coping through counseling

Coping Through Counseling

Sometimes we all want a miracle solution for our problems. Especially after getting out of a bad relationship, the natural desire is to just feel better, now. It may be a frustrating saying, but time does heal wounds. While counseling isn’t an instant fix, the process is truly what’s important. Taking all the time you need to explore the past and think about the future can be invaluable in strengthening and rebuilding your life.

Today we’re continuing our conversation with clinical psychologist Martha Ramos Duffer to learn more about the ins and outs of deciding to start counseling, and how you can tell if it’s working for you.

Some people want to know that therapy is working. What is a good indicator of this?

At the beginning of the therapeutic process, every therapist and client should work together to identify goals and specific ways that they will know they’re moving toward those goals. This can be helpful in determining if therapy is working for you. Overall every therapy that is working will, over time, result in a person feeling increased self-awareness, capacity to choose, clarity and peace.

If you want to have the luxury of your own space to explore yourself then individual therapy is great for that. In individual therapy you can explore your own feelings and goals much more deeply.

Is therapy for everyone? When’s the right time to start therapy?

If you feel that therapy might be helpful, sooner is always better. Therapy can be beneficial for everyone because it’s a place where you can learn increased self-awareness, clarify your goals and look at the choices in front of you.

That being said, there are many things in life that can be therapeutic. If you don’t feel comfortable with therapy there are other healing practices you can explore like journaling, spending time in nature, cultivating friendships and networks, being part of community groups or volunteering. There are many activities that can be as healing as therapy.

What are the differences between group counseling and individual counseling?

In general, both can be very beneficial, and I would recommend that people consider the type that they feel most comfortable in. If you want to focus more on interpersonal skills, want to know how you come across to other people, and want to hear from experiences from other people in their growth processes, then group counseling is wonderful for that.

What advice would you give someone who is apprehensive about counseling?

Entering counseling does not necessarily mean that you are mentally ill or can’t cope on your own. Therapy is about how much you’re putting in place to support yourself in healing and succeeding.

Have you thought that therapy might be a good choice for you? Whether you’re struggling in an abusive relationship or trying to heal after leaving one, getting in touch with a counselor to strengthen your support system can have a powerful effect. Give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE and our advocates can help you locate counselors in your area.

Further Reading

In our post on Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors we talk more about breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support.

This PDF brochure from the National Association of Social Workers has a helpful checklist of positive indicators when determining if your counselor is the right fit for you.

finding the right counselor for you

Finding the Right Counselor for You

The idea of sharing personal stories and emotions can be scary, especially if you’re still feeling hurt or vulnerable from a breakup. Delving into these difficult feelings can ultimately be one of the most helpful ways to cope and move on. That’s where counseling comes in. Talking with someone one-on-one in a safe space is a great option for anyone who may need support.

To learn more about the process of starting counseling, we met up with licensed clinical psychologist and motivational speaker Martha Ramos Duffer whose work is centered on trauma treatment, empowerment and personal growth. She provided us with incredibly helpful information on how to choose a counselor.

What are the differences between a counselor, therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist? Who would you suggest for someone who has left an abusive relationship?

That’s an important place to start. The words psychotherapist, therapist and counselor are all used interchangeably. These are people who have received master’s degrees in counseling, social work or psychology. Psychologists have more training because they are doctorate level therapists. Any of these professionals can do a great job providing therapy.

On the other hand, psychiatrists have a doctorate in medicine. In most states they are the only ones who can prescribe medicine and most don’t provide therapy. What most often happens is that somebody who needs medication will see a psychologist or other licensed counselor for therapy and see a psychiatrist for medication.

It’s important to make sure the professional you decide to speak with is a licensed mental health professional. Terms like “licensed professional counselor” are legally regulated, so not just anybody can call themselves that. Words like “counselor” or “coach” are not regulated, so anybody can call themselves that.

What are the steps to take in order to find the right counselor?

The first thing to think about is financial access. Will you try to use insurance to pay? If not, will you pay out of pocket and do you need sliding scale fees? Some therapists offer varying prices based on the client’s income level.

Some communities also have local mental health centers with low fees. If you’re just leaving an abusive relationship and you don’t have access to funds or insurance, see if one of these exists in your area.

If you have insurance, call and request a list of mental health care providers. After you have a list, you can begin to ask around to see which of these professionals are recommended by others. If you’re coming out of a shelter, ask the people who work there for recommendations. Ask friends and family if anybody has seen a mental health professional who has worked well for them.

If your friends and family members haven’t used mental health professionals, there are other options. Ask for recommendations from other health professionals in the community, like your physician or even other psychologists. Psychology Today is also a useful site where many mental health professionals advertise, allowing you to read doctors’ bios and research more options in your area.

Call several different therapists and talk with them before setting up an appointment. This lets you determine how comfortable you feel and how responsive they are. Ask if they have expertise working with clients who have experienced trauma and domestic violence.

What are some red flags that indicate that a therapist may not understand domestic violence or aren’t a good fit for you?

If a therapist gets defensive when you ask them if they have experience with trauma and domestic violence, then it is likely that they are not well trained in that area.

Another huge red flag is if a therapist wants to begin by looking at your role in the relationship and treats the abuse as a mutual-fault issue. That doesn’t mean that in complex ways we don’t all play a role in every dynamic but that’s not how to treat a survivor of domestic violence. If they start to discuss the situation as if it was a traditional marriage or relationship issue and try to explore your own role in triggering or participating in the abuse, this is a clear sign they don’t understand domestic violence.

If a counselor recommends couples therapy or marriage therapy, this is also a red flag. This is not recommended when there’s battering and violence in a relationship.

How do you know a counselor is a good fit for you?

A good match between therapist and client is one of the most powerful healing factors in a therapeutic relationship. Look for someone who makes you feel heard, understood, safe and comfortable.

If you don’t feel this way, it makes sense to look for someone else. However, it’s important to first ask yourself what is making you uncomfortable. Is your discomfort coming from how difficult it is to talk about this? Of course you’re going to feel badly as you start to talk about what happened. There are all kinds of things that can make a first session not feel good, and you need to discern if your discomfort is because starting the process is difficult, or because you don’t feel heard and understood by the counselor.

Check the blog on Wednesday for the second part of our interview with Martha.

survivor stories

Shared Voices PT 2: Your Stories of Life After Abuse

Yesterday we shared some survivor’s stories that we were fortunate enough to have received from our inspirational Facebook community. These stories expressed the patience and hope needed to rebuild your life after abuse, and we heard from survivors in all different stages of healing. Some shared their feelings on whether or not they’d want another relationship. Many spoke about how important it is to spend time focusing on yourself and your own pursuits and learning to love yourself.

We’re so thankful for everyone who was able to share their personal stories with us, and we hope that reading these will inspire courage and hope, no matter what your situation may be.

Today we’re continuing to share these inspirational stories, with a focus on survivors who have found love after abuse and are starting a new chapter of their lives with a partner.

Melissa’s Story

I am a survivor of both sexual and domestic abuse.

I’ve been with my love for 3 years now… 2 years after I left a long, emotionally and physically abusive relationship that I cycled through for almost 6 years. The man I love today is the most gentle, loving, caring and supportive man I have ever met. He showed me that there are good guys who do nice things just because they are nice and they love and resort women.

I had found a rare gem of a loving man. I asked him to be official and we’ve been together ever since. He’s supported my return to college (I graduate this May!!!) as well as supported me emotionally as I continue to deal with the lasting effects of the abuse I have experienced in my life.

He has never once raised his voice, or his hand. He doesn’t have one aggressive bone in his body. In 3 years we have never had a fight, we have discussions. Finding love after abuse has been the miracle I’ve been waiting for my whole life…  I found love when I wasn’t even looking and life has been So Amazing since.

Andrea’s Story

I did! I am so blessed to have found such a kind, loving and patient man who loves me and my children. When I was with my abuser, I dreamt of being with someone that was loving and affectionate. Somehow, this dream has become a reality and I am thankful everyday that he is in my life.

Celeste’s Story

I got married a year and a half after I left my abuser. I know my worth and don’t let anyone or anything take me to a place where I can’t grow or prosper. I learned the value of the word NO. No, I can’t do that because it’s not in line with my goals. Or, no, that just isn’t true. I love the me I am today, but am really excited about the me I am becoming.

Curtis’s Story

It took time to discover who I really was – uncover the “real me” beneath the abuse. I started this process before leaving my abuser and it gave me the strength to realize that I had a better life head of me.

Now that I am comfortable with who I am and what I want to do with my life, I have found that I am able to love. I have an amazing partner who is my best friend. I feel free to express myself however I want to – through dance, song, jokes, and general happiness – and I feel respected in my thoughts and opinions. I truly believe that we are equals, that we compliment each other, and that our individual strengths and weaknesses are complimentary… not curses.

I think of her happiness regularly, and see how well it supplements my own happiness. After more than two years and countless struggles with my former spouse in court, we still have “young love”. Thank you for being my rock, my soft place, and my everything, Candice!

Shanna’s Story

I left my abusive ex-husband five years ago. My kids and I spent time in a DV shelter until we could get back on our feet. For a while, I felt like I had lost everything.

I married a wonderful, kind, caring, patient man last year. We still have to deal with my ex on a fairly consistent basis. It doesn’t strain our relationship, which is amazing to me. He helps me know that I am not the person my ex led me to believe I was. Re-finding myself after the years of horror I lived through has been a stressful, freeing, exciting journey.

Julie’s Story

A long road, but worth the journey. Yes, I did remarry 13 years after leaving my abuser.

Donna’s Story

I have had an amazing man for 7 years!! He is kind, never puts me down, very supportive, never calls me names or abuses, not jealous and so much more!!! I could not imagine life without him!! Thank god I am free!!

Teresa’s Story

I was in an abusive marriage for nearly 19 years. It took me a good year or more to PLAN my escape. And another 2 years to have the divorce completed after safely separating (moved all the way from New Jersey to Arizona with 2 teens and a toddler). Happy to say, that I found a wonderful man and we have been married 7 years. Who knew life could be so peaceful?

Connie’s Story

Yes, I did. We have just celebrated our 10th anniversary this year!

Lizz’s Story

YES! I was in an abusive relationship/marriage for 14-years. The abuse I suffered was not kind. I literally ran for my life from that relationship on August 24, 2001. I’ve never looked back. It was a couple of years before I dated… I needed to get back to being ME before I could even think of a relationship.

On a fluke I met a wicked nice, funny, hard working, loving, kind man online. Flew from SoCal to NH to meet him. Spent two weeks together. Came back out a month later for a week. Two months later I moved to NH for good. I feel like I was one of the lucky ones. Got out alive and found a wonderful man. Life is good.

