October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Last night, I was honored to speak at the candle light vigil for National Domestic Violence Month. The event was hosted by A Woman’s Place, the domestic violence advocacy group who helped me when I didn’t know where else to turn.
My speech focused on the story of my “after.” As in, what came after I left. How good life got after I got out. It was a privilege to be up on stage with the other speakers, telling our stories, and hopefully giving another woman hope that getting out and staying out really is possible.
My speech is included below. Thanks again to AWP for all the hard work they do for the women and families in Bucks County. They are truly saving lives. I know they saved mine.
(the full version of my speech is included below, but without all the stumbling and shaking that reading it aloud entailed).
Hello, my name is Lauren Wellbank, and like many of you here tonight, my life has been touched by domestic violence.
My story is like a lot of your stories: I fell in love with a man who turned out not to be who I thought he was. The once incredibly charming and funny guy — who I had known for years before we became romantically involved — morphed, seemingly overnight, into a controlling monster with a short fuse and a jealous streak a mile long. I was completely shocked when our relationship turned violent. I thought domestic violence was something that happened to other people, not something that happened to someone like me.
Like a lot of women in this situation, I stayed longer than I’d like to admit. Part of me was afraid to leave him, and part of me just didn’t want to believe that the charming and funny guy I fell in love with wasn’t still in there somewhere, struggling to find his way back out.
I left him twice.
The first time I left, I went back to him a week later. He lured me in with promises of change, and swore up and down that the last time would really be the last time.
The second time I left because absolutely nothing had changed, and I realized that the only way that our relationship was ever going to end was if one of us was dead, and I’d finally realized that I didn’t want that person to be me.
It was hard, as many of you probably know, to get out and stay out. In the days after I left for the second time, he called me and emailed me and followed me non-stop. I lived in terror of what would happen when he finally got me alone, which was a completely different kind of terror than the one I’d lived with at home, making me second guess why I’d even bothered leaving again.
Eventually, I called the Bristol Township police department for help, and in what I still consider to be one of the biggest strokes of luck in my life, the officer they sent out to take my statement told me about A Woman’s Place. Before he left that night he told me that if I was his daughter, this is what he would beg me to do. It was those words that pushed me into the warm and welcoming arms of A Woman’s Place, where I finally found a path to safety.
In the months that followed the end of that relationship I was scared: both of my ex and of the thought of the other men that I might encounter in my life. I worried that being in one abusive relationship had doomed me to a lifetime of being stuck in that cycle. That somehow, by staying with my ex for as long as I did, I’d hung this invisible sign around my neck that said, “Go ahead and hurt me, I’ll put up with anything.” I didn’t want to date, I didn’t want to go out with my friends, I just wanted to hide at home and pretend like none of it had ever happened.
Fortunately, that fear eased over time until it faded into the background. They say time heals all wounds but I think that it’s more that time just changes your perspective. As the months passed I began to realize that not all men were like my ex. Violence wasn’t always hiding under a charming exterior. Most men, even, would never actually think of raising their hands to a woman.
Domestic violence isn’t the rule, it’s the exception.
Even after coming to an understanding of that piece of the puzzle, over the years the embarrassment I felt about everything that happened kept me silent. I didn’t want to tell anyone else about my experiences because I didn’t want them to think less of me. I believed, wrongly like I’m sure many of you have believed at one point, that being the victim of domestic violence said something about me and my weaknesses. I’ve learned since then that domestic violence isn’t about the abused, it’s about the abuser. It wasn’t something that happened to someone like me. It was something that happened because of someone like him.
That change in perspective is what helped heal me. Not the passage of time, but the understanding that none of what happened was an indicator of my value or my worth.
I went to the offices of A Woman’s Place on a cold December morning, angry and embarrassed by the idea of having to tell strangers my story, and admit to what had been going on.
It’s been almost 13 years since that day, and I am happy to report that I’ve never been in another abusive relationship.
I’m married to an absolutely wonderful man, who I’ve been with for nine years. We have two small daughters (and another baby on the way). We laugh, a lot. It’s actually one of my favorite things about us: we can find the humor in almost anything.
I’ve never been afraid of him. He rarely even raises his voice, unless it’s in excitement (everytime a new Star Wars trailer drops our house gets very loud).
I’m happy, I’m safe, and best of all, I feel good. Not because I’ve found some man who completes me, but because I’ve come to the understanding that all of that anger and embarrassment that I directed towards myself, didn’t actually belong to me. It belonged to someone else. And knowing that, allowed me to let “most” of it go.
What happened over the course of our relationship happened because of him, not because of me, and coming to that understanding wasn’t easy, nor was it fast — lord knows I could have benefited from therapy — but it was life changing.
Because life is so much better on the other side. I remember someone telling me when I was in the thick of things that my life would be better someday, that I would feel good again. Of course at the time I thought they were blowing smoke up my butt to get me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but over the years I’ve come to learn “better” doesn’t actually even begin to cover how good it feels on the other side. It’s actually pretty great out here.
So, if you’re still in the thick of it, I want to tell you that things do get better someday. It’s not just some lie well-meaning people say to convince you to keep going, which is obviously what I believed, it’s actually the truth. And I’m living proof of it.
Thank you for letting me speak tonight, and thank you to A Woman’s Place for all they’ve done for me and for everyone else in Bucks County.