No, I can’t “just get over it.”

I read It’s Time: Canada’s National Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence today. I was part of the development of this Strategy, with a group of other strong and determined Survivors. We met over the course of a year to discuss our experiences in the Family Law, Criminal and Civil Court systems, as well as our experiences with social service agencies and child protection agencies. We culminated our accounts, thoughts and experiences, along with comprehensive recommendations, in to a report that was presented to the Minister of the Status of Women earlier this year. So, I was very curious and eager to read the report, particularly because our group, Believe/Croyez has been selected  from a National pool of other advocacy groups, who also provided reports of their own, with the hopes of being selected to work with the government in making this Strategy become a reality. Believe/Croyez will receive grant money to put our recommendations in to action and change the landscape of gender-based violence in this country, with a view to ending it.

So many parts of the report had me feeling hopeful and reassured; finally, it seems, the government is listening. Finally, we have a plan and that is a very good start. Something really struck me, though. A paragraph that says, “Violence can have life-long impacts on an individual’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health. Impacts can include physical injury and death, disabilities- including depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder- as well as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, substance use, absence from school or work, job loss and social isolation.”  This is more true than anyone can know. I have often said, in an effort to lighten a very heavy mood when speaking about my own experiences, that domestic violence is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when a woman thinks she’s turned a corner, there seems to always be yet another road block for her to overcome. Being a victim is traumatizing , life threatening and life changing, but just because you’re “out” doesn’t mean it’s over.

Speaking for myself and, if I may, my children, we are still coping with the aftermath of my abusive marriage. I left my husband July 21, 2004, and still today, the shadows of Jason’s abuse hangs over us. We all have a degree of PTSD, depression and anxiety. We have all sustained physical, emotional and psychological injury from our abuser, causing us to miss work, school, become isolated from friends and family at times and, when we just couldn’t figure out a way to connect, from each other. I would often miss work in the early days of my separation due to lawyers’ meetings, court dates, doctor’s  and counselling appointments for my kids. But there were also times I missed work because the fear of leaving my house was so great, I couldn’t get myself through the door. The anxiety I felt being away from my children and not knowing for sure they were safe would have me keeping my children home from school for movie days, making ice cream sundaes while avoiding their questions about why they “got to” stay home today.

Often I would stay home rather than going out with friends because I just couldn’t handle their questions or worse, their lack of questions. They did not understand what I was experiencing and did not know how to support me. Seeing them living their “normal” lives was so painful for me; I felt like a failure in so many ways, it was just easier to make excuses and stay home. At times, friends just stopped inviting me, and I knew they were excluding me, but I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t much fun to be around with my anger and paranoia, my guilt and jealousy. Home with my babies was where I wanted to be and in spending so much time with my children, in keeping us all so close together, I created an isolation and a co-dependency that would later cause a rift in the family that I am not sure we (I) will ever be able to repair. My eldest daughter has left home, has stopped speaking to me and, while my heart is broken, I understand her motivation completely. She needs to separate herself from all that reminds her of the pain and hurt that was her childhood.

I suffer from PTSD, OCD, Anxiety and Depression… I never realized a person could have all of these diagnoses until I was awarded them, like a prize for “worst dressed” at a red carpet event. These are all badges I wear and the pin pricks in my skin where the various cocktails of medication do not numb their sharp points are reminders that while my marriage is long over, the effects of it are not. I am prone to self-medication with alcohol and, on occasion, recreational drugs. I have rituals that must be completed daily (hourly, minute-by-minute depending on my anxiety level)  some of which, my children can tell you,  are extreme and, for them, invasive. They have never enjoyed me vacuuming and mopping the floors and even less so when the vacuum is turned on while they are sleeping or trying to watch TV. I do both of these things daily, sometimes four or five times a day at my most anxious. There have been times where I have not slept for days and other times when its all I could do to get out of bed. Some say it is a testament to my strength that I always did get out of bed, but it was not so much my strength as my guilt, knowing I owed it to my kids to get out of bed and make the best effort I could to parent them. There were many days I went back to bed after I got the kids to school and stayed there until it was time to pick them up again.