Jennifer’s Story

I did. My wonderful husband and I have been together 8 years, married 6 1/2.

life after abuse

Shared Voices: Your Stories of Life After Abuse

Those who have left an abusive relationship many times come face to face with new challenges and a complicated healing and recovery process. Last month we explored this topic of life after abuse and asked our Facebook community to share their own experiences finding happiness with a new partner.

The responses were powerful and enlightening. We heard from survivors in all stages of recovery. Many shared messages of their courage and openness to try to find love again, and we were reminded that rebuilding your life after abuse can take time and space.

Here are some survivors who shared their unique stories of hope and patience:

Kathy’s Story

It took a great amount of time to heal after being with someone of that nature. But, not everyone is a bad person so hopefully one day I will meet a kind person.

Mary’s Story

6 yrs later, I have not found happiness with a new partner… I’m still trying to be happy with myself first.

Ashley’s Story

I still haven’t found anyone after my 2 divorces, but for the past 2 years now I’ve come to see it is alright to just let go and allow the healing to flow. I still have a hard time with nightmares and flash backs, I’ve just barely been able to be around coworker males when they use knives for jobs we do. But the progress is steady. One day I hope to be blessed with a loving partner as well. But for now, I am just going to care for me.

Bethann’s Story

I was in an abusive relationship for two years. It’ll be a year next month since I left. While I haven’t found a “new love”, I have started dating again. I’m positive I will find someone worthy of my time and love someday though.

Johanna’s Story

I don’t have a partner but I’m really happy being single, my son is the only love of my life right now. After a really bad relationship, a relationship is not in my plans for a while. But I trust God one day I am going to find a good person for me and my son.

Anna’s Story

I am so much calmer, and have emotional energy for my kids now to be the example I have wanted to be. Before, I was just so busy trying to survive — I was often short with them or emotionally unavailable. Now, I show them everyday what awesome kids they are, and how to live happily and peacefully. It is hard being a single mom, but it was much, much harder being an abused mom!

We also received many stories from survivors who have found focusing on their own personal goals and happiness to be an important part of the healing process.

Katrina’s Story           

It has been nine years. I didn’t find a partner yet but by choice. I did however go to work at a domestic violence shelter, earned a bachelors, then my masters and now I am a licensed social worker who specializes in therapy with trauma/domestic violence/sexual assault. It has been nine years of recovery as a single mom with five kids but I am here to say it can be done!

It has been a journey for sure. Of my five children 2 are in college and one graduates this year to go to college. 2 of the 3 are earning social work degrees and the third one is looking at political science/policy setting. Education is empowerment.

I was fresh out of my marriage and trying to make sense of it all. I became a volunteer advocate (DV and SA) then later the Children’s Program Coordinator. I worked up from there! My initial framework and knowledge base that I learned as a volunteer has shaped my entire role as a therapist. Don’t give up!!! I know it seems forever but now I look back and never ever would have believed I would have been here! I was a stay at home mother in a rural area, cloaked with religion as a reason to stay and completely under his thumb. Today I am independent and so much happier. Hang in there!!!

And happiness did follow! Every time I take the kids to the park or movies without fear, every time we can stay up late or sleep in, without fear… every time I can speak to somebody without fear… happiness abounds!

Christina’s Story

I’ve been single for four years now since I’ve left my abuser. A little bit of dating here & there, but I enjoy being single & learning to love myself so that my daughter can have a happy mother that doesn’t believe that she always has to be in a relationship to be happy or successful. I do have to say I’m a lot happier & healthier. Take time for yourself to enjoy your own company and learn. Share that with your children if you have kids and embrace it. You have plenty of time to meet someone. There’s no rush and even if you never meet someone, it’s better to be single and happy than in a relationship and miserable! Keep loving, keep fighting.

Andrea’s Story

I have not, however I did fall into the wonderful arms of a great job that allows me to support my 4 wonderful boys, and my own personal dreams both professionally and personally. Life is beyond anything I ever imagined.

Marissa’s Story

Finding happiness isn’t always through finding someone else. I haven’t found love yet, but I have become a nurse and am continuing with my master’s degree. Freedom to make one’s own choices and being independent is such a reward.

amandas story

Life and Love After Abuse: Amanda’s Story

Last month, we took to Facebook to discuss life after an abusive relationship. We asked the community to share their own stories, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Survivors shared their uplifting experiences of finding love and starting over after abuse, and there was no shortage of support and encouraging messages for those struggling to heal.

Today we’re excited to publish Amanda’s story, which details her journey from a victim of domestic violence to an empowered new bride. We hope you are as inspired at her strength and hopeful spirit as we are. A very special thanks to Amanda for having the courage to share her experience with us.

In response to your Facebook post: I am one of those who found love after abuse.

I was married to a physically, emotionally and sexual abusive man for five years — I was choked, beaten, thrown into walls, raped and made to feel completely worthless. In March 2010, I incorporated my “safety plan” and left my husband.

From March 2010 through March 2011 (while my divorce was going on), I spent A LOT of time reading books on domestic violence, reading blogs of survivors, researching information on websites like yours and also working closely with a therapist. I just read and learned everything I could about domestic violence as I knew that I wanted to one day be in a healthy relationship and not stay trapped in the “cycle.” I wanted to become a healthy and happy domestic violence survivor.

