOTH men and women experience DV with 1:4 women and 1:9 men experiencing some level of physical violence in their lifetimes. That’s a scary thought.
  • Domestic violence is the #1 leading cause of violent death for women in the U.S. – even more than rape, muggings, and car accidents combined.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year with 90% being an eye-witness. This is heart-breaking to me and we know that kids exposed to DV experience a plethora of behavioral, social, psychological and even physical issues.
  • On average, 3 women are killed by her partner every day (the UK has the same stat). Every. Single. Day. Worldwide, it’s over 50,000 women a year which is about 137 a day. Every. Single. Day.
From The Guardian – the faces of some of the women killed in the UK.

Even scarier? According to an article in TIME: “Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe.” And why? Because COVID has given abusers more tools and more chances to control their victim (COVID doesn’t cause one to be abusive but it can exacerbate abuse). One main thing all abusers do is isolate their victims and the pandemic made this extremely easy to do.

How do we know this for sure? Well, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found this: In Portland, Oregon public schools closed March 16th, 2020 and residents were quarantined at home beginning on March 23rd; soon after, the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks. The same thing happened in San Antonio, Texas. After schools closed on March 20th, 2020 and stay-at-home orders began March 24th, the San Antonio Police Department experienced an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019. And, this trend is happening all over the country.

Excellent book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that tells her story of being in a DV relationship and how she was able to leave. It’s available on amazon.com.

In other words, this already horrible problem is worsening.

When I teach about DV in my classes, one of the first questions my students pose is this: “Why does she stay?” which is something VERY wrong to ask about a DV victim. Couldn’t we also say: “Why did she allow herself to get robbed? Hit by a drunk driver? Mugged?” There is no other crime, except rape, where the victim is more often than not blamed and we wonder why victims are reluctant to seek help. (You know, it’s also interesting that the pronoun ‘she’ is always used when asking about victims…men who experience DV are a ‘hidden’ group).

So, I use the Power and Control Wheel to explain why it’s so difficult for victims to leave (this wheel was developed in 1984 for female victims and work has been done on a wheel for male victims which is similar in most regards):

Research Gate
  • Being intimidated and constantly reminded that this person is one to fear (including showing weapons, breaking things, and creating an atmosphere where there’s always the threat of violence).
  • Being beaten down emotionally and made to feel as if they don’t deserve anything better.
  • Being shut off from their family and friends and having every part of their life controlled from computer use, to miles driven in a day, to trackers on phones.
  • Being told that ‘everyone’ has problems, that the abuse wasn’t ‘that bad’ and making light of it, or that the victim caused it themselves.
  • Using the kids: if anyone told me to do something or my son would get hurt, I’d do it in heartbeat. Hands down.
  • Using male privilege in that the man is ‘king of his castle’ and even using scripture to justify the abuse.
  • Using financial abuse by controlling all of the money. You need money to leave and to live.
  • Living in an atmosphere of constant threats. “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” And this is a viable threat since around 75% of victims who die were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended.

There are other reasons why the victim finds it extremely dangerous and difficult to leave:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Trauma bonding which is experiencing powerful feelings it’s difficult to make sense of since the abuse is also alternated with kindness. Also, the person the victim fell in love with is still clear in their mind.
  • The hope for change is strong, and the love from the ‘love-bombing’ stage is powerful. At first, this person is your soulmate! The one person who understands you! The one person who reflects back what they know you want to see! The one person you can confide all your secrets in! And then, after the person has completely fallen in love, the devaluation begins and abuse comes into the relationship…just bit by bit…until the victim is trapped. BTW: love-bombing is not LOVE on the part of the abuser! It’s a manipulative technique used to trap victims.
  • Societal denial (“But he’s a nice man!”)
  • Threats of retaliation (threats of custody; threats to withhold money; threats to interfere with the person’s job; etc.)
  • Access to a shelter that is available, can take kids, is accessible for those that are deaf, disabled, etc. A study in 2017 showed that “…while more than 72,000 victims of domestic violence received services on a single day, nearly 12,000 requests were turned away because programs lacked the resources to help.” Also, shelters are cutting staff due to a lack of resources/funding.

