Guardian Angel

My body throbbed. My pulse was racing. The bruises on the back on my legs and arms were pounding. Even though he was in the other room, I could still feel his grip tightening around my arms, pulling me back as I strained to get away. The tears finally stopped. I think I was literally dried up. But the fear and the anxiety were real. I reached up, sliding my fingers between the slats on his crib. I peered up over his mattress, he was still sound asleep, none the wiser that I was even in his room. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I just had to make it through the night. We both just had to make it through the night safe. Then I could figure something out. I could find a place to keep us safe. I could call my parents if I had to. I just had to make it through the night.

I lay on the floor because the bed was too far away, I considered moving the bed, or the crib, or the baby. But I didn’t want to wake anyone. And I wasn’t sure I had the energy to move anything anyway. I reached over and grabbed a quilt and pillow from the baby’s bed, never losing sight of the crib, or the door. I heard a creaking floorboard in the kitchen. I held my breath.

What if he decided to come into the baby’s room?

What if he came looking for me?

But he didn’t. He walked right by. I heard the slamming and locking of our bedroom door, and shortly after that the locking of the bathroom door as well. there were two doors on the bathroom, one from the master bedroom and one from the hallway. He locked both doors so I couldn’t get in. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t leaving the baby, not even if I had to go to the bathroom.

I lay back down on the floor exhausted. It was uncomfortable, but at least then I knew that if he came into the baby’s room, he would have to go through me to get to the baby. I settled my head on the pillow as best I could. I pulled the quilt around myself made sure the baby was sleeping soundly. Then I tried to settle in for the night, or at least a few hours.

As I looked up at the door, I suddenly knew I was safe I felt a wave of peace and protection wash over me, for as I looked at the door, I saw an angel standing guard. She was enormous. She shimmered in a golden translucent hue. Her wings reached right through the ceiling and she stood at guard with her sword of protection. She nodded to me, as if saying, “I’ve got this. You are in the arms of Jesus. Rest now.” So I closed my eyes.

 

I don’t really know how long I slept, but I remember hearing Matthew stir in his crib. He looked pleasantly surprised to find me sleeping on the floor next to his crib.

“Mama,” he giggled.

“Shhh my precious.” I whispered. “Daddy’s still sleeping.” I didn’t know for sure, but I sure hoped and prayed he was still asleep. I put my fingers up through the slats of the crib again and Matthew held on tight. He seemed to know I just needed to lay there for a minute. He laid his head down popped his thumb back into his mouth and played with my fingers.

Morning had come. We were both still alive. My body ached all over. Between the tension and worry of last night’s events, and the bruising and aching all over my body, I was worn out. I glanced at the door. The angel was gone, as was my peace. But I knew she had been there and helped us all to sleep. “Thank you, God.” I whispered.

We were safe. But I knew that safety was fleeting. I had to come up with a plan, and quickly. How had I gotten myself into this mess?

 

 

 

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Wizard of Oz

A student that I work with who was raped by her boyfriend almost a year ago came up to me and told me that the anniversary of that horrible event is coming up. And when she told me the date, I realized that on that date I would be sitting through two shows of The Wizard of Oz. And it made me think about the characters and what they are searching for in the play and what we are all searching for in life: a brain, a heart, the nerve and a home.

These are my thoughts for her…

A Brain

The scarecrow wants a brain. He fears he is only full of fluff and isn’t smart enough. He sings to Dorothy that if he had a brain, “Then perhaps I’ll deserve you, and be even worthy of you.” And isn’t that what brains or smarts are all about? Being respected and admired by others for our ideas. At the end of the play the Wizard gives him a doctor of thinkology degree and be begins spouting facts about isosceles triangles.

But I think the kind of brains or smarts that the scarecrow wants throughout the play is really more about wisdom than book smarts. He made a plan to save his friend. He thought about what would be the best way to free her from the witch’s guards. It wasn’t book smarts that freed her, but rather using his brains to think through a situation.

For me the importance of this kind of smarts throughout your life is essential. Thinking about possible solutions and the outcomes of those solutions helps you to make informed decisions to help your friends and to help yourself.

