I Escaped With My Life
It has been eight years….
….eight years since I packed all my bags, scoured the room for my keys, and made my way down the stairs and into the foyer, much against the loud opinions of the people around me. I pushed aside the man who stood in my way, the one who told me I’d never be okay out there on my own, the one who told me everyone I know and love is dangerous and that I need to be careful. As he stood in front of the door telling me I couldn’t go, I felt myself flooding with rage. As tired as I was, as hurt as I was, as sick as I was, I mustered up every ounce of strength I had and looked him directly in the eyes:
“LET. ME. GO” I said coldly. There were no hysterics in my voice, just a rage simmering beneath the surface which I knew he could sense.
“You want to leave? Fine, GO. GET OUT,” he said as he quickly stepped aside and opened the door for me, hoping I would collapse back into his arms and tell him I needed him. But I didn’t do that this time.
Instead I pressed forward until I was outside in the hot, sticky July air. I don’t remember the walk from the front door to my car, but I do remember putting my key into the ignition and turning on my little Mazda. I drove away as fast as I could, but not before taking one last glance back at my rearview mirror to see if he was following me.
He wasn’t. In fact, his door was already shut and the house sat quietly on the block, pretending as if it hadn’t just housed a horribly abused woman for six months.
Eight years feels like so long ago and very recent all at the same time. I wish I could tell 21 year old Alyssa that she’s going to do great things in this world. But this time eight years ago, I left the home of an abusive, violent man and felt like my only option was death.
I’ll never be able to go back in time and tell my 21 year old self that in just 6 days, a puppy will be born who will find her way into my arms come September and will save my life. Nor will I be able to go back and tell younger Alyssa that she’s going to graduate college and get her Master’s degree. I wish she knew that in the next 6 years she would start her own business that would grow, seemingly overnight, into a success that is beyond her wildest dreams.
I never would have imagined all of this for myself – quite frankly, at 21 years old, I didn’t see myself surviving long enough to turn 22.
There are parts of this period in my life that I still cannot speak about. And this time of year, the flashbacks are always more intense, the body memories are also ever-so-present. To be honest, I have no clue why he let me go that day; and what I want you to know is that my escaping has nothing to do with who I am as a person. It’s not about me being “strong minded” or anything like that. SO MANY VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DO NOT ESCAPE OR DO NOT SURVIVE. And there is no telling which of us will escape with our lives and which of us won’t. I feel so lucky that I made it out of there with my life. And while I am always thankful for my fur babies and husband coming into my life, today is definitely one of those days where I appreciate this beautiful family of mine just a little bit extra.
Our Children Are Always Watching
I often say to the families I work with, “It’s takes a village to raise a kid.” I do not yet have biological children, so I will never profess to know what it is like to be a parent. However, I do have nearly two decades of experience working with children (first babysitting, then summer camps, then substitute teaching, then crisis intervention, and now, my independent practice).
All of my experiences with children thus far have led me to believe that it truly does take a community to raise a child. It takes teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, school counselors and other adults to raise a healthy, well-adjusted kid. If you work with kids in any way, you have likely had an affect on their upbringing. As kids get older, they tend to spend more time in school and in extracurricular activities and less time with their parents, which is why I say “our” children are always watching. While they may not be your biological children, if you are spending a significant amount of time around kids, then you can rest assured that they are watching you, too.
Why does this matter? Well, let’s look at a few examples below:
-A few weeks ago I had a teenager and her mom in my office. It was brought up that during dinner a few nights back, the rest of the family ate pasta while mom ate a salad with grilled chicken. Mom mentioned that the pasta looked amazing but she wouldn’t allow herself to have any because she is on a mission to lose weight. While this may not seem overtly harmful, adults talking about their diets and weight-loss often leads to children feeling highly dissatisfied with their own bodies.