In April 2011, I was asked out on a date by a man that I had known from a distance. I was terrified to trust again (yes, even if it was just a little date), but I knew from all of the research that I had done that he was a good and honest man. Our first dinner date turned into a picnic and hike which turned into several more weeks of dating which lead to us becoming “a couple.”

Being part of “a couple” — in a healthy relationship — was amazing and terrifying at the same. Amazing because I forgot how wonderful a healthy relationship was, but terrifying because I was afraid that (A) something in our relationship would cause him to “turn” and (B) I was afraid my ex would come after me or my boyfriend. However, through all of my healing and research, I knew that option “A” wasn’t going to happen. And thankfully, option “B” didn’t happen either.

Through this relationship, I learned what a real man was — real men treat you with complete respect. They are caring, gentle and kind. They love you for who you are — your likes, dislikes, goals and ideas. They will NEVER EVER hurt you physically, emotionally or sexually. And one of the most important things, especially for a domestic violence survivor, is that they are patient with you. I can’t tell you how many times I had to either stop doing something, leave a place or just needed to be comforted due to some “trigger” from my past. A real man will be there for you, he will help you heal by showing you what real love is.

Two years later, on March 30th, 2013, I got to marry this absolutely amazing man. I have a husband that I (once) never thought existed. My marriage is wonderful, it’s free of abuse, or fear. Our home is our a happy place, filled with love.

Finding love, or even being willing to trust someone, after being in an abusive relationship is extremely scary. I do believe that my key to “finding love” was allowing myself time to heal, to grieve and to learn as much as possible about abusive personalities and what healthy relationships consist of.

The photo here is from our recent wedding — yes, I’m a blissful bride. And I’m so thankful that I can say that I HAVE found love after abuse!

*Photo credit: Kristen Eson, Arden Photography

online dating

Reboot Your Love Life with Online Dating

If you’re considering dating after domestic violence, one venue for meeting a partner is a bit more 21st century than bumping into someone at the bar. It’s the same place where you’ve started managing bank accounts, reading the news, and selling your old stuff: the internet.

Some people shy away from the idea of online dating, but in today’s tech-driven world, it’s no longer as awkward as you may have thought. It can be a comfortable way to get to know someone before meeting him or her in person.

If you’re considering turning to a dating website to meet new people, it’s important to remember a few safety tips as well as red flags to look out for.

Read the warning signs 

In the wake of Manti Te’o’s online girlfriend hoax, the term “catfishing” has become synonymous with someone making up an online identity to trick people into a relationship. The potential to be duped shouldn’t deter anyone from online dating — but if you’re just beginning to meet people online, trusting your instinct is important.

There are some warning signs that might indicate that the person you’re speaking with is less than genuine, has questionable intentions or is already involved/married. Some of these signs could be:

  • Not posting any pictures of themselves online, or posting only a dark picture that is difficult to see
  • Contacting you only irregularly/off and on
  • Asking for your phone number but refusing to give you theirs
  • Showing reluctance to meet up in person, even after lots of online correspondence
  • Telling a lot of different stories or facts that don’t quite “add up”

Set boundaries online and date safely

If you’re suspicious of a photo, try doing a “reverse image search” on Google Images to see if these photos are coming up elsewhere on the Internet. To do a reverse image search, click and drag a photo into the search box on Google Images. Learn more on this type of search.

Create a separate e-mail account with a free service like Gmail to use just for your online dating activity. If an address is required to register for a site, consider getting a post office box instead of using your home address.

Install a free “privacy checker” on your computer and check privacy standards of the dating website that you are using.

Pay attention to your own online presence. Double check the privacy settings on social networking sites you use to see how much info about yourself is available to the public. Just as you may be looking up a potential date, it’s possible that they will be doing the same.

Be honest when filling out your profile, but avoid giving out personal information (phone number, address, full name). If you’re chatting/e-mailing with a potential date, don’t give out too much personal info in your messages — a good rule of thumb is to stay on a first name basis until the first date.

Remember that your online profile isn’t the right place to divulge personal info about your past relationships. There will be plenty of time after your first date to share more personal information.

If you have children, think about keeping them and your dating life separate for their own safety. While you may choose to list that you have children on your profile, avoid posting photos of them.

If you’re skeptical about something an online admirer is telling you, ask a friend. An outside perspective can be very helpful if something doesn’t feel right.

Consider talking on the phone before an in-person date. Give out your cell number instead of home or work phone numbers, or use a public phone.

If you do decide to meet someone “offline” and in person, there are safe dating tips to keep in mind such as meeting in a public place and having backup in the form of a friend to call.

Find a reputable site that works for you

Online dating allows you to be selective from the get-go. Many dating websites cost money to use, but this often means the people you’ll find on the site are as committed to finding a date as you are. Here are some that we know to be widely used:

HowAboutWe: It boasts over 1,000,000 users and has been transforming traditional first dates for users. To get started, just post a date idea beginning with the words “How about we…”

AARP Dating: They’ve partnered with HowAboutWe to make their own site for the older generation, which makes online dating all about getting offline. The site even offers clever first date ideas: “How about we go to a museum and take turns pretending to be a tour guide — we’ll just make it all up.”

Match: The most well known dating site, which claims that it’s responsible for more dates, relationships and marriages than any other dating site. It’s more geared toward middle-aged and older daters than sites like OkCupid. Match emphasizes safe online and offline dating.

Single Parent Match, Christian Mingle and JDate are just a few examples of the many “niche” sites geared toward people with specific interests or beliefs who are looking to date a specific type of person.

