Dr. Debra

I sat in a planning meeting for a workplace campaign against domestic violence. People kept saying that word — "victim". Each time I heard it I felt my jaw set tightly, teeth clenched, until my head ached with a searing pain at the temple — victim. "You have no power, control, or choice — victim; poor, poor victim" is how the words sounded in my head.

The expression on my face and look in my eyes prompted the facilitator to ask for my thoughts, and I took the floor. I talked about that word, cautioned how we might or might not use it, and the responsibility for putting oneself in the relationship when red flags flew everywhere. Using my experience as the example, I drew a distinction, a clear line of demarcation between my responsibility for putting myself in jeopardy, and my ex-husband’s responsibility for the things he did to me — the beatings and the sexual assaults. I explained my hands were not clean. That I put myself in a situation that gave him the opportunity to hurt me — but that he alone was responsible for the actual damage inflicted. The thoughts and words emptied out of me until my point was clear and the room was hushed. I don’t know if they understood the importance of my message or were simply shocked by what I had shared — it didn’t matter — I said what I had to say and it was the truth.

That word — "victim" — will never define me — and I will continue to work and play, laugh loud and often, be safe and strong, and live on my own terms.

Without owning my contribution to the story, I would be a victim. I would be slapped with and trapped in that label, unable to move forward, mired helplessly in that role forever. I had to own and embrace that I was complicit in the situation as a step to get traction, to heal. Once I accepted that truth, once I was starkly honest with myself, I found my power to control and choose for my life. That word will never define me — and I will continue to work and play, laugh loud and often, be safe and strong, and live on my own terms.

While my domestic violence story ended many years ago, every day the epidemic of domestic violence continues. We stop it by putting a light on it, by protecting our children to end the generational repetition, by choosing not to be complicit through our silence. #thisismyvoice


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