So, are there signs that someone could be an abuser? Red flags? Oh yeah. However, when someone is falling in love, the emotions supercede the rational side of our minds and we either don’t see these signs clearly or rationalize the signs away.

  • Jealousy – “He loves me so much he can’t stand me to be with anyone else!” 🙄
  • Controlling behavior – picking out clothes, looking at phones, insisting on shared social media accounts, etc.
  • Isolation – ‘We only need each other.’
  • Blames others for problems – nothing is ever the abusers fault and they are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions. However, they insist others take total responsibility for anything they perceive was wrong.
  • Hypersensitivity – I once had a partner who called me some pretty horrible names (along with some threats) that I ‘had’ to forgive him for since we were committed to one another, all while being chided for being sensitive. However, when I finally got so angry during an argument and called him a name (which wasn’t a curse word), I never saw him again. Go figure.
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Use force during arguments or ‘playful’ use of it during sex
  • Verbal abuse – names, put-downs, etc.
  • Sudden mood swings – from nice to angry and back again. When I experienced this, I was simply told “I have an anger issue.” Ya think?
  • History and/or threats of violence
  • Also, abusers are also more likely to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Anyhoot, that’s just some info on DV that is so important to understand and so important to share. No one deserves to be abused and this isn’t an individual or a couple problem. It’s a WE problem. The annual cost for DV in the U.S. is estimated to be around $12 billion which includes health care, counseling, emergency services, work missed, etc. There’s also the threat of others being caught in the middle of incidents and 3/4 of victims are harassed at work by their abuser.

Just writing this today has made me sad because whenever I talk about DV, it’s ma’s face I see. Ma was young and vulnerable and heart broken when she met R and he used all of that to his advantage. I saw ma with black eyes, bruises all along her arms/legs/face, with internal injuries, and the list goes on. Plus, I know me and sis didn’t see it all…she tried to cover up as much as she could.

Ma!

I also saw ma go from a vibrant, funny woman to a shell of who she had previously been. To survive R, she drank with him and now has liver damage and esophageal varices that pose a risk to her. For 28 years, the light in ma’s eyes dimmed and a lot of times it was completely out. After she left R and was safe, she slowly started to blossom. Started to live again. Enjoy again. She’s made friends and goes places and is believes in herself more and more. Of course she carries scars from her marriage to R…how could she not? She lived with a monster for 3 decades and was abused throughout. But, ma is strong and has come through on the other side with a new lease on life. We’re so proud of her!

So that’s why I’m passionate about teaching this to my students and writing about it to you, my sweet peeps. This is an epidemic no vaccines or store closings are going to fix. And the saddest part of all? Long after COVID is under control, women will still die everyday because of DV. Kids will be damaged for life. And both men and women will experience assault from the one person they wanted to love forever.

Kristi xoxo

“Oh, It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night” ~ John Lennon & Paul McCartney

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So, yesterday sucked balls (for some reason I really love this term).  I’m having a bit of a tough week, and yesterday I pretty much lost it.  I’m missing my son and his girlfriend since they are in their own apartment now…I’m working really hard to get my house in order and have a wrenched back and purple/numb finger to show for it…and this week marks the 3rd anniversary of seeing my nephew for the last time before his death.  Also, this is the exact time that J began making plans to see his ex which started his back and forth abandonments and cheating.

In some ways, I’m really proud of how I’m handling things because not long ago, I would have been much worse.  It shows that I have grown and healed to some extent these past couple of years and that I really am stronger.  But it also brings me back to a place that I never wanted to visit again.

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My sis and I were talking about this last week as we discussed things happening in our quarantined lives.  She’s always worried about me…she was my protector growing up and still plays that role today.  I know she’s proud of how far I’ve come since that fucking breakdown 3 years ago, but she also knows once you experience something like that, there’s always a chance of going back.  I have to agree.

Anniversaries are tough, aren’t they?  The anniversary of someone’s death.  The anniversary of a divorce.  The anniversary of a marriage or relationship that failed. The anniversary of a tough time in your life.  As much as we like to put things behind us, they still have a tendency to haunt.

