Brooke Axtell, Domestic Abuse Speech, 2015 Grammys: http://youtu.be/vfzRV_ofTlo
You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be. – Marianne Williamson.
Ever since I can remember I have been hyper organized. In fact, I used to be called anal retentive. I laugh at the thought of that now because my life has changed so incredibly much since then. When I reflect on the young woman who was so fastidious with everything I see fear. In an attempt to fight back I tried to control. What I learned was that I have no control. It was an illusion and I felt like such a failure for trying so hard to beat an invisible opponent that could never lose.
A shift happened in my life when I left my abusive husband. I finally saw my borderline OCD for what it truly was. An all-consuming attempt to cover up the real lack of control I had been living with for so long in my marriage. My desire to keep things looking “together” for everyone else was a failure. I was a fraud and one hell of an actress.
I left and let as much of it go as I possibly could; I let go of the husband, the career, the abuse, the money, the fancy car, the clothes, my home, and my friends. I left it all behind, and with it I left my need to control. My attempt to create the facade of “normal” just kept me bound to the abuse. If I had exposed the truth of my situation I felt like I would look a failure for not succeeding in my relationship. In trying so hard to win I lost.
I have been searching for clarity ever since my divorce years ago. If asked what I am looking for in my life, I respond with one word, clarity. Unfortunately, most days I live with what I refer to as brain fog. My thoughts are disjointed and so very far from the woman who had once run an empire in a busy city. I couldn’t figure out how I could have gone from being so hyper-aware and organized to this. I decided that I would passively seek for clarity. I had no idea what end was up, but I just knew if I stopped trying to force everything, it would present itself to me at the right time.
I didn’t know how to seek clarity. I thought if I read books, took classes, and sought guidance that I would finally come into it in my own time. I found myself always looking for some sort of clear channel that would tell me what the hell to do. It never came, and so I waited and attempted to sit with the unknown. Moving forward on my foggy journey was hard because I had no idea where I was going. I wasn’t able to look at the big picture. Starting over is hard, especially when you have a lot of baggage to unpack. I was on the one step at a time plan, and it was here that I learned to rely on my faith.
It took me many years to see that I wasn’t gaining clarity, but learning patience. I finally understood clarity when I stopped looking for it, and decided to be it. If I had taken time to focus on my inner self rather than just keeping busy (in a lame attempt to hide the fact that I had no idea where I was going) I may have realized sooner that it was futile. You can only become clear when you are able to sit and just be. No journey. No seeking. No controlling. Just me, myself, and I, sitting very quietly and listening.
The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. – Milan Kundera
I escaped my abusive marriage nine years ago this month. I didn’t celebrate though for I have taught myself not to look back. A silent acknowledgement of a job well done at this point in my journey is all that I need. When I first left I never thought that I would make it to this point in my personal development. I have arrived at a place where I have gained hard learned wisdom. It has taken tenacity and sheer willpower to keep believing that I would come out on the other side of this battle stronger.
Almost everyday I am asked, “How did you do it?” I know that the answer that most are looking for is not what I have to offer though. There is no quick fix to letting go..it takes time. I must tell you that it may not heal all wounds, but will it certainly softens the edges.
Now by no means do I have it all packed together in a nice and neat package. My PTSD is so often beyond my reach, and it can send me reeling at a moments notice.
How do we balance the conscious from the subconscious? How do we find balance there? I believe that it is in learning how to react, or NOT react, to the intruding memories. That is what we have control over. It is in this fine mingling of memory and now that we can create our balance.
Last night I awoke from a bad dream. It was one of those dreams that you continue to have though out the night even when you break your sleep. It just keeps going and it seems so realistic that you are not sure that you are dreaming at all. These dreams can shake you to your core.
In my dream I was reunited with my abusive ex-husband. He found us and I was forced to pretend that I was happy to see him. I found myself back in my former life…one that I have so frequently chosen to forget. In my dream there was no forgetting though. I was in a hyper vigilant state as I slept. I was re-living my past. I was trying to prepare to escape with my kids without him discovering my plan; knowing all to well that if he caught me leaving that would have been the ultimate end for all of us. I was re-living my past reality in my sleep. The past I work so hard on forgetting.
