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What Makes you a Hero

“If you have survived an abuser, and you tried to make things right…

If you forgave, and you struggled, and even in the expression of your grief and your anger tumbled out at times in too much rage and too many words…

If you spent years hanging on to the concepts of faith, hope, and love, even after you knew in your heart that those intangibles, upon which life is formed and sustained, would fail in the end….

And especially, if you stood between your children – or anyone – and him, and took the physical, emotional, and spiritual pummeling in their stead, then you are a hero.

– Jenna Brooks

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West Virginia and Domestic Violence

I am concerned with the statistical data in West Virginia, regarding domestic violence. And those who represent West Virginian’s in the political arena, should be just as mortified by the results from the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

“14,880 domestic violence cases were filed in West Virginia Family Court in 2010.”

“Every 9 minutes, a call is made to a domestic violence hotline in West Virginia.”

“Over 2/3 of women murdered in West Virginia are killed by a family or household member.”

“1/3 of homicides in West Virginia are related to domestic violence.”

“12,661 domestic violence offenses were reported to law enforcement in West Virginia in 2010.”

Half of all assaults in West Virginia are between family or household members.”

I believe that the laws in this state need to change to protect domestic violence victims and their children.

If the state were to implement stricter laws and provide more protections, it would keep victims away from their abusers.

For instance, if the state were to institute a “two-strikes and you’re out” rule, it would hopefully give victims more hope to have an escape from their abusers. Also, statements need to be taken by law enforcement responding to domestic disturbance calls. Additionally, law enforcement should be taking pictures of the any damage to the property and all injuries of both the abuser and the victim.

Moreover, if a neighbor calls the first responders’ to respond to domestic violence with a neighbor, the abuser automatically faces jail time as it is a matter of public concern. Anyone who is witness to the violence, should have their statements taken and subpoenaed into testifying in court. If not, the statement should be enough to prosecute the abuser.

If a police officer is called out to a residence more than twice to a domestic disturbance call, the police officer then should arrest the individual who is perpetrating the violence. Charges are automatically charged on the abuser and faces time in jail until arraigned in court and a protective order should automatically be given to the victim and the victims children until the court hearing, or 72-hour protective order should be given until the victim decides to go and file for a permanent protective order.

Victims should have access to a temporary emergency assistance program for HUD, SNAP, Medicaid etc., to help them get on their feet.  Including a Domestic Violence Exclusion , would allow victims, who are participating in TANF, to not be required to participate in work and training activities, and gives focus to the victim to focus on their healing process, particularly if the victim suffers from Battered Person’s Syndrome/PTSD.

If you would like to critique this suggestion, please leave a comment below and provide your response. If you have any additional suggestions as to what needs to be changed in the state of West Virginia, in regards to domestic violence, I would love to hear them!

A Police Officer Caught Shaming

It was a Sunday morning when I awakened to, yet again, another domestic violence incident involving Angel’s mother. This time, Angel’s mother had reached out to the police after the mother’s boyfriend had taken off with her vehicle. There was shouting and fighting and Angel’s mother had had enough and put her foot down.

When I became alert of the situation, a Parkersburg Police officer had shown up.

“What’s going on, ma’am?” the police officer had asked.

Panicky, Angel’s mother began telling the police officer what had happened, “He took off with my van! My car had broken down and so my family let me borrow their van. He grabbed the keys and took off! It is not even my van! It was lent to me to help get me by.”

“He took off with your van?” asked the officer.

“Yes!  He headed that way! He was yelling and screaming at me. He hit me and I stood up to him. He got mad, grabbed my keys, and took off! I think he headed to Spencer! He’s not from here!” Angel’s mother was crying and hysterical as she spoke to the officer.

“Ma’am, Ma’am, we’ll do what we can.” The officer spoke to dispatch and told them to be on the lookout for the van.

After he was done speaking with dispatch, and after he had jotted down notes in his little black notebook, he said something that had me absolutely appalled.

“Ma’am, Sunday is not a good day to be fighting and arguing,” said the officer.

