“Not totally believable.”

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20170105_081155When I sat down at the computer this morning and noticed that a two star review had come through on Amazon for Leaving Dorian, I immediately assumed that a first edition copy had once again slipped through the cracks. I have disclaimers on all of my media letting readers know that if they’re given the option of purchasing a first or second edition copy, second edition is always going to be a better read. I was the newbie of all newbies when I published Leaving Dorian back in 2014 and didn’t realize the importance of hiring a professional editor. Since there’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle, I simply cross my fingers and hope that potential readers take the disclaimer to heart and purchase a second edition. But when I scrolled down to read the review, I was surprised to find that there was no mention of poor editing.

“The book is ok. A little frustrating in its organization and lacking some of the spark of other similar stories. Not totally believable.”

Now I know that the ‘organization’ the reader is referring to is my back and forth style of writing. I go from the day that I left my ex-husband in one chapter to describing my childhood and then back again. I understand how this can be confusing to some people, especially if they don’t get through the book in a couple of sittings. So, no harm no foul. The fact that the reader thought that it lacked ‘spark’, well, that’s his/her opinion and they’re entitled to that. But what made me literally laugh out loud was the last sentence: “Not totally believable.”

Whaaaaat?

Not believable?

I sat there at the keyboard, chuckling to myself. Not sure how to remedy that; it’s my actual, real and true life, so…..yeah. The reality is that I went easy on the graphic details of my childhood and my first marriage on purpose, because I vividly recall having to read an extremely graphic memoir about child abuse when I was in college. It was so horrible, so graphic, that it made my skin crawl; reading it made me cry and feel physically ill. Though it was a relatively short read, more than once I had to put it down because I felt as though the details were just too awful to know. Though I wasn’t sure just exactly what I was going to share when I sat down to write Leaving Dorian, I knew for sure that if nothing else, it had to be readable. If it wasn’t something that people could sit with then it couldn’t do its job, which was to help victims and survivors of abuse.

Again, though, readers are entitled to their opinion and if this reader didn’t believe everything that I’d written, well then, so be it; I can’t fix that. I clicked off Amazon and went on with my morning, but I couldn’t help coming back to that last line, “Not totally believable.” Why did it bother me so much?

I guess what’s bothering me has little to do with that singular review. What’s bothering me is that I know very well that victims and survivors of abuse are met every single day with that very same skepticism. Are their friends, loved ones, co-workers and neighbors coming right out and saying, “I don’t believe you”? No. But responding to a women’s candid, heart-wrenching admission that they’ve experienced something tragic with questions like, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”, “Why didn’t you call the police?” or “Are you sure it’s abuse? I mean, couples fight; don’t make more out of this than it needs to be” is exactly the same sentiment. It’s “I don’t believe you” wrapped up in feigned moderation, excessive caution and good judgement. (…We don’t want to accuse someone unfairly, now; let’s make entirely sure we have all the facts before we start ruining reputations and upending lives…) Isn’t it interesting, though, how often it’s the abuser that’s given the benefit of the doubt instead of the victim?

Students and DV service providers have asked me on more than one occasion what I think the most important thing is that you can say to a victim or survivor of abuse. That if I only had one sentence, what would I choose? My answer is, and will always be, “I believe you”.

To continue to diminish victims and survivors with the old, worn out stories of supposed liars, “Oh, I know so-and-so whose wife lied about him hitting her and he got thrown in jail and it was total BS…” or “There was this girl when I was in college that lied about being raped and the guy she accused got kicked out of school and his life was ruined forever…” is unfair at best and harmful at worst. People lie, it’s true. And people will lie about all sorts of things, for reasons that aren’t always entirely clear. But the chances that a woman is lying when she finally steps forward to tell her story and reach out for help is incredibly slim. More often than not, victims and survivors are actually holding back; keeping the really hurtful, humiliating details to themselves. Telling just enough to get the help and services that they need in order to re-start their lives and keep their families afloat.

Maybe that reader didn’t believe my story, and that’s fine with me. But to every victim and survivor out there who reads this blog post, no worries. There are multitudes of people out there who will believe you. Reach out for help. Tell. Get to safety. Re-start your lives; you deserve nothing less.

And just for the record, “I believe you”.

Spring Semester 2019

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Fully immersed in writing book No.3, here’s what I did from February to early June in between looking at old photos, reading old journals, scratching out timelines, writing chapters, half chapters, one liners that would eventually *be* chapters, editing, writing some more, deleting whole chunks of text, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing 😉 Grateful for each and every opportunity …

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After school seminar at Wilson HS for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Fantastic kids and great questions!

