Dear Younger Me

I walk into a room filled with fifty smiling young women eager to hear tidbits from professional women twenty to thirty years their senior. My dress style is well put together, and I present an approachable confidence. I’ve been asked to participate as a panelist and share insight gained in becoming an empowered woman.

By all “appearances”, I am a woman that has it all “figured out” and “hasn’t too much to worry about.” It’s as if life has been a breeze and I am one of the lucky ones that has skirted through unscathed. The question is “what is the one thing you would tell your younger version?” I smile and I share!

Before I share my answer, I will share a little background. I got married as I entered adulthood. I married my “high school sweetheart.” Except, he wasn’t really a sweetheart. I was just too scared to let him go. I was equally as scared to be with him. Three and half years and two small children later I would finally be more scared to be with him than to be without him. Those three and half years were the scariest of my life. 

In hindsight, I recognize the signs were there while we were dating in high school, and my experience isn’t isolated. In fact, national statistics shed light on how prevalent such situations are, according to the national statistics on teen dating abuse, 1 in 12 experience physical dating violence. I didn’t experience physical violence while dating in high school. My experience included verbal aggression and emotional abuse, but not physical abuse. Like most people, I didn’t recognize verbal and emotional assaults as abuse. Once we were married, the abuse naturally escalated. There was more verbal abuse, emotional abuse intensified, and physical abuse became a part of the abuse cycle.

According to the CDC almost half of all women in the US have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime and 1 in 4 women (24.3%) over 18 in the US have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In 2017, The United States Office on Drugs and Crime reported 50,000 women called home “the most dangerous place.” While it is recognized that men can be victims as well, about 85% of intimate partner violence victims are women and girls.

Intimate partner violence or domestic violence is abuse that occurs in an intimate or romantic relationship. It is a pattern of abuse in which one partner uses abuse to gain power and control over the other. The pattern is usually experienced in a cycle of tension building, explosion, and then a honeymoon phase, over and over.

Main types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse is the use of physical force either with a body part or an object in a manner that injures or endangers you. Note, endangering you is as substantial as injuring you. Many victims have a tendency to minimize minor injuries. *Strangulation dramatically increases the likelihood of death to a victim. In the event of strangulation, the victim should be seen by a physician immediately. Many times, external evidence does not reveal the depths of the internal injuries.
  • Emotional abuse includes verbal and psychological abuse and includes threats of violence or other repercussions, yelling, belittling, name-calling, intimidation, shaming, blaming, and controlling techniques to wield power and control.
  • Financial abuse includes withholding, restricting, and preventing your access to financial gain. It also includes making you account for every bit you spend. Examples may include making you live on an allowance and closely monitoring how you spend it, demanding receipts for purchases, depositing your paycheck into an account you can’t access, preventing you from viewing or accessing bank accounts, preventing you from working, limiting the hours that work, getting you fired, or forcing you to work certain types of jobs.
  • Stalking includes unwanted acts of following, harassing, and watching you. Examples may include showing up at your home or workplace unannounced or uninvited, sending you unwanted texts, messages, letters, emails, or voicemails, leaving you unwanted items, gifts, or flowers.

Leaving is not as simple as most would believe. It’s hard because the person abusing you is a person you love or loved, a person with whom you may share children, and often because financially it is too hard. Women don’t often have a place to go and especially not somewhere with children. When I decided to leave my abusive relationship, I was not sure where I was going.  I planned for three places, the home of my dad and step-mom, a shelter, or my car. Thankfully, my dad was willing to help me. If he hadn’t, I am not sure I would have lasted in a shelter or my car for very long.

Additionally, once a woman decides to leave, she is at the mercy of the court to believe her story. If she is successful in getting an order of protection, it is a piece of paper. It is not a guarantee her abuser won’t continue to threaten her or worse take action. If there are children shared with the abuser, the victim must continue to interact with her abuser. There is no end date for a victim of domestic violence, even when they manage to break free. The emotional aftermath of post-traumatic stress disorder tends  to linger for many years. My head was on a swivel for at least a decade after I left my abuser. It is not without warrant to note that we spend far more time asking why a victim stays and educating women on violence than we do asking why men abuse and educating them on ways to change their abusive behavior.

There is so much more I should and could write, but I am out of space. If you want more information about domestic violence and resources to help yourself or someone you know, please reach out to me at mjohns@transforming-wellness.com. Importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you think someone you know is being abused.

While I am not significantly special regarding being a victim of intimate partner violence, I am significantly special in having left the situation and survived. For that I am eternally grateful to God and the family and friends that supported me along the way. As for my answer to that question of advice for younger me. I would tell her to tune in and take heed to signs and signals of her body and brain. I would tell her to slow down, pray a little more, and trust God a lot more!

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