The High Road.

It was 4 years ago this week that I began to write in my attempt to heal myself. One sentence turned into two, then three, four and so on until my words started telling my story.  I share it in pieces, and when they are connected they create a whole. Perhaps the reason I haven’t written a book yet is because the thought of stringing the pieces all together at once terrifies me.  I am still live the nightmare to a lesser degree and so the book hasn’t reached the final chapter yet…stay tuned.

TrenchesI often feel like my writing has a cryptic feel to it. That’s because I can’t fill
in any of the finer details. The more colorful stuff that gives life it’s personality I have to dance around because it can betray me. All the nuances of my past life are known to the one I want to hide them from.  However, I know that my words, my example of living in spite of
it all is helping other women to
stay strong.  Just by moving forward I can show others that even though life may not be perfect you can still live a happy life and find a way to thrive in the midst of chaos. The calm in the center of the proverbial storm.

I’m not entirely sure if  I’m strong or stupid. Either way I keep on going and believing that I can rise above it all within myself one day. Eleven years ago I ran with my children. I ran for my health, my sanity, my soul, and our lives. I struggled through many years in a fog that I wasn’t even remotely aware I was living in. It was only four years ago that my healing truly began, and it was simply because I started to tell my story. I told my story in an attempt to help other women feel connected. So that they would know that someone else understood them and that they were not alone. I had no idea that by writing my first blog post I had really embarked on a journey in the search for ME.

What have I learned?

First, You need to chill the fuck out. No really, just sit down on the beautiful Earth and breathe deeply. In and out. In and out. You get the picture. Anyway, call it what you will but that really works. I have learned not to waste my pain because I know that it can’t hurt me, and that it’s there to teach me. Sometimes the pain can be brutal but so far I’ve stayed the course because I can feel the shift happening in my life. I know it’s a necessary part of my journey. I am so much stronger now and I value myself which is something I can’t say I had much practice in before. In fact I’m cheering myself on and it great to be able to feel it all and not be paralyzed by the fear that some memories can conjure up.

I am braver. In the process of becoming Ella I discovered a strength and resolve that I didn’t know I had. I have taken my own road in life, which has never been in the popular part of town I can tell you that. I have learned to stand up for me in the process and I am determined to show people that bullies are really just incredibly weak and fractured people. They need our love…even if we keep it to ourselves. Hate, even for bullies, won’t get us very far. Forgiveness is important.

I have realized how incredibly important it is to have a life of your own; to live as your own country while surrounded by many others. You may be in a relationship, but you don’t have to lose your voice. Your relationship with yourself is by far the most important one you will ever have. Don’t ever let that spark within go out, you will need to fan it to see yourself through the dark days ahead. Stand tall, be your own person and always BELIEVE in a better tomorrow.

It’s imperative to create a healthy inner circle for yourself. A few good people that you can confide in, find mutual support, and truly be free to be yourself with (warts and all) is what being in a tribe is all about. Isolation is not healthy…no living thing can be an island. We need our own kind. Don’t stop looking for your tribe. You will find them as long as you are being true to yourself.

We are all connected energetically and this is why it’s so imperative for each of us to surround ourselves with like minded and good hearted people. It’s not about the shoes, the car, the job, the house, the education, or the status spouse. It’s simply about kindness and good will to all. Think of how beautiful the world would be if we could all just be kind and decent human beings. The truth is that no one heals themselves by harming another. My choice has been to take the high road. It wasn’t easy pulling myself up out of the trenches so I am going to do what I have to do to stay here. It has a much better view. 

xo Ella

Revolutionary

Revolutionary

“I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I
could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”
                                                                               – Anne Lamont

I have have a long history of fighting with myself.  You know what I am talking about.  That inner bickering between yourself and yourself.  It can be downright cruel can’t it?  Can you imagine saying half of the things that you say to yourself to someone else?  Hell no!  So why do we continue to berate ourselves silently and shame ourselves into submission?  While the answer is clear to me now it took me a long time to figure it out.

How is it that we know how to love another?  It’s both nurture and nature. We want to love. We want approval. We are taught to know right and wrong. We are taught to show compassion. We are taught to treat others with respect. Why aren’t we taught as children to love ourselves in the same way as we love others?  It was never taught to me that loving myself was imperative. I didn’t know that the most important relationship that I would ever have would be with myself. It took me many years to learn this simple truth; and in fact, I almost broke up with myself a few times, but somehow deep down I knew that I deserved to be loved.

