6 part Blog Series The Supporter’s Gap: Why Domestic Violence is your Problem part 3
Top 5 Ways to Survive Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s day. A day for love, for weddings, for dates, for romance, or for broken promises, broken hearts, and broken bones. Valentine’s day can evoke the idolized notion of love, and for many couples, it is the day to celebrate, to enjoy, to feel, to connect.
To feel that you are loved and that you are worthy of love is power. It is that sense of belonging and many relationships are built on trusting and loving each other. It is the beauty of the day. But for many of us who are survivors of abuse, it is a hollow, lonely, and empty day.
Ice Cream Pity
After 8 years of living in an abusive marriage, I was newly separated from my husband. The mental, physical, and financial abuse had taken a toll on me. After his arrest and charge of DUI and possession of drug paraphernalia, I finally had the courage to separate from him. I moved me and my children into a basement apartment and tried to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. I had 4 children and was pregnant with my fifth child.
On February 14, 2005, a night for romance, for renewal of vows, for a recommitment of relationships all of which had been shattered in my own life, there was a ray of hope with this night. I had saved $1.25 in pennies and nickels to get myself a real ice cream. My son’s school wanted to give parents a night off on that Valentine’s day. If we had done all of our volunteering, then they would offer 2 hours of free babysitting!
My neighbor had been kind enough to give me $10 to put some gas in my van so that I could get down the canyon to enjoy this night and I took full advantage of this. I remember coasting down the canyon as much as possible to save gas. I needed this two-hour break from life so badly.
The abuse from my husband was at its height. For 8 years my brain was so full of trauma from the twisted sick words and now my belly was full of the result of the latest assault. I rubbed my baby bump and thought about raising all 5 children alone, but did not allow myself to go into that hollow place and instead drove to the Ice cream shop.
The windows of the shop had around the edges freshly decorated icy patterns by Jack-Frost. Even as fat snowflakes fell, I could see through the windows that It was packed with customers, dates, sweethearts, and senior couples. They were all connected to each other through conversations and love. This tugged at the wish and the pain that I had deep in my heart. I wished that were me: happy, in love, remembering that small window of love I was shown...and now was replaced with fear, shame, and pain.
As I stepped out of the van I looked down at my clothing. And I think for the first time I really looked at what I was wearing. These maternity clothes had been worn for 5 straight pregnancies over the past 8 years. They were “showing their age.”
Suddenly I felt like all the couples in the ice cream shop were going to judge me. I felt like they could see my worn clothing and that they had the look of poverty to me. But I felt the jingle of the coins in my pocket and wanted that ice cream, so I took the chance to treat myself on Valentine’s day.
As I grabbed hold of the icy metal and pulled there was a single chime of a bell, but no one seemed to notice. The gentle song “My Girl” was playing overhead. Everyone in that shop was so into their own lives that I could just like a ghost enter in, grab my ice cream, and float out before anyone really noticed me. That was my hope!
My feet carried me towards the counter. There before me was the sweet smell of sugar and a rainbow of flavors pinks, greens, colorful sprinkles, deep rich brown gooey, oranges, and purples. I could not believe the yummy goodness that was spread out before me and this time I was going to be able to order a cone: one scoop of strawberry on a sugar cone. “What can I get you, Miss?” I answered in a quiet voice, “One strawberry scoop on a sugar cone.”
I watched the soda jerk’s hand hold the silver-scoop and slice into the soft pink cream and make a curl of pink to sit nicely on top of the toasted cone. This rich pink and chunky goodness was going to hit my lips and I could feel my mouth water. In the excitement of the moment, I reached for my change in my worn jeans.There in my hand only laid 3 quarters and a whole in the bottom of the pocket.
As my finger slid across that frayed edges of the cotton fabric my hand went into the other pocket praying for a miracle. As my fingers touched the emptiness of that pocket, I knew that somewhere in the icy snowy depths of the sidewalk were two shiny quarters.
My heart sank. The money was gone. No! They can’t be gone! Suddenly I felt like I could hear my husband’s voice, “You don’t deserve the ice cream anyway. How dare you think you can be more than you are.”
I looked down at those 3 coins I had left--not enough! The soda jerk just looked at me like he didn’t know what to do. He was holding the cone with the pink sweet chunky goodness on top, and I was short two quarters.