For some reason, I find myself saying “I’m Sorry” an awful lot lately.  It’s almost like I’m going back to a somewhat ‘weaker’ me I thought I had all but buried.  Maybe since these anniversaries are here though,  I find myself going back to being a ‘people pleaser’, just  to ensure I don’t get hurt again.  Hmmm…I don’t know.

One of my precious students messaged me last month and asked me something I’ve had other students deal with as well:  she had been sexually abused as a child and was worried about having a child someday herself.  How would she protect them?  Would she be able to recognize when something was wrong?  How could she open the road of communication early so her child would feel comfortable sharing things with her?  Other students who have been physically abused worry they might end up repeating the generational cycle they were in, that their own parents lived.  I’ve had female students tell me they will never marry or live with man because they are so scared they’ll be in a  domestically violent situation like their mom was.

So, I tell them it’s understandable how these serious past issues are affecting their present.  I talk to them about being conscious of the damage these situations caused will help them in stopping these cycles.  After all, you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge (Dr. Phil 🙄).   I also recommend they develop a support system of friends and family who are aware of the issues, see a counselor to learn how to put ‘safeguards’ in place, talk to their partners about their fears, and to make themselves understand they don’t have to be like those who hurt them.  They can make a cognizant decision to be the kind of parent or partner they want to be, and anyone, with enough ‘want’, truly can break this cycle of abuse.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

We are all in cycles…patterns…dances…whatever terminology works best for you.  I know I am.  I fall for someone and immediately I’m so elated and excited since I love to love (that sounds like a great title for a song), and I want to share with them, be with them, and get to know all I can about them!  Falling in love excites me; it opens my heart and so much flows from it.  I think this can be attributed to the feeler inside of me…the empath.  This sensitive person I am who when I feel something, I feel it strong and want to share every single bit of myself with that person.  The problem?  It can be hard to keep up!  I know it can be overwhelming.  I know I’m very excitable.  Well…I know I’m bipolar.

I also know that when I’m around others, I try very hard to be the person who never rocks the boat.  It’s almost like Everyone Loves Raymond…I want everyone to love me!  And I guess I’ve learned, through various life experiences, that to do that I need to acquiesce to the wants of others.  To make sure they’re happy. Satisfied.  “If I’m good enough and sweet enough and act happy enough, this person or these people, will have to like me!”  For some reason, I associate any criticism, hearty disagreement, or conflict with the idea the person has ceased to approve of me, and for those of us who are sensitive ruminators who tend to personalize things, this is terrible for us!  As a result, we do what we say we won’t do again:  push our own needs down, do all we can for the other person, envelop them with a love that’s very hard to return, and then take blame for when things go wrong.  I don’t like this dance and I’m trying so hard to change the steps.  But when this is the only way you’ve danced for 50 years, that’s easier said than done.

This fucking bipolar.  I know so many people have it much much worse.  I truly understand that and I thank God every single night about how grateful I am for the blessings I have.  But I still hate this.  It’s so easy for people to say, “Of course I understand you’re bipolar”, but it’s not so easy to understand that if I am more emotional or sensitive to words and behavior than others are, it’s because of this brain illness.  Unless you’ve been there, how do you describe what it feels like to have your brain pushing you one way, when you really want to go the other.  Pushing you to have that emotional, hypersensitive reaction instead of letting you tone it down to what is more appropriate.  What’s more realistic.  You’re fighting an opponent that’s very very difficult to beat.

Maybe I need to put some of those masks back on that I tore off a couple of years ago.  I am starting to understand masks can be a good thing too and we really do wear them more than we think.  Sometimes I say to myself, “OK, Kristi, who do you want to be today?”  When I get into another relationship, will I be able to put on a mask that says: “I’m a bit reserved because I don’t want to give so much that you have the power to destroy me.”  I wonder what that mask would look like?

