For 2016, as part of a guest series on the Herbal Papaya blog, we'll be taking you through real stories from survivors and fighters on what it means to be empowering, inspirational, or simply human.
Next in the series, we have Janet from Freedom Within relating her tragic story about domestic abuse and how she came out stronger on the other side of it. After she managed to get out of her own abusive relationship, she became a mentor and advocate at Verbal Abuse Journals to help others who are going through the same thing today. This is Janet's story.
Life is a journey. We are born small and helpless and grow up to adults. Along the way we learn to walk and then run. We have pit falls and victories. All are a part of our journey through life and each experience shapes us into the person we are today.
My journey started like many others. I was born to a mother and father. I went to school, made friends and lost friends. I had my first date and graduated from high school. All normal steps in this journey called life. One day I stepped out into the world on my own. I was eager to take on new adventures as a young adult. The world was my oyster.
While I explored who I was as a young woman I met a young man. He was tall, dark and handsome and I fell for him immediately. We started to date and soon fell in love. Life was good.
Then one day I noticed something. I noticed that sometimes he talked to me differently than he did others. He was short with his words, cold in his demeanour and none of it made me feel good. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was going on so I put it down to him having a bad day.
Time went on and we moved in together. I was ecstatic! Our journey together had taken a new turn. We were committed and I wondered if one day wedding bells would be a part of our journey.
Then I hit a roadblock. Suddenly he yelled at me more, he threw things and glared at me for no reason. I tried to make things better. I thought if I loved him more his anger would go away, but that didn't work. One day he crushed my fingers in a door. He said it was because I wasn't listening.
But I was listening. I just didn't want onions in my omelet. I didn't understand.
I lied when people saw my injury.
I felt so much shame.
This wasn't what love was supposed to be like.
I believed him when he said it wouldn't happen again.
It wouldn't, right?
Soon we bought a house and then our journey did bring those wedding bells and babies soon followed. I loved him. I believed in him and thought it would all be ok.
But it wasn't.
I was pushed into walls, horrible names were screamed at me, I was forced to have sex, had chairs and tools thrown at me and pushed down a flight of stairs when I was pregnant. My hair was falling out and my weight was dropping at an alarming rate. I was dying inside. My breaking point was when he started to hurt my children. My girls were emotionally, verbally and mentally abused. My son was physically abused from 16 months old on.
I knew I had to get out. I tried many times to kick him out, but he kept coming back. I was drowning. I, like a billion women before me, did not know how to break free.
Breaking free from Domestic Violence is not easy to do. I found it to be the hardest part of my journey. Abusive people are not abusive from the beginning of a relationship. They are often charming and attentive. The abuse is slow and insidious and you don't even really know it is happening until you are in the thick of a beating.
Your self-esteem is battered and you feel so much shame by the time you realise you need to leave. Abusers have you believing the abuse is your fault. You think no one will believe you because he or she is nice in public. It's behind closed doors when they hurt you. They isolate you from family and friends so you feel you have no one to turn to for help. Over 90% of survivors face financial hurdles when trying to leave. Either funds are withheld from them, or debts are created in their name. Often a Survivor faces homelessness if they leave.
Abusers are also very manipulative and will make promises to change. Survivors believe their abuser and wishfully think that this time it will be different. This time they will have the partner they had in the beginning of the relationship. The thing is that person was just wearing a mask. They are not really charming and sweet. They only wear that mask to keep you in the cycle. That mask will always slip and the abuse will start again.
On average a woman will leave 7 times before the relationship is finally over. It takes strength and a good support system to break free from an abusive relationship. It took time and careful planning, but I did break free in the end. I built a support system of friends, family and professionals and I created a Safety Plan.
I now live a life free of abuse which is such a blessing. I can laugh again. I have gained my weight back and my hair no longer falling out. There are still tough days but I no longer fear for my life on a daily basis. A few years ago I started working with other survivors of Domestic Violence. I realized that the specifics may be different for each of us, but we are all on the same journey. Having someone else walking with you, someone who can validate what you are going through is so important to healing.
I supervise a Survivor Mentor Program through an online organization called Verbal Abuse Journals. I match Mentors (women who have been there) with male or female survivors of abuse who are either still in the relationship or have just left. It is a free service and they communicate via email for as long as the survivor needs. It is rewarding work and I am happy to reach out to every survivor I meet. Abusers isolate you and make you feel worthless. You think no one cares. Through my work I want all survivors to know they are not alone, that someone does care and support is available.
Janet B is a Survivor Mentor Supervisor at Verbal Abuse Journals, where they offer free support via email to people who are in or have just left an abusive relationship. Please visit their website to sign up for a Mentor.
Find out more about Janet and how you can get involved in supporting the end to domestic violence on her website, Freedom Within: My Journey through Domestic Violence & PTSD, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, & LinkedIn.