When I woke up I was in a panic, but I went back to sleep and continued to dream. I woke up again having heart palpitations. I was caught between wanting to go back to the dream so that I could finish it out again victorious and staying awake. This continued for hours and it brought up memories and feelings that I haven’t had in a long time. Remember that I have chosen to forget. What did this dream teach me? I believe that this dream was a message. That while I want to forget, I must not become complacent. The scenario of my dream could so easily become my reality if I am not careful. It was an eye opener for me and I really feel that I have been given an angelic warning.
How did I choose to proceed with my day? I laid in my bed and separated the reality of the situation from the dream. I thanked my inner self for allowing me to remember this scenario so that I could remain safe. Then I decided to let it go. There is nothing for me to hold onto. There is no reason for me to cling to the fear of the nightmare. I continue to learn the fine art of forgetting, which by now I know is not really about forgetting at all. It is about letting go. xo Ella
Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. – Herman Hesse
If being thin is the answer. What is the Question? – Emma Woolf
There was an interesting question posed in the midst of World Cup fever this year. Should we be concerned that our young men might develop body image issues as a result of the world’s attention on the magnificent bodies of the male soccer players? Seriously, that just makes me want to scream. The fact that the question was posed is actually good in a backhanded kinda way. It will hopefully cause a discussion in other forums as well. Men are not immune to the pressures of society when it comes to body image. Seriously though? They have nothing on us women.
I read a preview for Emma Woolf’s new book ‘The Ministry of Thin: How the Pursuit of Perfection got out of Control’. She says, “These are the rules: ‘Thou shall not age; thou shall not be ugly; thou shall not be too emotionally open, nor too obviously clever -but being thin trumps them all.'”
I have grown up within our society’s body image bubble, which is much like trying to breathe through sand or walk through quicksand. Women have been dealing with this issue for a really long time. The beauty industry is literally, an all-consuming monster, that has trapped almost everyone. I say, almost, because I do know women and men who have decided not to drink the “Kool Aid” and join that party. Have they really though? Is it really that easy to get away from that voice in the back of your head that whispers to you that you are not good enough? Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not skinny enough. Let’s be honest here…it’s a human condition that most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are not immune to.
It’s a really tough monster to fight. We are constantly fed images of often impossibly perfect women every single day, as though it is our birthright. Then as we grow up under the scrutiny of our parents, our peers, relatives, and society as a whole; the pressure mounts. Every one is hoping that they are blessed with good hair, straight teeth, glowing skin, long legs, and a nice smile, but most importantly are we thin? Where can I get off this train?
Everyone’s idea of perfection is different. For me as a young child, my blonde hair and blue eyes were not interesting to me. I felt like Jan Brady. I always yearned to be different; perhaps Italian with beautiful tan skin, Korean with beautiful long black shiny hair, or French with that impeccably sexy accent . I always wanted to look like anyone other than me. It’s not that I disliked me, actually, everything is good with me. It took a long time to be able to say that I like myself. I really do like myself…But, I still wish I looked better.
Most days I like who stares back at me in the mirror. She even smiles. She would like to be thinner though, as though that would make her happier. It’s a lie though. I bite into the lie most days, but I spit it out as soon as I can. I am so very grateful to be healthy and fit. I started to write this earlier and I had to call bullshit on myself. When I realized how whiney it sounded to be lamenting about body image when I have some friends who are very sick. I feel like an arse writing a piece on body image. As if I have anything to complain about. The truth is when it comes down to it I don’t. However, I think there are many women who can relate to this post and so I am going finish writing it.
Once upon a time, I was too skinny, oddly enough everyone told me how GREAT my emaciated self looked. That was a really unhappy and scary time for me. I realized that the man I had recently married was not who I thought he was. I was stuck, and so in a lame attempt to maintain some control of my life, I was slowly starving myself. Note to self…that doesn’t workout to well in the end.