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There are so many ‘anniversaries’ for me in the spring and summer:  my grandparents dying, 2 husbands leaving, 2 weddings (and no, the weddings and leavings were not necessarily the same people…and yes, I understand this aspect of my life is a freaking soap opera), my nephew, J, my breakdown, etc.  It’s impossible not re-visit these.  To make yourself forget.  And so many of these bring me pain.  Remembering my sweet nephew who was killed on a Naval ship continues to bring tears to my eyes.  Looking back at my weddings and remembering the excitement of starting a new life with this person, and then trying to understand how the marriages fizzled out like they did.  I smile when I remember my grandparents, but get choked up too after all of these years since I wish they were here to hug and talk too.  Having to go back to all J did and trying to still build myself up from being torn down like I was.  And remembering that breakdown.  That fucking breakdown.  Actually, I’m reminded of it everyday since I have scars that mark the time.

I’m going to try to put on a ‘strong’ mask for this summer.  I’m not going to be fake or go back to being someone I’m not.

I just need to consciously remember I’m capable of handling anything that might come my way.  Old memories…new situations…new people.  I’m not going to have the mask completely cover my face though.  I’m going to have more air holes so I can breathe.   More flexibility in how it fits.  A better representation of who I am compared to masks I used to wear.

So anniversaries…memories…do you worst.  I’ve got the ability to handle them now.  And to be honest with you, I’m pretty proud of that.

Kristi xoxo

Let ’em Say It.

So, my sister and I were yacking yesterday (have you noticed that I’m usually talking with someone?) and we started discussing words that people are very apprehensive to say.  Let’s take a look-see:

  • suicide
  • domestic violence
  • cutting
  • depression
  • abuse
  • rape
  • molestation

And the list could go on.

The reason we got on this subject was that we were talking about the Netflix series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”  This little 8 year old boy was brutally murdered by his mother and her boyfriend and suffered horrific abuse all of his life.  The most heart-breaking thing about this poor child was how social services and law enforcement let him down time after time after time, allowing this abuse to continue.  Once, a social worker actually told little Gabriel to quit lying about being hurt by his mom.  Wow.

As my sis (T) and I were talking about this, I told her how incredibly hard this documentary is to watch and how, at that point, I hadn’t finished the last couple of episodes.  So we had this conversation:

“Are you going to finish watching it?”
“Yes, T. But it’s hard to get through…it’s upsetting me so much.”
“Well guess what? What he went through is harder than what you’re watching.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Kristi, how are we going to stop things like this from happening if we can’t face it or talk about it?”

And she is absolutely right (she loves hearing that from me).  There are so many issues we need to acknowledge, learn to talk about, learn to ask about, but for some reason we turn away from them.  Maybe hoping they’ll go away?

In my classes, I talk about a LOT of ‘icky’ stuff;  after all, I teach Psych and Socio so it’s part of the job.  We talk about everything I listed above, and I know how uncomfortable that makes some of my students.  Many of them have never heard the words being used so freely.  And to be honest with you, some of them are still new to me.

Those of y’all that know me have already heard my mom’s story.  She married her 2nd husband (the fucking asshole…sorry, that’s what I say EVERY TIME I think of him.) when I was in high school and they were married for 28 years.  During those 28 years, he beat her, strangled her, slammed her head against the ceramic tile in the bathtub more times than she can count, and mentally tortured her until she turned to alcohol to dull some of the pain.  It took so much to do so that she developed cirrhosis of the liver and has esophageal varices.  She finally came to me at 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 13th, 2011 (yep, I remember it to the minute) and said this:  “You said you would help me and I can’t take it anymore.  He’s going to kill me if I stay.”  Hubby 3 and I called the police, got a restraining order, got his stuff out, installed an alarm system, etc.  You know, T and I spent 28 years trying our best to help her, but like many of you know, until the person is ready, all you can do is be there the best you can.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

To this day, there are still people in our family that won’t use the words domestic violence in regards to what mom went through.  They won’t say that R beat the shit out of her, once to the point where she was throwing up blood in the ER with her back looking like someone water colored it purple (I will never forget that sight as long as I live).   They don’t want to admit that mom had black eyes more times they can remember (but chose to ignore), because talking about DV just isn’t OK.  In fact, some of them are actually friends with this monster on social media (Yes, he is a monster.  His 3rd wife died of a stroke she suffered after R threw her against a wall).  Well…I guess ignoring it makes it go away right?  (By the way, mom has been sober now for over a decade…T and I are so proud of her!).