Having brains is also about recognizing a bad or dangerous situation, which is not always an easy thing, and finding a way to get out of it. The situation my student told me about was extremely difficult for anyone, but even more difficult for someone so young. This was her first significant boyfriend. She trusted him. She loved him. She didn’t really have a frame of reference for a healthy relationship, but she knew that something was wrong with the relationship. She knew that he was controlling and manipulative, but she didn’t know how to get out of the situation. He used her trust and love to manipulate her and get her to do what he wanted, or take what he wanted.

Abusive relationships aren’t about book smarts. Anyone can be fooled. It’s bigger than book smarts. But that’s because when you are in a relationship, your heart is also involved. And that is where the Tin Man comes in.

A Heart

We have read and rehearsed every line to the play over and over again. My favorite line to practice is when the Wizard is saying to the Tin Man that he doesn’t realize how lucky he is to not have a heart, because until a heart is unbreakable its not worth having. Then at the end when Dorothy is saying good-bye to the Tin Man he says that he knows he has a heart because now it’s breaking.

Given the fragile nature of a heart it’s a wonder any of us want one at all. Kind of goes against the brains because if you were smart enough, you would know you don’t really want a heart. And I definitely struggle with having a heart, and caring about others, or having the brains not to trust or love again. But I’m too much of a softie for that. I know I have a heart. Because it’s breaking all over again.

It breaks over again for my students. It is broken because someone took advantage of her trust and love and hurt her. He hurt her so deeply that there are days when she doesn’t want to ever trust or love again. And there are days when she wants that love back so strongly that it hurts for different reasons.

Having a heart is a tricky thing. When you experience love it can make your heart sing and make you smile for no reason. But when your heart breaks, it can crush you just as deeply and make you cry for no reason. And that brings us to the Lion and having the courage to love again.

The Nerve

One of my favorite lines that the cowardly lion has is when he says, “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. There’s only one thing I want you guys to do.”

The Tin Man and Scarecrow reply, “What’s that?”

The Lion replies, “Talk me out of it!”

To me this is what courage is all about. Being scared of doing something, but doing it anyway. It isn’t easy and doesn’t always make sense, but courage means standing up for what you know is right.

She had the courage to get out. It took her a while to understand what she needed to do, but she did it. She also had the courage to tell others and stand up for herself.

It took nerve, courage to get out.

She showed courage by standing up for herself.

It took love to get out.

She gave her heart over to him. But she knew in her heart she deserved more.

It took brains to get out.

She used her brains in sharing her story, as hard as it was and as much as she fought it. By sharing it and owning it, she took back the power and control he took from her.

But in the end, what I want, what she wants, what Dorothy wants, is a home.

A Home

To me the home that Dorothy is talking about is not the physical home, but the safety and security of being loved and cared for. The feeling of family and belonging. It is the basis for all things we want, a place to fit in and be loved.

Dorothy had it all along. She just didn’t realize it. Sometimes we need to look no farther than our own back yard to realize that we do belong, that we do have the brains to make good decisions for ourselves, that we have the heart to care about others and the courage to open up our heart and do what we have to do for the ones we love.

The wizard tells the Tin Man to remember, “that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” It feels good to know you are loved by others. But it takes courage to open up your heart and let others love you. But it also takes brains to know how to get in the right kind of relationship or get out of the wrong one.

You need to trust yourself and remember, “There’s no place like home.”

Relationships

I work with junior high school students. There is one student who I have worked with quite a lot this year. I have been working with her on helping to help her deal with a difficult situation that she faced last year. But sometimes, I think she’s the one helping me.

We were talking today about the abusive and controlling relationship she was in last year. She has worked hard to get beyond this relationship and learn to trust again. But she is currently having a disagreement with her parents about the concept of dating and they are telling her that maybe she shouldn’t be dating at all. Her response to me was that she shouldn’t be punished and not allowed to date anymore because she dated the wrong guy.

As often happens, our conversations typically stay with me long after we have finished talking. I am divorced, actually I’ve been divorced twice and I have just started thinking about dating again. I tend to be a little bit (ok, probably a lot) negative about dating and relationships just assuming that I am not very good at it and I have a bit of a defeatist attitude.

But as I began to reflect on my conversation with this student today I thought that maybe it wasn’t me, but that I picked the wrong guy (s). I shouldn’t “punish” myself or not date again, just because I messed up in the past but that maybe I should give myself another chance and try to learn to trust again.

