Month: February 2016

Forget Me Not: Finding Balance

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Dancers moved in bare feet around the fire, pulling their energy from the hypnotic drumming of the circle. Like minded individuals who gain strength and centering, through nature, gathered to drum, dance, spin, and regroup in this quiet wooded spot on the west coast of Florida. This is where I am grounded. This is where I find peace and solace in a world that is oftentimes stressful and uncertain. Here, I can be the person I have always wanted to be without judgment or a need to impress anyone. I can absorb all that nature has to offer and refocus on my continuous healing. Here, I am free.

Earlier in this series, I shared that it took multiple steps to come from the woman in the “Just me” photo, to a woman who was determined to reinvent her outlook on life. It took therapy, strong friendships, and the physical outlet of biking to get me moving in the right direction. But something was missing. There was always a part of me that felt I didn’t belong. I was still trying very hard to be the person I believed I was supposed to be, and I was not complete. I was a free spirit and my soul was not getting the love it needed to thrive.

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Now, as I sit and write, the sun is peaking through the Florida pines as a cool breeze blows through the camp. Around me, tents dot this small wooded area that serves as my home this weekend. My boyfriend plays guitar while a long-time festival friend plays one of his hand-made flutes. I am at peace. This is something I didn’t used to have in my life. This connection with nature and “hippidome” were buried deep beneath a belief that this sort of life was frowned upon. It simply was not an acceptable way for me to live my life.

My husband found my free spirit childish and quickly put an end to it. There was no room for such irresponsible behavior. There was too much to do in the home, and in our life, to be wasting time listening to music, camping, or simply being carefree. My love of nature, camping, travel, and music were not something we had time for. My long skirts, dislike of makeup, and unkempt hair were more items to be corrected than something to be celebrated. As these things were suffocated, so was my true self. I was placed in a box that signified who I was supposed to be and not who I was.

As part of my healing—on my journey to coming back to me—I have learned to appreciate these aspects of myself that he discarded. It took some time for me to be comfortable in my own skin, as his voice was always in my head telling me that who I was, as a person, was not acceptable. It took several years of slowly integrating pieces of myself back into my life. As I allowed myself to move more towards who I am drawn to be, I met others whose beliefs and interests aligned with my own. This led to more growth, more comfort with myself, and much more happiness.

I have found this to be one of the most important aspects of my healing. When you are happy with who you are, you are free. Maybe you love music or nature, as I do, or perhaps you are into sports or travel. Maybe you simply want to read more, volunteer, teach, or be free to watch you favorite movie. Whatever it is that makes you tick, that provides you with that sense of belonging and peace, that is what you should be focused on. Finding your true self, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of experiencing your personal freedom. It may not come right away, but I believe it should be a goal for anyone healing from domestic violence.

It is a very important part of the journey to finding your “me.”


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

Forget Me Not: Healing is an Ongoing Process

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Just when I think I have a grip on my past, I learn something new. I came across two articles this week, both of which dealt with the mind games and brainwashing that occur in an emotionally abusive relationship. Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t know that he manipulated and slowly transformed me into giving up myself and my ideals on how life should be. There is a very clear transformation across the years I was with him. Each year, I gave up more and more, and strived to be the woman he wanted me to be. But, even as I have been working on my book, and reliving all of those moments, I could never understand why he would build me up at certain points.

He encouraged me to take the good job, he left the finances in my hands, he trusted me make large purchases such as our home and car, and he planted the seed and encouraged me to go to law school. When the man who continuously puts you down, slowly pulls you from your loved ones, and rarely has something nice to say, is also the one encouraging you to be your best, it can be very confusing. Each time he told me how successful I would be in an endeavor, or entrusted me with large financial decisions, it would make me question if he was really that mean to me.

