Teaching By Example Teaching By Example

I had always been a leader. A strong girl who never backed down. I was the one everyone else came to for support when they needed something. Everyone who knew me was shocked to hear about my secret life. Even my closest friends didn't have a clue.

I married young, and from the outside we were the perfect couple. For the first few years of our marriage, I believed we were happy and that everything was alright. His business was going well and I had a job I loved and was actively involved in our community and church. I didn't know there could be abuse without physical violence. It was several years into my marriage with two kids that I was hit for the first time and realized I was in an abusive marriage. I knew the hitting was wrong, but did not understand that there was also verbal, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse in our marriage and that it was also wrong. I would not understand those dynamics until a long time after leaving him.

After our second child, he hit me the first time and got increasingly violent. Luckily the bruises were mostly on on my legs, back or arms--easy to hide. Occasionally I or a neighbor called the police when things got too out of hand, but I kept up the charade of the perfect life. Then one day a nice officer took it upon himself to help me by calling my pastor. My church stepped up and encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do to be safe. I did not understand what that would take.

After that I tried to leave, but I would go back for many reasons. One was life was so hard when we were apart. He stalked me and I was so terrorized by him that I thought if I just go back, I can sleep again because I would know where he was instead of having to worry about where or when he would show up. Another is that I really wanted my marriage to work. I did not want to be a failure. I prayed he would change.

One thing convinced me I had to leave him for good. My oldest daughter started preschool. She came home everyday talking about this boy, who she just loved! I found out from a teacher that this boy was the class bully. He was always yelling and throwing things, he was not nice to the other kids, and even cussed! I cried. I realized my daughter was learning from me to love a boy who was just like her father. I knew then, even if it killed me, I had to teach my daughter that it wasn't OK to have someone treat her that way. If I didn't, eventually she would marry a man just like her daddy. I would have to live knowing that my precious daughter was living a life like mine, because I had not taught her differently.

I left my abuser for good shortly after that. It was not easy. It would be many years before I or my kids would sleep through an entire night. He stalked and threatened us. He physically attacked me, and once leaving me for dead. I pressed charges, believing that would keep me safe. I was wrong. I learned that my abuser was not afraid of the court, and he had no reason to be. He has not done any jail time for his mistreatment and abuse to me.

I try to teach my kids that freedom is worth any price, so I speak out against abuse. I refuse to stay hidden and afraid. I now volunteer to work on committees for domestic violence. I talk to everyone and try to raise awareness. I try to help by testifying on behalf of bills that will help other victims of DV. I want to change things for our next generation, for my kids. Most importantly I have taught my girls by example that no one should put up with being mistreated. I have shown them to respect, love, and stand up for themselves, and to not live in fear. I am happy to say that my girls also speak out about Domestic Violence. They share a belief that laws should change, and men like their "daddy" should be in jail. My girls have learned that it is not OK to have to hide. It's not OK to live in fear. They have learned too, that we have gone through this, so we can make change for others.

Artist's Note: When people ask "why doesn't she just leave?", they don't realize that leaving isn't the hardest part. The afterward is the most difficult time, especially when children are involved. Usually the abuser will continue to stalk the survivor for years, unable to let go of the control. This is another reason, why awareness is so important so that communities will know how to help someone and not just tell them to leave.