Lauren Wellbank

experiences may vary

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It’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – My Speech for AWP

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.

I’m not at all nervous, as you can tell

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. 

Bristol Riverside Theater

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. 

My other soulmate

Shit on technology and social media all you want, but I swear it saved my life.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. It didn’t quite save my life, but it did save my relationship with my best friend. And really, that’s kinda the same thing. It all started in 2006, when my childhood BFF found me on MySpace.

We had lost touch when my mother and I moved from Florida to Pennsylvania in the mid 90’s. Those were simpler times, back before email and text messaging.

The two of us exchanged handwritten letters and care packages. We caught up over the phone when both of our single mother’s had room in their budgets for long distance calls, which was not often.

I left Florida, and Bethany, the summer before high school started. The transition from middle school to high school is hard enough, even when you’re not hundreds of miles away from the best best friend you have ever known. But we were teenagers, and things were happening. Our lives were changing and we needed to change along with them. And adapt. Before long the letters slowed down, the calls dried up, and I made one final visit back to Florida. It was the last time I saw Bethany.

At least, I thought it would be the last time. But life changed again, the world changed again, and we changed right along with it. Social media became a thing. And again, shit on it all you want but that day I received a notification that I had a connection request on Myspace, my life changed… again. We picked right back up where we left off.

We didn’t see each other for another few years. It was in 2010 when she flew in the night before I was to marry my now ex-husband. We stayed up so late that night, giggling under the covers in my old room at my parent’s house. My mom eventually had to come into the room and tell us it was time for bed.

It was like we had traveled through time. We were suddenly back in the duplex my mom and I shared in Florida when I was growing up. Everything seemed right with the world now that I had my oldest friend back by my side. That next day she sat with the rest of my family and friends, and cried tears of joy right along with my mom.

We had successfully rekindled our friendship after almost a decade of lost contact. And thanks to technology, it was nearly effortless to maintain now.

We could text, exchange emails, and like photos of eachother on Facebook. I loved her Halloween costumes, she made fun of my cats. And we could let each other know immediately, even when years had passed since the last time we were face-to-face.

When I got divorced she was there for me whenever I needed to talk, even all those miles away.

When I started dating again she stalked my boyfriend on Facebook (RIP MySpace).

We took trips and shared girl’s weekends together. We talked about our hopes and dreams of becoming professional writers.

In 2014 she was there for my baby shower. And in 2015 she was by my side during my wedding.

These days we talk more than ever. Thanks to SnapChat and Facebook messenger we are in near constant contact. We exchange pictures of our frustrated faces at the end of a long day.

She sends me videos of her goats and chickens from her mountain in Tennessee. I send videos of my daughter taking her first steps or the squeaky yet hilarious messages from my toddler up here in Pennsylvania.

It’s like we’re still in the same town. Back when we were two awkward and ridiculous teenagers, being raised by our mothers who seemed to have some sort of joint custody arrangement with one another. Each of us spending a week at one house, than a week at the other. She was my best friend, my sister, and my soulmate. I don’t know how I made it all those years in between without her, but thanks to technology, I’ll never have to do it again.

<3

Happy birthday to my baby who isn’t a baby anymore

The birthday girl

Happy first birthday, little one.

I can hardly believe it’s already been a year. This time has somehow managed to both fly by, and drag on forever. The first year is always hard. You arrive a frail helpless baby who needs me for absolutely everything, and you grow into this waddling, laughing force of nature with a voice and strength that surprises me.

That laugh, the way that it wrinkles your whole face. Your cheeks are still plump and full and I hope that never changes. I also hope you never tire of me kissing them because I don’t think that I ever will. Continue reading

When love takes you down the path that you never wanted to travel

We were standing in line at the Starbucks inside of our local Target.  I had just returned with two cup holders to attach to our shopping cart (for real, whoever came up with that idea, brilliant).