In one of the articles, the author stated, “I wish this would come up on Google as often as the ‘If he checks your email and cuts you off from friends’ stuff does. Because it’s easy to tell yourself everything’s fine if you can’t find your exact situation. It’s easy to say you’re different.” 1

I have found, through my own experience, as well as conversations with other survivors, that many of us feel this way. In my situation, it started with emotional abuse and later escalated to physical abuse. No matter what happened though, I believed that my life wasn’t that of an abuse victim. After all, he never put me in the hospital or broke any bones. In my mind, other women had it much worse than me.

The second article really hit home. After reading this article, I was left wondering if there wasn’t a manual somewhere that teaches abusers exactly what to do in order to control their significant other. It was as if the author had taken words directly from my book and used them to write her blog post. As I was contemplating this, a message from my friend ensured I was not alone in my thought process. “What? Do they have a class in high school teaching guys how to be abusive without getting caught?” She was frustrated and floored, as was I.

What hit even closer to home was the cycle of abuse that was described in this article. For the first time, in the seven years that I have been scouring the internet without the fear of being caught, someone described my “exact situation” to perfection. Finally, I have a reference point that puts my final questions to rest. The article explains my relationship with my husband down to the letter. Why did he encourage me and build me up at certain points in our life? Well, this article lays it out down to the very words he used. It is worth the read as I can only address how it worked in my life.

My husband started by working to destroying my self-worth. Once I lacked the self-confidence that he once claimed to admire, he started blaming me for anything and everything. He blamed me for his behaviors and anything that happened that was not to his liking. Soon, I was apologizing for everything I did and, then, for everything that I was. Pretty soon I had no faith in myself, believing that I was innately a bad wife and person. When you doubt your own internal goodness, it is easy to start doubting your own mind. If he did something to hurt me, he acted as if nothing happened. If I believed something did happen, he told me I was the crazy one. Sooner or later, I was nervous all the time and constantly paranoid that I was not the person I needed to be; that he needed me to be. I believed I was going insane, living things in my mind that didn’t really happen.

But just when things seemed to be at their worst, he would build me back up in some small way. He would say the house looked nice, tell me my quesadillas could be served in a restaurant, or tell me that I was a good writer, and speaker, and would thrive in law school. The next paragraph is so on point, that only a quote will do it justice.

“The moment an abuser begins to feel the victim is “slipping from their control,” they will re-assault their identity. This will begin the process all over again. Victims continue to believe in the ideas of their abusers long after they have left the abusive environment. The new belief system has been so deeply rooted, it could take years to change.” 2

This idea hit close to home. It explained so much about what I didn’t understand. Even his perceived kindness was nothing more than another means of manipulation, and some of the ideas he planted even haunt me today. What is almost more difficult than hearing the truth, is accepting it fully. Even now, I want to believe that he was a misguided soul, someone who really didn’t intend to hurt me. But, as is the case in the healing process, some concepts have to be understood and developed as we are ready to deal with them.
It doesn’t matter if your story is the same as mine, or the same as someone else’s. You may not think that you are suffering to the same extent as another victim, or that you can check off the boxes on the “checklist of domestic abuse.” There is no checklist. Each story is different. There are guidelines and stories, meant to help steer you in the right direction. If you are concerned you are being abused, but you are not sure, reach out to someone who can direct you. Pick up the phone, write an email, or talk to someone you can trust. Silence keeps abuse in check. Start talking and you will find the truth and freedom.


1 I Was in an Abusive Relationship and Didn’t Even Know It
2 8 Steps that Explain “Why She Doesn’t Leave”

Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

Forget Me Not: Bike Love

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“You’re going the wrong way! Come with us!” someone yelled out. I just sat there, giggling to myself at this huge display of bike riders. Who where they? Where were they going? I had never seen such a thing.

Just a few weeks before, I had gone out and purchased a bike. I had come a long way in my healing from domestic abuse, but I still had a long journey ahead of me. One thing that was missing was a support system. In my mind, my family was my support system. But, as wonderful as they are, they are worlds away. I needed friends that shared in my interests, but this was proving to be a difficult endeavor. The idea of getting out and meeting people was overwhelming and terribly scary. I lacked the self-confidence required to put myself out there.

