“I was a naïve 18-year-old,” she said of herself as she began to share with me her story of the abuse she endured for some three years. In the beginning, as with the rest of us who were abused, she spoke of how he was kind and caring but it changed over time. The first sign was his isolating her from friends and family and manipulating her compliance by threatening to commit suicide if she left, and eventually that came to include threats of murder / suicide where he’d frame her so it would look like he was the victim. He also locked her in the bedroom by removing the doorknob and threatened to have her committed.
Her reasoning for calling herself naïve, she explained, was because she thought these threats and other forms of manipulation were only words. Over time, the abuse she endured grew to include financial, physical, and sexual abuse. For her, in addition to the verbal and emotional abuse, she also regularly was grabbed, pushed, and bitten. Some of the things hardest for me to hear were about being strangled after he dragged her out of the car on one occasion and being bound as he attempted to suffocate her with a pillow on another.
Kristen had tried several times to leave him, but successfully separating herself from him proved to be hard for her. As many of us do at some point, she, too, felt that the abuse she was enduring was her fault, and she wanted to fix it. He would manipulate her emotional connection, her love for him as a way to guilt her into coming back. By the time the incident that prompted her to leave permanently occurred, they had already begun growing apart. When he bit her arm the last time leaving a bruise, she questioned herself “What the hell am I thinking?” She knew if she stayed any longer, the abuse would only continue to spiral out of control. Kristen resolved to leave her abuser and followed through successfully in the fall of 2011, getting a retraining order which, by her own admission, helped her to hold herself accountable and not go back.
She first revealed the abuse to her mom, sharing with me that she initially waited before telling her father about the abuse but was thankfully surrounded by a lot of support once she shared the abuse with others. Like many of us, even despite growing up in a home with abuse, Kristen admitted she was unaware that what happened to her was considered domestic violence. During research on her experiences, she came across a video from the Dr. Phil show posted on YouTube. The video that “set her on fire” (her words) was of Audrey Mabrey, who had been repeatedly struck with a hammer then set on fire by her then husband in November 2009. This is where Kristen had her revelation that she, too, had endured intimate partner violence, and she pointed out to how fearless Audrey was on the show. The impact it had on her was to be her motivation to share her story and reach out to help others.
About a month after the relationship ended and she had secured her order of protection, Kristen went online and started her Facebook page Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence (BTS). I’m not going into detail about her organization in this post, because I am going to use BTS as the introductory post to spotlight domestic violence services organizations. Also, there is so much to share about BTS and the wonderful things the organization is doing, I wanted to devote a separate post to it so I could go further into detail. Once I (re)-write the second post, I will link them together – so keep an eye out!
There were other important thoughts Kristen shared with me during our conversation that many of you will find not only helpful but inspirational and encouraging in your own healing process. She has made immeasurable progress on her journey to heal but openly shares that even now, about four years later, PTSD, anxiety attacks, negative self-talk, and insomnia are things she stills struggles with. Even with all that present in her daily life, Kristen said she is now able to manage those symptoms and reminds herself that she is in a much better place in her life. During our conversation, Kristen happily affirmed that the past four years of her life “have been the best years of her life hands-down.” As we spoke about where she now finds herself in life, Kristen acknowledged that she wished it could be possible to travel back to visit herself in the early days when she was still fresh out of the abuse and comfort her in her distress. “I wish I could hug her and assure her it would be okay. At the time, I didn’t know anyone else who had been abused and I felt like it was me against the world.” And then she said something that caught me off-guard, because I had said it to myself many times. She wanted to be able to tell herself, “You are amazing, and it’s going to be alright.”
For those of you who are survivors and find yourselves struggling to overcome doubts, fears, lack of confidence, or even shame, Kristen has this message for you: “When struggling with self-esteem, we should remind ourselves: ‘I am amazing.’ It’s all about embracing your journey – all journeys are different from person to person. It just takes time, and comparing yourself to other survivors is detrimental. You need to work on yourself, learn, grow to love yourself, become stronger and more wise.” She also wanted you to know (for those of you who blame yourself for the abuse) that it is not normal, and it is not your fault.
If you who are family or friends of someone who has been or is being abused, Kristen pointed out the urgency in showing patience and love to them. It may be frustrating if you do not understand what they are going through, and you may not want them to go back to their abuser, but it is absolutely imperative that you do not turn your back to them. Once you cut this lifeline, they may very well be left with only one option: to go back their abuser. If even one person maintains that contact and support, if can help them leave and stay away from their abuser. The best thing you can do for them is to let them know you love them, that they believe them, and that you are there for them. You cannot make them leave before they are ready, but please keep that door open.
Lastly, if you now find yourself trapped in an abusive relationship, there is hope, support, and help out there for you. Kristen wanted to let you know that even though you feel like it, you are not alone. Many of us who have been where you are now are out here in the light ready and willing to guide you out. Like us, there are many things that keep you trapped in the abuse. Perhaps you feel it’s something that you’ve done or said causing the abuse, that if you figured out how to be better or love better that the abuser will change. Maybe you feel you deserve it. Or maybe you feel ashamed for the horror you endure every day. None of this is true, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. While no relationship is perfect, what you are living through is abuse, and no one deserves to be abused. Kristen urges you to find someone to open up to and share what’s happening to you; the silence we keep only perpetuates the abuse and allows it to worsen. And if you do not know who you can reach out to, you can always contact Break the Silence. Kristen and her other amazing advocates will be there to provide emotional support and help connect you to services you need to get to safety and rebuild your life. You’re amazing, and you’re worth it.
If you are interested in reading more about Kristen’s story and what moved her to become an advocate, please visit the following page on her website: Pageant Girl Becomes a Domestic Violence Survivor & Advocate
If you would like to contact Break the Silence for help in leaving an abusive relationship or for emotional support, these email addresses are listed on the contact page of her website:
Kristen Paruginog: firstname.lastname@example.org
Audrey Mabrey: email@example.com
General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also connect with Break the Silence through social media via the following links: