The Two Lives of Susan
“First name?” the person on the other end of the phone asks me. “Susan,” I answer. “Last name?” I pause and start thinking. Who am I this week? Which Susan? Where am I going? What am I doing? Who am I going to be? I start to get that really familiar, nervous feeling in my stomach as I try and think how I am going to answer this simple question.
This is now my life as I work from behind closed doors, a place where I once hid from the world in order to live. Now, I hide my name from the world in order to live again. The irony is inescapable. This is now my life, using a last name that is not mine, an alias, so that I can do the work that I so desperately want and need to do. The work that could save lives, the work that could change lives, the work that will, in the very end, help me heal and become whole again. But I cannot do it as her. I cannot do it as the original Susan, because doing so would not be safe, and doing so would crack and crumble the new life that I have built for myself and my children—a life where we live out in the open, but just a stone’s throw from danger. I feel like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy.
The media I do is from the safety and confines of my office. It is radio, it is online, it is print. Television, although a wonderful opportunity, is not an option for me. I would be recognized. It doesn’t matter in that moment what name I use. There I am, for the whole world to see. I have formed several companies around this singular mission: to educate, prevent, and help others heal from the deep and lasting wounds of domestic abuse. Each-and-every one of those companies cannot be registered in my name, cannot have an address in my home state, cannot be connected to me. The hours we have spent. The time it has taken a legal team to make this happen. The money it has cost. All so that I could become two people. I resent having had to do this. Simultaneously, I know how lucky I am that I can while so many cannot; resources for abused women are often scarce.
And now, a simple question during a telephone conversation could be my undoing. I need to register in my name, my credit card, my identity. Yet, I am coming to this town as Susan Sparks. To work with other companies, to secure funding, to put plans in place that will allow my work to continue. This is an incredible time in my life, a real dream come true. The time that I get to give back, reach in, and try and pull out those that are still in there and needing my help. I have waited for this for so long. And yet, I hide as I do so.
This is the world of a SODA™, a Survivor of Domestic Abuse. It’s not always simple; often it is the reverse. But here I am: two names, one mission. So I’ll do what I have to do until I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s my time to break free, speak up, speak out, and make some changes around here. Because I know what your life may feel like, I know the pain you may be feeling, and I know how scared you could be, and that is enough to drive me to action and to keep me from worrying so much about what last name I am using on what day.
I was you for 20 years, and I felt like the most alone person on the planet. I felt like no one knew what I was going through, no one was there to help me, and no one could make a difference. Now that I am here on the other side, and I live a new and free life, I can tell you that I was wrong. I was not alone. Others did know what I was going through, and there were so many waiting to help me who could have made a difference. I just never knew it or knew what to do next. If someone had only turned to me and said, “Help is just one call or one chat away – just click here,” that could have changed my life so much sooner. I would like to be that person for you today, I have been there, and you are not alone.
So please, remember this: STRENGTH + SUPPORT + PLAN = FREEDOM. You can do this.
Many of us have made it to the other side. We are here cheering you on because we know what you have been through. Use our strength to carry you through until you find your own again. You will. I promise. Get help, leave safely, and know that you are not alone.
If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, contact The Hotline today. Help is just one call or chat away. Reach them by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or by online chat at www.thehotline.org.
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