“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)

 

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

Never Say Never: “In Her Shoes”

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20171031_085032No matter how compassionate or understanding a person you think you are, at some point you’re going to be a little judge-y.

*shrug*

O.K.

Everybody scoffs. Everybody – everybody – shakes their head and screws up their mouth and (in a moment of weakness) decides that the way that someone else is choosing to conduct themselves is wrong. We look at someone’s life or their current situation or their reaction to a rough patch and think, “I would never do that!” This is especially true of domestic violence. Comments like, “I would never let a man put his hands on me!” or “I would never put my children through that!” are incredibly common.

And so … maybe that’s actually the case. Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe your reaction would be different than someone else’s. But then again, how can you be sure? The reality is that until you’re in a given situation, you really don’t know how you’d react.

Because I work with DV victims and survivors as well as those who serve them, I was honestly of the opinion that I (mostly) understood the overall plight of the battered woman. Fortunately for me, I live in a county where the local FCS (ours is Family & Children’s Service of Niagara) offers the In Her Shoes DV Awareness Program.

Published in 2000 by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, In Her Shoes is “…a revolutionary community education tool, designed for learning about domestic violence. Participants move, do, think and experience the lives of battered women.” Photo Courtesy of The Columbian, 2015.

I initially registered to attend because while I’ve worked with Family & Children’s Service of Niagara in the past, I was recently made aware that their Director of Passage House, Larissa Bachman, is using Leaving Dorian as a supplemental read with their interns. It got me to thinking that while I know quite a bit about FCS, I know little about the inner workings of Passage House. I thought what a great opportunity to speak candidly with Larissa and her team and as a bonus maybe do a blog post about the In Her Shoes Program.

I was completely unprepared for the experience that followed.

Participants were brought into a mixed-use room where I’d worked previously, only this time instead of rows of chairs there were long tables with stacks of colorful note cards. Each table had a sign attached: “Social Services”, “Hospital”, “Employment”, etc. Attendees were then paired up and we were told to pick a person’s name from the starter table. After that the journey begins; you are to make choices for your person while reading their perspective (as well as their batterer’s perspective) from each side of the card.

Because I’m a survivor of DV and because I work with amazing DV professionals and ridiculously intelligent and well-read professors and because I, too, have chosen to be well-read on the topic, I walked into the exercise feeling confident that I could help my person to avoid the inevitable pitfalls. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be able to guide her into a healthy lifestyle well within the hour or so time frame we’d been given to complete the exercise.

Within minutes I realized that I was wrong.

There’s no way that you can prepare yourself to be given the opportunity to make every choice from beginning to end and still “fail”. There’s no way to prepare yourself to walk through nearly forty-five minutes with a person (yes, a person written on paper, but one that you slowly and inadvertently invest yourself in) just to get to the last card and have it say “Funeral Home”.

I couldn’t believe it. Tears started to well in my eyes. I stood there trying to figure it out; why was the end result so hard to take? I mean, I thought I had it. I thought I knew. I am the “Her” in “In Her Shoes”, after all! I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And even beyond my own experience – as an author who’s made myself extremely accessible on social media – I routinely hear the most sad, perplexing and gut wrenching stories from victims and survivors alike. I thought nothing could surprise or shock me. And yet, tears.

I was seriously under the weather and probably should have stayed home that day, so I immediately wanted to blame it on that; I simply wasn’t feeling well. But the young woman that I was paired with didn’t like the ending either. I said, “Let’s go back…” So we did. Our character was young; not even eighteen. We had her go home. And yet, three cards in, she was right back in a tough spot. I suggested we go back even further, maybe right back to the second card that we read.

I was shaken. That couldn’t be her ending. I refused to finish the exercise. I simply would not walk over to the wall marker that said “Funeral Home”. There was nothing but an empty table in front of it. No more cards. It was left empty for reflection, but I didn’t want to reflect. I dried my eyes as the group sat down for debriefing.

I was happy to find out that not every story ended as tragically as ours. Other groups did manage to successfully maneuver their people into new lives. It’s worth noting, though, that at times these groups had to make choices for their person that weren’t always in line with their real-life belief systems. Again, an incredibly important lesson: You cannot impose your value system on someone else. Hard to hear? Sometimes, yes. But a necessary message? Absolutely.

Of course Ms. Bachman and her team were excellent facilitators and I’d like to believe that every attendee walked out that afternoon with all of their questions answered and with a deeper appreciation of the level of strength, courage, creativity and (sometimes) blind faith that victims routinely have to possess in order to safely and successfully re-start their lives. I know that I did. It was a humbling experience that I will carry with me; one that will necessarily be reflected in every presentation and classroom discussion that I participate in from now on.

I’m incredibly proud to be able to say that Family & Children’s Service of Niagara is my hometown service provider and that the staff there is offering unique, high-quality community education programs like In Her Shoes. Programs like these (offered in house or off-site) are exactly what HR professionals are looking for when putting together sensitivity training for Staff Development Days. Their utilization can only heighten awareness and bring about much needed change in our thought processes (and eventually, our behavior toward) victims of domestic violence.

If you are in Western New York, you can contact FCS of Niagara to schedule an In Her Shoes program experience at http://www.niagarafamily.org or by phone: (716) 285-6984

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and is need of assistance, FCS of Niagara 24/7 Emergency Hotline is: (716) 299-0909

To purchase the In Her Shoes program please contact http://www.wscadv.org