We believe you

This organization has its own survival story. It started out as a project. That’s where the name came from. It was a joint effort, between myself and an Atlanta-based organization that helps victims of domestic violence statewide, to tell stories of survival. We wanted to stir up hope, eradicate shame, and share the truth that many won’t let us say, especially publicly. It was my brainchild as a way to fight back against what I had survived myself.

The first story we published was my own, still here on the site. Another story was from a very brave survivor who had experienced trauma both privately and publicly. She shared how she drastically changed her life to get away from her abuser, how no one believed her side of the story, and how her abuser continued to try to use threats to keep her silent and to keep their reputation safe.

I instantly felt a connection with her, as I do with all survivors. We all lived through such similar experiences so we know the toll it takes. And we know the great relief once you are free. The thing about these abusers though, is that it’s hard for them to let go. They like having us around to manipulate, torture, and hurt. To take out whatever pain is festering inside of them and pass it on physically to another.

When I made my own story public, I knew that I was putting myself in harm’s way once again. I knew that my story would find its way to my abuser and that he could retaliate or see it as an invitation to begin the abuse cycle again. I was ready for that though. It was worth it to me to be free of this burdensome secret. Why are forced to protect those who harm us?

 I knew what my abusers’ tactics would be and had people to contact in case I needed to get police involved. And while my abuser didn’t face the public facts silently, the greatest threat came from another survivor’s abuser.

I never even knew their name until they threatened me. I never care about the abuser’s identity. I only care about allowing survivors to finally unleash their truth in a stagnant society that screams “we don’t believe you”.

I believe you. This organization believes you. And that is why this project turned itself into an organization. Because not only do we believe you but we will help you fight back. Legally. The inspiration for this project – that, let’s be honest, was really just a blog ­– was to create a way for survivors to connect. But that abuser, who would have forever remained a nameless nobody to me and everyone else, saw the power in truth and wanted to shut it down.

They succeeded. For a brief moment in time. We shut down the project. My husband and I feared this hostile, dangerous, and threatening person who found out our address. We had neighbors looking out for anything out of the ordinary and to let us know so we could alert the authorities. We were scared.

 Fear is powerful though. It’s paralyzing at first, but fear leads to anger, and anger leads to action. I was enraged that the very thing that we were fighting for – the ability for these survivors to share their truth and end the silence – was being stripped away by the very kind of person who gave us these truths to tell. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me, or any member of this community, ever again.

 I knew the complications of fighting back. I knew what resources were already there (or not) for survivors and victims. I knew, first hand, where the need was: legal fees. We needed to share the true stories still, that in itself is so powerful, but we needed back up. We needed to shut down threats, and help people who couldn’t get out due to the barrier of the insane cost to get a lawyer and get help. We needed to create a legal fund and we needed to become official.

 That’s how Survivors Project, Inc. was founded. Not only are we going to tell the stories that connect us and build a powerful, supportive community, we are going to make sure that no matter what, you never have to feel like a victim again. We have your back.

It starts with me

I've written this story 50 times over. First fiction was my only attempt at letting the truth of my life out. Then, after escaping, writing out the facts, the tortures, the things I had kept hidden for so long became my daily ritual. Saying them out loud to friends was no longer terrifying, I wasn't ashamed anymore. Still these truths put me in a very vulnerable place. My abuser is still alive, still free and living a normal life in the same city I live in. But how can I expect others to share their stories if I am not willing to share mine?

I was in an abusive relationship. It all started in my final year of graduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. After struggling for so long to find my footing as a writer and as a new resident in a new city, I had finally found my groove, my people, a real momentum had started. But then I met him and everything stopped. 

There were red flags in the beginning. I ignored them, I found excuses for him. He was jealous, he wasn't used to dating someone who loved being the center of attention. I needed to dial it back, to help him. I dug myself so deep into a hole of change that eventually no one knew who I was anymore, and neither did I. The abuse, at first, was all mental and emotional. There was a lot of manipulation, insecurity fueled outbursts (look, I'm still making excuses) that were remedied with gifts and kindness. The cycle had begun. 

By the time that the physical abuse began, I was so far inside the shell of the person I once was that getting out seemed impossible. I lived with him. He had created a world so filled with lies and repercussions that getting out alive was no longer an option. I fought for therapy, thinking it would help. The therapist was a lie, something that was said to be happening but ended up not being true. The alcohol was an issue. He would agree to stay sober, limit his intake, but a day, sometimes even just hours later, those promises shattered. 