But this group, rolling down Las Olas, inspired me to take action. There were hundreds of people, of all ages, taking over my town on bikes. I had to know more. With a little research, I found out that the group was called Critical Mass. And, in addition to this one, large ride; there were several smaller groups that met throughout the week.

I researched diligently until I found one I thought I might be able to manage. It didn’t take long, however, for fear to creep in and rear its ugly head. What if I went and couldn’t keep up? What if no one talked to me? What if I hated it? What if they didn’t like me? My mind raced with all the reasons I should not show up to a group where I didn’t know anyone. But, for the first time, I quieted my thoughts. After all, this is what I had been working towards: breaking free of my fears.

It took me two weeks to build up the courage to show up. I rode my bike there, half excited and half terrified. A huge part of me was so very ready to try something new and make new friends, but the self-doubt almost caused me to turn around and run home where I would be safe. But I didn’t, and going to that ride ended up being one of the best decisions I had made in a very long time. That ride changed my life as I knew it.

Within minutes of arriving, Craig introduced himself. Craig was bubbly and super welcoming. He made me feel at ease within seconds. He asked me if I had ever done the ride, and I shared my concerns about not being able to keep up.

“Oh! Don’t worry about that. You’ll be fine. I’ll make sure you don’t get dropped or lost,” he said with a smile.

As people began showing up to the park, Craig made a point of introducing me to each of his friends and telling them I was new. Between Craig, Matt, and Allen, I never feared I would get lost and I was motivated to see the ride through. They rode next to me, encouraged me, and chatted me up, making me feel as if I belonged to this group of people I had never met before. Before the ride was even over, I was encouraged to come again the next week. They even invited me to the local taco hangout for food and beer after the ride, where I met more people.

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It was in this group that I met some of my closest, dearest friends. It was in this group that I grew from a casual biker, to a competitor. It was in this group that I gained confidence and open-mindedness. I met individuals from all walks of life, and my inner circle grew exponentially. Our activities spanned from road biking to mountain biking, dinner to beach days, and movies out to house parties. We celebrated birthdays and holidays, we laughed together and cried together, and we still do.

It took pushing past my fear to see an entire world open in front of me. Making this one decision was the catalyst that brought me to an entirely new level of healing over the past couple of years. There are individuals from this group who have been my life raft on more than one occasion. I regained activities that brought me joy, many of which had long been suppressed or forgotten, such as singing, camping, snorkeling, and traveling.

And my return to myself, in large part, came from the many individuals of this group showing me that we are all beautiful and unique individuals. It didn’t matter what I thought of myself, how good I was at something, how I looked, or what I did for a job. They took the self-inflicted stress out of being me. I could be myself, learn to love myself, and be loved in return.


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

Forget Me Not: Loving me, loving you

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“If you can love the wrong person that much, imagine how much you can love the right one.”

Valentine’s Day is upon us. It’s a day when couples proclaim their love for one another, and hearts and chocolates seem to rain down from the sky. Yesterday, I saw a brief article on the origins of Valentine’s Day. It talked about everything from how St. Valentine was arrested for marrying young couples to the Pagan Festival of Lupercalia. A simple Google search will provide you with tons of details, if you are so inclined. For the purpose of this blog post, however, I want to focus on one key element; the celebration of love has been around for centuries.

Although I spent almost twenty years in some sort of relationship, last year was the first time I actually celebrated Valentine’s Day since I was in high school. And this year, I couldn’t care less that it is happening. During my entire marriage, I found the idea of this holiday annoying at best. It represented everything that was missing from my marriage. My husband blew it off as a Hallmark holiday, and I stopped believing in the love of fairy tales long before I was even married. It was hard for me to comprehend finding a man worthy of any of the cards I saw out there.

