My name is Jenny, I am sharing my story with you because it is so important to me that the voices of survivors be heard. All too often we are the silent ones in the story. The ones talked about but that are not heard.
As I share my story please keep in mind I am going through a transition in my life once again. Sometimes it has felt like the transition never ends. But, my story is of success. Ever since Through These Doors, formerly Family Crisis Services, entered my life and essentially picked me up and carried me to safety, when I felt I couldn’t move, life has been a transition. Importantly though, it has all been so worth it to accept their lifeline.
I am learning more and more each day about who I am; what is my own identity? Learning that I do not need to fit into the role of what someone else wants me to be is still foreign to me. I have repeatedly been learning lessons the past few years, some of those have been absolutely heartbreaking…but I learn from them. I am not ignorant to the fact that I can appear to have it all under control and physically look fine. I am told all the time how strong I am but mostly I do not feel strong.
Imagine, if you will, being groomed for years to act a certain way, to always make a decision based on what another person would want you to do, whether it be a huge decision like divorce or a small decision like what color shirt to wear? Every thought throughout any given day is what would this person want me to do? What if I make him angry? And only later, way after the fact that this happened gradually over time and I never saw the signs early on, that even though I worked in the mental health field for years, I missed all the signs when it came to my own situation. I trusted my abuser deeply and I believed he knew best.
My abuser was my therapist who had been treating me for several years. Someone I trusted to provide mental health care. Someone that was recommended as a specialist in treating PTSD. And someone that used years of therapy to groom me and use manipulation to gain control. My abuser knew how important my family was to me. He knew the absolute protectiveness I had for my children. He knew I grew up in state care and so having my intact family was always my #1 priority. I would have done anything at that time to protect them and always had their best interest in mind.
Before this nightmare, I was a mom, a mom dedicated to my kid’s education, and attended all their sporting events, never missing an important milestone in their lives. I was a wife, daughter, sister, friend, doggy mom to two dogs, and for years worked full time, we owned our own home and juggled it all. Life wasn’t perfect, and there were bumps for sure, there were reasons I reached out to therapy. I wanted to get relief from PTSD symptoms that I tried to hide for years. I wanted to make my marriage stronger. But I had my own identity. I knew who I was. I knew what mattered most to me and believed no one would ever be able to take that from me.
I was wrong.
In 2016 I finally separated from the person that controlled every decision I made. My identity became what that person wanted it to be and I no longer knew who I was as a person standing alone. I had divorced my husband and in my opinion, he was a victim of my abuser as well. Initially, it was like a tornado ripped through my life and all that was left was destruction. Then came homelessness because my abuser drained me financially, sleeping in my car, to living in a domestic violence shelter. The Portland Police and Through These Doors were there for me when I couldn’t imagine how I could survive. I wasn’t supposed to survive. The end plan was supposed to be suicide or murder-suicide and I knew I was running out of time. My abuser was arrested in 2016 for Gross Sexual Assault and then re-arrested for tracking me down while on bail and violating conditions of release.
Suddenly my family was shattered. My son left the same week of my abusers arrest to stay with family because I knew that was in his best interest. But inside it broke me. My daughter stayed with me in the shelter and split her time between her dad and me. I was divorced. The memory of my children and I seeing endless loops on the news about the arrests of my therapist, the man I allowed to live with me and my children, still haunts me. The thought of my children seeing me in any other way than what they knew growing up hurt too much to even begin to feel. I became numb.
My abuser used therapy and the treatment plan to justify his behavior and that has left a profound wound. To say I was afraid of mental health providers by 2016 would be an understatement. Domestic violence can affect anyone and does, no matter your gender, education level, sexual orientation, economic status, age, and including unique situations like mine where no one would expect it to happen.
I think many people do not understand the devastation that occurs when the decision is made to leave. If you even believe you can survive the act of leaving. You hear “why don’t they just leave?” and “Why would anyone put up with that?” The abuse was abuse. It was life-altering trauma that will affect me for the rest of my life. But what happens after the abuser is arrested and goes to jail is that the victim that initially had all this support, a network of people from the police to agencies supporting you through court, well…they did their job, and now it’s time for them to move on and help others. Suddenly I was alone. There was no one telling me what to do. The abuser was gone and so that authority guiding me was too. The support to a large degree was gone as well. I was left standing alone. Having no idea what decision to make, which way to go, from the little decisions to the large decisions in life all over again. I didn’t know who I was and lost all confidence in making decisions at all. I am sharing this part of my story because I think it’s important for others to understand it’s ok to still be learning who I am. I am learning who I am though because I have to. My identity was taken from me and that part of domestic violence is important for me to have you know. I lost my family. It seemed in an instant suddenly all was lost. I lost who I was.
In the year following my abuser’s incarceration, I was presented with the opportunity to run the Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race. I remember thinking, this is my moment. This is my time to prove to myself that if I can run up Mt. Washington then I can do anything. I ran up that damn mountain in 2017 with the support of the Maine Track Club and I will never forget it.
Many people do not understand the devastation that occurs with domestic violence victims, you are eventually isolated from everyone. I had been isolated from family and I was being isolated from my running friends. A community of friends that I had previously felt so close to. Many times that is a reason why people stay. I will always be a mom to my children but domestic violence has inevitably affected and changed our relationships. The other roles I had in my life are no longer. I lost those roles and now I am learning how to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward.
One way I know I can move forward is by sharing my story, being an advocate for others, helping in any way I can. By giving back to those that were there for me when I didn’t have a bed to sleep on. Giving back to who was there when I was too afraid to talk to the police and to the police that were there when I was so fearful of the repercussions when I did talk. It is one way I can begin to find my identity again and hopefully help others who are wondering right now if they can leave.
It is now 2020 and I own my own home again. My children are now young adults and doing wonderful. My son is now an EMT/Firefighter and in training to become a paramedic. He chose a path of helping others in their most critical time. My daughter just graduated high school and is finding her own way to explore her many creative talents. Our relationships have become even closer. Sometimes every single day still feels like a struggle, there is still a lot of grief and pain to process. But I can reflect on how far I have come and how much I have learned through this all.
Without a doubt, I am a warrior. I have always returned to court when needed to protect my children and me. And I always will.
As gut-wrenchingly painful as it is to walk into court and have to see and hear my abuser, I will show up, I will fight, and I will speak in open court that my children and I deserve safety above all else. I will not allow our basic right to safety to be taken away. Thankfully, the judges so far have all felt the same.
One thing I have learned about who I am through this journey is that I am a fighter. An unrelenting fighter.