"Thank God I was abused by my boyfriend!"
Hal had a great smile and all the charm any 17 year-old boy could have, at least in the eyes of a naive, 16 year-old girl. He taught me to drive his old, blue Caddy and I immediately drove it onto someone's front lawn. It wasn't long before I fell in love and wanted to spend every waking minute with him. My mother had other ideas and forbid me to see him. Without much hesitancy, I ran away from home to be with him.
We slept in his car for a couple of weeks in the frigid, winter weather of New York until we found an apartment. The future looked so wonderful, and then he started hitting me. There had been warning signs, but I didn't recognize the verbal and emotional abuse for what they were. Once the violence began it quickly escalated in intensity, including numerous attempted suffocations, being thrown out of a moving car for spilling orange juice and a push through a glass door. The abuse increased daily, and after about three months he clearly told me that he intended to kill me. I believed he would.
I had lost what little self confidence I had and felt my life, if I lived, was destined to be horrific. I saw no way out. I believed myself to be trapped. But an unexpected spark of "something" started to ignite inside me. I can't tell you were it came from, but I can tell you that it lit a fire just large enough to give me the courage to end the relationship. It took some time, many beatings, and a near-homicidal moment, but with two black eyes, countless bruises, and a badly swollen jaw, I did survive and managed to break free with the help of a restraining order filed by my mother after he broke her arm!
At that time, I certainly could not have identified this experience as something that would ever become one of the best things that ever happened to me, or something I would thank God for, but as time went on and I healed emotionally, another spark started to ignite and that spark was to help other women and girls find their own "spark" and the courage to take their power back. I went to work as a counselor at a crisis center on Long Island and for the next five years, I visited high schools, colleges and other organizations and shared my experiences while educating young, and even not so young, women about domestic and dating violence. As more women were coming to me for help, I knew I was making a difference. Each day, I thanked God that I was abused because it empowered me to help other women and make a difference in the world.
Something else also happened, something less tangible at the time. I not only got out of an abusive relationship; I got out with a growing sense of self-confidence and internal strength. Because I experienced feelings of complete powerlessness, I began to understand what 'power" was and what it wasn't. I began to understand how my lack of self-esteem allowed me to be abused and to know that it would never happen again because I was growing a new confident mind. It would take many years, but the new mind would eventually create the confident "me" you see today.
My strength, confidence and courage to live my life as I do now did not come about as a result of unconditional love and support - it came from discovering that the only real source of confidence is unconditional self worth. Like many abused people, I was looking for a source of worth and value through others, especially through the very person who was abusing me. But value and worth can never be found in the projections of another. Value and worth can only be discovered and embraced within one's self. Once a person owns their self-worth and value and does not make it conditional on anyone or anything, confidence begins to rise up from within and from that moment on life is never the same.
Once the relationship was over, I consciously choose a path that would help me uncover my own intrinsic value and worth. Once I discovered it for myself, I had the tools, know-how and immense desire to help others do it as well. This experience directed me to my life's path of helping others.
Everyday, I wake up and thank God for all my good fortune, my beautiful children, my amazing home and for the abuse that my former, less confident, self went through so that I could be the person I was always meant to be.
In grace & gratitude,