I attached them to our cart while loudly debating which drink I was going to order.  I read the calorie and caffeine count of each of them to my husband, something I only care about during pregnancy, and finally made a decision.  The man with the patience of a saint listened to all of it without comment before finally speaking up. Continue reading

If you think sexism is dead, you clearly haven’t been car shopping lately

Just before Christmas, my husband’s car made its final drive home from work.  We had known for a while that a new car was in our future, but we had hoped that it could wait until after the New Year (or more accurately, until after our tax return).  As usual, the universe had different plans for us.  Which is how I ended up braving the sleet and snow to go to the car dealership early one Saturday morning with my husband and toddler in tow. Continue reading

Ten surefire gifts for any mom on your list this Christmas

Well, it’s Christmas week*.  I don’t know how that happened (time has lost all meaning since I became a parent), but it did.

wp-1479752905380.jpgIf you’re anything like me you are still adding last minute gifts to your Amazon shopping cart and praying frantically to the UPS gods that they make it here on time.  And if you’re not anything like me, and all your gifts are purchased, wrapped, and waiting patiently for Christmas Eve so that they can be placed underneath your Christmas tree, well… feel free to keep that information to yourself. Continue reading

Motherhood isn’t a job, but here’s my resume anyway

I have an unpopular opinion that I’m going to share here with you guys today.  And I sincerely hope that the village people of the internet don’t gather with their pitch forks, torches, and try and storm my Barbie Castle in the night.

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“Trash Can Jenga”

Guys, motherhood isn’t a job.  It’s just not.  I can’t tell you how many posts/memes/articles I have read that begin with, “Being a mother is the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

It’s not a job, and I’ll tell you exactly why it isn’t a job. Continue reading

On my daughter’s second birthday, a season of lasts

If I had known that it was going to be the last time, I would have taken our picture.  One of you falling asleep the way that you had every day of your entire life.  Your eyes were usually half closed with a happy smile playing around your lips, all of your focus on nursing.

Your hands were almost always clasped together, as if in some silent prayer.  Sometimes you would pull off to laugh, say something to me, or start singing me a song.  Sometimes you would just flop back, contented, and drift off to sleep.  No matter how it ended, it always started the same, just the two of us in our quiet routine.

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Lindsay and I nursing our babies right before my wedding in 2015, photo by Maria Kalitina

Yes, you were almost two, and I was almost five months pregnant, and I was so ready for this part of our relationship to be over, but you were not.  It had become both a physical and emotional strain on me in the last month of this pregnancy.  I would sit there with you, watching you drift off to sleep, and quietly hope that soon this part of our journey would be done.

And then one day, it just endedContinue reading

Ten surefire gifts for any mom on your list this Christmas

Well, Thanksgiving week has finally arrived.  I don’t know how that happened, it was summer about a week ago, but suddenly the leaves are all falling from the trees and I am staring down the barrel of making dinner for 20 on Thursday.

Between mouthfuls of what will hopefully be the most delicious bird anyone in my family has ever eaten, we will inevitably discuss Christmas and what is at the top of everyone’s wish list this year.

wp-1479752905380.jpgUsually, I wait until the last minute to figure out what I really want and hastily throw a list together that includes scented candles and socks (although, between you and me, scented candles are my jam).

This year, I am planning ahead, and starting my list early.  Today, even.  And as I make it, I realize this list may be handy, not just for me, but for any of the moms that may be on your list.

Allow me to present to you a surefire list of Christmas gifts for any mom on your list.

