March 14, 2019
This morning, as I was running along South Sound in my 40-week marathon preparation, a voice inside me queried, “Why are you really running this race? Why are you punishing your body? Aren’t you in pain right now? Are you doing this to show (off) yourself? Is it to prove you can really do this? Why is this so important to you?”
I responded without hesitation—I am running and sharing my story so that one woman who really needs it, will know that she will get through the current chaos, pain, uncertainty, and fear. I am doing it for me, but I am also doing it for ‘them.’ THEM—the woman currently struggling to breathe as she contemplates her next move, I am doing it for her. The woman who reads my posts and finds a quiet place in the bathroom to let hot salty tears flow, I am doing it for her. The woman who admires my courage to share such personal details of my journey of surviving an abusive partner so publicly and not fear the consequences of backlash or judgment—I am doing it for her. I am doing it because, the day I crossed the finish line that first year (2015) of running to fundraise for the Estella Scott-Roberts Foundation, the feeling of accomplishment and relief overwhelmed me, and I cried. Yes, I cried, because I doubted that I would finish, or finish with a decent time. The entire 13.1 miles that I ran, I cried because I finally felt that I had done something right, and I needed to know and feel that. I cried because, somewhere in all the darkness, I felt that night and every day since, there was a small voice saying, ‘Hold on, you are stronger than you know.”
I am doing it because one woman dared to risk her very existence to rescue, save, counsel, protect, and elevate countless women in the Cayman Islands community out of life-threatening situations in her three decades on this earth. She did it at great personal, financial costs but always in love. Ultimately, it was her personal stake in being a light to those in deep darkness that cost her her life.
Under no circumstances would I, or do I, compare my pain to her sacrifice. I am no Estella! Her purpose, passion, strength, and determination were, and will always be, unmatched. She forged a way for women and their children in a society that, to this very day, still sweeps domestic abuse under the carpet.
But my purpose, my passion, is to be an agent of change in this world by using the skills and gifts I have been given. My gift is my way with words, my experiences—good or bad—are stories that need to be told, so I use them to inform, encourage, inspire, and galvanize people into action. I will run until I have no more tears to shed for me and there are no more stories to be shared.
[Original Article:] In March of 2013, I participated in the making of PSA’s for the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, and it was an intense experience.
PLEASE NOTE: This was makeup done for the Crisis Centre’s PSAs on the impacts of domestic violence, PSA’s were filmed March 2013 Photo credit: anonymous PSA participant
I was made up to simulate the bruised face of a battered woman (many concerned friends messaged me when I posted it on Facebook to raise awareness) and my photo was taken after the “makeup” was applied. I chose to participate in this event because a mere 24 months prior, I experienced sustained mental and physical abuse at the hands of a partner. Fast forward 30 months after the PSA, and I can finally tell you why it was an “intense experience.”
March 2013, I was at the “anger” stage of healing after a physical altercation with my partner. I ran out of the house with barely any clothing on, no keys, no phone, no money (he would not let me take them), and no idea where I was going, but I was not staying in that space with him in the state he was in. It was just after 4:00 am on a Wednesday in February. I walked to the road and flagged down a driver who agreed to take me to the nearest gas station. But he drove after me, insisted I get in the car, which I refused. “Why would I get in the car with someone who would hurt me?” I asked. “Because you’re stupid!”
Words hurt, and words said with venom leave a permanent scar on every recipient’s heart. To this day, I hear those words in my mind, and when it gets really loud, I have to find a quiet, private place to let the tears flow, compose myself and get on with my day.
February 23 is the day that changed my life, and every year around this time, I re-live that day, all of the fear, hurt, confusion, and anger. Photo credit: Google images https://goo.gl/images/gCd8WB
That night I was scared, numb, and in shock, but I still had the presence of mind to get into that stranger’s car (to this day I have no idea of her name, but I thank her so much for being brave with me). She had to be at work for 4:30 am, but she offered to drive me to the gas station so that I could be in a safe public place and call for help, she even offered to call the police to report the incident. I declined. I can hear your collective groan of disappointment (read judgment). I now know that it was not the right decision at that moment. For several reasons: he deserved to face the consequences of his poor choice of action (regardless of the circumstances surrounding the altercation, and NO, I did not “provoke” him); and in that crucial moment, that decision would contribute to the added time that it would take for me to really heal because I gave him control over my right to be loved, respected, kept safe; and for my heart and my love to be treasured as it should be. At that moment, I threw open my boundaries and let his demons invade ‘my safe space.’ It sounds great in hindsight, but to the person who has suffered over any period of time at the hands of a cunning mental and physical abuser, it’s just not at the top of your mind in those emotionally charged moments.
And he was a skilled mental abuser:
“They don’t really like you.”
“They talk about you after you walk away.”
“She’s not your friend.” (said while laughing)
“Why are you crying?” (said at the reception area of my workplace while I pleaded for him to leave and not make a scene).
“I should walk in there and tell them how you complain about them and make trouble for you.”
“I just took a whole bottle of ibuprofen, I wanted you to come and find me dead.”