Many years of my life were wasted in a relationship looking for the love that I really needed from myself.  When I met my ex-husband he immediately put me on a pedestal. He made me feel like I was the most beautiful and special woman in the world. He quelled my self doubt with his constant encouragement and loving reminders of how incredibly special I was. I had never felt that from anyone before. For the first time I was able to see myself though someone else’s eyes, and for the first time I felt worthy of the admiration. He convinced me that I was beautiful, because I couldn’t see it for myself. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and I mistook his obsessiveness for love. I married an abusive man who hated his mother and then turned that hate upon me. The self-worth that I thought I had developed was ripped abruptly away. The void was wide open again and I had nothing to fill it with now.  I was just never taught that I needed to fill that void myself.  Everything shifted. I could still see myself though his eyes, only now  I was the enemy;  stupid, ugly, and a bitch who couldn’t do a damned thing right.

It was a rude awakening when I saw how quickly he could change into a monster; a true Jekyll  & Hyde. I was never taught to look for the “red flags” in a relationship. I was never taught how to value myself and defend myself against attack.  I grew up to be a people pleaser. I bent over backwards to make others happy at my own expense. That is how I derived my self-worth. So when I fell from grace in my marriage I was lost. I tried so hard to be better which only helped in crumbling my self-worth even more. It’s a cold hard world out there when you don’t have yourself to turn to in troubled times. The irony is that professionally I was a force to reckon with, but once I returned home all my accomplishments didn’t seem to matter. I was a failure in his eyes and nothing could change that.

I wish I had known then what I know now… that the love I needed had to come from me.  My big inner void needed me to fill it.  I was like the Tin Man who thought he needed a heart only to learn in the end that he had the biggest heart of all.  It took Dorothy to teach him that. Like the Tin Man, I didn’t know that I needed to love myself.  I was so lost, and trapped at this point; it took me many years to finally find that open door I could escape through. I feel heartbroken for the woman that I was back then. I had never felt that alone in my life. He had broken me down so much that I didn’t even recognize myself. I couldn’t trust my thoughts for I always heard him berating me in the background, as if I was a bad child who needed to be taught a lesson the hard way.

“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”- Unknown

So many of us are set up for such hardships because we are never taught how important it is to love and respect ourselves. We aren’t taught healthy boundaries or that sometimes you just have to command respect. Then again how can we expect to be respected when we don’t respect ourselves or we feel unworthy of respect. This is how so many people end up in unhealthy, one-sided relationships. There can be no balance in any relationship if you do not have a healthy and loving relationship with yourself. Children need be taught self-respect and compassion in school and I think that has started with the anti-bullying campaigns. Our youth need to understand that not only are they not to be picked on, but there is so much more to them.  They need to understand that knowing themselves and having solid ideals, dreams, and boundaries set are critical. They need to know that as they grow they will learn more about themselves, and to be patient with themselves through he process. They need to be surrounded by healthy role models and if they aren’t in the home with them then they need to find them in their schools and clubs. THIS is important. The world is counting on our youth to shake off the past and break the perpetual cycle of self loathing that we see all around us.

This year I am going to remain focused on the things that I want to change in my life. I am going to give myself more self-care. I am going to listen to myself and stop berating myself.  While I am teaching my children to know themselves and to honor that knowing I realize that I am not always a good example of it for them. I am going to do my best to stop body shaming myself, and I am going to do better for my children.  This year I am going to be a true rebel and I am going to focus on me and the shifting sands around me. I am going to hold true to the fact that as long as I have myself I am going to be okay. 

I am going to be okay because I am no longer looking for someone else to fill my void. There is no void now because I am filling it up with myself.  I have a map in my hand to help me navigate my way. If I get lost I will ask for help to get back on course. It took me way to long to understand the personal dynamic I needed to have with myself in order to simply be okay. I finally understand that the most revolutionary thing I can do is to show up for my life and not be ashamed. I must commit to being real and utterly honest with myself. I must change and let go of the old ways to make room for the new. The time is now. I am rising. I am a revolutionary.

xo Ella

Don’t You Dare Give Up.

Stay

The Christmas Holiday Season has arrived. This time of year can often be the WORST time for people in abusive relationships. I know this because it was that way for me. I wish I had the freedom to really tell you all the details of when and how I left, but I can’t. One day when I am safe I will spill.

The holidays can be so joyous for some and so dark for others.

I remember the last holiday that I was married to an abusive man. I was terrified because Christmas was looming closely ahead. Stress levels were running high and every where I turned I felt more trapped then ever. We all know how tough it can be when thrust amongst our family on certain days of the year. Imagine having to hide your brokenness when you are feeling completely isolated. My mother told me I deserved an academy award.