My mouth dropped open. Angel’s mother stood there quietly with a look of disappointment on her face. It was as if in that instant, she felt bad for standing up for herself. She felt bad for calling the police and even reporting the incident. I could only imagine how she felt.

That day, I had almost lost all hope and trust for the police department. “Haven’t they had sensitivity training, domestic violence training? What gives him the right to say something like that? What happened to ‘protect and serve’? I didn’t know that it was ‘protect and shame’?”

Angel’s mother being shamed had flashed me back to the time that I had been shamed. I had once been shamed by someone who holds authority, who is supposed to act fair, and without bias. I was shamed by an acting judge when I appeared before the court to gain a restraining order against my ex-husband.

The judge told me, “One o’clock in the morning isn’t the time to fight an argue.”

“Really? You’re telling me that at one o’clock in the morning isn’t the ‘right time’ for me to protect myself against physical harm? Did you not listen to my testimony when I told you that I tried to call for help on my cell phone and my ex-husband snapped my arm back and pried the cell phone from my hands? Did you not hear me after I told you that he snapped my cell phone in half in front of my eyes? I tried to scream for someone to help, and I tried to even pry a window open to call for someone to help me? I am wrong. I am wrong for bringing in all the photos of my bruises and wounds from that night. I’m wrong for wanting a protective order?” I thought.

This whole incident, of shaming by police officers, judges, family, friends, etc., has inspired me to speak on this issue right now. I hope that in little town that I live in, that I can change how domestic violence victims are treated. I hope to change how victims are treated in the state, in this region and in this country. There are states that have wonderful laws and policies in place to help protect victims and have great programs in place to help police officers understand sensitivity in responding to domestic violence calls.

If you have, or you know someone who has a story that is similar to my story or Angel’s mother, please have he, or she share it! If we speak out, it will show the leaders in our community an issue that needs addressed, and this issue is shaming.

Tomorrow, I will be blogging about the positives and negatives of protective orders, particularly in the state of West Virginia. However, if you have had issues with protective orders or know someone who has, please share my blog. I would be grateful to hear their stories.

I’ll be your superhero, Angel. My name is Fighter Girl.

It was six in the morning when I was lying in bed that day in the month of November 2012. It was raining the day that I woke up to blood-curdling screams and the slams of doors. I sat up alarmed and stared outside through my bedroom window and saw a little girl clawing at the front door and crying.

“Let me in! Let me in!” she yelled. The girl looked to be about eight or nine years old.

I jumped up, put on my jeans. I dialed for the police and laid my cell phone on my bed as it rang.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“There is a domestic violence situation next door. There is a little girl outside screaming. The boyfriend locked her out of the house. The mother is inside screaming and getting choked.” I told the operator.  As I was speaking with emergency services, I put on my socks, boots, my jacket, and I grabbed my taser and mace and placed them in my jacket pocket. I gave them all the information that they needed to respond accordingly.

The emergency services did not stay on the line and after they took my information, they let me go. I hoped that they did not want to stay on the line with me. I was going next door to help that little girl. Whatever danger I was put in, I did not care. That little girl needed help and her mother needed help.

By the time that I made it next door, all was eerily quiet. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. I knocked on the door again, and there was no answer.

“Hey, someone’s knocking on your door,” said a woman on her porch, across the street. I looked across the street and had seen my neighbor standing there.

“Hey! Is everything okay?” I said.

“No. My boyfriend just choked me and hit me. I was getting my kids up ready for school and doctor’s appointments and he lost it on me. He took off down the street. I don’t know where he is now!” she said.

“Okay, well, I just called the cops. They are on their way as we speak. Where’s your kids?” I asked.

“They are over there,” as she pointed and sobbed. “Oh, man! CPS is really going to take my kids away this time! This is the second time this month that the cops have been called.” she said.

I looked over at the car, and there stood the little girl who was yelling to be let inside the house after being locked out. She was standing there with her light-pink, raincoat on, rain-drenched hair and a look of concern on her face that I had never seen before.

“I’m taking your daughter over to my house to get them warm, some food, and time to unwind while you talk to the police. Okay?” I asked.

