Written by: Gillian Baakman
You can never know someone else’s journey. When we pass someone on the street, we rarely think about what they may be going through. But on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States; this equates to more than 10 million women and men each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Domestic abuse has a significant long-term impact on individuals and families regardless of wealth, race, ethnicity and social status. We never know who will walk through Norwescap’s doors, but we are always here to lift those people from where they are and into a place where they aren’t just living, but thriving.
Joni Liou is a single mother, a friend, a Norwescap AmeriCorps member, and a victim of domestic abuse. In her own words, she shares her story of mental anguish, spirit deprivation and heartache – and her journey to independence and resilience.
“There were red flags from the very beginning of my relationship. I uprooted my whole life to be with him. When we dated, he was an angry person. He was very jealous, territorial, controlling and dominant. When I broke up with him, he showed up at my friend’s house talking about how he lost me, and I was so good for him. Looking back, that was always his narrative. According to him, I was meant for him, and God told him it was his destiny to be with me. But something wasn’t quite right and the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Having to excuse someone for their behaviors or things they say all because they were abused as a child does not give them the right to belittle anyone – especially their partner. If you have to lessen your personality traits of excitement and happiness, your free spirit, or decrease your friends because he does not like them, those are clear signs. If you need to change jobs because he says too many guys there hit on you, or he wants you to be a stay-at-home wife when it decreases your socialization and job opportunities, that’s another indicator of someone who is controlling. I was instructed to never speak to his friends without permission, told to stand when I cook instead of sit, shamed for having life goals and focusing on education. He demanded I change my physical appearance for non-medical reasons. This is all mental abuse and crushing to someone’s self-worth.
With abuse, some might think that it’s easy to leave, and it’s just not. Especially when you love someone unconditionally and hope to change someone, it clouds your judgement. He was after all my husband. The truth is I never really left him, I escaped.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and my grandmother asked if I could come help care for her. Of course, my husband was angry and did not want me to go. Even after promising I’d return, he refused to understand that someone else I loved needed me. So I took my daughter with me to care for my mom and realized – this was my escape route. A way to freedom and happiness because I realized in that very moment that this wasn’t what I wanted for myself and our daughter. But like most abuse victims I attempted to come back. He started accusing me of kidnapping our child. He became an even greater danger to both of us. I pleaded with him to get help, to work with a counselor and be honest about his own past issues. As you can imagine any abuser would do, he refused. At that point I got a restraining order in hopes that he would not hurt us and he would get help.
The fear never left me, but hope never died. I went to several battered women’s shelters, and I eventually found my way through Norwescap’s doors. Norwescap’s Career and Life Transition Center provided me with tools to grow. The program empowered me intellectually and emotionally. Norwescap’s staff showed me the steps I needed to take, and most importantly, how to take them, and they guided me so that I knew I was not alone. It is one thing to know what we are supposed to do, but when the mind is flooded with doubt, fear, sadness, shame, and pain, the ability to focus and follow-through is not there. Norwescap showed me how: how to take the steps and get on the road to independence and resiliency. With their help, I was able to write a resume, search for employment, and interview; they provided me with business attire, taught me about boundaries and how to interact with people again.
But most importantly they empowered me to believe in myself again. I am free to be happy. My daughter is able to smile and be carefree and engage in enriching activities that will empower her to be an incredible woman. I have learned so many things on my journey. I have my friends back, and I started my own business and it’s going really well. Before, I was belittled for wanting to do selfless acts of kindness; now I can help so many other women and families. I even joined Norwescap’s AmeriCorps to volunteer to help others at the Center.
I have the freedom to speak up without repercussions and be myself. My worth is now based on what I deem valuable and not on what he deemed of value. I am grateful for all the support I have been given from every single resource. I can empower myself and empower others and feel good about it on every level.”