Thinking what you want in a potential partner can be a good first step when you’re beginning online dating. This will help you write your profile accordingly and look for potential “matches.” Remember to practice safe dating both on and offline, and most importantly: Have fun!

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

A Letter To My Daughter About Fighting Back

Parents naturally want to shield their children from pain. But what happens when a parent’s own painful past can provide guidance to their child? Should that trauma be revisited? In today’s post, our talented guest writer, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, does just that, as she shares with her daughter the lessons she learned through leaving a terrifying relationship.

In this brave letter, Sarah opens up about a trusted partner turning violent. Sarah tells the story of her abuse, from the first, “This isn’t happening” to the final assurance to her daughter, “It didn’t happen again.”

We’re delighted to share this incredibly powerful piece with you. We hope you find courage in Sarah’s words and are reminded that your voice, and your story, matter.

This piece originally appeared on For more personal essays from Jewish women and mothers, sign up for their free newsletter.

To My Darling Daughter,

I watch your eyes glow when the kids in preschool want to play with you. I see how it matters to you what they say and how they smile.

I watch your bottom lip tremble when someone hurts your feelings.

And I watch you on the playground–your face flushed, and your breath staggered as you chase the child that was mean to you. I know you, and I know you are blaming yourself for their bad behavior.

I know you are trying to get a second chance at friendships not worth having.

You are so much like me that it takes my breath away.

Please. Don’t be this way.

And this is why I am telling you this story–in bits and pieces. Starting now, and ending when you’re older and we can sit down together over a glass of wine and really talk.

Before I met your father, I lived with someone else.

Things were very, very good–we’d eat Chinese takeout together and watch The Simpsons. We’d go for walks at midnight, holding hands and watching our breath mingle in the piercing night. We’d share a lemon chicken hot dog with sauerkraut, and smoke a bowl, and laugh and laugh and laugh.

We shared an apartment with big windows facing the San Francisco Bay. If you stood on the arm of the couch, you could see the Bay Bridge. I hung Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” over our bed. We were going to get married. We were going to have children.

And then, two years later, something changed.

It wasn’t subtle. It wasn’t slow. It was an immediate about-face that started one night–although I can’t remember how. Something about money? Something about work?

But it happened. A cruelness slithered across his face, and took hold. And I was stunned to respond. I thought I could fix it. I thought I could fix him.

But it got worse. Because it always gets worse.

You ask me why I don’t like cats, my darling daughter. I used to love cats. I had two of them when I lived with this man. And when the cats got fleas, I watched him dunk their furry bodies into the bathtub, and when they hissed and clawed, terrified out of their soaked skins, he hurdled them against the wall. I bit my knuckles until they bled. I watched him take them away that night–still wet and shivering. I didn’t ask what happened to them.

(I know what happened to them.)

And. It got worse. This time in subtle degrees that infiltrated every moment, every breath.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he took my keys away and said I could only come home when he was home.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he made a list of the people he no longer wanted me to talk to, including close friends from childhood, and a family member.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he dangled the pearl necklace my parents had given me for my 21st birthday in front of me, and said, “You bitch, if you don’t get into a good law school, I am going to break this necklace or give it to the first hot girl I see.”

He’d grab my wrist. He’d pinch my arm. He’d shove me out of the way when I’d reach for him.

And then.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said out loud in an empty train car, hours after he kneeled over me, the palm of his hand pressing my windpipe until the light narrowed into a single exquisite spark.

And then.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said as I cringed when I lifted my sore arm, my fingers still numb from what he had done to me.

And I had nothing in my purse but the leftovers of the 20 dollars he gave me that previous Monday–just like he did every Monday before I’d leave to catch my train.

“Here’s your allowance,” he’d joke.

But it wasn’t funny. Because I was so dependent on him. (We were learning about how to literalize a metaphor in a comp lit class I was taking. And I remember thinking that it was too bad I couldn’t give my professor this example.)

And while I sat in that empty train car, I remembered a Monday morning a few months before, how I’d reached for my “allowance” to buy a train ticket, and how it’d slipped from my fingers and fallen down down down through the sewer grate. I had fallen hard to my knees, and tore a nail as I tried to pry the grate loose. Because it didn’t matter to me that below flowed a river of piss and shit. All that mattered was that I had lost my $20.00 and I had to get it back.

Or else.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said a little louder. To myself alone.

And it didn’t happen again. Because something broke inside me then, and I only returned to that apartment with the big windows with a friend to pick up my things when I knew he was at work.

And it didn’t happen again because I finally opened my mouth and started telling people what had happened.

And it didn’t happen again because saying these words out loud made it real–and I could see with brutal clarity that it was up to me to not let it happen.

But all that time wasted. The low-grade panic, punctuated by bursts of random violence. All that time wasted being prodded along down a path by someone I trusted. All that time wasted, wasting away.

Don’t be like this.

Don’t be dependent on how others treat you. You are strong, and brave, and wonderful, and kind.

Stand up for yourself.

Fight back if you have to.

I learned all of this by living it. And I don’t want you to learn like this, because while I was lucky enough to walk away with my two legs and my body intact, we shouldn’t tempt fate.

I didn’t plan on telling you this. But I see how similar we are–I see your softness, your kindness. I see how you forgive so easily–too easily–when someone is mean to you.

It’s wonderful to be kind. It’s wonderful to be compassionate. But within reason, darling daughter. Within reason.