So rather than give up completely on the idea of finding companionship with someone and closing myself off before really giving it a chance, maybe I need to take a chance on relationships and give myself another try at finding the right guy or at least being open to the idea.

Experiences

A recent blog post suggestion asked what would your present self tell your 10 years ago self. 10 years is an interesting timeframe for me as I am 1 year out of a 10-year long marriage. As I look back on the past 10 years, actually on the past 20 years, I would have liked to have been able to spare myself some of the heart ache and pain. I would have liked to tell myself to be smarter and not get involved with this man, or that man. But in the end, who I am today has been shaped by each choice and each decision that I have made. Who I am and where I am is because of the events that have happened in my life. Hopefully some of the wisdom I have gained from those experiences will help me to help others.

Over the past few weeks I have talking to 13-year-old girl about a horrible event that happened to her. She had a bad start to the school year and was acting in a way that I thought was out of character for her. She was being down right mean. I had a few occasions to talk to her, and one of those times she told me in detail about the horrible thing that happened to her last year. And while I thought that no 13-year-old should ever have to go through what she endured, it started to make sense to me as to why she was so angry and mean.

A few of the things we talked about really resonated with me and made me appreciate what I have been through, if only to help this girl.

One of the things we talked about was the meanness of people. She was talking about how mad she would get when people made jokes or comments about her. Many of the kids knew generic, and often incorrect, information about what happened to her, so when they made comments or did things, she overreacted to them because it was so raw and painful. She said to me, “Ms. S. you can’t tell me that when someone is talking about you, you are just going to sit there and take it. You get mad and want to get back at them.”

I told her that people could be mean at any age.

At the end of last year I told my teachers that I would be going back to using my maiden name. I wanted to be sure they knew so that they were not surprised when emails started coming from me with my new last name. Most of the teachers don’t know the details of my divorce, nor do they need to. But I happened to overhear two of them talking about me, snidely commenting on me being divorced, again. It hurt. I didn’t like what they were saying. I didn’t like the judgment they were passing on me because it was such a raw and painful experience for me.

When I told her this story she said, “You could fire them.” I laughed, not for that. But I did still have to work with these teachers professionally. So we talked about taking the high road and knowing that my real friends understood and were there to support me. I also admitted to her that it did hurt. I didn’t like people talking about me. I didn’t like people judging me. But what was more important than what they said and that they were talking about me, was my reaction to them. I couldn’t control them. I could only control me and my reaction to them.

After one of our conversations she told her mom that she told me the whole story. She told her mom that after we talked she felt “lighter.” One of the things I tried to stress to her was that she was not alone. While most other 13-year-olds would not understand or be able to relate to what she had been through, I tried to assure her that she isn’t alone.

She told me later that when I shared with her some of my experiences she felt better. She said it helped to know that someone else understood what she was feeling and that she isn’t alone. I have noticed that she does look lighter. I’ve seen her smile more. I’ve seen her be a little kid again talking about silly junior high stuff. And I’ve seen her smile at me with a warmth that comes from knowing that someone else gets it.

She has talked about moving to a different school next year and I cautioned her that running away isn’t the answer. It might seem easier at times, but this isn’t something to outrun, but rather something to outlive. I encouraged her to think about what would be best for her. And in the end, she has to make decisions for her future, not simply to escape her past.

It’s easy to run. It’s easy to get mad. It’s easy to act like you don’t care. But in the end, what happens to us shapes who we are and who we become.

I was married, and divorced, twice. I have been in abusive and controlling relationships. I have been victimized, but I am not a victim. I am a survivor.

So if everything that I have been through over the past 20 years has helped this little girl know she isn’t alone, then it is all worth it.

If I could, I would tell my younger self that you are stronger than you think and you will have to deal with a lot, but in the end you will help others.

STOP

How do we make it stop?

I’ve lived it. I see it. I hear about it all too often.

But I don’t know how to make it stop.

I’ve lived through two horribly abusive relationships.

I have pictures from my first marriage. I have pictures of the bruises he left behind. I have pictures of the hole he punched in the wall an inch from my infant son’s head. I have pictures of the welts left on my arm from where he shoved me up against the wooden edge of the bed. I have pictures of an actual footprint on my leg where he kicked me. The physical bruises heal. The emotional scars don’t.