Today I am on a quest for total self acceptance. It’s a high mountain to scale and anyone who says otherwise is playing you. What does it even mean? To be able to love yourself unconditionally. That is a radical thought to me, and yet, why is it? Probably because we have had it ingrained in our lovely brains that “being thin” is the answer. How can it be the answer when we were never asked the question?
I like myself, but I don’t always feel comfortable in my own skin. It’s like this body almost fits me, but it’s just not quite right. The monster runs deep like a virus. It’s pretty hard not to be brainwashed when the “ideal woman” is actually 8 different women photoshopped together to create one “perfect” looking woman. They morph the best legs, ass, abs, chest, shoulders, neck, and face together. Then they airbrush the photo to a seamless perfection for the cover of a magazine that will in turn continue brainwashing us that we are not quite “right”. Perpetuating the myth to the next generation.
I am giving myself a challenge and it’s really overdo, but one thing at a time I know. For the last 8 years I have been on a journey to my self. I have dug deep, faced demons, loved, lost, mourned, and learned who I am again after so many years in captivity. I feel like my body is secondary to my heart, soul, and mind. Yet I continually let it disrupt the balance that I have in my higher self. The body keeps getting in my way and distracting me from what I should be focusing on. I am going to learn to really accept my self head to toe. I am on a quest to love all the angles and curves that aren’t quite “right”. I am tired of feeling like I am always having a bad body day (akin to a bad hair day). It’s exhausting and the truth is it’s scaring me. What if I can never get to that point? I want to be a strong woman who can say when she is older that she accepts her self…body and soul. I really want to learn to celebrate my female form in all its glory. I brought children into this world through this body. That alone is the most magnificent and miraculous of all events and yet I cried myself to sleep the other night.
So, this is the beginning of a new path on my journey. I am going to really work at loving and accepting my body. I give thanks that I am healthy and that this body has taken me to many foreign lands. It has served me well and instead of criticizing it I should be thanking it. So, what was the question again?
The long road to forgetting is often very painful. I know this road well and it is the reason that I haven’t written much lately. It’s sometimes feels like I am stuck within the incoming and outgoing tides. I am trending water for many people. Life has a way of circling back on us. We forget things that we try to remember, and we remember things that we’d rather forget.
When we talk about our relationships forgetting is almost a moot point. For if you have loved someone and created memories with them, then how can you ever forget them? There are many examples of why you would want to though. Our minds block out some of the traumas that we encounter in life, but not all, and not always forever.
Memories are like snowstorms. They so often begin to appear like snowflakes…so soft and lofty. Then without a moments notice, a barrage of them hit and block your vision.The road ahead once clear and open is suddenly blocked. You are caught up in the whirlwind of the storm. The memories swirling all about. One memory triggers the next and before you realize it you are swept up. The past has once again become your present…at least for the moment.
“Love is so short forgetting so long.”
– Pablo Neruda
It’s a fine line to walk some days. I want to pull from my past so that I can help others.I want my experiences to mean something. To show others that they too can move on. I am sick of so many of my memories though. They are heavy and laden with pain. I have learned and I understand my past, but who really wants to revisit them? I have so much to say, but it comes at a price.
You can journey down the long road of forgetting. You can create new memories that will overshadow the past ones that you so desperately want to leave behind. They key is that you have to want to. Often times our memories are like heavy cloaks. They can be divisive and trick you into thinking that there is a false sense of comfort there within your history.
I don’t like to remember most of it, but there are shining happy moments within the mix that beg to be remembered. How do we sift through it all? How do we pick and choose what to remember and what to leave behind. This is a fine dance, for you cannot forget the bad and remember only the good. That does not serve you.
The word forgiveness comes into play here. Let me make something clear, forgetting and forgiveness do not go hand in hand. You can forgive and let go, but the reality is that the memories are still there. Forgive but not forget…we know that saying well because it is the truth. Simple human conditioning. If only we had access to our control panels.
“Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
In the end it is living forward through your life that will give you the distance that you need. As you move forward your past will get smaller in your rear view mirror. Thank God for perspective. I believe that we must remember it all, as much as we may distaste it, for it prevents us from ever falling back down the same dark hole. It is the medicine which our soul requires to grow. The lessons learned have become our memories and in that we should find some grace.