So, be badass. Be brave. If someone is mean to you, then good riddance. And don’t wait for them to walk away. YOU walk away.

And for the rest of your life–whether I’m around or not–it’s my job to protect you by teaching you how to protect yourself.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence is an extremely traumatizing experience and the emotional scars associated with this abuse can often outlast the physical impact.

Domestic violence survivors are at a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or  stress-related mental health conditions. Survivors can have upsetting memories or flashbacks, fear or a sense of danger that they cannot overcome. They may feel numb or disconnected from the rest of the world (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health). Learning to cope with residual emotional pain and fears is essential to healing.

Breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support from friends and family can help survivors to move forward. Counseling sessions provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to express their feelings, thoughts and fears. Counselors are nonjudgmental third-party advisors who listen and can help survivors work through the things that they are experiencing.

Speaking with a trauma specialist can help survivors to deal with their remaining anxiety and find ways to relieve that stress. These specialists can help to process traumatic memories or experiences so that it is possible to move on. They can also aid survivors in learning to regulate their strong emotions like fear and anger.

Group counseling can also be beneficial. Attending a group session can allow survivors to connect with others who have been through similar situations. Connecting with these people can reduce the feeling of isolation often created by abusers. Other survivors can also offer advice on how they got through tough situations.

Overcoming a traumatic experience can be scary. It’s important that if you do decide to seek counseling, that you find a well-trained professional or group that you are comfortable with.  Often domestic violence programs offer individual counseling to survivors in their communities.  If that’s not a possibility, ask potential counselors about their experiences and strategies for supporting victims of domestic violence.

Please note: if you are still in an abusive relationship, please keep in mind that we don’t recommend attending couple’s counseling with your abuser. Here’s why.

(Photo by Joe Houghton)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Moving On Emotionally After An Abusive Relationship

Your emotional safety is just as important as your physical safety. Dealing with the aftermath of abuse can be a very challenging experience, especially on your mind and heart. The emotional scars of domestic abuse can stay with victims long after they have left the relationship. Following these tips may help you maintain your emotional health after leaving.

  • Identify things that help you calm down — taking a warm bath, reading a book or taking deep breaths can help you de-stress
  • Remind yourself why you left — journaling about your abuse can help you remember the reasons that you left and can be particularly helpful if you’re having second thoughts about leaving
  • Identify a call buddy for when you’re missing your ex — talking to a friend can help you resist the urge to reach out to your ex when you’re down
  • Talk to a counselor or join a domestic abuse survivor’s therapy group
  • Talk to your family or friends — community members and neighbors can also be a good resource
  • When an anniversary, birthday, holiday, etc. is coming up, prepare yourself — try to make other plans, set a strong support group in place to help you through emotional times
  • Give yourself time and space — recovery is hard so go easy on yourself. Don’t put a time limit on getting past your pain. It’s ok to grieve. Even though it was an abusive relationship, it is still a loss. You are allowed to feel what you feel at your pace.
  • Be conscious of your emotional routines — maybe your partner was your go-to person when something went wrong. You’ll have to change not only your physical routines (see previous post) but also your mental routines. You will have to find new coping mechanisms. This may take time but you can do it.

Remember, advocates at The Hotline are always ready to take your call if you need help or support. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or (206) 787-3224 (Video Phone Only for Deaf Callers)

Do you have any tips for recovering emotionally after an abusive relationship?

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Moving Forward: Advice for After You Leave

The first months after leaving an abusive relationship are extremely challenging. Victims often fear for their immediate safety and are attempting to cope with the emotional and physical trauma from their past.

Staying safe is just as important after leaving as during the relationship. The following tips are meant to help you increase your physical safety.

  • Trust your instincts — you know yourself and your situation better than anyone, do what you think is best
  • Keep your location a secret — tell only the people you trust where you are and explain how important it is that they don’t tell anyone else
  • Be aware of your surroundings — being cognizant of what’s going on is extremely important
  • Consider having your phone number be unlisted — ask the phone company to prevent blocked numbers from calling you
  • Consider renting a post office box for all mail — do not have any packages or letters delivered to your home or where you are staying
  • If possible, cancel old or shared bank accounts and credit cards — open new accounts with different banks
  • Talk to your kids — explain the situation in as much detail as you feel comfortable with, create an emergency plan with them
  • Change your routine — take different route to work, avoid your regular hang outs, change standing appointments

We will be examining other ways to take care of yourself after you leave in future posts. Please feel free to call The Hotline if you’d like to talk about your situation or to discuss other ways to stay safe. 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Francesca’s Story

* Note from The Hotline: Special thanks to Francesca for bravely sharing her story with us.*

Living with a man like my ex-husband is like having a gun pointed at your head every single day, and you just don’t know when the gun is going to go off.

I am writing to tell my story – of how I have been a victim and survivor of repeated, relentless domestic violence – and to bring the weaknesses in the justice system and the general lack of knowledge in the community about domestic violence to your attention.

I married my ex-husband in October of 2005 thinking that he was a kind, gentle, compassionate, and caring man. Not until I was pregnant with our child did I see his true character. When I was about six months pregnant, he slapped me across my face, leaving me with a black eye and knocking me to the ground. Luckily nothing happened to my baby, but the abuse did not end there. At the time, I was living in Ecuador. I was trapped and scared.