When people saw the bruises they felt bad. They said it was awful. They understood why I left. Physical abuse is horrible to live through. It is terrifying. It is debilitating. It is demoralizing. But in some ways it is easier than emotional abuse, because it can be seen. It can be defined. And it is not tolerated.

My second marriage was also abusive, but it was emotionally abusive. An emotionally abusive and controlling relationship is hard. It’s harder to identify. It’s harder to recognize. It’s harder to explain. It builds up over time. It is a series of doubts, manipulations, and incidents that sneak up on you.

It is hard to realize what is happening, identify it, name it, and get out of it. It feels weak to say, “He’s mean.” There is no bruise to say, “Look what he did.” In the end, it is the realization that it is bad, unhealthy, and wrong. I have scars from my second marriage. I have scars of fear, of self-doubt, of intimidation. I have scars from the emotional abuse.

I’ve lived through it. Both the physical and the emotional abuse. I’ve heard about it from other women. I’ve heard stories of intimidation, stalking, and manipulation. I’ve heard stores of lies, deceit, and falsehood. I’ve heard from other women who have experienced similar types of abuse. I’m surprised saddened by the sheer number of women who have experienced some type of emotional abuse.

Working in a middle school, I see it in our young girls. I’ve witnessed the terrors of young girls who are already getting themselves into abusive relationships. I’ve witnessed these girls believing it is their fault. I’ve witnessed them being taken advantage of for being kind, compassionate, and wanting to fit in. I’ve witnessed the extremes they go through to feel “loved” and “accepted.”

I see, I listen, and I cry. Sometimes with them, always after they’ve left. I cry for the innocence lost. I cry for the wanting. I cry for the pain and desperation in their eyes.

What I don’t know how to do is make it stop.

Genuine happiness

Not every happy birthday wish is genuine. Sometimes it’s just for show.

happy birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I love birthdays. I don’t care so much about my own birthday, but I love to celebrate my friends and their birthdays.

I am a principal of a middle school. Somehow the kids and the teachers always find out about my birthday and I’m usually a pretty good sport about being sung to by the students all day long. But I remember one birthday when my ex-husband and I were still together and working at the same school and I wasn’t very gracious at all.

My ex-husband planned to surprise me with a cake in the cafeteria when I was on lunch duty and have the kids sing to me. I suspected something was going on, and rather than just go along with it, I resisted. Practically making one of my friends, the social worker at school, drag me into the cafeteria. The kids sang, we had cake, and it was great. But I was pissed about it. And I didn’t know why.

As I look back on that time now, I realize that one of the hardest parts of us working together was that the person other people saw (and loved) at work, and in public, was not the person I went home to at night. Everyone thought he was so sweet and wonderful, but the man I was with at home was angry, mean and spiteful.

We were living a lie, and I think at that time in my life, I was finally starting to realize it, but I couldn’t quite identify it. I didn’t really want to acknowledge it, but our life was most definitely not perfect, in fact it was pretty miserable.

He made such a big deal about being this great guy in public that it made me feel bad about the way he acted it home. It made me doubt myself. I was mad at him that birthday because he wasn’t trying to make sure that I had a happy birthday, he was trying to look good in the eyes of other people. So the birthday gesture didn’t feel genuine. And the fact that he continued to fool people, and still does, made me mad then, and is something I still struggle with now.

Even though I was alone for my birthday, every “happy birthday” that was wished to me felt genuine. The students, the teachers, my friends, my family, my boys, all wished me a happy birthday because they wanted me to be happy. Which [even as I sit here crying as I type this] makes me realize that I am a very lucky person. And I genuinely did have a very happy birthday this year.

Microcosm of society

Unfortunately, domestic violence and violence in the NFL is a reflection of society at large. I’m a huge football fan. It’s been a rough couple of weeks in the NFL with the explosion of the Ray Rice video, the news of Adrian Peterson, and now the Greg Hardy situation.

Domestic violence is a crisis in our country. There are people and organizations out there trying to make a difference and make a change, but domestic violence is still seen as acceptable to too many people. Not only do the abusers think it is acceptable, but the victims well.

Things needs to change.

Maybe now, with the press that these stories are getting, things will change. Maybe now, with sponsors for the NFL speaking out against domestic violence, things will change.

Maybe now victims will speak up for themselves, and things will change.

