I Gave My Pain a Purpose
As Domestic Violence Awareness Month draws to a close, I’m sharing my story in the hope that it helps others recognize the warning signs of abuse—and calling on our legislators to take action.
Content warning: This post contains a graphic description of domestic assault.
It started as a normal morning.
I was folding laundry when my husband joined me in the upstairs bedroom and said something, but I couldn’t make it out.
Louder, he said “Why are you talking about me?” which I thought was odd, because I wasn’t talking at all.
I continued to put away laundry and walked into another bedroom. I didn’t notice, but he had followed me in. I only realized he was there when I heard the first gunshot.
He was no more than two feet away from me, but I didn’t feel the impact of the bullet. He kept shooting, and my instinct was to keep moving. I knew if I fell to the ground, I’d die. The adrenaline kept me going, and I pushed past him to get out of the room and to the top of the stairs.
He followed me out of the room, and I did the only thing I could manage in the moment—I threw myself down the stairs. Only later, when the investigators found the bullet casings, did I learn that he continued to shoot at me as I fell.
Somehow, I reached the front door and ran to a neighbor’s house for help. The first neighbor I went to took one look at me and froze in shock, so I had to run to a second house. Thankfully, that neighbor quickly called the police and tried to help me stop the flow of blood from my head.
I had to have several surgeries, and struggled with my speech and hearing. Despite the trauma I’d endured, I sought every sense of normalcy I could manage in the aftermath of the attack. I went back to work as soon as I could—not to actually do any work, but to be treated normally by my colleagues and to feel like I did before the incident.
But not everything felt normal. Officials tore my house apart during their investigation, and left me to deal with the mess. It wasn’t even inhabitable—I had to check into a hotel as a Jane Doe in order to heal in peace.
It wasn’t until about three years later that my medical situation was mostly resolved, and I felt like I had returned to about as ordinary of a life as I could. But it was hard.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I would likely never hear out of my right ear again. I also struggled, and continue to struggle, with PTSD—anytime I hear a loud noise, it takes me right back to the day I was shot.
The only thing that helped me begin to process the trauma I experienced was my decision to give my pain a purpose. I knew I wanted to do something to help others, so they wouldn’t have to go through what I did.
I took a certification course to become a domestic violence advocate, and now I help others recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, create safety plans, and navigate the legal process. At the time, it took my mind off of my own situation. Now, I recognize that it’s allowed me to put my experience and ongoing recovery to good use—when people point out signs of PTSD I still exhibit, I use them as tools to help others.
My main piece of advice for survivors I work with, and for everyone generally, is to know what weapons are in your home. I had no idea there were guns in my house. After my father had a stroke, he asked my husband to take his guns to the police. Instead, my husband kept the guns—without my knowledge—and shot me with one of them.
Susan B. Sorenson and Rebecca A. Schut, “Nonfatal Gun Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 19, no. 4 (2018): 431–442.
We all know love shouldn’t hurt you physically, and it shouldn’t hurt you emotionally. But sometimes it can be hard to see yourself as a victim of domestic violence; I know I didn’t see myself as one until after I was shot, despite suffering emotional and financial abuse. If you know there are weapons in your home, you can and should let the authorities know when you’re experiencing violence, threats, or generally don’t feel safe.
But the victims of domestic violence shouldn’t be the only ones taking action for themselves. Congress needs to pass the gun prohibitions in the Violence Against Women Act, close the boyfriend loophole, and so much more. Domestic Violence Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but we need resources to save lives year round—and these critical resources are being held up by bureaucracy.
My husband died by suicide after he thought he killed me. Because I don’t have to fear him, I think I’m better able to focus on helping others. But there’s no textbook domestic abuse situation—and there’s no standard response or recovery. Domestic abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone, and it’s why we need better and smarter gun violence prevention measures.
You are not alone: If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
JOIN THE FIGHT
Gun violence costs our nation 40,000 lives each year. We can’t sit back as politicians fail to act tragedy after tragedy. Giffords brings the fight to save lives to communities, courthouses, and ballot boxes across the country—will you stand with us?