I wasn’t too sure that this one was going to make it.
When domestic violence victims flee, it goes without saying that they are often terrified to the point of trembling but with the right support over time, a justifiable anger begins to set in and that’s the fuel that’s needed to see them through the permanent separation/divorce process.
Sometimes things can go awry with that healthy, healing anger though… Instead of a manageable energy that ebbs and flows, years of abuse crash down into a bitter rage that’s almost unquenchable and beyond containment. Justified rage? Yes, but when that’s all that you’re left with after escaping, that’s NOT exactly “happily ever after” (or the picture of mental health either).
Then there are some cases where the justifiable anger just doesn’t seem to “show up on time” like it should. The trauma, despair, terror and grief have dug in deep and show little signs of releasing their hostage. These are the survivors who may slip away into a deep depression or who may even become suicidal, especially if they’ve lost their children to their abusers in family court proceedings. Self-isolating out of depression, shame, fear or mistrust, the chance for a “happily ever after” is like a candle in the wind struggling to hold onto what’s left of its little flame. Without support and encouragement the survivor will “extinguish” – be that in body, mind or spirit.
Of the two worst-case scenarios, I worry more about the latter and as I read through the survivor story I had in front of me in 2008, I was beginning to worry. The tragedies, heartbreak, betrayals, losses, suffering and agony this woman had endured were staggering and just beyond comprehensible – the worst of which was having to watch her second daughter, a six month-old infant, die in front of her – a direct result of the abuser’s actions. On paper, her abuser even scared me!
What scared me more, however, was this survivor’s tone: sheer terror, begging for help, almost a shadow presenting itself instead of the person it’s supposed to be behind. The only saving grace that I saw she presented was a mother’s love – THAT candle was burning strong and bright BUT it was being threatened by family court custody and visitation proceedings. She had already chosen to step up to the plate to fight but where was the justifiable anger that would see her through it?
I read through all the documents she gave me and panicked with each page I read: no anger, where’s the anger? She spoke of peace, putting their daughter first, healing, capitulating to try to appease his demands, pleading for just a small measure of justice for the crimes that were viciously lodged against her – but where was the anger? No anger.
Speaking to her over the phone didn’t bring me any relief. She was justifiably scared out of her wit, but there was no anger anywhere to be found. She told me that before all of this had started, she was a successful computer programmer with stocks and real estate. This woman was so successful that by age 35, she was in semi-retirement and took jobs as a ski instructor and massage therapist to keep herself busy, adopting and training a mustang for horse trail rides for the fun of it.
That comic saying “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” came to mind because who she once was and who she had become were so polar opposite, it defied sense and reason. (But then again, domestic violence will NEVER make any sense and is beyond reason!) Within a few short years, domestic violence had taken this woman who literally “had it all” and reduced her to someone who had lost everything except for her sanity and her daughter. Unfortunately her abuser was showing no signs of giving up or easing up anytime soon either.
The love and devotion towards her daughter was the strongest thing in her life and I thought “That’ll have to do” praying that her love was stronger then the fear and all the threats that surrounded her. (And it was!)
Many victims-turned-survivors have a propensity to “give back” but NOTHING could’ve prepared me for this one: in December 2009, I received an email from this survivor saying “I am starting police academy next year. Yeah! Trying to get in shape….”
Out of all the survivors I knew, THIS one enrolled in the police academy?!
On August 16, 2010 I received one of the best email messages I think I’ll ever get in this lifetime. The subject line read: 78th Recruit Class Media Release… Congrats Team The link came complete with a picture of the graduating class and there she was – barely recognizable among her fellow officers in uniform.
Today, Officer May Lee looks, sounds and is NOTHING like the woman who contacted me almost four years ago. Now speaking from a place of confidence and conviction, it’s simply IMPOSSIBLE for me not to smile widely and proudly whenever I think of her (tears included). The word “WOW” sums May’s story up because despite how badly domestic violence tore her down and tore her apart, she emerged out the other end whole due to the strength of her love and her resilient spirit. I never saw the justifiable anger that I was so desperately searching for in her BUT she confided that her fellow officers-in-training got to but not in the way you might expect. As another testimony to her inner-strength, she said “I just channeled all that anger into doing something positive” – she ended up winning the physical fitness award.
Because of her humble nature May truly has no idea about the hope and inspiration she’s brought and continues to bring to others (ie: when I told her I wanted to nominate her for this contest, she tried to tell me she hasn’t done anything special!)
Dedicated to ensuring a safe community for all, vigorous in enforcing the letter of the law and passionate about justice, May is the real life underdog we all love to hear about and root for.
I had a feeling that May’s story would end under police lights surrounded by officers – I’m just so very glad that May’s vision of her future was a lot brighter then the vision I had feared for her. Thank you officer!