I also have chronic pain in my back and chronic sciatica. I am told the injuries are those consistent with those a person would sustain from repeated hard falls to the floor on one’s bum. The vertebra in my back have been compressed to the point that I have bulging discs and deterioration, and the sacrum and pelvic bones have been damaged and this causes chronic sciatica. I was not a particularly clumsy child, according to my father, and I am 99% sure these injuries are from literally being knocked on my ass by my husband on many occasions. The pain is never completely fades, no matter how many pharmaceutical drugs my doctors prescribe, or how much alcohol I drink. The constant burning and ache are always there, reminding me of the trauma I survived. The pain keeps me prisoner in a cage of resentment, knowing that it will never get any better and I will never truly be free of “him”.

The choices I made, to leave twelve times and go back thirteen, were made in desperation and a will to protect my babies and try to make the best of a marriage doomed to fail. Even in leaving for the final time, I knew it would not be over just because I vowed to never go back, putting borders and country between us, to guarantee it. I knew he would come for me, and he did. Ten years of courts, lawyers, negotiations, left me bankrupt and living in a deeper poverty pit than I ever imagined. The stalking, threats, break and entering, dozens of daily emails kept me feeling afraid for my life and made it impossible for me to be completely present in any given moment. I lived in a state of hyper vigilance for so many years, that my body could not withstand the stress and so I now have fibromyalgia , a painful, difficult disorder that exacerbates the pain I already live with. I have  a sleep disorder that keeps me from falling in to R.E.M. which is required to repair and restore your body. I rarely wake up feeling refreshed.

Still when I go near the Perth Courthouse, I can feel the bile of fear rising in my throat. My hands get clammy, my stomach turns and tears well up in my eyes. When I receive an email from Jason, I still feel anxious and afraid, just seeing his name in my inbox. I received a note from my daughter’s orthodontist last week and it had a hand written note from Jason on it. Seeing his hand writing gave me such a jolt I dropped the paper. I put the letter away; I’ll come back to it when I feel I can. Isn’t that pathetic?

Strength, composure, competence is what people see when I meet them. I dress nicely, I do my hair and my make up daily. I present myself to the world as a Survivor who has overcome her demons and is moving forward in her life. And I am, moving forward. But the demons are at my back, talking in my ear, reminding me that I failed to protect my children, that their pain is my fault, that the future is non-existent.

I separated from my abuser July 21, 2004. I packed up my children and pugs and fled in the night, back to my hometowns to escape. We did not escape. And though court matters have been settled since August 5, 2015, the aftermath and the effects of my marriage are still with me. I will always be “surviving”. My children have a future ahead of them that sometimes seems out of reach, but I will always be there to encourage and support them. Their road is longer and perhaps more treacherous than most and I blame myself for much of that. So, when people say, “It’s been thirteen years. Can’t you just get over it?” I tell them, “No. I can’t.” I cannot just get over it because it’s not over for me. It never will be. That’s the reality of domestic violence. Leaving is not the end. It’s just the beginning of another journey filled with pain, fear and guilt. We Survivors are stronger than anyone, except another Survivor,  can ever really know. We put one foot in front of the other every single day, looking a head to a future we sometimes don’t even trust is there. We cannot get over it. It changed our lives, changed who we were and who we could have become. We wear the badge of Survivor without ever having had the choice to not. Our physical, mental, emotional and financial wellness is fleeting, inconsistent and unpredictable. So don’t ask me why I can’t “just get over it.” This is now my life. And the only way to “get over it” is to end it. That is the raw, unsugarcoated, truth. Society doesn’t want to hear this and for decades the trauma of domestic violence was ignored, swept under the rug. But, now we have a strategy, a plan. I was part of that and that is so empowering.

The path I’m on now is exactly where I want to be, speaking out and advocating to end violence against women. I will keep working toward this, keep fighting and keep lending my voice to those who don’t yet know they have their own. I Believe/Croyez we can end violence against women.

 

 

What Women Want

I have been advocating in a volunteer capacity for many years, working alongside other advocates and agencies to educate people in our community about Domestic Violence, gender based violence and Rape Culture. People ask me all the time why do I do  this work? Why do I continue to identify as a Survivor of DV and Rape? Can’t I just get over it? The simplest answer is, “No.”

I can’t “get over it” because being assaulted changes you. It changes who you were and who you  could have become. It changes everything about your life, even though from the outside everything looks the same, normal, it’s not. Because you’re not. 

