March 3, 2017 marked my 16th year as a ‘survivor,’ a very powerful term as many victims of domestic violence never reach this goal.

I met my abuser when I was 18 – I was young, naive and thought I was in love. That love quickly turned to physical and emotional abuse. Like so many other victims I became ashamed and believed his words that stated it was all my fault.

I suffered many physical attacks – bruises, bloody lips and so on but he soon found how he could inflict pain without leaving marks visible to others – usually resulting in blows to the head and torso. The emotional abuse I found leaves much deeper scars that are much harder to heal.

As a result of my situation I lost countless friends, job opportunities and the worst – became estranged from my family.

Finally, after 22 years of suffering for the most part in silence, a friend helped me get to a shelter – which began my journey to reclaiming my life and finding freedom.

The shelter advocates at the Betty Griffin Center taught me many things about myself: I realized that all victims have some ‘vice’ – mine was catalog shopping. I also realized that my wardrobe consisted of only dark colors – black, blue, browns – all done subconsciously to try to divert any attention to me in hopes no problems would arise behind closed doors.

I tried everything to ‘fix’ the problem – counseling, marriage, having a child, buying a house…but never actually seeing the REAL problem.

Domestic violence victims not only suffer from physical and emotional pain, but there is also shame involved. I am sure you have all heard someone say, ‘If he hurts her, why does she stay with him.’ Those are very powerful words.

With the help of the shelter and court advocates encouraging me to write my story, I was awarded with a permanent restraining order – even with this I ultimately had leave my 15-year job, move from the town I grew to love and move on – because he would not.

I am happy to say that with the help of the advocates, I was able to see the type of person NOT to be involved with (so as not to repeat the cycle) and have been happily married to a wonderful man for over five years.

Since becoming involved with Betty Griffin Center, I have had the opportunity to share my story in hopes to help others who may be in crisis find their strength – and know that they are not alone, and that help is available.

Many people don’t want to believe that domestic violence is a community problem, but it is.