His campaign began the moment we moved in together and continued even after this event when I dared to ask for an explanation. It was a part of his very fabric of being, and I doubt that he knew any other way of relating to a woman who did not hang on his every word ALL THE TIME (read: submit all thoughts, convictions, and beliefs to suit his need for control).
That morning, he did not punch me or hold a knife to my throat. Sounds simple right? I was not really hurt then, you might think? What he did do was use his size, strength, and body weight to pin me down and slap “some sense into me”—his words, not mine. I fought with all the strength my 120-lb body could muster, but I was powerless until he let me up. I ran to grab a dress, my phone, and pocketbook. He took and kept them from me. I ran out the door while throwing my dress over my head and grabbing shoes to wear. I got into my Good Samaritan’s car and we drove to a gas station, I called the only person I knew who would not freak out from a 4:00 AM call from me and I cried for 20 minutes in the bathroom while I waited. I guess he smelled the possible jail time or pending bodily harm from my family, so he brought my phone and purse and gave them to her before I came out of my gas station sanctuary.
Two weeks after this incident, my vision became completely obscured while driving. Hyperventilating and scared beyond all comprehension, I pulled over and called a friend. She collected me at the side of the road where I parked my car and took me straight to the eye doctor. After a battery of tests, the ophthalmologist informed me that my cornea was bruised; the fluid that it would normally ‘float in’ above my pupil was practically dried up. The deeply bloodshot eyes I had that morning and days later that I simply chalked up to the excessive crying came crashing back into my memory. I had had moments of light sensitivity and pain during that two week period, but I just thought that it was the stress of many nights of crying and resuming my life “after.” This sounds like a script for a Hollywood movie, but it is real, with real consequences that will last a lifetime. I share this story, not to garner pity, but to let even one woman who is suffering at the hands of a coward, know—you are not alone.
Intertrust’s Cayman Islands Marathon Relay Team fundraiser to support the Estella Scott-Roberts Foundation, December 2016. Maria Leonce, Gerry Robinson Hydes, Carmen Cagabcag,
Patrice Donalds, Adonza Harrison. Photo credit: anonymous marathon participant, 2016
Help is a mere asking distance away—take that very brave step. Please know that you will stumble and appear clumsy as you reach out for help and slowly take back your life; but with good people around you, each inch of safety, strength, and confidence you gain will build you back into a woman who is wiser, stronger, changed, but not defined only by this tragedy. Abused women come in all shapes, sizes, levels of education, and financial circumstances. I share this story so that the hypocritical, judgmental gossip that spews from the mouths of people with no frame of reference can be better informed. I share this story so that you can know that abused women look like me.
Me. Wiser. Stronger, Deeply flawed. Loved. #eightyearsandcounting Photo credit: Patrice Donalds, 2019
Yes, me—“educated, confident, talented, and an effervescent personality.” But for years, I was cloaked in shame and deep clinical depression because of this event. I share this story so that we can all take a hard look at our own inner prejudices—mine was, “I am not the kind of woman who attracts abusers.” What “kind” of woman does this look like?
A woman loved can see love in others, but most importantly in herself. Photo credit: Patrice Donalds, 2019
Every story is different; mine is still developing. But the time has come to stop hiding behind the cloak of silence, the cloud of shame, and the rain of fear that held me captive. I am not defined by this event, but it has changed me. I choose to let the change be turned into a positive one, and I intend on sharing my journey so that others can see their own positive change emerge from the deep, dark and heavy shadows. No woman “chooses” to be abused or really wants to stay with her abuser. It’s hard to reconcile the person you love with the person who hurts you in that way. That battle rages on even after you are in a safe space. It takes time for the internal battle to no longer ‘control’ how you make every decision—from the simple everyday ones like what to eat and what to wear—to the big decisions—how do I move on? How do I project confidence when I feel least confident to get a job to support myself and my family? How do I keep the job I have now and perform it competently while I am still shaking with fear, or I jump three feet in the air every time a door slams or a car backfires?
December 5, 2015. Photo Credit: TAS Photography
As I heal, how do I protect myself from another man who smells vulnerable blood in the water? How do I not paint every man I meet with the same cracked lens that is now a part of my mental map of the world? How do I tell my family or friends to stop saying, “You just need to get over this.” It really does not help, and it is not that easy to “get over it”—FYI. I leave you with this hard question: What would you say to yourself if you were an abused woman in a relationship?
Facebook post: February 24, 2019
What would you say to your daughter, sister, or best friend if she came to you with her story? Love and support are what they need to take that very brave step to protect their personal boundaries—not judgment, malicious gossip, criticism, or disapproving looks. Patience is what will carry them through the long process of healing to get to their “new normal.” There is no going back, they will be forever changed, and you may not like all the changes. In fact, as they regain their footing, you may not like any of the changes, especially if cutting you out of their life is one of the changes they make. Yes, I have made many of those changes from dead weight boyfriends to friends and, at times, even family members. But if you love them, you will have to learn to love all that they have become and are becoming. We, who stand flawed as we are, and we’re becoming all God has great plans for, will be perpetual works in progress for the rest of our lives, and that is okay.