You exist

I thought about you the other day. I searched for your name on Facebook and Instagram but it said you didn’t exist. I know you do. You’ve probably changed your name by now. You always dreamed of being a mom. We would talk about what it would be like to have kids, get married, to live in a big house with kids and cats. You never were one for dogs. 
 
I remember the phone call you made to me that night, crying. You’d gotten in to another fight and he ended up punching you in the face. Despite this, he said he was sorry and that he didn’t mean it, that he loved you.  As time went on you calmed down, saying that it was fine and that these things happen in relationships, but your voice just didn’t match your words. I knew you were scared and confused and that you called me for a reason. This wasn’t the first time he’d hurt you, just the first time you told me about it. I lived in a different city from you now, so I missed all of the signs and I told myself that the distance between us was probably just your new relationship. I remembered the feeling I got when you first introduced us….. It made sense now. 
 
I drove 6 hours to your house and when I got there, you were happy to see me but insisted that it was “all a big misunderstanding” and that you were sorry I traveled so far for nothing. It took hours to convince you that what happened wasn’t wasn’t your fault and everything he told you was bullshit. Abusers lie to protect themselves. The gaslighting doesn’t just happen over night, it happens over time and it’s crazy making. You really believed that you’d said something that warranted a punch to the face. I wanted to shake you, but I just hugged you instead. I could hardly recognize you and hated him for making you feel this way. I could see now how isolated you were from all of your friends, that I wasn’t the only one who’d lost touch. We cried a lot that weekend and by the second day I felt like you were in a much better place. You told me that you were going to leave and we started planning. 
 
He showed up at the house unexpectedly and I saw the doubt and conflict awaken within you. Keeping him just outside of the door, embarrassed to have me hear his pleading while still trying to hold your ground. You begged me not to say anything to him, to let him know you were there. I guess I can tell you now that the reason he left was because I made eye contact with him from the window. He recognized me immediately. I was livid. He left and I knew in the exchange, hearing your voice soften at his pleas and all the crocodile tears in his eyes, all gains between us were lost. You would take him back. 
 
Days turned into weeks and I couldn’t get a hold of you. You’d send me a message here and there to let me know you were okay and taking time to yourself. When you stopped returning my emails, I called only to find your line was disconnected. I heard through a friend of a friend that you got back together with him. News was that you had moved to another city and that you were engaged. You were happy, they said. 
 

It’s been years now since we’ve spoken. All of our mutual friends have long since moved on. I have forgotten all of their names but yours. It seems almost pointless to speak about this now, you won’t even read it. I guess I just wanted to write into existence what happened.

I’m sorry that you had to leave without saying goodbye. I hope you are happy and safe and if you’re not, I hope you pick up the phone and ask for help.

 
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call: 
U.S.A. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
U.K.0808 2000 247
Canada:Click for a regional list of contact numbers. 
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What To Say

One day someone may approach you. A friend, spouse, child, parent, cousin, or coworker. You may not realize it, but they chose to tell you. They were abused and traumatized at their most vulnerable moments in life. It may have been last week or decades ago, but the trauma felt in the first disclosure is a form of reliving the abuse. That is why you must be ready to embrace them fully. Without judgment or bias. You have the power to heal or revictimize. If they come to you, here's what you should let them know:

  • I believe you.

Their greatest fear is that no one will. If you know and love the abuser then it may further complicate your own ability to 'be there' for the victim. What you must know now is that the victim chose you for a reason. It is one of the hardest choices to make, to reveal that, to you. So believe them.

  • It wasn't your fault.

This is most often what victims believe, especially if they were abused as children by a trusted adult. They believe it to survive because they often have to live and continue to rely on their abusers. For adults, women are often treated as if they invited violence by their choice in clothing. We still find it hard to believe an adult male could be forced sexually to do anything. Yet they are every day. They just are too ashamed to disclose it. They just couldn't stop it from happening. So they were to blame. Never.

  • I'm sorry this happened to you.