“Okay,” said the mother.

I walked over to the girl, “Hey! I’m going to take you over to my house so you can get some breakfast and so you can get warm, okay?”

“Okay,” she said, “My sister is in the car.”

I looked into the car and had seen the infant resting in the carseat, roughly two or three months old. I opened the car door, reached in, unbuckled the seatbelt holding the carseat in place and grabbed the infant, the baby bag, and shut the car door. I looked at the little girl drenched and I put my hand out for her to take it.

The little girl took my hand gently, and we walked the short distance to my home. I turned on some cartoons, went upstairs, and woke my son, and then I brought him down stairs. I made the little girl and my son each a bowl of cereal and each a cup of orange juice. The infant began to get fussy as she was hungry, too. I made the infant girl a bottle from the formula that was contained in the bag.

Once I was able to sooth and calm the infant, I sat on the floor with the little girl, our legs crossed, and I began to talk to try to calm the little girl who had finished her breakfast.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“My name is Angel,” she said.

I then gave her my name, “So, what grade are you in?” I asked.

“I’m in third grade.” She replied.

“Oh! That is super cool! I remember my days in third grade. Do you have to do a lot of spelling and writing?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she said, I have to do a spelling test today for class. I don’t think I will be able to because I have to go to the doctor today.”

“Oh, okay. I’m sure you will do GREAT on that test. Have you been practicing your words?” I asked her this because the only thing she had on her were her spelling words.

“Yeah. I like spelling,” she said.

“That’s awesome! I’m sure you can spell wonderfully! Do you have other favorite subjects?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Hmmm? Like Science, Math, Art, Music, Dance, Recess?” I asked.

She giggled, “Recess is not a class!”

“I know,” I said, giggling.

Angel was distant now. She was thinking and what she was thinking about was not good, as I could tell by the look on her face. I thought to myself, “I need to distract her right, now.”

Right when I was preparing to ask her another question she said, “My mom’s boyfriend hit and choked my Mommy. He wouldn’t let me save her. He pushed me outside and locked me out of the house. He was hitting my Mommy and choking her. I couldn’t do anything.”

I stared at her intently. I did not know what to say and one second of my trying to think of what to say felt like an eternity. I felt a lump in my throat building with emotion; the tears were beginning to flow from my eyes. I know that she had seen my eyes water because she began to look at the floor and fiddle with the lace on her socks.

I needed to say something, “You know, it’s not your fault. Nothing is your fault. You did the best that you could do. I heard your screaming and it woke me up, I then called the cops for you. So you did help your mother.” I said.

I started scrambling for words to say to Angel to let her know that she has people who care and will help her. I wanted her to know I was on her side. Thoughts rushed my mind of everything I should say, I could say and all that I wanted to say. She was still looking down at the ground as if she still felt like she did not do enough.

Then that was what sparked that protecting, roaring lion within me.

“Look, Angel. You should never have to go through that. Ever! You should not have to witness that type of violence and your Mommy getting hurt. So here is the thing, if ever you need someone to talk to, I am here. You can come over and just hang out with me and my son. You can even bring your siblings, too. If your Mommy is getting hurt, or your Mom’s boyfriend is hurting your Mommy, you come to my house and get me. I do NOT care what time it is. I do NOT care how you do it. If you want to throw rocks at the widows, bang on my door, yell for help, etc. I will come running over to help you and your Mommy. You are not alone! Do you understand?”

“Yes,” she said. “Thank you, Miss.”

“Oh, Angel, it is not a problem! My Mommy and her boyfriend would get into fights. Sometimes I would have to go and get help. I had people who were brave and they would help my Mommy and me. As just as they helped me, I am here to help you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Miss.” In addition, she began to smile.

I gave Angel a hug, and told her that I promise her that I will be here to help her the best way that I can. In that moment, she knew that she had someone who had her back. Angel knew that if anything was more than what she could handle, she had a place for respite. Angel had someone who would sacrifice his or her own safety to make sure she was safe. Those who she relied on for safety were those making her life unsafe.