Let’s fast forward to my single years. When I first entered my singledom, Valentine’s Day would sneak up on me like a cruel joke. I carried a lot of sadness, and this day of love and happiness served as a cruel reminder of how alone I really was. It represented the cold reality that no one wanted me, a belief that I carried long after the divorce.

But, as I traveled down my path to recovery, I started to view this day from a different perspective. What if Valentine’s Day was a celebration of the love of those who are important to us? What if I took the romance part out of it? This view gave me a much brighter outlook. On Valentine’s Day, I would focus on all the love I had to give and all the love that I received in return.

That love, the love of my family and friends, was so much more important than the false love of the wrong man. My life had shown me, in more ways than one, that having a man standing next to you is not the same as having a man standing with you. True love is not being in a relationship or having someone buy you flowers. True love is having people around you that care for you, sometimes even, more than you care for yourself.
So, for the past several years, I focused on making Valentine’s Day a day to remember all those who love me unconditionally. Every time I saw a Valentine’s heart or post, I remembered those who loved and cared for me when I needed it most. I was thankful that some of my friends and relatives had found someone to share their romantic love with, and I was hopeful that those who were struggling would stay positive. I focused on loving those who were important to me and on loving myself.

When the right man did come into my life, I struggled with letting go for fear of getting hurt again. But he showed me what true love looks like. He didn’t try to win me over with fancy dinners or over-the-top compliments. He didn’t try to rush me past my own fears or hang-ups. Instead, he stood by me and built me up. He tore down my walls with support and kindness, and he showed me what true love looks like.

Last year, we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day doing something we both enjoy, going to a park. Every day since, we have celebrated love in our words, gestures, and support for one another. This year, as Valentine’s Day is upon us again, I feel no need to do anything different, because everyday, with him, is a celebration of love.

Instead, this year I will be thankful for him as I am the others who have shown me true love. It doesn’t matter what your status is. It doesn’t matter if you are married, divorced, single, or lost your loved one. What matters is that you find true love in those who are willing to share it with you. Celebrate the love you have in your life and you will find that your self-love will grow. That is the hardest love to come by. When you love yourself, you are a bright and shining light to everyone around you.

The celebration of love is what you make of it. Happy Valentine’s Day, my loves!


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

Forget Me Not: Just Me

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I slowly and methodically pushed the post button, uploading a raw photo of myself that I captioned “just me.” Afterwards, I sat there and started at the ocean as it slowly washed onto shore in the fading sunlight. I had done it. I had shown the world what my soul really looked like. I was done hiding behind the so-called appropriate photos of the smiling girl I was trying to be. There was so much more to me. That evening, as I sat on the lifeguard tower, depression had set in once again. I was so very weary of it. If you were looking in, from the outside, you would say my life was good. What I couldn’t understand was why I was still so messed up?

I reminded myself that rejection did not say anything about me. It was a basic clarification that the person rejecting me was not meant to be in my life. The self-talk was proving ineffective, though, and with each rejection came self-loathing that was unbearable. I tried to tell myself that my abuser’s words were not true and that the right people would come into my life and stay there. The right people would not walk away. But my husband’s words were always in the back of my mind.

“No guy will ever want you! Look at you!” “You can’t do anything right.” “When are you going to lose some weight?”

These words were poison. They cut to my inner being for years. Some of them still do. Obviously, he was right. Here it was, five years later, and I was still alone while he was married again in less than a year. Sometimes I was ok. Sometimes I would have fun with my friends, ride bikes, hang out, and carry on. Sometimes, however, I was not okay; but, I would pick myself up and put a smile on my face. I was good at ignoring the turmoil inside. I had years of practice doing that. Put on a happy face and take on the world. Although many of those around me thought I was a happy person, in truth I wasn’t. The moment I found myself alone, everything seemed to darken and I felt completely lost and fragile. I was tired of pretending to be someone I was not. I was tired of being strong.