The gravity and effect of trauma is life altering. Honor the struggle of a friend. Not with pity. Just a simple and powerful acknowledgement that you care. You feel sad that this trauma has caused so much pain in their life, including all of the isolation, fear, and shame that came with it.

There are alot of other good resources on how to be there for survivors. Seek them out for futher guidance. In the end, keep it simple with the three simple tenets of first disclosure. Every survivor needs to hear those words from a friend like you.

 

My Name Is Project Update

We’ve had great interest in the My Name Is Project and are waiting with much anticipation for you to submit your survivor video stories in support of this project.

Recently I had the priviledge of participating in the Oprah two-part event on male survivors of child abuse.  The first show aired last Friday and began with an emotional opening where the entire audience of 200 male survivors held up pictures of themselves at the age when they were first abused.

It was a powerful moment, standing amongst all those men, holding up a picture of who I was before my life changed so traumatically.

(Wo)Men Speak Out has an idea based on that powerful moment on Oprah.  We are working on a new video montage which will hopefully include pictures of all of you.  We all have our individual stories.  But we have a collective story of abuse that is worth telling to everyone who has felt trauma in their lives, and to those who haven’t.

So this is a call out to ALL SURVIVORS.  If you are interested in participating in this montage, send us a high resolution picture of you holding a picture of yourself at the age of your abuse under your chin.  Also, include the age of abuse and you can optionally include your name as well.  We will collect all of the submissions and create a video montage telling a shared story of abuse.

We need as many submissions as we can because we want this to show the magnitude of abuse and at the same time the human face of survivorship.

Also, keep your personal video submissions coming in.  We need to create our video community of survivor stories to inspire all of our brothers and sisters who are right now suffering in silence.  The only way we can do it is with your stories.

Thank you for participating in this project.  Break the silence.  To live.

Chris de Serres

christopher@womenspeakoutnow.com

WSO

Watch Me Burn: Domestic Violence Made Personal

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
Well that’s all right because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
Well that’s all right because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

Videos have always been a very powerful medium for me. I have read hundreds of books on trauma.  I’ve attended countless conferences and worked in the field of abuse for almost 10 years. But nothing says “this is your life” like seeing an abusive relationship played out on camera. Eminem and Rihanna collaborated in a music video called “Love the Way You Lie.”  It is an amazingly accurate portrayal of the cycle of violence that exists in abusive relationships.  It mirrored so closely to my own past experiences that I needed to walk away from it the first time I watched it.

A paradox is a situation which defies intuition and presents a seeming contradiction. To me, love and domestic violence is one such paradox. I can count the intimate relationships I have been in that have been abusive. Relationships where I fell in love with partners who continually abused me. Growing up in a family that was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive, it’s not surprising that I would find myself living what I learned to be “normal”. Somehow though, contrary to my actions, I always knew that “normal” shouldn’t include suffering.

I fell fast for a man who, from the first day I met him, treated me like I was disposable. He had an extremely violent past with jail time to prove it. Everyone viewed him in his circle as unpredictable and dangerous. One day he was the most loving, funny, charismatic and romantic man I’d ever dated.  Like the flick of a switch he could be a womanizing, drug using, alcoholic, male chauvinist.

I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe
I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight
As long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight
High off her love, drunk from my hate, it’s like I’m huffin’ paint
And I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate
And right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me, she f**kin’ hates me
And I love it, “wait, where you goin’?”
“I’m leavin’ you,” “no you ain’t come back”
We’re runnin’ right back, here we go again
So insane, cause when it’s goin’ good it’s goin’ great
I’m superman with the wind in his back, she’s Lois Lane
But when it’s bad it’s awful, I feel so ashamed I snap
Whose that dude? I don’t even know his name
I laid hands on her
I never stoop so low again
I guess I don’t know my own strength

I was attracted to the “bad boy.” The guy who would both protect me but inadvertently would become more and more obsessive over me. The label of “abusive” and “obsessive” did not exist in my reality however, not until later. This is because on some level I believed all the things he said to me about who I was and how I affected the relationship negatively. Each violent outburst was a direct consequence of something that I had done to invoke it. That’s the cycle of domestic violence.  Ever escalating. Manipulative. Demoralizing.

