IT WAS NOT OKAY

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Guest Post: Content Warning–description of nonphysical abuse. If this may be triggering to you, please read with caution.
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[I was at a vulnerable time in my life when I met Chad (name changed). I was graduating from college with a bachelor’s of psychology and had no idea what was next. We met at a bar one night through mutual friends and from there the relationship raced forward at full speed. We said I love you in two weeks and started spending all of our time together.

Some might find this to be a cute love story. I now see the red flags, Hind sight is 20/20. Chad was love-bombing me or trying to get me hooked into the relationship before I really knew him or even knew what I wanted. I was so happy to start a new relationship that I didn’t keep up with my friends and family and through this isolation I didn’t really get to see him for who he was. I ignored the red flags like him not having a car, the fact that he dropped out of college and lived with friends (and wasn’t paying rent). He seemed like he had it together after all. He had a job at a warehouse making over $20 an hour.  I didn’t know the car he was driving was his friends. I didn’t know anything about his family or his past. He didn’t try to get to know my family.

These are all things I can look back on now and identify as problems. However, in the moment I didn’t see any of it…

We continued dating and because I didn’t know where to live and didn’t want to run home to Mom and Dad, I moved in with Chad. This is when the financial abuse started to creep in. He didn’t have a car so I drove him to work. He was always stressed about life and working so much that he turned to gambling in hopes his winnings would turn his life around. When the money ran out he would beg me to take out cash. And I did because I didn’t want him to be mad at me. Not giving him the money would lead to a blow up.

This pattern continued. My college graduation day was finally here and Chad was, of course, out of town for work. He said he would come but somehow managed to get out of meeting my family (as usual). He would sugar coat this by saying things like they won’t think I’m good enough to make me feel guilty. So I played along.

I then flew out to Colorado where Chad was working and he took me on a week-long vacation telling me how much he loved the area. I did too; I had always dreamed of moving to another state. After we returned from the trip, Chad said he wanted to move to Colorado. He promised that he would save money and help pay to get an apartment there. This lead to him going out of state more for work. Of course, Chad didn’t save the money, in fact, he called me asking for money all the time as he continued to gamble. I was worried about him so I would send the cash. He would swear it was for food or gas and then 10 min later call back asking for more because he just spent it at the casino.

Chad drove back from New York on fumes, stopping at casinos along the way to win enough gas money to get back. Chad was clearly demonstrating how reckless he was willing to be with his own life and I didn’t see it. I wanted to leave him then but I couldn’t. I now know that it often takes women an average of 7 times to leave an abusive partner. I was confused at the time and didn’t have the knowledge I have now to know that this was abuse. I thought because he wasn’t hitting me that everything was ok. IT WAS NOT OK. No one deserved to be abused financially, verbally, physically emotionally or in any form.

I spent two years in Colorado living with Chad and I wish I could say things got better but they didn’t. He continued to follow a pattern that I now know to be the cycle of abuse. He would use me for money, be reckless, and financially rely on me. Then he would work really hard for a week and take me to dinner or do something nice to make up for it. Then he would take my credit card and pay all his bills. Then he would be sorry and would take me hiking. Then he would max out my credit card. Then he would find money to buy me dog to show he was sorry. This relationship emotionally drained me until one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I had been so isolated that the idea of returning home to my parents was scary. I was so isolated that I thought they wouldn’t help me get home. I quit talking to all of my friends because he told me to. I felt completely alone. This is what he wanted: for me to be so isolated that I didn’t have a way out.

One day after not hearing from me, my Dad called crying. He had flown to Colorado with my Mom. I was so nervous to see them and embarrassed to admit that I had no money and needed help. I told them I was fine and that they could go home. I wanted to leave him but I had too much pride at this point and didn’t want to admit that moving with him was a mistake, so I stayed.

Finally a week later I realized I was harming myself for the sake of my pride and it was time to come home. Chad got physical for the first time ever. He fought me for the possessions he thought he could get money for and when that didn’t work, he cried. I left him most of my things.