There is no easy answer here. As humans we must constantly battle our own minds for there is no way out. I call it the long road to forgetting because it truly can feel like it goes on forever. The good news is that it doesn’t. In time it all sifts out and the landscape of your journey will appear brighter. As you learn to replace the negative thoughts for positive ones you will slowly recognize the new reality that you choose for your life. xo Ella
I am a very fair person. I don’t align myself with any political party for I choose to decide on issues. I don’t speak religion, because spirituality is so much more than another organization. When it comes to domestic violence I don’t advocate only for women. The truth is that men make up 40% of all reported victims. Violence is hate and hate doesn’t discriminate.
Today I shared a video on my Facebook page that depicted two actors in a domestic violence situation. In the first part of the video the man got visibly out of line with the woman. The crowd in the park that surrounded the couple were visibly upset. So much so that about 4 women approached the couple and called the man out on his bad behavior and assured the woman that she deserved better. When the script was flipped and the woman became abusive the response from the bystanders was really hard for me to watch. People were laughing. No one came to his defense. The contrast is remarkable.
What was really even more remarkable to me is the discussion that took place under the video. First of all I was pleasantly surprised to see men speak up and in such a respectful and grateful way. Women responded too and they clearly felt the same way that I did. Violence is wrong. Now there was one woman who decided to weigh on this discussion and she took my breathe away. This woman left four responses which made it very clear that she is the demographic that I am trying to educate. She was raw. She was rude. She was banned from my page.
The issue that this has highlighted for me is the degrees of abuse. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have asked me if I was hit. As though if I hadn’t it wouldn’t have been so bad. Even police ask that question. I unfortunately suffered physical, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse. All were horrible, but the wounds that cut me the deepest and have left me changed were caused by the verbal, emotional, and psychological ones. It is time that people start to understand this. You don’t have to be hit to be a victim of abuse.
I was a successful woman and yet I hid the torment that cursed through my marriage. Fear was the main reason I didn’t speak up, but I would have to say that the shame I felt was equally as strong. I was asked over and over again, “why didn’t you leave?” It’s not a simple answer. For a victim to stand up and leave an abusive relationship it really takes every ounce of strength that they have. The last thing they need to hear is someone asking a question that makes them feel worse. Now, just imagine for an minute what it must be like for a man. The degree of shame they must feel is beyond my comprehension and I understand why so many men are silent victims.
I also want to stress that abuse isn’t just physical. While men may have the upper hand in physical strength a woman can certainly hold her own in all other areas. Women can abuse verbally, mentally, and psychologically. Women can also be physically abusive. It’s so sad that we have such a small view of domestic violence. It is so much broader than what most people perceive. This issue is not about gender issues or equal rights. This is about human rights. I believe that nothing supersedes this. I speak on behalf of women because it I can get through to them. They can relate to me and I to them. I want to help them read my story and know that their is hope. That they can get out and they can thrive.
All of the media coverage in the last week has been focused on Male violence against women. I felt that I needed to be fair and balanced. I needed to give a voice to male victims of abuse. I married a man who abused me because he was abused. If he hadn’t been a victim of domestic violence growing up he most certainly shouldn’t have become the person that he did. Violence is never acceptable.
I stayed in an abusive marriage for 11 years because I was afraid.
Today’s media soundbite is shocking to me. “Why didn’t she leave?” As though it were her fault that she was married to an abusive man and caught in the cycle of abuse. If people are so curious then why don’t the just do a little research and ask. Time to stop blaming the victim folks.
Why doesn’t she leave?
Uneducated (but willing to learn)
Today a particular couple is in the spotlight. The only reason this couple is making headlines is because the man is being punished financially for his abusive behavior. This is just one couple, but I assure you that this is not an isolated case. This is happening in so many homes every single day. One in four women will experience domestic violence within her lifetime. The statistics are staggering and these are the cases we know about. Most women don’t report their abuse. Did you know that almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner? That domestic violence results in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year? That the cost of domestic violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services? That domestic violence victims lost almost 8 million days of paid work because of the violence perpetrated against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends and dates last year? This loss is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of violence. Finally, there are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs $37 billion last year.
