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What Does A Survivor Of Abuse Look Like? Well, They Look Like Me...

4min read
Culture

As it turns out, relationship abuse does not discriminate. Domestic violence can happen to any woman of any race, religion, education level, income, or age. A victim of relationship abuse can look like anyone — even a Miss New Jersey USA.

In high school, I was introduced to a boy a few years older than me and we clicked instantly. Our relationship started off fairly quickly, and it was seemingly normal at first. He told me he loved me just two weeks after knowing each other, but at such a young age I didn't know any better. I believed him.

Our fairytale relationship was almost too good to be true. We grew closer and our bond became stronger, but over time our relationship along with his behaviors started to escalate in ways I hadn't seen prior. Later that year, our dynamic shifted and new behaviors that he hadn't previously displayed became more apparent: extreme jealousy, manipulation, and attempts of isolating me from the people I loved became a reality for me in many different forms.

I soon learned that we'd be attending the same college in the following months. I had always dreamt that college would be the place I would forge my own path, experience new things, and live on my own to truly get to know myself. However, being away from home only increased the unhealthy behaviors in the relationship. He had manipulated me into moving into his apartment, even though I had my own dorm. He then completely isolated me from meeting anyone new. I didn't know how to spot the red flags; I had never been educated on them. So I stayed — hoping things would change or that I could change him.

Our fairytale relationship was almost too good to be true. We grew closer and our bond became stronger, but over time our relationship along with his behaviors started to escalate in ways I hadn't seen prior.

Like many other women who experience relationship abuse, my relationship started with extreme adoration and intense infatuation, but over time became one of manipulation, control, and eventually violence. There were nights I spent locked in the bathroom while he was out at bars with his friends, times my phone was broken in half because a male classmate asked me for the homework, evidence of cheating that he covered with excuses that I didn't give him enough attention. I was called just about every name in the book, and the neighbors were ignoring the screaming matches between the two of us. At that point, I had picked up my things to leave a few times, however, I was always met with suicidal threats if I did. "Everyone always leaves. If you leave I have nothing left to live for," are the words I distinctly remember. He would belittle and sabotage me all while simultaneously stating that he loved me.

After months of feeling isolated, completely defeated, and still waiting for things to change, I decided to join a sorority to feel a sense of belonging. I had no new friends, and any friends I had before he either convinced me they were not good for me or had tactically chased them away. I was lucky enough to get a bid from my top choice sorority and started filling my schedule with sisterly duties. Like any good sorority member, I attended all the mandatory events, raised money for issues close to the hearts of my fellow sisters, and memorized every creed and prayer imaginable. One afternoon I was informed of a mandatory event last minute and broke a sweat to hustle after my English class from one side of campus to the other to make it on time. I chose a seat in the back row of the room and waited for the event to start. I had no idea this mandatory workshop would save my life and I thank God every day that I rushed over that afternoon.

There were nights I spent locked in the bathroom while he was out at bars with his friends, times my phone was broken in half because a male classmate asked me for the homework, evidence of cheating that he covered with excuses that I didn't give him enough attention.

The workshop that afternoon was hosted by the One Love Foundation. One Love was founded by Sharon Love in honor of her daughter, Yeardley Love. Yeardley's life was taken from her by her boyfriend just a few weeks before she was set to graduate college. Her death was a complete shock to her family, but they truly believed that her death could have been prevented had she been educated to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships.

One Love created a workshop to educate young people about what these unhealthy relationship signs look like and how to recognize them early on in a relationship before they escalate into domestic abuse. The parallels between our stories were unfathomable, and I realized that was the path I was headed down if I didn't get help soon. I realized I didn't want to be that phone call to my mom telling her I wouldn't be coming home, and I didn't want to be another one of the three women that are killed every single day from domestic violence.

The education, encouragement, and community of One Love helped me to get out of my abusive relationship safely, which is something that I will always be grateful for. Intensity, isolation, volatility, manipulation, and guilting were all unhealthy aspects of my relationship that I had been experiencing, but before One Love I was unable to recognize them. I now teach the One Love workshop that changed, and possibly saved, my life to high school and college students to educate them on the unhealthy signs I once did not see.

After months of feeling isolated, completely defeated, and still waiting for things to change, I decided to join a sorority to feel a sense of belonging.

When we think of domestic violence, many of us immediately think of physical abuse. But abuse shows up in many forms — physically, emotionally, and even financially. This makes abuse harder to recognize for many people who were only ever taught about one kind, but doesn't mean that it isn't present or significant. By teaching others how to recognize these signs, I hope to be contributing to reducing the statistics of relationship abuse.

I am just one example of the one in three women that will experience relationship abuse in their lifetime. But by sharing my story, I am opening up the conversation that needs to be had with our young, vulnerable people to help recognize the signs of relationship abuse before they escalate. By taking power back and owning my experiences I have the ability to show that this can happen to anyone, even a Miss New Jersey USA titleholder. But I also want people to know that you can come out on the other side and be okay; there is no shame in the experiences survivors have endured.

As Miss New Jersey USA, I serve as an example that relationship abuse doesn't define you or make you less of a strong woman.

And those who experience it are never alone. We are all worthy of a healthy love. But we need to be educated on the many forms of relationship abuse, so we can eventually find that healthy love. We are taught many things in life — how to drive a car, how to make grandma's favorite recipe, and even how to excel in your dream job interview. Unfortunately, we are not taught exactly how to love; there is no recipe or playbook for how to achieve a healthy relationship. But it's imperative to keep an eye out for unhealthy signs in your relationship and to take immediate action as they can ultimately lead to abuse.

If you or someone you love is experiencing relationship abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE

3 Min Read
Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.