As part of this blog, I’ve been taking a walk down memory lane. For all the memories that I prefer Facebook keep hidden, it is interesting to be able to see what I was posting. It is a small window into my life at that very moment in time. There are so many things that I have since forgotten, such as pictures that speak volumes and quotes that put my feelings to words better than I could. As I was traversing through 2014, I had no idea how much growth was actually going to occur. This year proved to be the year when I would truly let go of my past and strive for a better future. It was the year that everything turned around.

The summer before, I had hit rock bottom. Anxiety and depression had moved in and seemed to be unpacking for the long haul. It took this turn of events to persuade me to get some outside help in my quest for happiness. I had believed that I had it under control. For four years, I had been living on the emotional high of my freedom from him. It never occurred to me that there would be ongoing ramifications to the years of suffering I endured while living in an abusive relationship.

But even after months of therapy, which provided me the insight to understand why I thought and felt the way I did, I still struggled with learning how to actually deal with all of it. Rejection and the fear of being alone forever were my triggers. It is hard to explain this to someone who has never experienced it, but I can assure you that the fallout was very real. My mind was full of irrational thoughts and my reactions were, very often, borderline insane to outsiders. But, to me, they were the reality of the life I lived and, although I knew that they were “abnormal” reactions, I had no idea how to change them.

It was an ongoing battle; a battle that I won in the end! By August of 2014, I had posted the following:

A physical, emotional, and spiritual reboot are about to occur in this girl. Excited to see what transpires when old bad habits are broken, new healthy habits are formed, and roadblocks I’ve allowed in my life are faced head on and removed for good. I am ready!

In upcoming posts, I want to touch on how the year of 2014 brought me from the girl in the photo to the girl who wrote the above post. We all deal with different roadblocks that keep us from being the best we can be. It is my continuing hope that my story will help you overcome yours and that, together, we can grow into the individuals we are meant to be.


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

Becky’s Fund Welcomes Natalie

My name is Natalie Smith and I am originally from Denver, Colorado. I am in the final year of my bachelor’s degree in Gender & Diversity studies, which I have been working to complete abroad in Germany.

At my university, I previously held workshops to educate others about the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence as well as discuss preventative measures. Due to this, I became very interested in the work Becky’s Fund does to specifically address IPV before it takes place and to support survivors.

My course of study has further increased my interest in and knowledge of violence prevention. My interests include modern masculinity culture and the sexualization and objectification of women in the media, which I believe contribute to the prevalence of IPV. I have also developed an interest in the area of economic abuse, specifically coerced credit. The advancement of technology coupled with the increased use of credit cards has made it easier to perpetrate violence that affects victims financially. This violence has long-lasting consequences that the justice system does not yet have adequate solutions to address. In addition, I am very interested in the intersectionality of domestic violence and disability, age, race, etc.

I hope to develop my skills in the areas of research, fundraising, and grant writing, as well as further my knowledge in my areas of interest regarding domestic violence and its prevention. It is my hope that the intricate understanding of domestic violence I gain will be beneficial to me in my future career.

Forget Me Not: This is not the end of me, this is the beginning

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If you have read my story, you know that I have been on a journey for the past several years. This journey took me far away from the person I was. So far away, in fact, that I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. She looked the same on the outside, but if I really looked into her eyes, I didn’t know the person staring back. She was empty. She had little interest in anything. She found no joy in the happiest of occasions. She was a shell. Today, all of that has changed.

Had you asked me six or seven years ago how I was feeling, about my life and path, the answer would be much different than my answer today. It was difficult for me to learn how to be patient with myself and allow myself the time I needed to heal. It took a lot of work for me to learn to live with, and for, me. I expect that it will take many years to complete my healing, but that is ok. I believe that all my experiences have created, in me, an individual who can relate to the pain of domestic violence and help others find hope. One of my favorite singers, Christina Perri, used these words in her song I Believe:

I believe in the lost possibilities you can’t see.
And I believe that the darkness reminds us where light can be.
I known that your heart is still beating, beating, darling.
I believe that you fell so you would land next to me.
Cause I have been where you are before.
And I have felt the pain of losing who you are.
And I have died so many times, but I am still alive.

