Our August #SurvivorSunday feature is an unstoppable advocate and survivor with a heart of gold. The founder of the non-profit, ‘See the Light, Be the Light’, Elizabeth has made it her life’s mission to use her testimony as the rope to pull others out of darkness. In her words, “peace does a woman good”–and she’s determined to live it, and gift it, in every since of the word.
When I tell people my story, they often have a hard time believing it. I am outgoing, (although shy), loud, outspoken, intelligent and gregarious. I would not seem to fit the profile. Prior to the abusive relationship, one might not have suspected me capable of it. Inwardly however, there were tell-tale signs that now might have given pause to concern.
Let me give a little back story just for the sake of understanding. I grew in a good solid Midwest, white, middle class family in the 60s-80s. We had all the trappings that came with that in those days; vacations, new cars, decent houses, etc. I didn’t need nor really want for anything. My father had remarried after he divorced my mother and got custody of me in the 60s. They had a son a few years later. He worked for the same construction company for many years which afforded us that lifestyle. He was not a graduate of high school but had a strong work ethic and a sense of family. We traveled to other family member’s homes for the holidays, where most of the family gathered. It was an ideal upbringing. When I was in 11th grade, we transferred to Florida with my father’s job. This was a huge culture shock. Where I was raised, there were few other cultures other than Caucasian. Where we moved, there were many cultures and I was entranced and fascinated.
It did not take long before I took notice, and the men from other cultures took notice as well. I met and fell in love with a black man, and shortly thereafter became pregnant. He wasn’t a bad man; just not one who knew or understood commitment, or how to be a husband or father. My father caught wind and I was terrified. At that point in my life my biological mother had contacted me for the first time since I was a very young child, and I was curious. I moved back to the Midwest. Big mistake. She was not the nicest of people, and let’s just say there was a reason my father divorced her. I ended up in shelters, and due to pride could not call my Dad or the father. I finally got on my feet and started college at the age of 21. Shortly thereafter I met another man and yes, yet again found myself pregnant. I had already lost contact with my eldest child’s father, so I tried to make a father out of a boy yet again. We moved in together and began to set up house.
He was so charming and nice and so concerned about everything that had to do with me. It was even charming that he seemed to be jealous. I felt very important. My family and I hadn’t talked in several years, and I was not a person who had a lot of friends. It was nice to know he only wanted to spend holidays with me and the kids. It was cute that he wanted to drop me off at work and to pick up to make sure I was safe. He really cared.
Or so I thought. The first time he put his hands on me I was 6 months pregnant. He had come home very late, without the toilet paper that I had asked him to bring. He had been out with the fellas instead of working and he was a little tipsy. I was pissed and had no problem letting him know. I was rewarded with a pretty good slap to the face. In total shock, I tried to get him to leave, but he was immediately sorry and said it was just the alcohol. It would never happen again. We both cried and he held me all night long. He promised to get a job and said he was just stressed. I accepted the apology and we moved forward. He said he did not want to lose me and found a job. Life became ideal again.
Until 3 months after our son was born.
He had gotten laid off and was having a hard time finding a job and was very moody. He left out and didn’t come back for several days. When he did, he smelled horrible and was very angry. He was yelling and I tried to get him to be quiet so the baby would remain asleep. That made him angrier. He pushed me on the couch and trapped my arms to my sides and sat on my chest. He started swinging from side to side with closed fists, just wailing on the sides of my head and face. It seemed to go on forever. I was trying to hold on to consciousness and would fade to black. He did not stop. He exhausted himself and I could barely see. My face was so swollen, and I immediately began throw up. Blood was coming from my nose and ears. He had blown both my eardrums with the force of the hits. I had a concussion. I threw up for several days after and my neck and back hurt horrible. I believe I had whiplash. He would not let me go to the doctor and of course, would not let anyone see me as I was swollen and bruised horribly. I could barely do anything, and my 7-year-old daughter picked up the slack. She cared for me as he disappeared.