I moved home with what little possessions I had in my vehicle, a maxed out credit card, and various other debts that were now drowning me. My parents helped pay for me to start seeing a counselor and we worked on rebuilding our relationship. I then got an attorney and found out filing bankruptcy was my best option. All of this took months and months but I can finally say I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I looked up Chad once. He went home, starting living with someone else right away, and got a new girlfriend. This didn’t affect him. However the damage it did to myself and my family will last a lifetime. Because of Safe Passage I have gained the knowledge and support to truly identify what was going on in my relationship and it has helped me to move on. I thank this organization so much for the work they do because I know just how important it is.]

If you’ve experienced abuse, it is not your fault and you are not alone. Safe Passage is available 24/7 at 815-756-5228 or text us 24/7 at 815-393-1995.

I Don’t Need Counseling!

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Many people are hesitant to meet with a counselor because they don’t really know what counseling is.  We know going to counseling or being in therapy can seem scary or negative.  It may feel like something is wrong with you.  In truth, the opposite is true!  Reaching out for help can be one of the hardest, bravest, and most healing things you can do. A counselor isn’t going to shame you, judge you, or bully you into changing.  They are your support system; someone you have in your corner to help you process, understand yourself, and start healing.

If you’ve ever wondered if counseling is right for you, read on.  This description is meant to explain what counseling is and isn’t and to outline what clients can expect when meeting with a Safe Passage counselor.

Most counseling appointments are made through our 24-hour hotline.  Hotline staff will ask whether you would like domestic violence or sexual assault counseling.  If you need to talk about your situation with the hotline worker when you call, you can do that and they will listen, validate, and guide you in the right direction.  You will then be scheduled with the appropriate counselor for an intake appointment.  At this appointment, you will be greeted by your counselor in the lobby.  The counselor will introduce themselves and walk you to their office.  Once there, the counselor will allow you to share what brought you into counseling.  You are allowed to go at your own pace and the counselor will never pressure you to discuss or share anything you are uncomfortable with.  The counselors at Safe Passage are committed to being client-centered and trauma-informed which means that you, as the client, get to direct the course of counseling.  At some point during the first session you will be asked to complete some intake paperwork.  Again, you don’t have to share anything you are uncomfortable sharing.

It is up to you how long you stay in counseling and even if you want to return after the intake.  The initial process of seeking help can be overwhelming and Safe Passage staff recognize that.  If you don’t feel ready, we will still be here when you are.

All sessions with your counselor will be collaborative.  Your counselor recognizes that you are the expert on your own life and they are there to guide and support you on your journey.  After a few initial sessions you and your counselor will begin developing specific counseling goals.  As sessions continue, your counselor will help you to move forward on your goals.

Safe Passage staff do not ask clients “what is wrong with you?”  Our staff ask “what happened to you?”  We know you are here because you have experienced some trauma and that you are seeking help because you are struggling with the aftereffects of that trauma.  Our counselors are trained to help clients recover from the trauma they have experienced, whether the trauma occurred recently or in the past.  People of all ages can access counseling at Safe Passage.  If you have any questions about counseling services, the hotline staff can answer those questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 815-756-5228.

We know it can be difficult or scary to reach out for help, but when you are ready, know that we will be here!

Healing

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I hurt my finger the other day.  I was hanging up a Christmas wreath and poked myself on some of the wire.  No blood, no mess…just minor injury to my pointer finger.  It continued to hurt throughout the day and as my mind went through a “Web-MD” style list of how I was undoubtedly going to die of this finger injury, I realized what I needed to do.

Put a band-aid on it.

For as long as I can remember, any wound felt better when I had a band-aid.  I didn’t have to be bleeding.  It didn’t have to be a visible cut.  I didn’t even have to remember how I got hurt in the first place.  I just knew if I felt bad, a band-aid made me feel better.

This was a source of frustration to my mother who saw our household budget for first-aid balloon as soon as I was old enough to reach the shelf with the box of bandages.  She would tell me over and over that I didn’t need a band-aid and if I wasn’t bleeding, a band-aid wouldn’t do any good.