So many quotes from this song have rung true in my journey to healing. The beauty of being able to look back and know that I survived still leads to overwhelming emotion. Just hearing this song brings tears of joy to my eyes. I have joy for my freedom, my strength, and for those who stand as survivors of domestic violence with me.

If you are still a victim of domestic violence, please know that you can have that same joy! That is the good news in all of this. You must, however, be aware of the situation you are in. The day will come when you know that you must leave. While in the midst of my marriage, and throughout my separation, I thought that I would never be happy again. I struggled with guilt, sadness, and shame, while hoping he would return to the man I wanted him to be. Eventually, however, the bad times substantially outweighed the good.

I have yet to meet a person who does not wish to be happy and enjoy the life they are living. No one wants to be depressed, anxious, frightened, or lonely. Sadly, victims of abuse often make excuses for the people who take away their joy. It took walking out the door, threats and all, for me to be able to start down the road to recovery. I had to be removed from the daily abuse in order to see the possibility of happiness and peace in my life.

It will not be perfect. You will still hurt, struggle with certain feelings, and have insecurities. But with every day that passes, life will get better and you will find yourself being reacquainted with joy. Remember, leaving a life of domestic violence is not the end of you. It is only the very beginning.

— Forget Me Not


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

forget me not: My Journey

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Over the course of several years I have been on a bit of a journey, if you would like to call it that. This journey took me far away from the person I am. So far away, in fact, that I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. She looked the same on the outside, but if I really looked into her eyes, I didn’t know the person staring back. She was empty. She had little interest in anything. She found no joy in the happiest of occasions. She was a shell.

This was very distressing for all of the obvious reasons, of course. But what was far worse was that I couldn’t comprehend how I had let it come to this. I was a strong, independent, ambitious woman. I had a plan for my life…and this was not it.

They say it takes half the time you were in a relationship to get over it. For me, that would be eight years. I was over him within months, but being over the relationship is a whole other story. The damage that I incurred over those sixteen years has created a number of obstacles that I’ve had to overcome.

It all began as a blissful, high school romance. But, within months, there were signs I refused to see. It seemed that everything he did involved trying to control me. With every good thing that came of our relationship, his behavior and anger escalated. It started with guilting me for wanting to spend time to family and friends, to putting me down and calling me names, to manipulating circumstances to hurt me and raise himself up. Soon, everything he didn’t like about his life was my fault, and I paid for my “wrongdoing” with emotional and physical attacks.

I didn’t look right, cook right, clean right, make enough money, work enough, exercise enough, eat right, or lose enough weight. His temper would flare over the simplest of things, resulting in broken keepsakes, slaps, arm bars, wrist locks, chokes, being slammed against walls, being kicked and punched, being pinned down, emotional abuse, and my broken spirit. Through all of it, I lied to friends and family, covered for his actions and absences, and protected him with all I had. I learned that nothing would change someone who does not wish to change.

It took me sixteen years to decide I could take no more, and several months to walk out. It was something as simple as being accused of cheating that was the catalyst that propelled me out the door. I had done nothing but been faithful, in every way, while he treated me like the dirt beneath his feet. I could take no more. I didn’t realize the damage that had been done and what I had waiting for me. I had to work through health issues and psychological issues. I had to learn to interact with others again and start picking up the pieces of my life.

As I write today, I can say with confidence that I am no longer looking at that same reflection, but I am still learning to live with me. It has been exactly seven years since I faced my fears and walked out the door. Seven entire years since I said I was done and made the heart wrenching, terrifying decision to leave my marriage. It has been a journey like no other, bringing me to places I never comprehended, lows I don’t wish on my worst enemy, and love I never knew existed.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. It takes some of us longer than others to realize that. But, no matter how long you have stayed and endured, there is a beautiful life that can be had. Believe in yourself and find it.


Read the Forget Me Not Series here and visit the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group’s website.

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