I can’t stop advocating, joining committees and Advisory Boards because women are still being abused and murdered by their partners, women are still being raped and women and those who identify as a woman are still at risk of gender based violence every day. And it makes me angry, furious, in fact, when I hear stories from women with the same underlying theme: women are not valued. Women are viewed as sexual objects who are in existence for the pleasure of men. That sounds harsh to some people, but it’s the truth and it’s about time we just called the Patriarchy and Misogyny out and brought them into the light and call them what they are. I am so frustrated that still women live  in fear just because of their gender; it’s not right. I don’t know what has to be done to wake  people up and demand change in the systems and schools of thought that  continue to keep women down with the heel of misogyny on their throats. But I want a Revolution. I want to see women marching in our streets and their empathetic men along with them, demanding that the government stop creating committees and studies on this “issue” and actually do something. I want to see people calling abuse and rape exactly what it is and calling it out when they see it and doing something about it. I want children to be empowered to say, “No,” to uninvited or unwanted touching. I want girls to know that their body is theirs and they, and only they, decide what happens to it. I want boys to know it’s okay to cry, to get mushy over puppies and kittens and to express their feelings because they are allowed to have feelings. I want gender stereotypes to no longer be perpetuated and people to be seen as the human beings that they are; not just as colours or genitalia. 

The judicial system is not effective in addressing the issues either because the Judges and lawyers are not trained to appropriately handle cases of violence against women. We have judges telling women to keep their knees together, lawyers who are indifferent to the victims of these crimes, police who do not believe women and make them feel like they are liars. The prison system is ineffective, if the perpetrators even get jail time, and it  does nothing to address the cause(s) for men committing these violent acts.  Nothing is done to rehabilitate them or teach them how to be healthy instead of harmful. They come out of prison even more angry and violent and continue the cycle over and over. People think the “justice system” will be the end all be all, but it’s not. The system revictimizes women and children, punishes men and treats them like pariahs, causing irreparable emotional and psychological damage. There is no “justice” for a victim of DV or Rape.

Almost thirteen years ago, I fled the USA with my three children to get away from out abuser. The system that was supposed to help us and protect us failed miserably. Our abuser was enabled by the system to continually stalk, harass and financially abuse us. My children spent most of their childhood knowing about court dates and lawyers and police reports and visits from social workers. They were traumatized over and over by the very institutions that were supposed to protect them. 

And children are still going through this every day. Mothers are still struggling to protect their children and themselves and not just from their abusers, but from systems that are broken, ineffective and callous. This has to change. We need specialized DV courts with trained lawyers and judges and we need lawyers for victims. We need police to be trained in DV and sexual assault so women don’t feel harassed or disbelieved when they report. We need society to stop treating women and girls as commodities, objects to be used up and thrown away. Women must be believed when they report abuse and rape. Society needs to see women and girls as people with human rights that should be protected and upheld just as they are for men. Women need to support one another and lift each other up. We need to stand together against the Patriarchy and misogyny. It’s not enough to wear a pin or button. We have to act. We have to make change happen because it clearly is not going to happen organically. These have been issues since the beginning of time. Perhaps the best this we can do is stop calling Domestic Violence and Violence against Women “women’s issues” and recognize they are Human Rights issues.

 At the end of the day, what women want is Fundamental Rights. The same rights men are afforded just by being born with a penis.  It sounds so simple, yet it’s been the most deadly and devastating battle in history. 

International Women’s Day 

Today I wear red in solidarity with women around the world  living in a world that undervalues and underestimates us. We are murdered by our male partners, raped and assaulted, harassed and catcalled. We are paid less than our male counterparts for the same work, we are denied education and  denied access to services. We are denied justice in the courts and are revictimized by a system that blames us for being  victims and does not believe us. We live in poverty and fear and despair. Still,  we stand, we fight, we move forward.

Women are the givers of life, the force that that keeps this world moving forward, even if it means our death. Women are the elders, the caregivers, the mothers, daughters, sisters and friends that people turn to for love, compassion and strength. Yet, we are held back, pushed down and murdered because of our gender (identification). Still, we stand, we fight, we move forward.

Women are entrepreneurs, artists, advocates and activists.  We are Survivors. In a world that tells us we are equal, but marginalizes and oppresses us. Still, we stand, we fight, we move forward. 

Every woman is a Survivor of something in a world that does not truly value us. Today, remember that you are a Survivor. Celebrate you and take care of you. Reflect and remind yourself that you are important, you are a gift to this world. 

To all Women and those who identify as such, stand tall today and feel the power within yourself. Keep fighting, in whatever way you do, for equality and justice. The world needs you. Women and girls need you. Today we stand together and make the world take notice and feel our power and see our determination to make this world safe for all of us. Today we stand, we fight, we move forward. 