I do not like the term ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’. What I offered to Angel was neither. It was empathy. It was love. It was my fight for her. It was this instance that I realized that no one owes me a thing. No one owes me anything for what I had to go through with domestic violence. The experiences that I had as a victim, and had evolved me into a survivor. I survived! There are so many men, women and children who don’t survive. Why should I sit and do nothing as a woman is being abused and her children are observers of abuse, and abused themselves?

Survivors teach others who do not have the skills and the know-how, how to survive. They aren’t stupid, I’m not saying that. But emotions run high everyday, and it’s hard to keep them in check. Emotions blur the lines of what is reality and it’s hard to make decisions and act quickly. Survivors, when they took that step to leave their situation, they finally had reached that level of mental clarity. Their emotions no longer blur the lines of what is real. What is real is that someone is being subjected to pain. They use the strength that they have gained from their own fight, to help others fight. And if they can’t fight, sometimes we, the survivors, have to go so far as to fight for them.

Why do survivors do this? Oh, it’s because we know what it’s like. That moment that we witness a situation, and that ball of emotion begins to build in our throats, we do not just sit and cry. No, those ball of emotion causes us to act. We do not have time to cast judgment. We do not have time to reflect or consider what would be the right or wrong thing to do. We just do–we do what we can. We do what we can and what we wished someone could have done for us, and we do it unselfishly.

Angel was a fighter girl. She had that drive and she wanted the situation to change. When someone is always fighting alone, no matter their age, ability, strength, etc., it’s always great when you have someone to come to your side and says, “Let’s do this! Let’s go kick some butt!” Everyone needs someone to help encourage them, uplift them, and be that respite for the time when things aren’t so good.”

All I ask is that you be that side-kick for someone who’s having a bad time or be that superhero for that person who’s lost their fight. Be someone’s hero, today.

My Lifeboat

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My house is a lifeboat.
Contained within the dimensions of these walls are all that is needed to survive temporarily.
The storm is moving in, I see it building with rage.
This evening, it wants to break me.
All the hatred that it violently wants to release on me.
This storm is out to kill me.
This storm desires to bruise me and destroy all that is contained within my core.

I see the clouds stampeding towards me in dark greys, black, and aquamarine.
Flashes of light begin to help rage that storm forward at a rapid pace.
It draws itself closer.
The blasts of wind fill my lungs and make me feel as if I’m not breathing.
I need to remind myself to keep breathing.

Here we go.

As the waves increase swiftly and rapidly,
I look down.
I assess my circumstance.
I feel as if I may lose my grip and fall into the dark abyss of the waters below.

I can either give up and rest in this boat helplessly,
or I can actually hold on to my dear life like I’ve never held on before.
How much am I willing to fight?
If I fail to stand my ground, am I prepared to swim?
It’s time to test the strengths of my own courage.
It’s time to fight.

The waves raise this lifeboat ten feet high.
Fifteen feet high, slams me down.
Twenty-five feet high, the waves want to wreck my body.
I’m thrown and thrashed.
Each time salt water floods my nostrils and brings a sting to my eyes.

I try to maintain my grip on that boat.
“Tomorrow this storm will pass and all will be well”
“It will be wonderful”

The thrashing and damage this storm causes me to stand my ground!
I yell at the storm “FUCK YOU!!!”
It builds up with more rage and raises me fifty feet high, crashes me into the waters and destroys the little lifeboat.

The thunder from the storm replied with a deep-raging laugh mocking my attempts to be brave.

I swirled into the depths of the dark abyss where I was afraid to go.
The dark waters where I felt hopeless.
The dark waters when I felt like a failure.
And the dark waters sucked me deep.
And I gave up.

Floating there.
Letting the dark water depression take me over.

The storm was pleased that it put me in my place.
It was pleased that it had showed me where I belonged.
In that deep darkness where I couldn’t rise and grow more strength from the sunlight.

It watched as I sank.
Not putting up anymore fight.
This storm gave a look of displeasure. Of a brief moment of sadness.
“She gave up that easily?”

