Disclaimer: Every story I share is a real person with a real story. However, I have changed their names, their family dynamics and a few details, in order to protect their identities.
When it comes to working with victims of domestic violence (DV) I never planned on doing so. In fact, it took years to recognize that I was a victim myself. Back in the day, DV was not recognized the way that it is today. Even still, the laws regarding DV are severely lacking and have a long way to go before they truly protect victims (but that is another blog for another time :).
For now, I want to start sharing the stories of women who have been victims. Some have moved on to healthy relationships and some have continued to repeat the DV cycle in their lives. Eryn was the first person that I wanted and tried to help, however, I was not fully equipped to do so effectively at that time. This is her story.
I met Eryn at a church playgroup and we both had two young children at the time. We had several play dates at the park and at my house before she finally invited us to meet at her house. Even though this was over two decades ago, I still remember the impression I had when I drove into the driveway. The house was located along a busy highway, was kind of backed into a mountainside and was very secluded from the other houses. The paint was old and peeling and the yard was littered with very used or broken toys. The inside of the house wasn’t too bad but I could tell that she was out of breath from cleaning. She immediately informed me, very nervously, that her husband, Jack, would be joining us. Although this was out of the ordinary, I didn’t think much of it. I had met him at church but hadn’t spent any time around him.
Our children, who had immediately began to play, were laughing and running around while Eryn and I sat at the table chatting. Then Jack arrived and the entire atmosphere changed. I watched Eryn transform as she quickly jumped up, greeted him with a hesitant smile and became extremely nervous and quiet and kept her head down. The kids greeted and hugged him as well, however, they stopped playing with the enthusiasm they had been prior to his arrival. The tension was thick in the air and I wasn’t sure what had happened. Everything felt awkward and forced to the point that I couldn’t wait to leave and ended up cutting our time short. Several playdates later, she began to confide in me the severity of her situation.
Although I was well meaning in trying to help Eryn, I was not equipped to do so. I tried to get her to stand up and fight for herself but she wasn’t ready for that yet. Jack had isolated her to the point that she had no money and wasn’t allowed to do anything without his permission. They had one car and, for park days, he would drop them off and pick them up at designated times. She had no say in how long she could stay. I wanted to help her get a car so that she could stay longer and I had an old one that we were not using. I had spoken with some of our mutual friends and we had decided to pool our money to get it fixed so that we could donate it to her. Because of my lack of experience, I told her about the car. Of course, out of fear, she told Jack about it and it became an issue. Several times he forced her to call me and ask when I would be getting it to her. I could tell she was embarrassed and didn’t want to ask me but she had no choice. I felt weird about the whole thing and let her know that the car thing wasn’t going to work out.
While this was all happening, I was oblivious and didn’t realize that she was telling him everything that I was telling her. He had become angry with me, which I was unaware of, and had begun to make plans on how to split up my friendship with Eryn. Although I had given up my motorcycle before getting married, everyone knew that I was an avid rider and LOVED them. Eryn had shared this fact with him and he had her invite me and the kids to their house. While we were there, he brought out his bike and I, of course, was excited about it. He asked me if I wanted to go on a ride with him and that Eryn would be happy to watch the kids…it was like leading a sheep to the slaughter! I didn’t know what the look in her eyes was at that time, but I would never forget it after that. It turns out that, Jack was high on Cocaine, hellbent on revenge and ended up taking me on a 120mph ride through traffic, which scared the living crap out of me. I literally thought we were going to crash and die and I was going to leave my children motherless. When we got back, I was relieved to be alive but anger was running through my veins! I grabbed my kids, let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he was a JACKass and left; never to hang out with them again.
Of course, Eryn had no control over anything and none of it was her fault because she was being abused and controlled. I just knew that I was not going to risk my life like that again. I didn’t know what happened to her until, probably ten years later, when she reached out to me via a social media platform. It was a genuine letter of apology and a long and sordid story about what had happened with them. Jack, who had been physically and mentally abusing her, had spun out of control with his drug use, got several DUI’s and, finally, after breaking several laws, he landed himself in jail. Ironically, losing his freedom was the ticket to being given hers. She was on the mend and doing her best to raise their children (they had a few more along the way). He was still sending letters and poems from prison begging her not to give up on him. To the best of my knowledge she never went back to him.
I was only about 25 years old, still fresh off of my own wounds, and totally clueless about how to help myself, let alone anyone else. I had a big heart but I was like a bull in a China shop; I had great intentions, but I did not belong in that role yet. I also didn’t know the difference between being a “rescuer” and being a “helper”. Being of the “Rescuer” mindset is a self-focused one because you think you need to rescue someone and pull them out of their circumstance for them. You want the victim to do what you think they should do and try to force your decision making on them. This is a flawed strategy and should not be the motivation behind helping anyone. If you force any victim to make a move they are not ready for, they will go back to their abuser and you will end up being the bad guy. A victim has been convinced that they have no value and no power by a person who is abusive. If you force your thinking on them, the second they get scared and back out, they will only view you as another person who is trying to control them. They will lose trust in you and you will no longer have no power to help them.
What victims need are “helpers”. Someone who will be there for them, give them the best advice possible, make them feel safe around you, and support them when they make that final decision to escape. They will not always make the right decisions along the way and it takes a lot of patience to stand by feeling helpless. But, it is imperative that any decision to take action is theirs and theirs alone. And the minute they are ready, they know exactly who to turn to because you have already proven your trust, loyalty and safety.
Unfortunately, all of the victims I have been involved with, were already involved in abusive relationships when we met. However, there is a way to avoid these relationships all together. There are signs in every relationship that are present and if we can get enough information out there, maybe we can help lower the domestic violence statistics.
Until next week, be cautious and be safe!