Suddenly I noticed that all I could hear was the music overhead. There was no more conversation. No more talking of love from the customers. There was an awkward silence all but for the music and I could feel everyone looking at me. I could hear their thoughts penetrate me. I could feel the conversations and judgments start up again both in my head and behind me. I dropped my hand that was reaching for the cone and said, “I lost my money. I don’t have enough. I’m sorry to bother you.”
As I turned away from the sweet colorful goodness, there was a couple who was looking at me and I slid my eyes down towards the floor, but they had already caught my eye. I could feel her compassion but feel his glare. His glare seemed to say, You are nothing! I stepped out the door and the last thing I remember was the song “My Girl” playing in the background.
I trudge through the snow to the van and got in. I quickly buckled, inserted the key, turned it over, and drove away. As each turn of the wheels went round through the slushy wet cold, I felt the tears pouring out of me. It was a pity. I was not even worth $1.25 ice cream for Valentine’s day.
Being a Survivor doesn’t mean it is Pain-Free
Valentine’s day can be romantic and filled with love, or it can just suck! Many of us who have suffered from abuse (mental, emotional, narcissistic, and physical) feel no love or tenderness that is supposed to be celebrated on Valentine’s day. For most of us, it is hollow even if it might have been filled with flowers or chocolates, abuse was just seconds away following the lure to go deeper into the relationship.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women in the United States has experienced some form of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. The abuse is prevalent across all communities, race, age, socio-economic status, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Even, like myself, during my separation and eventual escape from abuse the physical and psychological effects can last for years or even a lifetime.
How does one survive? The statistics collected by NCADV show that women who have been abused are more susceptible to STIs and other reproductive health challenges. And then there is the psychological and emotional side of things. Many survivors can develop neurological disorders, depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some even fall subject to numbing the pain and shame and develop addictions to tobacco, drug, and alcohol.
How Survive February 14?
As a survivor and now victor over abuse, there are still moments and holidays that can trigger emotions and memories even with all the hard work of counseling and healing.
If you are someone who had not experienced abuse but know a friend who has, Valentine’s Day is a good time to reach out and be that supporter. Remind them that you are there for them. Better yet take suggestion number two and number four and do something together. I highly recommend these top five ways to empower you and prevent the trigger from happening as much as possible.
Kindness and love start with self. Be kind and loving to yourself. Speak words of hope, of beauty, of grace, of love. You are WORTH and WORTHY of it.
Surround yourself with your supporter’s network. Family, friends, co-workers whomever you trust who knows and understands your situation, have them there on hand or better yet make plans with them so that you are in a place of love and support.
Avoid the triggers of the past by thinking of others on this day. In my favorite book, it says to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I take that to mean do something fun for someone else on this day, Maybe there is a special teacher in your life that needs to know what they did for you, or maybe your grandma needs a visit from you just to talk and share about her life. Maybe you can bake something and surprise that person just out of friendship. Service is a great support tool to help you in your time of need.
Make a plan for the day, don’t let the day plan you. If you are wishing and fishing for hope from a broken relationship, know this that the two of you are broken and two broken people do NOT create a whole person. Many women who I coach as me if there is hope that their spouse, partner, or boyfriend can change. I emphatically tell them YES! BUT NOT WITH YOU! The change is possible HOWEVER, a) they have to hit that bottom and want to change, b) they must do it with professional help, c) they can’t do it with you or for you. Together you are toxic and broken. Be that Beacon of Light for them, but not a Savior for them.
If you are still in abuse and need help, here are some hotlines that I recommend: Day One. The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 of RAINN the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673.
Overall, Valentine’s Day is a day that we can all get through. I have learned that with time and healing my triggers are less and less, and the pain is less impactful and destabilizing. The events and trauma that anyone in abuse has experienced were real, but we don’t have to be trapped by the hollow, lonely, or pain of it.
We can choose to overcome it. The more autonomy survivors allow ourselves over the events, the sooner they will fade into the background helping to paint the shadows and depth of the picture to make the masterpiece of our lives richer and more beautiful as we feel the love and the light. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I’m here for you and I’m just an email away.
Show Up Shining!
Stay tuned for Part 4 of this 6 week Series Why Domestic Violence is Your Problem