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe
When you’re with ’em
You meet and neither one of you even knows what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling
Yeah, them those chills you used to get ’em
Now you’re getting fucking sick of looking at ’em
You swore you’d never hit ’em; never do nothing to hurt ’em
Now you’re in each other’s face spewing venom in your words when you spit them
You push pull each other’s hair, scratch claw hit ’em
Throw ’em down pin ’em
So lost in the moments when you’re in them
It’s the rage that took over it controls you both
So they say you’re best to go your separate ways
Guess if they don’t know you ’cause today that was yesterday
Yesterday is over, it’s a different day
Sound like broken records playing over but you promised her
Next time you show restraint
You don’t get another chance
Life is no Nintendo game
But you lied again
Now you get to watch her leave out the window
I guess that’s why they call it window pane

There was a moment in the relationship that, to me, was the beginning of the end. We had gone out for a night of drinking and dancing with friends. At the end of the evening, I playfully threw a pretzel at him as he walked away from me. Before I knew what was happening, he turned and lunged at my face with his fist. I knew in that moment that if he would be that violent in front of others, there was no line he wouldn’t cross behind closed doors. The violence had in that moment become unmanageable and I knew I had to get out.

There are people who would ask why I didn’t leave at the first sign of violence. Why it took him becoming violent in public for me to decide I had enough. Pointing out that violence whether in private or public is unacceptable. It’s true.  It seems so black and white, but it’s not. For me, abusive behavior was intertwined with love. The first man in my life, my father, was a violent man. His behaviors laid for me an understanding that love and violence were normal. My mother herself was abused. I saw this day after day in my home. That all was forgiven and forgotten until the next time that it was forgiven and forgotten.

Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean
And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine
But your temper’s just as bad as mine is
You’re the same as me
But when it comes to love you’re just as blinded
Baby, please come back
It wasn’t you, baby it was me
Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems
Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano
All I know is I love you too much to walk away though
Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk
Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk
I told you this is my fault
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall
Next time. There won’t be no next time

I apologize even though I know its lies

I had been in relationships that were non-violent but could never function properly in them. I didn’t love myself, didn’t believe I deserved to be loved and couldn’t receive that which I know now to be real love.  I did everything I could to get out of those relationships, to hurt before getting hurt myself. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it’s these relationships that reminded me that there was something better out there.

Abuse doesn’t just start the first day you meet someone.  It is a gradual, ever changing pattern of events that are rationalized and forgiven until the next time and the next and the next. Until one day, you find yourself so entrenched in the pattern, so emotionally dejected, that by the time you realize you are in a domestic violence situation, you feel powerless to leave. Hopeless.

I wish I could tell you that after that experience,  I never again found myself in another abusive relationship.  Years later, I would find myself in another pattern of emotional abuse. I recognized it, I excused it. It repeated itself. This time though I reached out to friends and when I did, I was able to get the help I needed to start a path to healing myself and open up to healthier relationships.

It saddens me to think that I wasn’t strong enough to see through the piles of teddy bears and chocolate the second time around. That I didn’t love myself enough to demand respect. That I rationalized again and again for behaviors that were completely unacceptable. Despite these feelings, I know now that I was not responsible for their behaviors and that none of what happened was my fault. Because I reached out for help I didn’t stay as long the last time, recognizing more readily what was happening to me. I left and made a promise to myself that I would never again be in a relationship with anyone who would treat me that way.

If you are in an abusive relationship it is important to know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault. There is a better life waiting for you. One free of suffering.

No one deserves to be abused. Get the help you need and deserve. You are not alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224

Male Survivor Conference Update!

The Male Survivor Conference in New York City is fast approaching and there are some new updates since we last announced our sponsorship of the event.