Isolation is one of the favorite tools of an abuser. They slowly and methodically separate you from your family and friends. Ultimately, you end up lying to all of them because how can you even begin to explain how your life has fallen apart. How you have fallen apart and have become a prisoner of sorts. That you have lost your freedom to be who you are meant to be. That you are losing your identity more and more every day. That it’s slipping and you can’t seem to tighten your grip.

Today my boyfriend’s sister had to be rescued from an abusive situation. I don’t even know all of the details yet, but what I do know is that her husband is an abuser. It got so bad that she took her child and split. Thank God she had an opportunity to get out and luckily for her she has two brothers who were able to go back with her to get her stuff. For those of you who do not know, this is the most dangerous time for victim’s of abuse. This is when the abuser feels they are losing control. Out of desperation they react and can do the worst imaginable things. I’ve been terrified all afternoon because I understand this better than anyone. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew he had to. They are on their way home and safe. Thank God.

I know that life can be hard, and at this time of year it can be almost impossible to hold on to even the tiniest spark of hope. I am here to beg those of you reading this that might be in the same situation to hang on.
Don’t give up because there is always a way out. Even when you feel like you are completely alone there is always help. I know that if there is NO reason to stay then that alone is a good reason to go. I also know that you have to leave if you are being abused. It will never get better…only worse. Sometimes you have to leave with the clothes on your back. Know that there are shelters and people to help you. You deserve to be happy, safe and loved. I KNOW how scary and hard it is to leave, but I also know how beautiful and free life can be once you do.

Be brave. Find your voice and speak up. Please know that there is no shame in this for you. There are so many people in this world (both men and women) that have experienced abuse at the hand of someone they loved. You have to trust and take that step to get out. There is never a good time. I kept waiting for a “better time” and it never came. I ended up leaving at the worst possible time, but in retrospect it was the perfect time. It was the perfect time because I got out alive.

If you know anyone that is in an abusive relationship please share my blog with them. It’s hard to talk to people who haven’t been through this because so often your reality starts to get muddled. If you can let them know that they are loved and worthy of that love, and that there is always a way out. Don’t you dare give up. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

xo Ella

I Hope That You Never…

I hope that you never have to make a call to save your life. I hope you never know that kind of fear. Knowing that your life hangs in the balance; on a thin thread which is about to snap. I hope you never feel hunted or like your next move, if you are lucky enough to get one, has a narrow margin of success. I hope that you never know what it feel like to face death in the face of someone you thought once loved you.

It’s that time of year again where the subject of Domestic Violence gains media traction because the Super Bowl is approaching. Urban Myth has it set that it is the day with the highest rate of reported abuse of one domestic partner to another. This year we saw the NFL struggling to keep face after Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Rice knocked his then fiancé out in an elevator. Rice was initially suspended for two games. The relatively small penalty caused national controversy. He was later suspended indefinitely, but that decision was overturned. We saw other players being called out on domestic related violence as well. It wasn’t a stellar year for the old boys club.

I want you to know that Domestic Violence Happens Each Sunday—Not Just Super Bowl Sunday.

I am glad to see the NFL responding to this with a little proactive flair. This Super Bowl Sunday which is quickly approaching will have millions of people world-wide watching. Some just watching for the ever so famous commercials. On February 1, 2015 the Super Bowl will air, but what is a little different this year is that there will be a PSA about domestic violence.

No More, an anti-domestic-violence campaign, and the ad agency Grey New York have come together to produce a few chilling reminders that THIS is still a HUGE problem in our society. The NFL donated a 30-second slot for the ad and paid for its production. The video is a chilling reminder that so many women live in fear in their own homes. Everyday, not just on Super Bowl Sunday.

To some I realize that it will be a mere bleep in the days advertisements. It may not be memorable to many. It may even cause a backlash in some homes, but it is worth it.
This weekend when millions are riveted to the television, my hope is that it will create a ripple across the land. Something positive out of a horrid situation that occurred the day that Ray Rice decided to finally call the darkness into the light.

The PSA is very simple. There is a woman making a call for pizza from her slightly disheveled home. When the other end answers you don’t hear “Hello Domino’s”, but rather “Mam, you have reached 911. This is an emergency line.” She continues to order her pizza, “Large with half pepperoni, half mushrooms.” The 911 operator keeps trying to tell her that she dialed the wrong number and she just keeps ordering her pizza, until he asks her if she is okay. Is this an emergency?

I hope that this will resonate across the millions turned into the game that will be peppered with commercials of scantily clad women selling chips and celebrities self promoting. I hope that this commercial is THE ONE that will have people talking. I know that my hopes may fall on millions of deaf ears and blind eyes, but I desperately want this to be seen. This is the real deal. According to Grey New York, the ad was based on a real 911 dispatch (paywall), found on a Reddit thread asking dispatchers about their most memorable calls.

Reality really sucks sometimes. I once had to make a call like this myself. It was either me or him, and I decided that I wasn’t going down like that.   xo Ella

A Call to Action.

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I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. and anyone who does not remember betrays them again. – Elie Wiesel

All it takes is one action to cause a reaction. This week I watched Janay Palmer get knocked out in an elevator, and my writers block disappeared. I wrote frantically, as though someones life depended upon it. I wrote because I had no other choice. As a survivor of abuse it is now my calling; I share my story so that others may have an example that says, “If I can do this so can you.” There are so many women who are unable to verbalize the darkness that lives in the deep corners of their soul. I speak for those who can’t find their voice, and I speak for those who didn’t make it out alive. I write so that we remember…

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. – Elie Wiesel

They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, its indifference. When we see a wrong and turn a blind eye we are in fact perpetuating hate. The Constitution was written to secure the blessings of liberty.  However the truth is so often very far from this for many women in this country. It may not appear so to the naked eye, but close their front doors and the cage is waiting.

In any society, fanatics who hate don’t hate only me – they hate you, too. They hate everybody. – Elie Wiesel

There is a huge gap of misunderstanding in our society on the subject of domestic violence. I understand that for those who have never been exposed, its hard to wrap your head around the concept of trauma bonding. I lived it, and it took me years to wrap my head around it. I needed to be able to step back and understand what had happened to me; what happens to so many women. This is the human condition and we are all a part of the cause and the solution. Hate is an evil parasite that feeds on whatever it can get it’s hands on, so never say that it couldn’t happen to you because hate does not discriminate.

Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone – and, ultimately, hating himself or herself. – Elie Wiesel

The German philosopher Nietzsche believed that whoever did not control would be controlled. The marginalized often rise up to become the oppressor. It’s written all over our history books and it’s written on the hospital walls where so many battered women go to die. Control is the epi-center for most abusers.  The moment their control is questioned or challenged any facade of order is shattered, and the shit hits the fan. There are many pathologies that can create an abuser, but they have one thing in common, they HATE.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel

It has taken me years to find my voice. Like so many survivors my brain has suffered enormous stress. Understand that not all wounds are visible. My adrenal glands are fatigued, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and chronic anxiety. It’s hard for me to deal with “me” many days. Can you imagine living with a fight or flight response; adrenaline coursing through your veins? You are in hyperdrive. Let me tell you that adrenaline is not a great bedfellow. In spite of all this, I have worked so incredibly hard to find my way here. To a place that I can string two thoughts together in order to speak not just my truth, but so many countless others. I don’t write for literary accolades, I write to save my life, and hopefully others.

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other. -Elie Wiesel

Lately I have struggled with the notion that my legacy is simply going to be that I survived my abuser, but I desire much more. It’s an ugly story and not one that any little girl fantasizes about for her future. It is my belief that I survived so that I can hold the hands of others as they struggle to find their way after abuse. There are moments where I feel burdened, afraid, and exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that cuts to the core; along with headaches, stomach issues, and cognitive issues. I battle night terrors, those God awful memories that come out when you are off guard; the insomniacs accomplice. There are days when I just want to wake up, walk away, and declare that I have put in my time. This week has given me a renewed call to action. As awful and ugly as my story is I must keep sharing it because my voice is bringing hope to those who can’t speak up for themselves. Like I did, they are probably trying to figure out “how the hell did I end up here?”.  My gift to them is a voice, hope for a life beyond the abuse, and light to follow when theirs is dimming. It’s a lonely and dark place to be when you are trapped in an abusive relationship.

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life. – Elie Wiesel

I quote Elie Wiesel here because he was such a light for me during a very dark time. He gave me hope, not only for a new beginning, but for peace. I believed him and he was right. My life hasn’t been a fairytale. In fact I am covered in invisible scars.  What was it all for? I have to believe that it was for a greater good. That I was called to lead other women to find hope. To show them that freedom is viable and that starting over is possible. If I stayed quiet I would be doing a great injustice. I may only be one person, but I walk with courage, dignity, love, determination, and gratitude. If I remained silent, out of fear, I would be turning a blind eye to the truth and in turn endorsing the abuser. So I write….  xo Ella

When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. – Elie Wiesel

Why didn’t she leave?

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.

Dear Google,
Why doesn’t she leave?
Signed,
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.

PhyVio

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:

1. Fear.
2. Love
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
11. Shame
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.

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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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