I think a part of me died at that point. I did not see a way out. I thought I was going to die. The next day when he came back at the flat, he was not full of remorse. This time he told me he would kill me next time. He isolated us from all everyone. Although I had learned to hide the bruises and he was just as good at not leaving them where they could be seen. I felt like a dog on a chain and I couldn’t get off it. Life was a continuous hell of fear and horror waiting for the next time, and he always blamed me for his violence. The more I stayed with him the more it destroyed my self-esteem. I began to believe that it was all my fault and that if I just loved him enough, he would see how wrong it was. I felt like I was on this roller coaster that I couldn’t get off of. I coped by trying to keep him happy so he would not hurt me. I believed for a long time that it was my fault, I cried a lot when he wasn’t home. I became a shell of who I was. I lost all my belief in myself and began to believe in what he saw. I was totally isolated and spoke to no one about what was happening as I was ashamed and embarrassed. I don’t think I really did cope except to hide it from the world.
Things got a lot worse towards the end. He would threaten to run us all off the road in the car and kill us. The violence became a daily occurrence if not several episodes a day. One night he came in drunk and wanted to have sex. I was watching tv with the kids, so tried to put him off and was hoping he would fall asleep. He didn’t and threatened to do what he wanted in front of the kids. I decided to go even though my daughter cried no don’t go. As soon as I went back to the room, he punched me in my face for taking too long and started beating me and kicking me. My daughter ran in and jumped on his back and he threw her off. She ran out and called the police. It was the first and the last time. He told me if the police show up, I will kill you. He meant it. When the police came, he was still beating me, and I was trying to hold on to consciousness. They took him and tried to convince me that a protective order would keep him at bay. I knew it would not. They wanted me to go to the hospital, but I knew I needed to leave.
I grabbed my box of photo albums, a garbage bag of clothes for the children and myself, and took my dog, which had been a loyal friend for many years, and we left. I had little money and had no idea where I was going but knew I had to leave. Driving that night, I was so scared of the future, probably more scared than I had been in years because the unknown was out there, and I had no idea if he would find us. The eggshells I had been treading on were not gone just because we left. I was determined to turn my life around, but it didn’t happen overnight. We spent several months at shelters until I could save enough to get us a place. I changed our names to ensure he wouldn’t find us and began to rebuild our lives. It took probably three or four years before I stopped looking over my shoulder. I spoke with the crime victim advocate many times over the next few years. He always seemed to be in trouble and was doing the same thing to new women. The police who helped us and the crime victim advocate helped me keep my mind at ease. By the fifth year I saw light at the end of the tunnel. However, life wasn’t cheery. My kids hated me even though they knew we had to leave, and I had no idea how to deal with that. I really had no idea how to be a parent. So, I avoided them and worked two and three jobs to make ends meet. My daughter again had to pick up the slack and take care of her younger brother. She still has learned to forgive me, and our relationship growing stronger. My son and I also have a contentious relationship at times. I still often feel alone, and as if no one understands me or cares.
Relationships can be difficult because I refuse to ever be a victim again. I am a strange mixture of an old fashioned submissive, man is the head of the household type of girl, (doesn’t mean he rules over me) who is fiercely independent because I have had to be. I desperately want to trust and be loved. But being loved has always hurt. Now at the ripe old age of almost 53, it is hard to let go and let a man be a man. I have no idea how to not be independent. Men have told me they feel as if I don’t need them. I don’t, but I do. I sometimes feel like I will be alone forever and hate the platitudes of people telling me I won’t. Sometimes I want to be alone forever, maybe as penance. My point is, that just because I am gone, doesn’t mean that I’m always ok. And that is ok. Life is a journey not a destination. My journey isn’t over…and each day it is a new beginning. This gave rise to a project in the embryonic stages. See the Light Be the Light. My primary focus will be empowerment, education and uplifting of individuals and their families who have suffered from domestic violence. But where I want my lane to be is that road 20 years later when something reminds you and drops you to your knees and you feel it all over again. The fear, the uncertainty, the doubt, the disbelief, all the emotions that you thought you worked through. I just want to be there to say…ITS OK…to feel that way, it’s okay because this is a forever healing.
My advice is not be afraid to ask for help, even if you have to swallow your pride. Believe in yourself, don’t give up and use the chance to change your destiny, although it may seem difficult. You are not alone. Everyone has the right to live in dignity in their own home, free from fear of violence or harm. Many victims of domestic abuse feel they lack the appropriate support to enable them to positively alter their situation. You might have to seek support. Don’t be afraid or ashamed. Abuse doesn’t get better if you don’t do anything; it just keeps getting worse. You have to be your own friend. You must have compassion for yourself. You must forgive yourself. You deserve better. You are a precious human being and you deserve to be treated with respect. And you can’t ever give up. DON’T YOU EVER GIVE UP ON YOURSELF. Hang in there – you are not alone.