This is a little outside my usual lighthearted mom-life postings, but October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, so I'm going to share something a bit more serious.
Studies show that in the United States, more than 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime. Think of all the women you know... 27% of them have likely been abused or will be abused by someone they love(d). Isn't that terrifying? Maybe you're thinking... No, not the women I know. The women in my life are smart, strong, educated, and well above the poverty line. That only happens in other places, not in my circle.
Unfortunately, that's probably not the case. Domestic violence happens across many demographics. If could happen to someone you love. It could happen to you. It happened to me.
Me. Me, with a college education, a loving family, and close friends. Me, who is fully capable of making good decisions, but chose to date someone with a hot temper and substance abuse issues.
It was a Friday night like any other. He was visiting me from out of town with his dog. Our neighbors invited us over, and after 10 too many rounds of beer pong, I knew I needed to get home and into bed. I pulled an Irish exit (sometimes also called a "Radford") and slipped out undetected. When I got back to my house, I found that my boyfriend's dog had chewed up the bathroom tile and door in our rental house. I was furious, but my boyfriend's attitude was, well nothing we can do about it tonight, let's get back to having fun! He continued to party on while I stewed and stressed about how I would find a way to afford repairs to the bathroom. I crawled into bed and sent a few messages back and forth with an old friend, an old boyfriend to be more specific. We'd kept in touch, and truth be told, I took advantage of the relationship, only using his friendship when it benefited me. He offered to help pay for repairs or whatever I needed, assuring me it would be fine. I was angry, I was alone, and I was intoxicated. Texting an old boyfriend late at night wasn't a good decision, I know. That's the type of dysfunctional relationship I was in... we both did things that shouldn't be done in a healthy, committed relationship.
A short time later, my boyfriend came back over, saw me on my phone, pulled it away and saw who I was texting. In a fury of rants and belligerent yelling, he grabbed me by the arm and yanked me out of bed onto the floor. I screamed and cried out, apologizing, and calling out for my roommates. He left the house in a rage, tearing things off walls as he ran out. His tires screeched as he drove away, but he returned only minutes later. I was terrified when I heard him stomping through the house again. I hid in my bedroom closet under a pile of dirty clothes while he stormed around yelling obscenities and calling me names. I was quiet as a mouse through muffled tears and thank God, he didn't find me. He left the house again, brakes squealing.
By now it was really late, middle of night late, and I was a terrified wreck. My roommate and I went over to our neighbors house to try and hide out in case he came back again, but they were fast asleep and not answering calls. I phoned another friend who drove over immediately and stayed the rest of the night to give us comfort. While we waited, I called my dad. Blubbering and slurring, telling him something about a bruised arm and torn linoleum. I can imagine he probably didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night... I'm sorry, Dad.
When the sun came up the next day, a purple hand print wrapped its way around my forearm. My eyes were red and puffy, and my ego also bruised. Who knows what would have happened had he found me in that closet. I shudder to even think about it.
I didn't talk to him for days, ignoring all calls and messages. But then a letter came in the mail, and l read it. It was a heartfelt apology about mistakes and forgiveness and quitting drinking and blah blah blah. I kept my distance for a couple months, but the apologies kept coming, and one day I found myself driving an hour and a half to see him again. Me, fully capable of making smart decisions, making a terrible decision. This wasn't even the first time he had made a mistake that older, wiser, me would deem an infinite deal-breaker. He cheated on me just a couple months into our relationship. Now he had a much worse offense on his record, and I went back to him. Me, with the college education, the loving family, and close friends. Me, the 1 in 4 statistic.
So, what can you do? How can you prevent domestic violence?
To start, tell the women and girls you know how special they are, how valued they are, and how much you care about them. Tell them they deserve the absolute best and you won't watch them settle for less. Although slightly less common, domestic violence happens to men as well. It happens in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. So while you're at it, make sure the guys in your life hear the same message.
Model healthy relationships for your children. Encourage open communication, demonstrate anger management skills, and promote respect.
If something seems "off" with a friend, co-worker or loved one, inquire! Of course it could be a myriad of things, but maybe they just need someone to open the door to a conversation. Be there to listen without judgement.
Do you get a bad vibe from someone's significant other? Have you witnessed possible indicators of abuse (unpredictable mood swings, jealousy, explosive behavior, controlling behavior, isolation from family/friends, substance abuse)? Or even witnessed actual domestic abuse? As hard as it may be, speak up. Let the victim know you are there for them and you really do have their best interest at heart. Make sure they have your cell phone number and let them know you're always available.
If you do in fact learn of someone who is in an abusive relationship, there are tons and tons of resources out there to help you help them. The National Domestic Violence Hotline would be a great place to start.
And lastly, help spread awareness. Let others know you are against domestic violence and that you will be an advocate for victims.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go squeeze my little girl and remind her that she is incredible, beautiful, smart, talented, and loved more than anything else in this world. When she's older, I'll tell her that anyone worthy of her love will see her exactly the same way and will treat her with the utmost respect because she absolutely 100% deserves it.
And P.S. in case it isn't glaringly obvious, my husband is NOT the boyfriend in my story. My husband is exactly the opposite and he treats me with so much love and respect. I count my blessings every day that I married such an amazing husband and father.