Fall Semester 2020

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I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I think I worked *more* during this weird, COVID-laden, socially-distanced semester than I ever have before – and not just in front of audiences! Once my loved ones finally convinced me that I did – in fact – need to purchase a ring light, I had to figure out how to use it :/ I also FINALLY understand how to unmute myself *and* how to “Join Video” ūüėČ I also started on the second draft of the sequel to Leaving Dorian , re-dedicated my novel, Sunrise and the Seven One Six , walked a socially-distanced 5K and joined yet another social media platform ūüôā Last, but certainly not least, I was happy to be reminded that a local women’s shelter (PASSAGE in Niagara County) requires all of their interns to read Leaving Dorian as a part of their training.

This was also my first semester back since trudging through some very serious life changes. Though I’ve never been happier {my life – wholly and completely – has never felt so “right”} even good stress is stress! As it turned out, I shouldn’t have given it a second thought; I’m giving this semester a 10/10: Highly Recommend ūüôā

August 26 – Erie County Domestic Violence High Risk Team – Buffalo PD

28 – ECDVHRT – Horizon Health Services

September 8 – Niagara University – Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy – 74th class

15 – University at Buffalo School of Law – Family Violence Women’s Law Clinic

16 – Niagara University – Dr. Dana Radatz 590 Domestic Violence class

23 – ECDVHRT – BPD Police & Parole

24 – University at Buffalo School of Law – Dr. Michael Boucai – Family Law class

October – 14 – University at Buffalo Gender Institute Gender Matters podcast

16 – ECDVHRT – Legal Aid Bureau

21 – Trocaire College – Dating Violence Presentation for Community Coordination Response Team

22 – ECHRT (x2!)

29 – Speaker Series, It Takes A Community: A Survivor’s Story for Haven House/Erie County CFS

30 – ECDVHRT

November – 16 – University at Buffalo School of Law podcast

24 – University at Buffalo – Dr. Rob Keefe, Human Behavior class

December – Hamburg Middle & High Schools, Dating Violence Awareness Presentations

Not Damaged; Just Different

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“I’m not damaged, I’m just different.”

I use this phrase during presentations when trying to explain how living through an abusive marriage has changed me,¬†inside and out. I tell my audience – sometimes victims or survivors of domestic violence, themselves – that I’m not the person I once was and that I never will be again. I tell them that while what happened to me certainly wasn’t right or fair or just, and that living through it has given me some pretty significant emotional baggage to carry along the rest of my life’s journey, that I’ve made the decision to put that part of my life in my my rear view and focus on what’s ahead.

Living through a traumatic event necessarily changes a person. Sometimes we think that once a victim has physically removed themselves from an abusive relationship that they should be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Often times a survivor will carry the mental and emotional scars of that abusive relationship with them for the rest of their lives.

We don’t expect a soldier that’s returned home from war to simply “feel better and move on”; why would we expect that from someone who’s lived in a domestic war zone? Fear, anxiety, depression, lack of ability to trust people and situations, paranoia; these are all very real and understandable reactions to life after a trauma. We can’t just will ourselves to “feel better”. If you know someone who’s struggling after surviving an abusive relationship, gently suggesting that they might benefit from seeing a counselor or therapist is perhaps the most important piece of advice you can give.

Interestingly, what led me to even consider how much my first marriage changed me, even after writing¬†Leaving Dorian, was a conversation that I had¬†with a neighbor who’d just finished reading it. He works in HR and we were talking about how people deal with difficult issues like DV. He asked me if my husband had read the book. I said yes, that he reads everything that I write, but above and beyond that my husband knows fully and completely what I went through in my first marriage. What stuck with me was my neighbor’s reply, “I ask because I’ve dealt with some women who have been abused and have moved on but their new spouse struggles with knowing what went on and it causes issues in their marriage.”

I was beyond shocked. Sure, over the years I’d experienced the recoil and looks of disgust people sometimes inadvertently give when they find out why my first marriage ended. I learned fairly quickly that if I answered honestly, there was a 50/50 chance that I’d walk away from the conversation feeling like I’d injured them in some way simply by telling the truth. But were there really men out there that felt that way; that a woman was somehow “damaged goods” if she’d been abused in a former relationship? Sadly, I was sure that there were.