My daughter was born in June of 2007, and we traveled to the U.S. permanently in August of 2007. Once there he did not hold back. Just three weeks after arriving in the U.S., there had already been three calls made to the police on domestic disputes, and he was arrested after battering me while I had our infant daughter in my arms. As I tried to call 9-1-1, he ripped the phone cord out of the wall. He threatened me that if I testified against him that he would kill me, and I believed him.

Rape was a regular occurrence in our home, and I cannot count the number of times I laid in bed crying as he raped me. He also strangled me on a regular basis, slammed my head into the walls of our home, leaving large holes, tortured me sexually, mentally, psychologically, and ruined me financially.

He hit our three your old daughter in the face, leaving a large bruise, then kept her home from day care for several days until the bruise was no longer visible. He put her head through our bathroom wall, which was reported to the Illinois DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services). DCFS decided that he did, in fact, abuse our daughter, but they did not pursue the case any further.

I tried so hard to protect her from him, but every time he would hit her, I would step in, and receive my own beating on her behalf. I did not report it since I was sure he would kill me or kidnap my daughter if I did.

Perhaps one of the worst parts of this whole story is that he almost killed me. Actually, he did kill me, but thankfully doctors were able to revive me. In this particular incident we were involved in a heated discussion because I had to leave Ecuador to return to the U.S. for medical school and my graduate work in biochemistry. He had not obtained a visa to come to the U.S. at that point, and threatened to divorce me if I did not stay with him in Ecuador. He grabbed my wrists, screamed at me, and then threatened me with a screwdriver. I walked home knowing that I would divorce him, and knowing that I had a flight back to the U.S. in about three days. I laid down to take a nap, and did not wake up until four days later.

I was on a ventilator in the hospital, and they informed me that I had undergone cardiac arrest on several occasions. The coma was so profound that I received the lowest rating on the Glasgow coma scale. It is truly a miracle that I survived.

It is my firm belief that my ex-husband poisoned me with scopolamine, a common date rape drug in parts of Latin America. He called my medical school and told them I had tried to kill myself, instead of giving them the true story, which then led to me being expelled from school. He has sabotaged my career, my jobs, did not allow me to have any friends or family in my life, destroyed my home and beat my pets

When I have told my story to friends and family, a few people’s reaction is to ask why I didn’t leave sooner, or they simply don’t believe me at all. It is a shock to me how undereducated the public is on domestic violence.

People do not understand how difficult it is to escape. It is almost impossible to gather evidence, because the abuser will find a way to destroy it. No one on the outside knows what is happening because the abuser has the victim trapped and alone. He cuts her off from all outside interaction, and attempts to control her mind, and in many cases, he is successful.

If a woman does manage to escape, the justice system does little to help or protect her. I have had a domestic violence advocate tell me that there is only a 50/50 chance that someone will get convicted of domestic battery in my county, even in cases where there are bloody pictures, good witnesses, hospital reports, and other evidence. This is why women cannot simply just walk out the door. It is a real life or death risk to leave a man that believes he owns you. You could, and many have, die in the process. 4 out of 5 deaths due to domestic battery occur when a woman tries to leave.

I am asking for your help to educate the public on these issues. Women are beaten every day by their husbands, and it is a misdemeanor. You can get a felony charge for getting in a bar fight, but if you beat your wife, the justice system is sending a message that you will only get a slap on the wrist, if even that.

One of the most difficult problems I think battered women and children face is that the abuser isolates the victim to the point where most of the time there are no eyewitnesses. Because of this, it makes these cases very difficult to prosecute, but even worse, it makes the state’s attorney’s office reluctant to even pursue it because they see it as a waste of money and resources.

Domestic violence is NOT a family matter. It is everyone’s business. It affects us all even if we are not directly abused. Women should be able to speak out against their abusers. They should be able to bring their abusers to justice. The public should be educated about what it means to be battered, and why it is so difficult to escape. With stiffer punishments, and better prevention, many women would be able to leave sooner. PLEASE help me and all women fight for what is fundamentally right.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

It Happened on Maple Street

This post is brought to you as part of the It Happened On Maple Street International Blog Tour. For a complete tour schedule visit It is “The Writing of Maple Street: Part Four” by Tara Taylor Quinn.

I am so glad to be here. To be able to bring others here to a place where women truly are safe.

For so many years I didn’t believe I was worthy of a place like this. I believed my problems were of my own making. I take accountability for my actions. I am responsible for my life. And so I believed that the things that happened to me happened because I’d somehow made them happen. I’d created the circumstances that allowed others to mistreat me. I wasn’t a victim. I was simply paying the price for the poor choices I’d made. I couldn’t possibly take help away from those who deserved it by seeking that help for myself.

I am a USA Today bestselling romance author, you see. I’ve published fifty-five books with the world’s largest publisher of women’s fiction. My books are in twenty some languages in over thirty countries. I have a dream career. I am a success. Or so I told myself all those years. In reality, Tara Taylor Quinn, my alter ego, the woman inside of me who came to my rescue when Tara couldn’t handle the things happening to her, was a success. Tara was the girl who spent her time trapped in the little room inside of me. She ventured out to seep into the pages of my books. To love a child with all of my heart. And the rest of the time, she didn’t let anyone know she existed.

My journey is much like many of the women who are abused by those who vow undying love for them. I know that now. My epiphany is twenty-seven years late. And in the interim, I spent twenty-seven years of a lifetime living a lie. Twenty-seven years without peace in my heart. Twenty-seven years filled with moments of intermittent happiness mixed in with fear and panic, silence and hiding.