Happy International Women’s Day!

March 2

Today is the 9th anniversary of my divorce from Jason. Yes, 9th. People wonder why I continue to acknowledge this day, question why I celebrate this day and mark it as a milestone in my journey. Anyone who has escaped an abusive partner knows, that cutting the ties is so important to taking back your life, establishing autonomy and claiming your power. Receiving the divorce decree in my mailbox was one of the best days of my life and I will never forget the feeling of pure joy and vindication I felt when I opened the envelope.

I have been participating in a number of new initiatives to address and combat violence against women and rape culture in my community. One of the most validating engagements was being asked to tell my story and share my experiences in the Family and Criminal courts. Lanark County is trying to get funding for an expansion on our courthouse and have a designated Domestic Violence Court to address the high incidences of domestic violence in our communities. Being asked as a Survivor to speak to a researcher and offer my recommendations regarding the current Systems and the functionality of the courthouse itself in regards to safety for victims was very validating. Not only did it affirm for me that it is okay to speak about my experience, but also that my experiences, my knowledge and my opinions matter. This is very empowering.

As a Survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, I am often called upon to share my story, support victims and join advisory boards and advocacy committees. I love that I am able to support and empower other women to find the strength they have within themselves to move from victim to survivor. I take my role as a board member and committee member very seriously and I advocate with intention and ferocity. I will not stop advocating until there is no longer a need to do so. When women can live in safety, without fear of abuse or assault, can navigate the world with true equality and autonomy.

March 2 is an important day in my life as it marks my freedom, the severing of ties to my abuser. March 8 is International Woman’s Day and I will be celebrating that day by striking, participating in the No Women for a Day protest. I hope that other women will also participate and support and encourage other women in doing so as well.

Today is a happy day for me. A day that I feel powerful, reflective and strong. Today is a great day.

 

 

Black Heart

Habits are sometimes formed without being noticed
without knowing that the behaviour,
the the thought processes or patterns are
being ingrained into our lives.
The way we interact with people or
think of ourselves,
the way we allow people to treat us or
the things we do
to ourselves
come from a place of such familiarity
that we don’t even realize we are doing it.
Sometimes patterns are so much a fabric of our being
that we cannot navigate the world without them.
Even when we think we have broken them, started fresh, cleansed ourselves,
purged the blackness from our hearts,
the basis for them is still there and is transferred to something,
or someone, else.
And the habit repeats, returns, looking like a new behaviour
but it is still the same blackness
just packaged differently,
disguised from ourselves so we don’t realize that
we have once again become
Addicted.
You are my addiction,
my blackness,
the evil that I once had controlling my life
that stole from me my strength
My dignity
My self respect.
Like heroine coursing through my veins
I crave you and the way you make me cringe
and feel worthless
The way you steal away my Joy and
make me long for Hope.
My body aches to feel you touch  me with tenderness
while my mind knows your touch will only
leave bruises, jagged track marks from your cruel words
that prick my skin
Seeping into my blood and turning everything inside
dark and sad.
You are familiar to me,
with your lies and gaslighting
Your smooth voice and your empty promises.
I know you,
I remember from a past I try to forget,
but cannot.
This pain, this longing for something,
anything else,
other than the gaping black hole inside me where my heart once was
before he soiled it.
You make me remember how it feels to be small,
to be lied to and laughed at.
You make me remember that I’m
Unlovable,
Unworthy,
Unimportant
Not good enough.
You with your perfect words that make me forget
for a moment
how I was lying crumpled on the floor,
destroyed by your callousness,
just moments ago;
You are familiar to me.
I remember this, I know how to live like this
I know how to be
Broken.
I want to forget.
I want to unlearn this self loathing,
this emptiness.
I don’t want to live within the familiar anymore.
I don’t want to need this fix,
jonesing for a hit, that will drop me to the floor,
devastated
by your indifference
I have to give you up, get over you,
get you out of my head, my veins, my heart!
I need to stop needing this fix that never makes it right
but only keeps me feeling
wrong
about everything.
You are familiar to me
because you are just like him
and I don’t want to be the me that was Her,
the bruised and broken one
without Hope.
I want to be the me that walked with purpose,
that was okay being on her own and knew
Exactly whose eyes she was looking into each morning in the mirror.
I want myself back,
with a heart painted red
Not black.