So, why didn’t she just leave? Why didn’t I just leave? Please feel free to insert your mother, sister or daughters name here because it very easily could be anyone. If this can happen to me then it most certainly can happen to you. What you need to understand is that domestic violence systematically breaks down a persons sense of self. It doesn’t start with a knock out in an elevator. It is much more seductive than that. It creeps in slowly and knows how to bend and manipulate the mind of a person who is truly trying to love. Simply put, it is a “mind fuck”. We have seen kidnapping victims fall into life with their abductors and fail to run away when presented with a clear opportunity. When you are living in the middle of a situation like this there are so many factors that prevent you from leaving, but the main underlying issue is often Stockholm syndrome (trauma bonding). This suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat. This is also known as survival to the abused.
Allow me to give you some bullet points on some of the reasons why:
3. No self worth & depression
4. Afraid of escalating violence if the police don’t intervene and help you.
5. Threats of harm to you and your children if you leave (extended family and pets too).
6. No access to leave.
7. Your ability to cope is completely caught up in the dysfunctional situation and so you pray for the storm to pass.
8. No outside support
9. Financial dependency
10. Religious beliefs
12. etc. etc. etc.
What people don’t seem to understand is the cycle of violence pulls a person in much like a riptide does in the surf. It takes hold of you and before you realize that you are being pulled out too deep and with too much force; you are already way out in the water and over your head, exhausted, terrified, with no safety net, and no clear way out. You panic. I have seen this happen time and time again, and I have lived it. You are supposed to swim parallel to the shore and out of harms way. You know this, but yet as you get pulled under you panic and in this moment you can’t think in a straight line. Many people drown every year in riptides. Many women die at the hand of their abusers every year.
I come from an educated upper middle class family. My parents have been married for over 50 years. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to women like me or so I thought. Like I have said before, if this can happen to me it an happen to you, your sister, your mother, your daughter, or a friend. Domestic Violence does not discriminate against gender, religious, race, or socio-economic lines. It is ruthless and it is far reaching. Domestic violence is a generational cycle. It is taught by the parent and passed down to the child who in turn marries and repeats the whole scenario. While domestic violence can happen to all people the likelihood of it being a woman is far higher. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year and 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Social gender roles, economics, traditions, and religious ideals contribute to this perpetuating cycle.
The recent video is a public display of brute force on an unsuspecting victim. Never forget that this is a violent act on a woman by a man who is supposed to love and care about her enough to want to marry her (or is it “own” her?) Imagine what it must be like for her at home if he is so free to dole out his punches in public like that? Too bad for him that she didn’t get right back up and that the cameras were rolling. My question to the greater public is “What did you think domestic violence looked like?” The answer is that it looks just like this and it continue to look just like this right down to her statement in the news apologizing for her part in the ordeal. It continues with her posts to social media asking why people are turning this into such a media circus and crucifying her husband. She will continue with the script and by the grace of God maybe, just maybe one day she will get out alive. Maybe she can break the cycle.
If you ask a survivor about the cycle they will not only tell you how it worked for them, but how it felt, and how it still feels years after they have fled to safety. Why did I stay? I was terrified that my ex husband would follow through on his threats to kill me, our children, and members of my extended family. Imagine that burden? Knowing that your mother and children were in harms way. Knowing that a person can hate you so much that they would derive joy from watching you suffer over the murder of your own children? This was and is still very much my reality. Yes I know it is a hard pill to swallow, however what you must know is that it isn’t always just easy to walk away. You need to have a plan. You need support, a place to go, and you need to be prepared for your abuser to not let go. Exiting the relationship is the most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they’re losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim. Stalking is a very real part of the aftermath of domestic violence and one of the reasons that so many women return home after they have left. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. I still must live in the shadows with my children in the attempt to stay out of harms way. I had to give up a lot to survive. Freedom is not something that I take lightly. The next time you hear someone say, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Think of me and what I have written here. I hope that I don’t have to expand on all the bloody details to get people to listen and heed my warning: This can happen to you.
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