The following words are adapted from a speech given by M, a participant in REACH’s Community Program and Survivor Speakers Bureau, at the 2016 Reach for the Stars Gala last Saturday. She brought a ballroom full of people to their feet with her courageous words, and we wanted to share them here for those who weren’t able to attend, or who wanted to read them more closely.
I am a survivor of domestic violence and rape. I am 48 years old. I was married to my abuser for 20 years. My abuser was my husband and the father of my children. I am here today to talk to you about violence in families. In talking to you, my hope is to give you a deeper understanding into domestic violence. I would like people to know it is possible to get out of these types of relationships and to know that it’s ok to talk about abuse and ask questions.
It actually took me a long time to realize that I was in an abusive relationship. I was a nurse for 20 years and I asked every patient I admitted, probably thousands, if they were being hurt at home. I never once asked myself the same question. I didn’t recognize what was happening in my marriage as abuse.
My husband wasn’t an evil man. He was someone I loved deeply. My children loved him. He was someone who was there when all my kids were born. Over the years he became an angrier and darker person at home. But I always made excuses for him. He worked a lot, he was tired, we had money problems, he was depressed, he had to work through the trauma of a bad childhood.
In the beginning of our relationship the instances of his being violent were spaced far apart and he was always deeply sorry after. And I definitely appreciated the romantic gestures that followed like a long, handwritten apology note promising me it would be better, or a dozen red roses. I felt I loved him, I married him and I would help him work through his anger. I had 5 pregnancies spaced over 8 years, I worked 24 hours or more a week, nights, as a nurse. I remember just trying to get through the day. Never really noticing or examining how the violence had become more pervasive and severe in my marriage. I can tell you it got worse after we had kids and the final few years of my marriage were a nightmare. But it is all a bit blurry. I was working hard to be a good wife and good mom. I felt like if I could explain to him how much he was hurting me and how bad it was for the kids, he would finally get it and stop. I actually wrote him letters about it. He would glance through them and always rip them up. And instead of leaving him then and taking care of myself, I would try to think of different ways to help him so he could recognize what he was doing.
I don’t remember when it was that I became such a “doormat.” I think it happened slowly over the years. He was in charge of our life and our marriage and I had lost myself. He literally controlled everything. I had lost contact with family and friends. He didn’t want us to be around other people and I didn’t want to leave the kids home alone with him for long periods. He didn’t hit them but he would get angry and irritable and I had to protect them from that. I made excuses to my family and friends why I couldn’t be at events and eventually they stopped asking, thinking I didn’t care. I became very isolated. I felt alone and guilty I couldn’t help him. Those feelings led into a deep hopelessness. I was very despondent and couldn’t imagine being able to leave him. What got me to the point of reaching out was seeing his anger shift to our kids as they got older. I didn’t want him to hurt my kids and I didn’t want them growing up thinking this way of life was ok.
I made a connection with someone at REACH and spoke with her on and off for years. REACH never pressured me to leave my husband. I worked up the courage and made that decision on my own. At first, I was a little suspicious there was a quota and maybe they needed me to leave him to meet their quota. But that was not the case. REACH stuck with me through the entire process. They got me and the kids connected to therapy and other services, and helped me think and work through my options.
The decision to leave was difficult. I had to take a leave of absence from my job to take care of my kids. When I wasn’t able to return to work I lost my job of 20 years, I lost my home; the kids and I lived in a shelter. During this time REACH remained in close contact and very supportive, they helped me with grocery cards so I could buy food for my children, they helped me with Christmas gifts for my kids. The help did not stop after I left him. Even today I attend weekly support group at REACH, where I’ve made friends who have been through similar situations and have kids around the same age. We continue to support each other.
My ex-husband was charged with 8 felony counts, which meant a lot of court appearances for me. When I had to go to court someone from REACH always went with me. When I say they went with me to court, it doesn’t just mean they picked me up and brought me. They took care of all my needs, made sure I had water, lunch, they would even stand in front of me to block his view when he would try to stare me down. One time I remember in particular, Maria from REACH left court dressed in heels and a suit and took my son to play baseball in a nearby park while Jenna from REACH stayed with me at the courthouse. They thought of everything, and were very respectful and kind to me when I wasn’t used to that. They really treated me nicely after a period when I wasn’t used to being treated nicely.
REACH helped me to see that I wasn’t guilty of anything and to recognize the isolation and guilt were not my fault. It was hard to leave him and it took a long time to get through those feelings, especially the hopelessness, but I have. I feel like I have given my children the example of not being in an abusive relationship. Today they are all getting good grades, and my oldest is applying to colleges.
And also importantly I gave myself a chance at a happy healthy life.
I no longer dread walking into my own home, or fear the “where are you” phone call that inevitably came if I got stuck late at work, stopped at a store on the way home or even went to visit my father when he was dying. Today I’ve received a scholarship to go back to school and I have spoken at the State House advocating for the rights of domestic violence survivors in the court system. Although my court process is now over, this is my way of helping others who are going through similar situations. REACH was with me through every step of this process and they are a big part of the reason I’m here now and why my children and I are doing so well. I am here tonight to say thank you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, help is available. Call REACH’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-899-4000. Click here to learn more about the supportive services REACH provides.