Fork in the Road - #WhenIBecameFree visits a prison

Today I learned that my youngest son Kyle has quite a bit in common with a couple of inmates who are incarcerated at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution - at a young age they all wrapped their hands around a baseball bat to protect themselves and their loved ones from the person they loved and all because domestic violence had taken hold in their childhood home.

With the #WhenIBecameFree project I am not only collecting stories from survivors, I am also trying to get out into the community and share the message about the project and how embracing your story, owning your experiences and to then being open to let others know about it all, is healing - healing for you and also them.

When I speak to a group at the prison I always open with the fact we have more in common than we have different. That common bond is our childhoods. I ask the group to raise their hands if they grew up with domestic violence, addictions and/or in a single parent family - all hands raise. That is my way of letting them know I am not there to judge them nor speak down to them -rather I want them to listen, actively listen to what I am about to say. They are then invested in the time I spend with them.

I share my story starting back to the very first time I was sexually molested, at the tender age of 5. From there I layout a timeline of the trauma I have experienced in my life. How the domino effect started and where it ended -  that last domino fell before I woke up and started to respect myself. That last incident includes speaking about how Kyle, at the age of just 8 years old, picked up a baseball bat and hit his father in an attempt to protect me while I was being physically and sexually assaulted. All of which was captured on an audio file on my laptop. A file that was the evidence used to send my abuser to prison.

When I finish explaining my story and the work I am doing now with #WhenIBecameFree, I open it up for questions and answers. My favorite part of my time spent with them is the dialogue that occurs.

Yesterday there were a couple of the men who identified with that story about the baseball bat. They spoke about how they too once took a bat to their father and it was in self-defense to protect their loved ones.

As they spoke about their story, in my mind's eye I saw a fork in the road and wondered what was in their life's map that took them down a path to self-destruction and my son down the road to empowerment. It was a question that would not leave my mind, it stayed with me all day long and into the night.

It would have been so easy for my boys to walk the path those men did, actually, society would have expected it to happen and not blinked an eye when it did.

I think guiding the boys to their path was the fact we openly discussed our situation. When rumors floated about our lives and that final attack began, we didn't run from them. I taught them to address it all, to own their story and not hide. That there was nothing for them to be ashamed of, despite what others chose to speak about while they twisted what they shared.

With that came many nights of long talks between the boys and I. We spoke about emotions - I listened to them. Sometimes we just sat in silence, comforted by one another. It was that togetherness of a shared experience that brought healing for us. A family bonding together rather than pulling apart and ignoring what we all knew was wrong.  Perhaps our healing paths came together at the same time for a reason. My boys grew up learning that there is no shame in being a survivor after having been a victim.

All of that is exactly what I am attempting to do with the #WhenIBecameFree project, the focus of which becomes clearer the more I reach out into the community and share my story, the project and listen to others. From it all, healing is occurring for many people in much the same way it started for the boys and me on those nights we spent together - being open and honest.

Some time ago a thought crossed my mind, "Open the closet door, stigmas cannot grow in the light." That thought happened around the time of that last incident with my ex-husband. Where it came from one can only ponder - some may say God, others may say a Spirit Guide, then there those who may say from experience. Who knows - I do know that since embracing that ideology positive changes have happened and not only for myself and my family, but others as well.

It shatters what many of us were taught in our families, what happens behind closed doors stays there.  A concept that not only plays out in chaotic families but also in other areas of our communities, like churches, organizations, businesses and the very agencies that are supposed to be there to be a resource for those hurting and trying to break free. I face if often when I try to raise awareness that there is lack of services or holes in the safety net survivors face.

When I worked at the paper and wrote articles that didn't bring a positive spotlight to the community, I would get yelled at by some readers, "Don't put that on the front page! Bury those articles inside! Only put the positive news on the front page!" Some then would point out how visitors and tourists to our area would be reading the newspaper and think horrible things about us. Those verbal lashings always reminded me of my mother when she would stress to me that what happens behind closed doors stay there. A sentiment that almost took my life when I was a child carrying shame and from when I attempted suicide from the pain of carrying it all so deep within me to hide the chaos from outside eyes looking in.

False images - we're killing ourselves with plastic masks, suffocating the one thing we all own and is unique to each of us, our voices, our stories, our experiences. We're on this Earth to learn from one another not pretend and put on a stage show, a play. We evolve from our truths, not our lies.

Embrace your story - own your life - and share it with others.

Below is a song my son Kyle and his friend Gabe wrote and performed this week in Memphis. When he first sent the rough recording to me, I cringed. Being an advocate against domestic violence I was triggered by the subject matter. The song takes on the voice of an abuser. Something my son heard the many years growing up with domestic violence. He heard his father threaten my life when he would tell me how he would kill me and burn the house down. He witnessed too many attacks, especially that last one where I believed I would not make it out alive.  After seeing this video when it was taped live from Memphis, I realized my son was not glorifying domestic violence but rather showing the horror that occurs from it - the twisted thinking that happens in an abusers mind. A place none of us want to be nor know, but if we do not address it and listen, then we're placing it back in the dark closet where shame lives and stigmas grow. I am very proud of my son, especially since he listened to his mother and did issue a disclaimer to the audience before performing the song.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the #WhenIBecameFree project. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that so many understand the mission and what a crowd-funded creative project is - It was a huge risk to go this route and without support and trust, I would not have made it as far as I have with the work I am doing. With that, I do need continued support so that I can complete the project, do those speaking endeavors and meet with survivors 1:1. It is a fulltime effort.

Please consider donating and know that it is truly appreciated!

Go Fund Me

I also need to thank the corporate sponsors who have climbed aboard and believe in the work I am doing: Wisconsin River Meats,  Benders' Family Restaurant, The Dirty Turtle, and the Fun Company Game Store for being official sponsors of #WhenIBecameFree. Give a like to their their Facebook page (click links above) and let them know how appreciative we all are that they are supporting survivors finding their voices!

Also,  my baby boy who has donated his own hard earned cash and in-kind support as he will be writing and performing the music for the video, Kyle Roberts.  Give a like to his Facebook page.


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