In a way, she was right.  As a grown-up, logically, I know that a band-aid isn’t going to fix all my problems.  But at the same time, it always made me feel better.  My parents may not have been able to see how I was hurting, I may not have always known myself.  But I knew, and I was never wrong, that in some small way that band-aid on my sore finger or scraped knee or bruised elbow made me feel better.

If there is one person I am an expert on, it is myself.  I know when I’m hurting and I usually know what will make me feel better.  Sometimes it’s a relaxing evening with a good friend, sometimes it’s talking to a professional about my life and my past, and sometimes it’s a band-aid.

I’m guessing you’re an expert on yourself as well.  If you dig down deep, I bet you know a few of your own “band-aids”, the tips and tricks that lighten the load and help you feel better for a few moments.  Don’t forget to take the time to take care of yourself.  Take a night off when you can.  Spend a few moments meditating and centering as your day begins.  Reach out for help when it feels like too much on your own.

If you need a band-aid for an old wound that has scabbed over or a new hurt that is still bleeding, reach out.  There is help for you and there are people who will listen.  We’re one of them and we are available 24-hours a day at 815.756.5228.  Your pain matters and so does your healing.

Survivor 1

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4 years ago today, I was roofied by a bartender [at a bar]. I don’t think I’ve spoken publicly about it since regaining full consciousness a few days later, when I posted a Facebook status alerting my friends to be cautious in our relatively safe town.

I think a reason that I’ve been mum about it for years is because of the way I was treated and perceived in the aftermath: when I finally made it to the hospital the next morning, the doctor asked me 3 different times if I was SURE I didn’t just have “too much to drink”, told me he didn’t need to inspect the wound on my head because it “wasn’t anything serious”(it was), finally tested my blood and urine multiple hours later, and told me that he was “surprised” when my results came back positive. While talking with an old co-worker and friend from a Bible camp, he told me I should remove my Facebook status because it would give me a “bad image” to the campers I’d worked with. When I was finally talked into filing a police report, the officer asked if I really wanted to “waste my time”, and that he would try to “make time to look into it” and “get back to me” (I never heard from him again)

I can remember verbatim what was said to me, because each interaction left me feeling ashamed, burdensome, and like what happened was my fault. At the age of 23, I went out with my friends on the weekend and had one drink that I kept with me the entire time, but somehow this reflected poorly on me. A friend literally saved my life that night. A day later, I began slurring my speech and not being able to focus my eyesight. I learned that I had bruised my occipital lobes, damaged parts of my brain that control speech and memory, had gravel imbedded into my skull, and suffered a severe concussion. I was in speech therapy for over 6 months, went to OT everyday to correct my vision, and didn’t gain back my short term memory for over a year.

But the time to keep mum is not now. Our world is so broken that even “safe” places aren’t immune: a church, a school, a marathon, walking down the street in broad daylight, a movie theater, a friend’s apartment, a regular weekend at a regular gathering place to enjoy a gin and tonic with friends. Importantly, be SAFE. Be aware of your surroundings, where your drink is, drink responsibly, and ALWAYS have at least one friend with you who can pinpoint if something is not right, and get you help. But maybe even more importantly: DO NOT FEEL SHAME. Don’t feel guilt. Advocate; for yourself, and for others. Take action when needed, and don’t be afraid to seek help. And do not believe anyone who looks at you negatively because of the disgusting actions of someone else. You have had your privacy invaded, and you have been assaulted. Your trust has been broken and it’ll take a long time for you to not live in fear and be cautious of everyone. But you are not at fault, and you deserve access to the best, quickest treatment without any form of judgement. If you’d like to talk about this specific topic or assault in general, or need a safe space to process, please don’t be afraid to reach out, and I am always here. No woman or man should have to journey through that alone. Take care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

A message from Safe Passage:  We are so grateful to each survivor who shares their stories and reminds us all that we are not alone, that we don’t need to be ashamed, and that we have the power to build a better and safer world each day.  If you have been the victim of domestic and sexual violence, help is available 24/7 at 815.756.5228.