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I am a Survivor

From the Fall 2001 Newsletter



I have listened with interest as people have obsessed with "Survivor."  I haven't caught the fever.  The show makes light of the real fear and humiliation that true survivors feel.  When they leave the show, they are in the limelight; when survivors of domestic violence leave abuse, we are often ignored.


When I look back on my 2 year courtship, 2 year marriage and 6 year separation prior to divorce, I do not even recognize myself. But those years shaped my life profoundly.  I learned mistrust -- of myself and of men -- poverty, shame and guilt. But, more importantly, I also learned ambition, goal setting and that I have a voice to help others.  I am a survivor.


When I met Bob (not his real name) I was young.  I was a debater, a thespian, on the flag squad.  I had a small group of lifelong friends and was committed to all those 1970's causes: the environment, Vietnam... I met him at a volunteer activity and I was quickly enamored -- he played the role of needing to be rescued.  He spoke of his father recently passing (I later learned he was in prison for theft and drugs -- RED FLAT), but he gladly shared his extravagant lifestyle.  I see now that I was already a victim.  I gave up my friends, partied hard and gave up my goals.  He fought with friends, had sex with girls within our group (he always had an excuse and I believed him!) and made more and more demands.  I was applying to colleges in Colorado and was hopeful.  He dropped that bomb that if I left, he was gone.  He said we needed to be together.  I chose to stay home and go to a local college.  He left the next week for the Marines with only a few days notice.  I was stunned, but I stayed here and wrote and waited.


When he came home, he had changed for the worse.  I got pregnant.  We got married. We were poor, young, unaware of where we were going.  I was overwhelmed.  His father had since been released from prison and I watched in fear as he beat his wife, his sons beat each other, Bob beat his dad.  My physical abuse began quickly and continued for many years, even after I left.  I was beaten for being poor, getting pregnant again, and whatever the reason of the day was.  I withdrew first, then got the courage to leave.  I don't even know where the courage came form.


What I had was a minimum wage job, working nights as a nurse's aid so I could be with my daughters during the day, napping while they did.  Thankfully I had a supervisor who taught me extra things and a neighbor who worked in personnel at a local hospital who helped me find a better job.  I met people there who encouraged me to go back to school where, again working nights, I earned a bachelor degree.  My experiences in public speaking and debate gave me the ability to address people and now I educate the public in domestic violence.  I am an advocate for change because I hope we can work together to stop people from going through this pain.  Along the way I learned to trust myself again.  I learned to believe in myself.  I learned that my daughters and I are worth the time and effort to stay strong.


I know why the actors on "Survivor" participate.  There is incentive -- a $1,000,000 prize at the end of the event.  Often victims of domestic violence leave with nothing.  We need to tell everyone that their safety and life are incentives enough.  Help them become a survivor.  That's all that is really important.

--Debra, the author, works as a Domestic Violence Educator in Illinois.



Reflection Questions:


1.  Can you identify two organizations or resource groups in your community that assist victims of domestic violence?  How could you support their work?


2.  Has your congregation/community of faith taken steps (bulletin inserts, workshops, information nights, etc.) to increase awareness of domestic violence among the members?  If not, how could you encourage the leadership to do so?


3.  How does your congregation/community of faith help victims of domestic violence?  How do you hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable?


4.  Do you know that domestic violence is a crime?  Are the laws in your area related to domestic violence effective and are they enforced?


5.  What is your understanding of the impact of religion on victims of domestic violence and their families?