Shadow Man

People who experience trauma often have lasting effects from it; anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc. The list is long and the ailments varying in degree from person to person. It doesn’t matter what caused the trauma when you are dealing with its effects; the trauma itself  is not the problem anymore. It’s the way it has changed your life that becomes the issue. So many people suffer every day and the resources are drying up and the empathy is perfunctory; everyone has some advice to offer, but no one really gets it unless they are survivors, too.

I have had a shadow that has followed me since I was young. He is always there, just over my shoulder or standing in the darkness, watching me. Waiting for me. I never really knew why he was there, but sometimes his allure was so strong, I was tempted to follow him in to the darkness.

I know now he came to me after the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was a young girl at a home where my sister and I were cared for while my single father was at work.There were  a dozen or so kids from ages 6 months to 14 years old who went to this caregiver and we were not well supervised. I was the oldest girl at this place and there were a couple boys a bit older than me. There were also boys in the neighbourhood who would come to play. It was on a hot, sunny day when all the kids were outside playing in the yard that I was lured to the front of the house by one of the boys. Two other boys, neighbourhood kids, were waiting. The boys held my arms,  and pushed me to the ground. The other boy, who I thought was my friend, pulled down my shorts and fondled me. He put his fingers inside me. Then he held me while the other boys did the same. They laughed and teased and called me names as I cried. Eventually they let me go. I ran into the house to the bathroom downstairs (we were never allowed up in to the main part of the house) and locked the door. I hid in there for as long as I could. I cried and cried and wondered what I had done to make the boys want to hurt me. I was humiliated and full of shame; I knew it was my fault. I was so afraid that the babysitter would find out and and she would tell my dad…I would be in so much trouble if anyone found out what I had done. You see that? I blamed myself for the behaviour of those boys. They assaulted me and I felt I was to blame. It was the early 80s and Feminism was not something that even existed in my world.

I avoided the boys as best I could the rest of that day. I never told anyone what had happened. It wasn’t the last time I was assaulted by these boys and I lived with the shame, the confusion and anger. I turned it all on myself and searched for ways to appease my guilty conscience. And that is how Shadow Man came to me.

Shadow Man is the darkness, the sadness and shame that I cannot contain inside. He lurks around me, following me, reminding me that I am dirty, unworthy, loathsome and unloveable. He reminds me that I am alone, and that the only way to free myself of him is to join him in the darkness. There, I will find release from pain, a quietness.

He was a part of my life for years. I did everything I could to keep him at bay, but usually I resorted to self-destructive behaviours that really only fed him, and helped him grow stronger. As a young girl I became obsessive about keeping my room clean and in order. I tried to be perfect at school and at home and tried to stay out of the way of the older boys at the babysitters.I was anorexic in high school and college. I binge drank and experimented with drugs. I tried to be perfect, carefully doing my make up and hair every day to look like I was “pretty” and “normal”. Inside, I knew I was ugly, tarnished and unclean. Nothing I did chased Shadow Man away. I became angry, defiant and put on a facade of a strong, confident woman who said what needed to be said, did what needed to be done and had her shit together.

I suffered more trauma through my life; I was raped in high school and never reported it. I never told anyone about it until much later. I married a man who became abusive to me and my children in some of the most heinous ways; I still feel like it is unbelievable that it could have happened to me.

Shadow Man stayed with me my whole life, only leaving for a short period of time when I was and adult. I was working full time, things were quiet on the Family Court front and my kids and I were happy. I was happy, but He was still there. One day a friend of mine told me how you can tell a “spirit” to leave you alone, to go away. I was astonished; could I really do that? I suppose I wanted to believe that this Shadow Man was simply an unwanted entity who had attached itself to me. I followed my friend’s advice and I asked the Shadow Man what he wanted. I got no response that I could feel or understand. I told him he was unwelcome, that he had to leave me alone and never come back. To my surprise, he left. He was gone; I could not feel him anymore. I was so amazed and relieved!

Life was good and I was happy. I was as financially secure as I had ever been. My kids and I were in a good place and the Shadow Man became a memory.

And then my grandmother became ill and when I lost her, I felt like my whole world was crashing down. She was my best friend, my mentor, my hero. Without her I felt like I was disconnected, unstable, lost. I was exposed and Shadow Man found his way back to me; I welcomed him this time. I wanted to feel him near, to know he would be there when I was ready to fall in to the quiet, the dark and rest.

