Posted by: Shanie Matthews | March 12, 2010

Stopping the Cycle of Domestic Violence by Cristiana Fernspiegel

I would like to welcome Cristiana Fernspiegel to the Exercising Happiness Guest Writer roster. Her first installment is a heart wrenching piece that I hope is helpful for others out there in a similar situation…

The car comes screeching to a halt. My mom screams at my Dad to get out of the car. An 18-wheeler speeds by to our left, his loud horn makes me jump, hitting my head on the cold metal ceiling of the Toyota. My Dad, in his drunken belligerence, screams incoherently back. I am four years old and sitting in my favorite seat in the car, in between Mom and Dad. He reaches through me as if I’m not there and grabs my mom’s throat. She leans back and hits his arm out of the way, accidentally hitting me in the process. I feel scared, invisible and alone. Suddenly he turns, mumbles some irrational comment, stumbles out of the car and slams the door. Why is my Dad acting this way and are we really leaving him on the side of the freeway?

Through the years the answer to why became clear; alcohol.

That awful scene would replay in my mind at unexpected places; in my dreams, parties, working out, watching TV. But now, fast forward twenty years, it was here again and in my reality. I was the one acting out the woman being physically threatened by an alcohol crazed man.

When I had met Tom he was a recovering alcoholic. A loving and devoted male image of a teddy bear, I thought that I had found my soul mate. We had everything in common. We could play together, work together, and relax together.

But then his father died.

Something shifted in Tom and nothing I did could change him. He was in a rage, whether quiet, stewing or in full-on blow out mode, anger reared its angry head nearly every day. Unless he was in the mountains, the rage was there. He would drink to bury the pain but, in reality, it was only intensifying the problem.Our fights were becoming a regular occurrence and it seemed as if my life had come full circle.

His hands tightened around my throat.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear another word,” roared Tom.

I struggled and pushed against him, trying to find the door handle with my hand. His grasp was clinching down like a vice. Finally I felt the solid metal lever, pushed the door open and forced myself out of his claws. I fell backwards and it flashed in my brain how ironic it was that it was me falling out of the car onto the hard pavement.

I picked myself up and ran as fast as I could to the small grocery store across the street. I could hear him yelling my name, trying to force me back with his voice.

A motherly-looking woman turned from the cash register as I stormed through the door.

“Please help me! My boyfriend is trying to kill me.”

A look of concern washed over her face. She raced towards me and locked the door.

“Oh honey, are you okay? We’ll call the police.”

“Yes, yes, I think that’s a good idea,” I said softly as I slid down to the ground, collapsing from the realization of what just happened.

The nice woman, who eerily resembled my jolly grandma with rosy cheeks, grabbed a blanket and put it around my shoulders, trying to ease my shivering. We both knew my shaking had nothing to do with being cold.

As I sat there waiting for the police to arrive, the realization that I had lived out my mom’s history became crystal clear. A feeling of sadness and empowerment came over me at the same time.

That moment sitting in the car, as a little girl, was a turning point in my life; one towards fear and the belief that it was my fault. But now I realized that if I wanted to be free of the cycle than I had to stand up for myself. It was not my fault that Tom could not deal with his grief. I was not his stomping ground.

It was a moment of truth and clarity. If I was to live a life of happiness and love then I could not accept this behavior and must leave. It was up to me to create another turning point in my life and I was not going to let this happen again.

The cycle could only be stopped by me.

I called a girlfriend after the police interrogation. She said that she was happy to let me crash at her place as long as required. I craved time to myself and locked myself in her guest room thinking about life and where I was going. I turned my cell phone off, didn’t check my email; I needed time away.

Two days into my isolation I heard a rap at the door.

“Shiela, you have to open the door, your mom is calling frantically for you.”

Worry came over me. Thanking my friend, I hurried to find my cell phone and called home. It seemed like an eternity before my mom answered.

“Mom, it’s me. Is everything okay?”

“Oh Sheila, honey are you sitting down? I have some horrible news.”

“What is it?”

“We received a call from the Aunt Joni. Diane was killed a few nights back by her boyfriend.”

My cousin was murdered by the man that was supposed to love her on the same night that I almost lost my life in the same manner. The magnitude of the situation made me sick to my stomach. I started to cry uncontrollably. It could have been me.

Fast forward five years. The death of my cousin is with me every day but I have kept my promise; I have stopped the cycle. I have created love in my life by first working on me to understand why the violence was being repeated. Learning from this situation is what I had to do. I hope that other women, if they are not being treated like the diamonds they are, look at their situation and create the change. We all deserve the best in life but it is only us that can make it happen.

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