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Skyping Dr. Danielle Slakoff’s “Domestic Violence” class at Loyola University New Orleans.  Dr. Slakoff is a skilled facilitator which made working with this large group of students easy. What a fun couple of hours 🙂

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*Lunch ‘N Learn*  hosted by The Family Violence Intervention Project, sponsored by The Niagara County Sheriff Dept. Victim Assistance Unit – “Surviving Life AFTER DV: It Is Possible!” at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

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Interview with Claudine Ewing, Channel 2 News. Topics ranged from why I decided to write “Leaving Dorian” to the proper verbiage one ought to use when speaking about abuse. I think we sat and talked for maybe … forty-five minutes …? Remainder of interview will be aired at a later date. Thankful for that unique and important opportunity. Most fun moment was doing extra footage with the cameraman on the exterior grounds. Thank you, Cameraman Bob, for your kind words and for helping to make that weird extra segment less awkward!

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Teen Dating Violence Awareness classes for 9/10 graders at Hamburg HS. Hamburg, NY, played an important role in my survivor story, so being able to give back to the community by spending the day working with their kids is something that I’m always happy to do.

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71st class, Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy. It’s interesting to work with LE students because the nuggets that they focus on from “Leaving Dorian” are very different than any other group of students that I work with. This group was also genuinely curious, extremely compassionate, and particularly eager to learn about DV and related topics. A joy to work with.

Spring Semester 2018

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It was a looooooong semester!!

Staff Development program at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, NY. ### Mt. St. Mary’s is part of the Western New York Catholic Health System, so there were Sisters in attendance. ### I’m well aware that Religious work at the hospital doing a variety of jobs. I *should have known* that there would be Religious in attendance … and yet … I didn’t even consider it. ***Sigh*** At various times during my presentation, I repeat off color words that were spoken to me :/ Awkward :/ But the Sisters took it all in stride, as did the entirety of the staff 🙂 I was happy to have everyone from administrators to nurses (still in their surgical scrubs!) in attendance, as well as reps from Neighborhood Legal Services in Buffalo and UB School of Social Work.

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Working with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victims Assistance Unit inside the Niagara County jail, women’s facility. Half peer mentoring, half book club, the program involves an advocate and I going in and chatting with the women about tackling life after surviving domestic violence.

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I had a podium for this one 🙂 Woohoo!! I love it when I’m not just thrown into a room with a bunch of people, kinda just hangin’ out up there … notes in hand :/ Seriously, though, it was a small but important event and I was honored to be asked to speak.

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Making the paper (or two) is always interesting, because you can never be sure how the photos will turn out. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel comfortable speaking up if I’m unsure or uncomfortable with how a shot is being composed. When I asked veteran photographer Jim Neiss if he *really* thought that someone who wrote a book about being a victim should be standing in what looks like a power position while everyone else is sitting (including the Sheriff… which made me even MORE uncomfortable), he looked at me with a totally straight face and said, “I get the feeling you’re no shrinking flower… ” and continued to compose the shot. Well! *blush* Of course he was spot on, and the picture looked great 🙂 Thanks, Jim!

 

On Saturday, April 7, I spoke at the “Dress for What’s Next” event at the University at Buffalo School of Law. This free, all day event for survivors of domestic violence was put on by an all-volunteer team of UB Law School students. Daycare and lunch were provided for women and their children and there was even a therapy dog on site 🖤 Meditation and self-defense classes were offered, support and referral information was provided and there was even an opportunity for the ladies to do a little “gently used” clothes shopping👗👠👜 Impressive from beginning to end and I was absolutely honored to be asked to be a part of it!

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“Purple is our color”

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Clothes Closet. Women could “shop” for business ans casual clothes. This is an incredibly important opportunity, as there are times that women lee an unsafe home with only the clothes on their backs. It’s also a fantastic way for them to access nearly new business attire. They will look great and feel confident when they venture out into the job market!

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Beautifully decorated for the ladies luncheon!

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Explaining the years of nonsense and difficulties I went through AFTER my divorce.

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Talking about the GIANT microwave I was gifted from a dear friend when I rented my first apartment after my divorce.

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“Leaving Dorian” is used as required text by the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy at Niagara University. Just like with any college level course, once the students read the book, I go in and spend a couple of hours answering their questions and fielding comments.

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I was happy to be invited to stay and watch the recruits of the 68th Police Academy run through some DV role play.

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Yes, it was “pretend”, but it was still unnerving to watch.

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The ladies of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victim’s Assistance Unit were fantastic in acting out real life scenarios that the recruits will definitely be facing once they’re sworn and out in the field.

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There were points that I could feel myself wanting to cry. Silly, right? Nope, not when you’re sitting there and you realize what these recruits are actually signing up for.

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After watching those two hours of role play, I have an entirely different perspective on the unique position that officers are in every day. I will never forget this group. 

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I submitted it as an op-ed but ended up with a feature spot. Nice!

