One of my favorite books is ”How Starbucks Saved My Life.” Now let me share with you how a magazine saved my life and maybe the lives of others. It all started in October of 2006 when my mentor called me to say, “Have you seen this month’s issue of Essence magazine?”
He went on to give me the highlights. The magazine focused on domestic violence in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He shared how he could not believe that something like that was happening in our neck of the woods because Prince George’s County is my home area. I had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri leaving my secrets behind me. So I thought…
Our conversation went a little like this: “Can you believe something like that is happening in PG County, which is one of the riches counties in the country?" asked my mentor, Charlie.
I replied, “Yes, because most of those victims were living a lie and they had to keep up the appearance of the happy home because who can they tell about what is really going on? Who would understand, and sharing their story could shatter the glass house”.
Our conversation lasted for more than two hours and I thought my mentor fainted when I shared my own story of molestation and domestic violence. He said, “Not you, you have always carried yourself like you were no-nonsense and a woman that would not allow a man to hit her.”
I went on to share my story of abuse with him and how I had buried my pain again, or so I thought…
The conversation ended and I began to dress for work only to later find myself curdled up in a fetal position on my kitchen floor. I realized that sharing my story with my mentor released the pain and I could no longer pretend I was okay with what happened to me. Pretending was never okay but who could you tell and who would understand? I was an upper middle class woman and that is taboo; you do not share your dirty laundry. I would see survivors and say to myself, “You poor thing.” I later realized I was the poor thing! I finally read the domestic violence article in Essence and the only difference between myself and the woman featured in the article was her scars were visible. The woman’s husband doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. She suffered horrific burns to her face, head and torso. My scars were hidden, enabling me to master living a lie. I call it a lie because I wasn’t willing to say “I too am a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault” and was creating a life of secrets.
Somehow I found the strength to get up off the floor and my life hasn’t been the same since that day! I remember crying like I have never cried before and when it was all over, I could finally breathe and I was a woman on a mission to help other s live a life free of the secret of abuse.
I did not realize how the secrets changed my life, however after sharing my story of abuse I knew I wasn’t the only woman that felt like that. The secret of my abuse became a part of who I was. My abuse went to college, my abuse married and remarried , it had children, made friends and I carried on like the abuse never happened however it was very much a part of who I was. When a victim is abused, a piece of them dies along with their peace of mind. My peace was taken from me as a child when I was molested, making it easier later in life to be physically abused. The national statistics shows one in four women will become a victim of a violent act in her lifetime and young ladies ages 16 to 24 are the group most at risk of abuse. Victims of abuse reside all around us and they are more than statistics. Each is a personal tragedy. Because of the insidious nature of abuse, most victims remain silent, and hence, remain abused and alone. It’s time to ask the right questions and get involved. One of my favorite quotes by musician and activist Bono is, “Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”
October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for all Americans to become aware of domestic violence in our communities, reflect on the cost of the crime to our society, and promote laws, policies and programs to improve services to victims, hold offenders accountable and prevent violence in our communities. Although the month is over, the struggle is not.
I was disappointed at the length of time it has taken me to get here but after talking to my mentor who is in his late 70’s, he said to me, ”You may hear envy in my voice because I am not there yet and I believe there are so many other women that feel the same way”.
The day I said the words, “I am a survivor” I began to act like a survivor. Life changed for me in October, 2006 when my mentor helped me show up in my own life. I am a woman on a mission and that’s how the magazine saved my life and the lives of others because I wake up everyday working to end violence against women and children.
Madeline Long-Gill is the founder of Every Step Counts, an outreach organization committed to advocacy, outreach, and public awareness. The organization's goal is to educate and empower the community about the issues surrounding ending violence against women and children. For more information, please visit www.estepco.org.