I know that I am not the only person who has experienced trauma in their lives and I know I am not the only one who battles this darkness. Trauma opens you up to it, allows it to come in to your life and haunt you. I have successfully resisted his allure many, many times, but there are still so many days when his darkness blots out the sun and swallows me. On those days, I allow myself to cry, to brood, to be angry. I allow myself to feel the pain that Shadow Man promises to take away. Some days the pain is overwhelming, the anxiety crippling. I will think that I cannot resist anymore, that I don’t even want to; I want the quiet, the peace. And then someone will remind me that I am a Survivor. A  friend, my children, or my grandmother’s voice will whisper in my ear, “One foot in front of the other, Lass. Better days ahead.”  So I allow myself to feel the sadness and anger and fear for a short time. I remind myself that I will survive it, as I have so many times before, and I will keep going. Shadow Man is here, he may always be, and I accept that. I have to find a way to live with this darkness and keep it at bay. I don’t know for how long, but today, I know that I win. And a win one day at a time is a good start.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Thoughts

Christmas is just days away, there is snow covering the ground and the air is cold. The malls and stores are full of people shopping for gifts for loved ones. The grocery stores are bustling as people buy food for the various parties  they will be hosting or attending and, of course, their Christmas dinner.  It is a busy time of year for most and the messages of, “Be grateful,” and “Give not receive,” are heard in media, social media and in conversation. It’s a time of joy and togetherness.

But not for everyone. For so many, Christmas is a time of sadness, a time of fear, a time of uncertainty. There are arguments made for both sides, but ask anyone who works in the field of violence against women and domestic violence, this time of year is more dangerous for women living with an abusive partner. There is a spike in domestic violence during any holiday, but Christmas seems to see the greatest spike, particularly in more rural communities.  The added financial stress that comes with Christmas shopping and gift-giving and the increase in social activity and the extra expectations put on families to be “together” can often lead to increased tension levels, lower tolerance for frustration and an increase in violent episodes.

Often alcohol plays a huge part in the violence as well because people are more apt to be drinking during the holidays and we all know that alcohol influences your judgement and reduces your inhibitions. Couples will argue or fight without violence on a normal day, but put alcohol in the mix, so to speak, and you have a recipe for disaster. In a household that already is experiencing violence from an abuser, this increases the likelihood of a violent episode and may speed up the cycle of violence , ending the Honeymoon phase and accelerating the tension-building phase to put the family back in to the Crisis Phase more rapidly. Sometimes the Cycle of Violence is experienced many times during a stressful period, such as Christmas time, with each Crisis Phase escalating more and more.  This is where women sustain very serious injuries or are even murdered at the hands of their partner.

In my own marriage, the holidays were a very stressful time. My husband was not a very social person and the expectation put on him by co-workers,  our friends and family to attend parties caused him to feel pressure to behave in a way that was socially acceptable. No off-colour jokes, no inappropriate comments, no swearing at or berating me or the children if we displeased him. In turn, we also felt the expectation to appear as the perfect family; pretty, compliant wife, stay-at-home mother caring for three charming and well-behaved children. To an outsider, we looked like the perfect family; very “together”. We were not. If this facade was broken, if we somehow embarrassed Jason, there would be hell to pay when we got home.

The financial stress to buy gifts was only exacerbated by his unreasonable need to impress his family and friends  by sending exorbitant gifts home; he exulted in their praise and gratitude. However, this led to our budget being even more strained and him reprimanding and berating me for spending too much on gifts for my family back home and  our children. Inevitably there would be a fight about how much was spent, among other short-comings that I invariably had during this season and it was just a matter of when, how hard and how many times I was to experience Jason’s hands on me. I know from very real experience just how tumultuous the Christmas season can be when living with an abusive partner.

so, be mindful of the fact that not everyone will be experiencing the “Joy of Christmas” and check yourself before you encourage people to “cheer up” or “be grateful”. Also be aware of the signs of abuse and if you suspect a woman is a victim of domestic violence, do not turn a blind eye or pretend you do not see her bruise, her fear, her exhaustion. Ask her, “Are you safe?” This question is so much more effective than, “How are you?” or “Are you okay?” These questions are mundane and perfunctory and a woman living with an abusive partner will automatically answer this question with the same answer we are all programmed to say: “I’m fine,” and “Yes.” Asking her if she is safe is not a routine greeting and she may not have an automatic response to this question. She may have to think about it and she may just tell you, “No.” And if she does disclose to you that she is not safe, be prepared to help her, even if it is just a small gesture such as listening if she wants to talk  or giving her the number to a Crisis Line; you have a moral duty to help her. Don’t let her down.