I thought about my neighbor’s candid admission a lot; probably more than I should have, but said nothing. I wanted to write an editorial for the local newspaper, or post a blog and rant about insensitivity and selfishness and blah, blah, blah… (“Geez…so sorry my trauma happens to make¬†you so uncomfortable. Sorry that the horrible experience that I lived through is so difficult for¬†you to bear…) but I didn’t. Instead, I wrote down that little phrase – “I’m not damaged, I’m just different” – and I use it every chance I get.

I said it the first time I spoke at an emergency shelter, the women in residence looking back at me from the long table that they were crowded around in a cold basement in an old church on the East Side of Buffalo. I watched their faces search mine for an answer:¬†How did you do it? How are you standing here? Give me the formula; tell me how to put my pieces back together. I am a shell of my former self; I’m a disaster. I feel like the walking dead. When will I feel better?¬†I use it every time a woman Messages me or contacts me through my blog or through email. Any time a victim or survivor reaches out to me and is desperate and exhausted and tells me that she feels ruined and broken, that is what I tell her. You’re not damaged, you’re just different. And so am I.

I’m a work in progress. Some days are productive and some days are crazy and there are times that I think I’ve got it all figured out and there are times that I sit and sob for no reason. Some days I feel brave and strong and some days I feel small and weak but every day I wake up thankful to have survived a trauma that could have killed me physically and might have destroyed me mentally but didn’t.

I survived.

My life is entirely my own now and only I get to decide how my story will end.

“I’m not damaged; I’m just different.” Beautifully, painfully, forever different.

 

 

Gerard Place, February 2, 2016

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Presented “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence” to the women of Gerard Place, a transitional housing shelter for battered/recovering women and their children.

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Domestic violence isn’t a feeling, it’s a fact; talking statistics and mortality rates from domesticabuseshelter dot org

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Many women attended, though only a few agreed to be photographed. The stigma and shame attached to being a victim of DV is part of what keeps women from stepping forward and asking for help. I was happy to allow each woman her privacy, depending on her individual comfort level. Each and every woman in that room has my utmost respect and I was grateful to each for choosing to attend.

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Plenty of good questions, some of which I’d never been asked before. These ladies came prepared!

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The woman of Gerard Place are provided day care services so that they can attend presentations like mine as well as educational/employment/vocational training, life skills classes and counseling.

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Kaitlin Price, Case Manager & Life Skills Coordinator, who put our afternoon together. Bright, organized and always ready with a smile, Kaitlin’s positive attitude is infectious.

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Gerard Place first opened its doors in 2000, the culmination of the work of 12 congregations of Women Religious in the Diocese of Buffalo who created and sponsored the agency¬†on the grounds of the former St. Gerard Parish.¬†Located in the heart of one of Buffalo’s poorest communities (the Bailey-Delevan neighborhood, where the unemployment rate is a staggering 55% among those aged 19-39 and¬†40% of children live below the poverty line) Gerard Place has assisted hundreds of families by giving them the tools that they need to help themselves and break the poverty cycle.

In 2009, the Junior League of Buffalo/Buffalo News Education Building was opened, providing GED and computer classes, job readiness training, like skills support and health and nutrition education to both families in residence at Gerard Place as well as the community at large.  In any given year, nearly 40 different collaborative partners utilize the facility and share their expertise with those in need. Four years later, in 2013, agency leadership announced a campaign to renovate the former St. Gerard Parish Hall building and turn it into a multi-purpose community center.  The result of this ambitious project will be a vocational training program (coordinated by partner Allied Health), a gymnasium, an expanded computer lab and day care center, an additional wing of classrooms and an industrial kitchen.

Residents are not given a¬†“hand out,” they are earning¬†a “hand up.”

Please visit   http://www.gerardplace.org   for information on the many fundraising opportunities that you can take part in to support Gerard Place.

**Information on Gerard Place was excerpted from their website.