Mike Lew will be giving a workshop.  He’s been a great ally and supporter of our organization.  He wrote Victims No Longer, a great resource for male survivors, at a time when there weren’t many books on the market covering male survivorship.  Also Richard Gartner, the author of Beyond Betrayal, will be expected for a workshop of his own.  I can’t say enough about Betrayal.  Well written, practical, and presenting a mastery of the issue of male survivorship.

Check out the Male Survivor lineup for more details.  Better yet, save the date and go to the conference!  It’s a great opportunity to educate yourself and be inspired by these great advocates and experts in the field.  As well as expanding your community of peers to make change happen for survivors everywhere.

Male Survivor Conference 2010
March 18-21, 2010 at
John Jay College / NYC

The Day I Became An Advocate

A number of years ago I was asked by a college to speak about my personal experience with abuse. This was the first time I ever spoke about what had happened to me in a public forum. I remember the weeks leading up to the speech I felt a mixture of dread, anxiety, shame, and empowerment. It was then that I got a taste of what it really meant to be an advocate. I was preparing to advocate for the little boy that represented who I was, and am still today.

On the day, I had every intention of talking about myself. I took the podium and began to speak. But what came out wasn’t about me. It was about my best friend. You see, my life was filled with people who were looking to take advantage of me. As a child and survivor of abuse, I wasn’t very good at sticking up for myself. I was routinely pushed, prodded, and pummeled by the bigger kids in school. I think in my heart that they knew something was different about me. I was just another easy mark.

That all changed one day when a kid came by my house and introduced himself. His name was Eddie. He was only a year older than me, but he was a kid in a man’s body. We became fast friends. I soon realized that this kid, who I proudly called best friend, had a huge heart.

Eddie had a reputation as a a troublemaker, but he was simply misunderstood. I noticed the more I hung out with him the less I was bullied. Somehow my best friend Eddie also became my best advocate. From the day that I met him to the day that he took his own life he was always trying to protect me. Most of the time I didn’t even know he was.

I think he knew I was a survivor even though I never told him. I remember the day he came to my house and told me his dark secret. His mother had physically beaten him from as long as he could remember. It was then that I knew why he would go out of his way to help a little defenseless kid like me. I was the first person he told. I never knew if he told anyone else.

Chris speaking about male survivorship at a college keynote.

I realized that it was impossible to tell my story without first telling his. So I told the audience about Eddie. I wanted them to know that he deserved an advocate in his life. He didn’t have one. He had been my strongest advocate and I was grateful on that day to be his. He gave me something so simple yet so needed. The feeling that I wasn’t alone in this world. The more I told the story, the more stories I received from other men. They didn’t have the power so they wanted me to speak for them.

There isn’t much incentive for men to speak out about their abuse. They have to deal with the ignorance of other men and women. Men are often the subject of ridicule, having our manhood and sexual orientation called into question. There are even people who don’t believe boys or men CAN be abused against their own will. Certainly not by a woman. These are only some of the reasons why we don’t see men speaking out about abuse.

There are even female advocates who believe that men should be excluded from the resources that are provided to women. Men shouldn’t be in groups designated for women. So it’s no surprise that our men are continuing to suffer in silence. It’s no surprise that our communities are not confronting change as a united front. The abuse will continue as long as we decide to fight it apart.

It was in that spirit that I started a non-profit organization with my wife Ophelia, a survivor herself, to ensure that all survivors of abuse, rape, and gender violence have a voice when they need it. We decided that the best way to achieve a true end to abuse is by including women and men together in this fight. We are mutually supportive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or color.

Abuse occurs everywhere. So it’s going to take everybody to fight it. Women have been fighting it for so long. They have won many battles. Now is the time to empower our men to come forward and share their experiences. I sometimes wonder if Eddie’s life would have turned out differently if he had a strong male advocate in his life. For now, I am resolved to speak his truths and stand by strong women and men when I do it. Advocates simply speak out for those who can’t. Men. Women. Together.

Note: This article appears in the Self Help Packet for Jersey Care Leavers Association. For the full packet of great articles and resources go to http://www.jerseycareleavers.com/ and download the packet today.