It moved on. Raged on.
The storm then dispersed.
The ocean began to calm.
Sun came flourishing through the windows of this old house.

I lay restless in the darkness
On the floor.
The door slams as that man walks out.
Starts the car.
Drives off.

I try to pick up the courage to do something.
“What do I do?”
“What do I do?”
“Do I call the police? Do I call my mother?”
“Who can I talk to about this storm that I just endured?”

I need someone to help me with my fight.
I need a plan.
I need a safe plan.

So I stand.
I grab what I can and place it in a bag.

I come to my senses.
I slowly swim to the surface.
A boat lies up ahead and I think this could be the boat that helps me.
I need to give it a try.

I thought I felt safe in my lifeboat.
Never before have I felt as safe in a life raft.
But it brought to me the warmth and safety that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

Three Years Later: Self-Restoration after Domestic Violence

It was one of those things that needed done. I stared at it and walked past it and stared at it some more. Consequently, as I patrolled back and forth apprehensively and immeasurably full of so much anxiety, I decided to turn off the lights and I turned off the television, climbed the stairs to my bedroom, and headed to bed. It was crucial for me to sleep off all of these rushing feelings and thoughts. It was essential that I gain vigor from the daylight to help me through what I needed to do.

The next morning I woke up with reminiscences flooding my mind of the past five years that I spent with that man. I cannot bear to say his name, but he is the man that took so much of my strength, individuality, reverence, and hope. This is the man who I bequeathed power to destroy my passions and aspirations, my willingness to continue on.

I slowly boosted myself up, positioned my feet on the floor, and pushed my bed head hair from my face. I opened my bedroom door soundlessly, not to make a commotion and walked to check on my son in his room to see if he was awake. Good, my son was still resting.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “I’m going to get this done today before I do anything else! I will complete this task before I take a shower, get coffee or clean up the rest of the house. Today is the day that I need to knock this out!”

I treaded softly downstairs and to that blue tote that sat in the corner of my dining room. I stared at it reluctantly and then I made a deep sigh. This tote has been sitting in the same spot of over a year and I neglected to even recognize that it was even mine. I had convinced myself that it belonged to my sister because I couldn’t dare grasp the fact that it was mine.

“I can get through this,” I said to myself, “I just need to keep my internal dialogue positive as my therapist said. I can and will do this!”

Moreover, I made my way to the little cupboard that stores all of my cleaning supplies and trash bags. I grabbed two extra-large trash bags, headed back to that blue tote and wrestled the lid open. Once I was able to open the lid, the smell from that giant blue box flooded my nostrils and made me feel a bit queasy. That blue box smelled of the old apartment I used to share with him. It smelled of cigarettes and his cologne, the air and carpet freshener that we used to use. Almost every scent that I try to avoid to this day.

It was time….

I sat on the floor with my legs crossed; I rocked side-to-side. That is what I do when my emotions are high. I have persuaded myself that if I rock, move, or fidget it will take the emotional sting away. It is like what you do, or what you see when those who get a paper cut or those who get a burn on their finger. I am sure you have seen it where they pace back and forth shouting profanities and cursing all that are good. Sometimes I curse all that is good. But for the most part, I rock side-to-side  or pace the house to sooth myself.

I went through the box slowly. I made sure to look at everything that I picked up. If it had my name on it, I was to keep it. If it had the name of that man, that man who fought to keep me down and keep me submissive, I were to throw it away.

The pace of sorting through the tote began to pick up faster and faster. I was feeling great! Half of the contents in that damn, blue box were thrown into trash bags! It felt so good! The more I so happened to throw away, the more I was gaining of myself. Page-by-page, document-by-document, his artwork, and military records, his notes and work information, his thoughts — all trash. If only he could watch from a distance, all of the things I was throwing away of his and to see the lack of regard that I had for him, I wouldn’t back down from his aggression and anger. I’m a different person now; I’m a fighter girl.

Of course, I knew exactly how he would react in that moment. If that man walked into the room and had seen what I was doing, he would have grabbed my by my hair and drag me across the room. He would have shouted at me and called me names. He would threaten me and scold me…..