Spent a lengthy lunch hour talking DV and related topics with attorneys and advocates. These ladies (and one gentleman) had great questions and were a lot of fun to work with.

April is my anniversary month; eighteen years ago in April, I escaped my abusive husband. Spending the day in Hamburg (the town that I ran away to) delivering Dating Abuse Awareness classes to 9/10 grade and college credit Health classes at Hamburg High School was amazing. A full circle moment for me, to be sure!

“Recommended Read”!

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Public Presentation!

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Though I’ve done public presentations before, this will be my first in the Niagara Region! Please join me for this free event. Q & A and book signing to follow – bring your copy of Leaving Dorian or purchase a paperback copy at the event! ($20 – cash only, please)

 

Fall Semester, 2017

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If I could use only one word to describe this semester, it would be “busy”!

Opportunities like this don’t come along every day and I was thrilled to be able to accept the offer to speak. Every person in that room was a “Change-Maker”: Women and men in law enforcement, education, intervention and health care. The level of education, experience and raw knowledge in the room was dizzying. Fantastic experience!

Dr. Dana Radatz’ Victimology class at Niagara University. The most frequent comment on their evals? “Ms. Dynel wasn’t what I expected…” Nice! It’s important to challenge stereotypes, and re-evaluating our perceptions of even the most basic concepts is a good place to start 🙂

I picked up two new professors at the University of Buffalo this semester – Dr. Chris St. Vil and Dr. Robert Keefe, both with the School of Social Work.

UB North was difficult to navigate when I attended thirty years ago and it’s just as confusing now. Even after an extremely comprehensive tour from Dr. Chris St. Vil, who I assured that, “… OF COURSE I’ll remember how to get to the classroom…” I did, indeed, get lost. :/ Twice.

Dr. St. Vil’s students filling out evals. Their most frequently commented take-away? “Ms. Dynel’s level of honesty; she made me think differently about what it’s like for a victim once they leave their abusers.”

Happy to be asked back once again this year by Dr. Noelle St. Vil (also with UB School of SW)

This group wasn’t shy in the least! We covered everything from the role that religion played in my healing after my divorce to questions about intimacy issues – no stone was left unturned!

My job is sometimes listed as “speaker”. Other times it’s “advocate”. I guess what I actually am is “truth-teller”, which is fine when I’m speaking about my own experience but much more difficult when someone in the group asks me to help clarify their experience. When a student tells me that her long time friend was killed by her boyfriend and that his defense in court was that he was out of his mind with jealousy? I’ll never forget her; she sat there, lower lip quivering, “…but, that doesn’t seem right, ya know… ? I mean… that he just snapped…?” To have to be the one to look that young woman in the eye and tell her that there is no such thing as a “crime of passion”? That it’s simply an excuse? To have to be the one tell her, in front of a group of her peers, that all violence is a choice and that he killed her friend on purpose because he could not bear losing his control over her? There is nothing tougher than that.

Closing remarks for “Surviving … Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art” at the Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University .

I was so invested in the conversation with Dr. Angie Moe’s Family Violence class that I forgot to take a picture of the screen while we were chatting. So … here’s my Skype profile pic (Lame, I know :/ ) Working with Dr. Moe is always fun – she moves the computer so that I can see the whole class and is great at helping me to pick out particular students for questions. I always look forward to Skype Tag-Teaming with her!

I picked up two new educational institutions this semester, as well! The First … NCLEA will be using “Leaving Dorian” as a required text for all new recruits, as well as in their Continuing Education block for currently hired, sworn officers.

 

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The Second … I will be working with Professor Eryn O’Neal’s “Gender and Crime” class at Sam Houston University next semester!

One of the best parts of making a book donation is getting to meet and network with awesome ladies like Phuong Brady, Shelter Supervisor and Rebecca Coleman, DV Counselor, both with Haven House. These gifted copies of “Leaving Dorian” will be used in training seminars with staff as well as in counseling programs with clients.

Being invited to tour Passage House, Niagara County’s secure woman’s shelter, topped off this busy semester. I can tell you that there is no more humbling experience than to walk among women who are devoting their lives to *literally* saving others. Give to your local safe house, woman’s shelter, transitional housing and give all year long. Don’t wait for the holidays to remember that there are women (in every community) who are fighting to reclaim their lives. Donate food, gently used and new clothing, bedding and furniture. Donate food and toiletries. Donate your time, if your local shelter allows that option. But most of all, donate FUNDS. Women and children matter, and we ought to be making their safety and well-being a priority at all times, not just during the Season of Giving.

 

Videos/Educational

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Miss Representation: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See  A Documentary Film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Tough Guise: Violence, Media & The Crisis in Masculinity  with Jackson Katz

Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture  featuring Jackson Katz

The Mask You Live In: Is American Masculinity Harming Our Boys, Men & Society at Large?  A Film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom