Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: Domestic Violence

  1. The Abuser’s Knack

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    Batterers and abusers have an uncanny knack for sizing up others’ vulnerabilities–one of the reasons we stay too long is that they underscore doubts that are already in our own heads. The most powerful ones, those most ready for the abuser’s exploitation, are the ones we worry about with private shame.

    A little insecurity about your nose? Let’s talk about plastic surgery. Your thighs? Can you hear the “thunder”?

    Since childhood, my vulnerable spot has been my body image (today it is less tender, but still not the bulletproof vest I’d like it to be).

    On my second date with Lee, he made a negative comment about a friend’s wife’s weight. I should have argued in defense of the other woman, but instead I cringed inwardly–did he know that I worried about my weight nearly all the time?

    We were off, and eventually my weight becoming his go-too topic for verbal abuse.

    It took me a long time to realize that only I have the right to decide what I should eat and weigh and wear. No one else. So simple. And easier said than done.

    If you meet someone who seems to want to exploit what you worry about, whatever it might be, rather than support you through it, I recommend that you show that person the door.

    Knowing that you’re not alone, that you’re not the only person who has experienced exploitation and abuse, will help. Knowing that others have survived trauma and come out the other side, will help.

    Read Hunger by Roxane Gay, or listen to the audiobook because Gay is a wonderful narrator. Whatever the trauma you’ve experienced, her story–the violence, the weight gained and lost and gained–will move you.  She writes,

    But I am a lucky girl. I think most of my sad stories are behind me. there are things I will no longer tolerate. Being alone sucks, but I would rather be alone than be with someone who makes me feel that terrible. I am realizing I am not worthless. Knowing that feels good. My sad stories will always be there. I am going to keep telling them even though I hate having the stories to tell. These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more I realize who I am and what I am worth.

    You’re worth far, far more than any abuser wants you think.

     

     

     

  2. Grey Area

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    Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.

    When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.

    A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:

    • a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
    • another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
    • a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.

    In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.

    In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.

    My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.

    Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive.  Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.

    Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.

     

  3. Pet and Women Safety Act

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    When you live with an abusive partner, it’s hard to imagine leaving your pets with him if you move out, even temporarily.

    Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Katherine M. Clark (D-MA) have cosponsored The Pet and Women Safety Act.

    Here’s Ros-Lehtinin with her office dog, Maya.

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  4. Talk, talk

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    The Ray Rice “story” and (thanks in part to the NFL’s clumsy, clueless handling of its role) the media’s continued coverage of it is strange in a “wow” kind of way: people are talking about a sometimes taboo subject that I raise whenever I can.

    Sometimes talk is only gossip, or herd mentality, or meaningless Facebook likes and shares and Twitter hashtag frenzy.

    But talk where there used to be silence can lead to real change: according to Mary Riedel, President and CEO of Women in Distress, “In the week following the release of the video showing Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, calls to the Women in Distress 24-hour crisis line increased by 60%.” 60%!

    Why?

    Maybe some of the #whyIstayed reasons are shifted by the national conversation. Maybe women are calling crisis lines because they are reassured that the abuse they’re experiencing is not okay. Or that they will be believed. Maybe their friends and family are more supportive after seeing the video.

    Let’s keep talking about this long after the gossip machine moves on. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We have a perfect opportunity for more awareness, more help, and less abuse.

  5. Dear Janay Palmer Rice

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    Dear Janay Palmer Rice,

    I’m not an NFL wife, but from 1999-2007, I was abused by my husband, a charismatic man with a lot of friends who bordered on fans. Today is the seventh anniversary of my divorce.

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    I totally understand that the last thing you want right now is to be the centerpiece of a national conversation about domestic violence. The first thing you want, if you’re like me, and maybe you still believe that you can have it, is a happy marriage that matches the image you’ve worked so hard to portray, the image in your most deeply heartfelt hopes and dreams for yourself, your husband, your child, and your life.

    I don’t know all the reasons you’ve stayed, but I stayed because I wanted that happy marriage, too.  Here are some of the other reasons #why I stayed:

    • I believed him when he told me I was responsible for the way he treated me. If only I would be quiet ….
    • I believed him when he told me I wasn’t sexy, had no real friends, and was at my core a worthless person.
    • I kept what was happening so secret, so well, that I couldn’t imagine telling the truth.
    • I didn’t think anyone would believe that my funny, generous, church-going husband was abusive.
    • I loved him.
    • I thought I could help him be a better man.
    • I was too proud to admit that I couldn’t stop him from abusing me.
    • I didn’t want to get divorced.
    • I was listening to my biological clock and wanted to have a baby.
    • I didn’t want to leave my dogs with him.
    • I really, truly believed, right up until I didn’t believe anymore, that he was telling me the truth when he promised to change.

    I’m sorry, Janay Palmer Rice, that the elevator tape wound up on TMZ. I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I hope you’re safe. I hope that when you’re ready, and only you can say when, you’ll write a list of #why I left.

     

  6. College Brides Walk

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    On Valentine’s Day, I walked in the College Brides Walk to raise awareness about domestic and dating violence and to commemorate the life and death of Gladys Ricart, who was murdered on her wedding day by an ex-boyfriend.

    That’s me dressed in white in the middle of the picture (Mr. Z said he didn’t know I owned any white clothes, but that’s another story). For more pictures (and this one), check out this Miami Herald gallery.

    It’s the fourth annual event, and I was happy to attend for the first time. Going to events like this is energizing and affirming–so many other people focusing on an issue that is dear to me.

    But by the sixth mile of carrying a sign with a photo of Kalyn Denise O’Barr, 19, who died on January 5, 2010, I was emotional. According to my sign, “She was attacked while sleeping and strangled with an electrical cord. Her husband was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for her murder.”

    I walked (and I write and I speak) for Kalyn and way too many victims of domestic violence who cannot.

     

  7. Life is Long

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    I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.

    Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence.  I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.

    I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”

    “Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.

    Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long.  Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”

    Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember  Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”

    I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?

    The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve.  “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”

    I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.

    Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.

    But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?

    I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”

    And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:

    Between the conception

    And the creation

    Between the emotion

    And the response

    Falls the Shadow

                                    Life is very long

    Between the desire

    And the spasm

    Between the potency

    And the existence

    Between the essence

    And the descent

    Falls the Shadow

    So. A woman advises girls. A man praises  Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at  the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.

    Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a  little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”

    Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?

    I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000  or more days from now.

    Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.

    What do you think?

     

     

  8. New Year’s Leaving

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    I know two women who left their abusive husbands over this New Year’s mid-week holiday. As soon as the new apartments were ready, while the men were at work, with careful planning and the help of  friends and family, they shed possessions and made a break for it.

    The moment of leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous one possible for the victim; it is the instant when the batterer (statistically most often a man) loses what he has sought above all else, what he has sought to obtain via physical, emotional, or financial abuse: control over the victim. It is the moment when he is most likely to be most violent as he attempts to regain what he is losing.

    To those courageous survivors who left today, may you be safe. May you inhale the fresh paint smell of your new apartment and know that your life will never be the same, that you’ve done the hardest thing already, that each day will get a little easier.

    And to the rest of us who are  already safe in our homes tonight, may we remember those who left and maybe even our own leaving, and may we take whatever risks we need to take now in order to have the lives we’re meant to have.

  9. He Won’t Change, Rihanna

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    Many years ago, I waited outside my home while the police searched for my then-husband, who was threatening to kill me and himself.

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    A young policeman leaned into my car window and said, “Ma’am, get out while you can. These guys never change.”

    I didn’t listen.

    This morning I read an article about pop stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, who have apparently, while I wasn’t watching, reunited.

    She is quoted as telling Rolling Stone, “Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake. I can handle it.”

    I thought I could handle it. I thought I could fix it. I thought I could somehow make the situation right.

    Now I know that it is unlikely that men who batter will stop battering, even with intervention.

    I hope against hope that I’m wrong, but, Rihanna: get out while you can. These guys never change.

  10. One of the One Billion Rising

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    For months I’ve been wound up about Congress’s failure to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act.

    The law was first passed in 1994, and reauthorized without incident in 2000 and 2005. It worked. More women had access to more protection from violence and abuse.

    When it was time to reauthorize VAWA in 2011, additional provisions were added to offer protection to groups who need it–LGBT people, Native Americans, and immigrants. All of these groups experience intimate traumas at equal or greater rates than the rest of the population.  That’s when the trouble began. The law has become stuck in the mire of partisanship.

    Even as I cheered the bill’s passage in the Senate on Tuesday, I fumed.

    Do the 22 male senators who voted against it have no sisters, daughters, or mothers? Is protecting states’ rights to allocate funding and the rights of American-citizen men who commit rape or battering or sexual abuse on tribal lands more important than protecting the women who are or would be the victims of violent intimate crimes?

    And I was frustrated with myself for my own supposed politeness and my unwillingness to write here about politics.

    I went to the gym, and read the quote at the bottom of the white board:

    I am angry enough to leave my polite no-overt-political-talk comfort zone.

    Angry at the 22 Republican men of the Senate,  including Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted no. Angry at the news media that was too obsessed with a manhunt  in California to give this issue any real coverage. Angry at the House which hasn’t even scheduled a vote.

    Angry that one in three women on the planet will experience violence–sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence–in her lifetime.

    That’s one billion women.

    Today we rise.

    I’ll see you outside the comfort zone.