“Stop thinking that. It’s not beneficial right now. I need to stay focused to get this done so I can feel a bit of accomplishment today.”

So I continued on until I found my military medical records.

“Oh, what is this?” I suddenly thought. “I haven’t seen these in years!”

I looked through them and read the notations:

“She has had some difficulty being assertive with her husband.”

“She is very soft-spoken, which can be part of the challenge when a person is trying to be more assertive.”

“She has expressed that her husband is aggressive with her.”

“Group therapy with her and her husband, he was very assertive with her. I discussed with him that grabbing her is wrong. I told the patient to call emergency services if assaults her.”

I knew what was in the records, but it had been so long; that time the man and I went through counseling together. It was said repeatedly in my medical records that I had an issue with being assertive. In that time, everything was my fault. I was too passive and I couldn’t stand up for myself. That was the lie that I told myself and my doctor. It was the lie that I told that man who took everything away from me, too. I told him that I had a problem with expressing myself and that I wish I could be more assertive in the most sensitive and quiet voice imaginable. I said it with the hopes that the punishment that I was given every day would lessen up. You see? The man had excuses as to why he was abusive towards me: abused as a child, mother has schizophrenia, raised by a single father, raised in a bad neighborhood. Why couldn’t I have an excuse to make him stop, love me, and treat me for what I was worth? That was a question I asked the entire relationship….

It always was my entire fault. It was that question that I couldn’t answer. I could never answer and will never want to answer. It’s a question that kept me from living my own life. It was a question that kept me from being happy.

“How could I be so naive?”

“No. It was not naivety.  It was that I was too sympathetic, compassionate, and empathetic. I was too respectful. I was too honest and open, trusting, giving, selfless, meek, mild, and wanting to be loved as much as I loved. It was not my fault. It never was my fault.”

That doctor was too senseless to realize that I was coming to him for assistance to get out of my predicament. I wanted to receive the words that I was not crazy! If I had the audacity to yell at him, I would have! “Hey, idiot!!! The man who I love has wrapped his hands around my throat and choked me out! He’s cut me! He’s threatened to kill me! He’s slapped me and punched me! He’s picked me up by my collar and has thrown me into a wall-locker! HELP ME!!!!!!! WHAT DO I DO!?!?!?!”

I then began to think sarcastically, “But no. It was my fault because I was too passive and I needed to learn to assert myself; at least that’s what the doctor told me and believed. I needed to be stronger! The man that I was with needed a woman who was as strong as him! I didn’t need to be weak and sensitive! Ha!”

“Stop it,” I thought. “The way he was trying to change me into being a ‘strong’ woman only deteriorated my idea of my self worth. Leaving him has made me strong. Coming to the realization that I didn’t love him made me stronger. And he didn’t love me! He was in ‘control’ with me. Cutting him from my life the best I could has made me stronger. Discovering myself all over again has lead me to be stronger than I ever have! I am strong! I’ve always been strong!”

You may think that clearing out a blue tote isn’t anything empowering. That sitting there and weeding through all the stuff that was contained within it was something that is usually done by ordinary people on any ordinary day. Nevertheless, that day was a day that I gained a little bit of my power back. That was the day that I cleansed my mind and worked through those thoughts that I have not engaged with in some time. That was a skirmish with the dark memory of that man who still lingers there in my subconscious. That man who preys on my insecurities and likes to promulgate the negative feelings I have of myself and all of those feelings placed there for over five years of subjecting myself to him and his destruction.

Each day is a struggle. It has been three years since I left the man who anticipated for me to hurt as much as he. I rose from the coals and the ashes that man destroyed me into. I never knew I was a Phoenix until that day my son was born and I burst into flames with passion to fight for the safety of my son and myself. I have been referred to as a ‘firecracker’ every since, and I’m not entirely opposed to the term.

However, I feel as if I’ve evolved to contain as much passion as all of the energy contained within the sun.

And this passion is what I’m sharing with you now.

From this day forward, I prepare to share with you my journey of being a survivor of domestic violence and the fight I had to go through to become who I am today.

– P