I am a lucky woman. I knew true love before abuse. The man I shared that love with was not my abuser. And when, twenty-seven years later, my true love, Tim Barney, came back into my life, it was that love, his love, the whole hearted love I’d felt for him before my heart had been shoved into a cement cask, that brought me out of the darkness and into he light. My true love knew that something horrible had happened to me. He could see the changes abuse had wrought. And he wasn’t willing to accept my silence. With his tender and gentle support, I spoke of something I’d never spoken of before. To anyone. One tentative step at a time, I came out, a little girl squinting against the glare of the sun, and trusted him with my truth.

I am four years post squint as I write this today. I am now married to my true love. Last summer we were asked to write our story. And today that story, It Happened On Maple Street, goes on sale. Today, for the first time, my family and friends will hear the truth about my life. Today, I think about the writing of that truth.

I had to do it alone. I knew that. I had to be strong enough to travel backward, to look at things I’d refused to think about, things shut so firmly away I wasn’t even sure I could still call them up in enough detail to write about them. Tim had a business trip coming up and I knew that was my time to write the hardest section of It Happened On Maple Street. He wasn’t in that part of the story. I also knew that I could not be at home alone while taking the trip into the past. And…I was long past due for a visit with my dearest friend, fellow writer, Patricia Potter. Pat welcomed me with open arms and a hospitality that I cannot describe for its goodness. Even now, I think of her home and know that the world holds a place that embodies emotional wellness, safety, and peace.

And for three days I sat on Pat’s couch with my laptop on my knees, my four pound poodle, who’d traveled with me, sleeping beside me, Pat’s two wild Indians whom I adore (rescue Australian Shepherds) close by, and Pat floating in and out of the room like some kind of angel, watching over us all. And when I got to the most painful scene, one where the details were blissfully sketchy, Pat sat in the seat perpendicular to mine and did not leave. I put on my headphones. I went down into the story. And by the time I came back up, I was trembling. I couldn’t breathe. The brain is a frightening thing. It lets you forget, on a conscious level, but it doesn’t ever let go of what it knows. As I went back in time, to the spring of 1980, it was as though I was there again. The details were clear. Vivid. I’d halfway convinced myself that what I’d thought happened back then really hadn’t, because I couldn’t logically figure out the logistics. After that night, sitting on Pat’s couch, I can no longer pretend. It happened. And I remember exactly how it happened. I also now know why I suffer so badly from claustrophobia.

Pat brought me a glass of wine. I sipped. But not much. I was afraid to let the alcohol take any measure of my control. And she sat with me. She asked, a time or two, if I was through. And when I finally told her that, yes, it was done, she sat with me some more. We talked some. I couldn’t say much. I was still feeling the pain. Trying to process the feelings of an eighteen year old girl as a more mature woman. Trying to find some kind of synchronization of myself. Trying not to cry. Because I knew that if those tears started to fall they would never stop.

I didn’t cry much then. I couldn’t. But when I got home and Tim asked me to read to him what I’d written, I couldn’t make it through. I read. And I had to stop. He sat with me, patient as ever, and waited. It was as though he knew I had to get through this telling of the whole story, the remembered parts, to him. It couldn’t be as removed as him reading my words. And it was also as if he really believed I could get through it. And because I thought he believed I could, because I trust him, I started to read again.

Tim, here. I can’t let Tara do this all alone. I didn’t have to contribute writing to the Part Four process, but I’ll tell you where I was at with it. My feelings about what had happened to Tara came to life when I actually had to hear about and read about the event. I couldn’t imagine what Tara felt when she had to write about it after 25 plus years. I wanted to fix things. I was angry for her. And I wrote to the university where things first happened and told them that they’d messed up. They hadn’t kept their student safe. They had made a situation where she felt safe, but didn’t make sure she was safe. I heard back from them soon after that. They’d changed a lot of their rules and now provide a lot of extra patrol and watch programs for their female students. Mostly, after hearing Tara’s words, I felt closer to her because now we could share her pain together.

And now Tara’s back.

You see, I’m a lucky woman. I am no longer alone. And no else needs to be alone, either. If there is no one else close, no one you can trust, if you need someone, contact someone right here, on this site. They are available twenty four hours a day seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year. Violence doesn’t punch a time clock and neither does love.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, or if you suspect someone is, please contact, or call, toll free, 24/7, 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). The call can be anonymous and is always confidential. There is not one second of life that is worth wasting.

All blog commenter’s are added to the weekly basket list.  Gift Basket given each week to one randomly drawn name on the list.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Bookmarks

To follow today’s Cyber Blog Party:

Part One:  MIRA Authors
Part Two:  HCI Books
Part Three:  RomCon
Part Four:  National Domestic Violence Hotline
Part Five:  Chapter’s Books
Part Six:  Border’s Books

 As part of the It Happened on Maple Street Blog Tour, we are offering National Domestic Violence Hotline bookmarks. Print yours today.

We will be giving away a copy of It Happened On Maple Street while we’re here so be sure to comment to be entered to win.  Comment on all six of today’s blogs and be entered to win a one of a kind Maple Street collectible basket filled with Tim and Tara favorites!!

Next tour stop, Saturday April 2, Deena Remiel’s Place.

About the author: Tara Taylor Quinn is the author of It Happened on Maple Street (HCA, 2011, $13.95). To get your copy, visit your favorite bookseller, or Also available on Kindle and Nook.