NO!  Things like abuse, rape, suicide, and molestation thrive in secrecy.  And for years, my sis and I kept the ‘secret’ too.  We didn’t want to face what R was doing to mom and mom wouldn’t admit to anything;  but we knew we finally had too.  We HAD too.  We had to let the secret out so mom would know we were there for her, that we knew what was happening.  Mom talks about it now and is open with her experiences.  It’s no longer just ‘something in C’s marriage’, or ‘R is just crazy’, etc.; it was ABUSE.  Serious abuse that could have killed her, but by the grace of God, didn’t.

Mom’s guilty of sugar-coating things too though.  After my formal diagnosis of bipolar, she would tell her friends about “Kristi’s problem” , “Kristi’s condition.”  Finally, I said this to her (and I wish you could hear my screechy voice to get the full effect), “MA. I have bipolar.  I’m fucking mentally ill.  Get it?” She laughed…and yes, she got it.

Take suicide.  Sometimes people will ask me, “What was it like when you tried to hurt yourself?”  And I say, “You mean when I attempted suicide?”  Say what it is, man!  It’s OK to use the word.  I didn’t try to hurt myself.  I tried to KILL myself.  There’s a difference, isn’t there?

Yep.  I’ve also cut.  A lot.  In fact, if I EVER get a new partner (that’s a slim chance, peeps), I’m going to be most worried about him seeing the scars.  Anyhoot, I’m not going to lie about the scars people see.  “Oh my God…were you in an accident?”  “No.  I cut myself.  I’m bipolar, I was going through a terrible breakdown, and I used a razor blade and cut myself numerous times.  Luckily, I’m doing better now…thanks for asking.”  People look gobsmacked when I say that, but hey, it’s the truth.

How is it a little boy can be fatally abused while scores of people obviously turned their heads?  How can molestation go on for years in a household when there are obvious signs to what’s happening?  Why is it we say “How ya doing?” as we walk by someone who is looking down, instead of saying “Hey, you look really depressed.  Is something going on with you?  Would you like to talk?”

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

One of my students came to me a few months ago, and I knew she was trying to tell me something, but just couldn’t get it out.  Knowing she’d been depressed, I said this:  “Are you thinking about suicide?”  She literally gasped and started crying.  She said: “You said it.  You said suicide.  You SEE me.”  And yes, I did.

I know these words…these issues…these horrible problems are hard to discuss.  Uncomfortable to talk about.  Not ‘polite’ conversation.  And here’s what I say about that (in me and my sister’s words):  “Who fucking cares?!”

If we don’t ask a friend about her bruise, how will she know we are there to help and support her (or him) if it is abuse?  If we don’t look in the eyes of a child who is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse and ask them if anyone is touching them inappropriately, how will they find the strength to share their ‘secret?’  If we don’t use the words rape when a drunk girl is assaulted at a party while passed out, how can we ever punish the offenders and make sure they can’t hurt another girl again for a long time?  If we see a teen (or an old lady of 53) with multiple bandaids in odd areas and never ask if they are cutting themselves, how will they know others are suffering that same compulsion too?

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Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

My God…think about this.  We can’t use these uncomfortable words, so the consequence is to keep our heads buried while people continue to be hurt?  Really?  I’m sure when mom hears the words Domestic Violence, it isn’t as bad as when R had her on the floor with his hands around her neck, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe.  Right?

For fucks sake (I only use that word to make ma cringe and my sis laugh every time they read my blog), we have to address these issues head on.  Not use the vocabulary that tiptoes around the problem, but words that lay it out there bare.  Naked.  For all of us to see.  Because until we do that, grasshoppers, little sweet Gabriel isn’t going to be the only victim to be let down by us all.

Kristi xoxo