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October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It makes me think of all the victims still living with their abusers. It makes me worry about the children stuck in the middle. It makes me feel sorry for the abusers wanting to stop and not having a clue how. Domestic Violence is complicated. It crosses all social and economic barriers. One out of four women will experience it in their lifetime as will one out of nine men.

But what I’m thinking about right now is how difficult it is to leave. How much courage and conviction it takes to start over. How frightening it is to remove children from a situation that you know is bad but to one that you know is raging with uncertainty and shaky support.

It’s hard to walk out on what you thought would be your fairytale ending. It’s almost impossible to leave the home, the photos, the friends, the memories (good and painful) and leave. Necessary? Yes. But for most, a new struggle is just beginning.    

If the victim didn’t work during the relationship, she is probably ill equipped to immediately enter the job market. If she did work, she’s probably having a tough time. Losing relationships and support from friends and family members is a reality.  PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real problem for many survivors of domestic violence. What does a person living with PTSD experience? Panic attacks, sweating, shortness of breath, racing heart, feelings of intense fear, and/or feelings of intense sadness. The physical symptoms are chronic pain, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps or low back pain.

But perhaps more difficult than rebuilding financial security, overcoming feelings of intense guilt, and recovering from PTSD, is the need to recover one’s sense of self. Successfully escaping and recovering from an abusive relationship involves more than just leaving and getting an abuser out of a life. It’s a re-discovering of oneself. Learning again to believe in the basic tenants of humanity that other people take for granted.  My life is mine. I deserve to be happy. I have value as a human being, as a woman, as a mother, as a friend. My actions did not cause his/her actions. Violence and pain are not part of a normal relationship. I am not defined by the trauma I experienced. When someone hurts me, IT IS NOT MY FAULT.

The Refuge Network works to help keep people safe. Our advocates also work to support people- men, women, and children- who are recovering from living with domestic violence and abuse. If you’d like to get involved, check out our website: FamilyPathways.org and go to the Refuge Network Domestic Violence Program. You can volunteer, donate, and advocate. If you or someone you know is being abused, call 1-800-338-SAFE(7233). No one deserves to be abused.