There would be good stretches, the problem with those were that they followed something horrible. One Christmas, after embarrassing me at a party with a verbal lashing, he threw me to the pavement as we were leaving and kicked me while I was on the ground. After dragging myself up and into the car, he punched me in the face repeatedly and broke my nose. I, of course, created the most obvious lie: a door had hit me in the face at the holiday party. "We had a wonderful time until my clumsy butt ran into a door face first". 

This should have been it. But unfortunately getting out takes time. It took me many more times of these similar incidents happening until I was able to say goodbye for good. There is always a promise for better that makes you linger. In his own sick and twisted way, I know he loved me. And I hoped that the love I knew I deserved would one day win over the darkness that seemed to be conquering our lives. 

One night, after a streak of good days, the spell was broken and I couldn't take it anymore. After having my head smashed against the passenger side window on our way home, I went on a rampage of tearing pictures and ripping clothes out of closets while he threatened and accused me. To seek his revenge on me for no longer cowing to his fist, he called the police. 

I went to jail that night. But I made sure that when they put me in the back of the police car that I told them everything. Everything that he had ever done to me I wanted on record, just in case. I was in the Fulton County Jail for a weekend, on the following Monday, my heart broken Dad came to my hearing and witnessed his baby daughter in a county issued jumpsuit and cuffs. I was released and sentenced to take 6-months of domestic violence counseling. The counseling was a room full of women, very much like in jail, who had been beaten down and then locked up, serving the same sentence as their abuser. Seeing the interior workings of our justice system, jails, and supposed rehabilitation were beyond enlightening. 

It took me about a year after I went to jail to be able to leave. For a while, that experience almost brought us closer together. Since he was also taken away that night and received the same sentencing as I did, he was the only one who knew what that was like. What jail felt like. What the people inside are fighting against, the depression that sets in every time the counseling sessions would begin. But that eventually began to wear off as normal life began again. The following May I began packing things into my car and driving to my parents house in Florida. I never had a definitive answer but my internal whispers of get out had grown into screams. Even when I was in our home, I would lock myself in a downstairs bedroom.

One evening, while locked away, I called a friend who I hadn't spoken to in a very long time but my gut was saying call her. I did, and the second she said hello I told her everything. This call saved my life. She told me that she had gone through the same thing. That she had gotten out, that I just needed to take my time and not rush it. That no matter how long it took, getting out was the solution and there was no shame. Two weeks later, I ordered a U-Haul late one night. I called my parents and told them that I was packing everything I could and coming down there. They drove up from Florida the next day, lifted my mattress and my couch into the U-Haul and closed the garage as I tossed my keys inside. 

I wish that I could find the words to describe what that felt like. I cried the entire way to Florida, but not out of sadness, it was complete relief. I'd lost 40 pounds and was completely exhausted from the nights that I was forced to stay awake to stay alive. When we arrived in Florida, my mom covered me in essential oils and tucked me into bed. I slept for 16 hours and awoke only once screaming his name in panic that I'd let myself make the dire mistake of sleeping when his face had taken that familiar dark shift. 

Jail was shameful. The relationship was shameful. The lies were shameful. What had become of my life was shameful. I'd told only a few close friends what had happened, but the more I said everything out loud, the better it made me feel. I saved some details from my parents to keep their hearts in tact. There will be many things they find out during this process that will tear them apart. But I survived. I got out. I found myself again. I found joy again. I found laughter again. I found that familiar but long lost sense of abandon again where I feel able to run and dance. I don't have to question every word I utter or shift in gaze. I am free. I am no longer ashamed of what happened to me, I am thankful that I have a supportive family that I could lean heavily on while I rebuilt myself. The stories I accrued during that chapter of my life became fuel for change. If I can be at least one persons necessary phone call out then that is enough. 

This organization is incredibly personal to me. I wish I would have found someone sooner who would have told me that I didn't have to feel ashamed, and that I didn't have to hide what was happening to me. I wish that I wouldn't have allowed societal stigmas keep me from voicing the truth earlier. I hope that this organization saves lives. It's a lofty hope, but the more we talk about the realities of abuse, the less likely it will be that others will remain in the dark, hidden deep inside their carapace until it is too late.