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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

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.