What I really deserve

He told me I was lucky he put up with me.

He told me he was going to kill himself.

He told me it was my fault.

He told me I deserved to be hit.

 

And I believed him.

 

No one should feel scared or intimidated by their spouse.

No one should use threats to control others.

No one is responsible for someone else’s actions.

No one deserves to be hit.

 

I don’t want to believe him any more.

 

I tell myself these things over and over again.

I tell myself to believe them.

I tell myself that I am a good person.

I tell myself that I deserve better.

 

I don’t know what that looks like.

 

I want respect and trust.

I want caring and kindness.

I want understanding and forgiveness.

I want safety and security.

 

I deserve better.

Shaking my core

I am a strong confident woman. No one intimidates me. That might sound like a cocky thing to say, but it’s true. Not doctors. Not lawyers. Not professors. Not my supervisors. And not even those whom I supervise (and some of them can be fairly intimidating). I’m a vey intelligent, confident woman and very little intimidates me.

But one thing terrifies me: my ex- husband. I know that intellectually I can out wit him. I know that emotionally I’m a very strong person. I know that my life is better now than it was when we were together. But I also know that just the thought of having to see him or deal with him for anything shakes me to my core like nothing else.  I can’t quite explain it or justify it or even rationalize it. But he terrifies me.

All it takes is for me to see his name pop up on my phone.  Or see him when I drop off my son with him. Or see him in court. Just the thought of having to deal with him for anything, and I feel like I’m about to have an anxiety attack. My hands start shaking. My heart starts to pound. I can’t catch my breath. My stomach churns. Suddenly all of that confidence that I have most days is gone and I feel tiny and fragile and scared.

It disturbs me how much his name, his face, his presence can just shake me so badly. It is terrifying how this one person has so much control over me. I can’t make sense of it, but each day I am trying to move forward and figure out how to deal with this and how to regain my sense of self.

 

When is enough enough?

I love football. This might not have come across in my earlier posts or my blog bio, but I do. I love football. I listen almost exclusively to sports talk radio and so, of course, I have been hearing a lot about Ray Rice and the domestic violence issue and the reaction, or lack of reaction, from the NFL.

The first problem that I keep hearing relating to this particular situation is that people keep comparing it to players who are being fined and suspended for PED or drug use, which is an inequitable comparison. For better or worse, right or wrong, the NFL does a have a drug abuse policy with set guidelines for punishment and they do not have one for domestic violence situations. 

The other common argument that I am hearing is that the league needs some type of policy for arrests, while that is probably true, I still do not believe that this will address the domestic violence issue. While I do not claim to be an expert on this particular situation or to know all the facts around it, what I have seen in the video, what I have heard and through my own experience, it does seem to be a classic case of domestic violence. And there is an inherent conflict with domestic violence and pressing charges that lead to arrest.

One of the suggestions I heard related to punishments was that they league should wait until they have an arrest, charges or a conviction. That concerns me specifically in relation to domestic violence. This puts the pressure back on the woman for pressing charges, which is exactly what the police and domestic violence advocates don’t support. The problem is that then the woman feels responsible, and that perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

One of two things would typically happen.

1) He will promise it will never happen again, she will believe him, and she will not press charges. But then it will happen again. Because that is how the cycle of abuse works.

2) She does press charges, then he faces suspension or fines based on her pressing charges, she feels guilty, he is angry, and it happens again. Because that is how the cycle of abuse works.

No good outcomes from either situation. This is why most domestic violence advocates push for laws that take the decision out of her hands. The police file charges whether she wants to or not. But so much of domestic violence is not even seen or reported.

The Ray Rice video with his then fiancée happened to be caught on camera at a casino. If that was caught on camera, in an elevator, a fairly public place, what do you think happens behind closed doors?

As a survivor of domestic violence, it is scary. The terror of living in that kind of a situation is all consuming and, for me, I just wanted it to end. It is hard to see your way out of it. I didn’t press charges. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I left. I protected myself and my family.

But was that enough?

Is it ever enough?

What will be “enough” of a punishment to (hopefully) make a difference to Ray Rice and make him stop treating his wife this way?

What is “enough” of a punishment for the NFL to make a stand to say they won’t tolerate domestic violence?

And when do we, as a society, say Enough is Enough.