-Many years ago when I worked for a crisis intervention unit, I performed an assessment on a young boy who said to me “My dad tells me that he loves me, but sometimes I hear him talking to my mom about how they would have more money if they didn’t have kids.” While dad surely did not mean for his child to hear this, the child now, unfortunately, can never un-hear it.
-On a more personal level, when I was in kindergarten, I did not follow directions on one of my assignments. My teacher looked at me and yelled “Are you stupid?!” To this day, looking back on that memory still floods my body with shame from head to toe.
-As another personal anecdote, I had a soccer coach in high school who always tried to have genuine conversations with me and made efforts to get to know me on a deeper level. She acted this way with all of the kids on the team. The respect that she had for all of us was palpable and we all felt seen and heard by her.
The list of impressionable moments that can change or solidify the way a child feels about themselves is limitless. What I’m trying to say is this: Kids are always taking in information, even when we think they aren’t. They are listening, they are observing, and most importantly, they are picking up on the feelings of the ones around them. If we’re not careful as adults, we can send dangerous messages to children that reinforce diet culture, low self-esteem, perfectionism, feelings of abandonment and being unloved, etc. All of this can ultimately lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
This is not a call-out to parents only, nor is it an attempt to parent-shame. We’re all doing the best we can and need to treat ourselves and others with compassion. Rather, this is a shout-out to all of the adults in this world, as most of us will find ourselves around children at some point in our lives. The next time you find yourself in the presence of a child/children, please make every effort to leave them feeling like they matter and that they are accepted; for this is how we start building self-esteem in children, which will have positive ripple effects on generations to come.
I Called It Love
The way in which the body stores trauma never ceases to amaze me. You may not be consciously aware of what is happening, but your body gives you subtle hints and clues to let you know that it’s storing some difficult feelings. This has been so true for me lately. The end of August leading into September has brought on lots of body aches, stiffness, and tightness in my back and hips. My sleep has been interrupted with nightmares and I have little desire for food (which is a huge red flag for a foodie like myself). I’ve been so busy lately that I have barely taken a moment to realize what month we are in….
……until this week. September. Sweet September. The month I fell in love with a man who promised me the world as long as I agreed to trade my soul.
He told me he’d love me since no one else would ever want me; and I called that love.
He told me he’d pick me up for our date. I waited by the window for hours only for him to tell me he found something better to do; and I called it love.
He told me he didn’t want anyone to know we were together. It would be our secret; and I called it love.
He told me my friends and family hated me and that I should leave everyone behind and start a new life all on my own with him; and I called it love.
He drove me to class because he said he didn’t trust that other people wouldn’t try to steal me away from him; and I called it love.
I was forbidden to speak when we were out with his friends. He said this was so he could protect me from getting mixed up with the wrong crowd; and I called it love.
He took my car keys, my cell phone, my shoes, and he hid them for fear I’d leave; and I called it love.
He slept on top of me so I couldn’t run away in the middle of the night without him knowing; and I called it love.
He locked me in a room when he wanted a break from how much I stressed him out; and I called it love.
He told me he had my best interest at heart and that I just needed to trust him; and I called it love.
It breaks my heart to see how lost I was. None of that was love. If someone is telling you that they love you, but the relationship leaves you feeling horrible about yourself, that is not love. Please do not confuse empty promises, degradation, and codependency for romance. If you do not feel emotionally and/or physically safe, you are not safe and it is not love.
Years later, as I look at the sweet man sitting on the couch next to me, I thank God that I was able to get away from this abuser and go on to marry the safest, kindest man I’ve ever known. And while the memories of my abusive relationship always resurface around this time of year in the form of aches, pains, and nightmares, I find so much comfort in knowing I am safe now.
My husband lets me fly free, pushing me to pursue my dreams and cheering me on in every way he can.
My husband greets me at my car door with an umbrella to protect me from the rain when I arrive home from work on a stormy night.
My husband sits with me in therapy to help learn ways he can support me through my recovery from PTSD.
My husband is so proud to walk through this life with me.
Now I call THAT love.