  1. A full night of sleep. One that is done in a large bed, with plenty of pillows, and covers to be distributed however we wish. Oh, and we’d like to be completely and utterly alone. I’d settle for six hours, but the real gift would be 20.
  1. Clothes. Personally, I am on day four of the same pair of pants. I have three that fit me right now, but apparently the other two are currently in the vast wasteland that I like to call the laundry pile. Maybe the mom in your life needs new work clothes, or maybe it’s yoga pants, but I’m sure that she needs an additional something.  And most importantly, something that fits.  For me, this year it will be nursing tops.  I can survive with the same three pairs of pants, but not the same two sweaters when the newborn comes.  Dear Santa, please bring me a shirt that lets me get to my boobs as quickly as humanly possible, with at least two back-ups.
  1. Laundry service for a month. We are only a family of three right now but I do about six loads a week.  Sure, the machines do most of the hard labor in this situation, but for every six hours of work they do, it means twelve hours of folding, hanging, and putting stuff neatly away in drawers for mom.
  1. A family photographer. The White House has a staff photographer that follows the Obamas around 24/7, so I would imagine that Michelle Obama is never missing from any Christmas morning pictures of the family opening presents.  Now, I know that I’m not America’s First Lady, but I am the first lady of this family.  And like most mothers, I’d like some shots of all of us together over the holidays.  A camera with a self-timer, a selfie stick, whatever it takes to be a part of those Christmas morning pictures, Santa!
  1. Snacks that are both delicious and healthy. No, I’m not talking about chocolate that makes you skinny (and if we’re doing big gifts this year can we please do away with the word “skinny”). I am talking about healthy snacks that are already made. As moms we are often running around making sure that everyone else has what they want and need. We often end up famished and grab the closest and easiest thing to eat.  This thing is rarely a bowl of freshly sliced fruit or cleaned and peeled veggies.  An unending bowl of guacamole that is always freshly made and never turns brown?  That would be the stocking stuffer to beat this year.
  1. Someone to do the dirty work. I am not talking about the temper tantrums or scrubbing toilets (but please see number seven) I mean poop and snot bubbles. Personally, I would like a week off from thrashing diaper changes that leave me, inexplicably, with poop under my fingernails. But maybe the dirty work for the mom in your life is spit up or changing a teenage boy’s sheets.  I’m sure we all have that one dirty job that we need a break from.
  1. A cleaning service for approximately one month. This one is pretty self-explanatory.  I’d like my month to be from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, or as I like to call, it “5 weeks of 5,000 messes”, but maybe that’s just me.
  1. A gift certificate for a Mom for Hire (and if that’s not a thing, it needs to be). This can be reserved for any time you are sick or hurt or are in some way unable to mom. It will be good for a surrogate mother for your children, and also one to take care of you, because sometimes a mom needs someone to mother them, too.
  1. A massage. There, this one wasn’t so hard, and it would easily fit into Santa’s sack. Mine can be given to me by my husband, but only if he suddenly possesses the hands of someone that cracks walnuts for a living. A gentle loving touch isn’t going to help these muscles.  I need someone to get mad at the knots in my shoulders.
  1. A way to freeze time. Or more accurately, a way to hold onto these moments. I know sometimes we mothers complain (and some of us way more than others *raises hand guiltily*), but we know how short our time with our kids really is.  Worse of all, the number of holidays that we get to spend with our kids under our roof is even further  I wish I could bottle this time, these feelings, these moments, and hold onto them forever.  Yes, even the high-on-freshly-baked-sugar-cookies-running-from-room-to-room-screaming-at-the-top-of-her-lungs, moments.  I want to hold onto it all, because some day they will be gone.

Happy Holidays!

When the Honeymoon Ends

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary.  It was a wonderful day in which he treated me to breakfast in bed.  We sipped champagne and ate our leftover wedding cake before taking off for a leisurely day where we walked, just the two of us, in and out of shops and took in an amazing lunch at a quiet farm to table restaurant in this boutique filled town near where we live.  Before we fell into bed together later that night he surprised me with a delicate gold necklace with a beautifully engraved locket that expressed his undying love for me in a way that I would have never thought possible.  And then, a giant golden unicorn flew out my butt, and its ornate wings flapped and blew away the fabric of my super intense fantasy life. 

The reality is that I woke up tired with a sick toddler.  A sick toddler that had me awake most of the night before, while my husband slept down stairs on the couch in what I can only assume was an effort to escape my heinous pregnancy induced gas.  We relaxed by making a two hour round trip to North Jersey to pick up our recreated wedding cake that I forgot to order until about 24 hours prior (pregnancy brain, pregnancy brain all the things).  Then we came home and ate lunch quickly before he had to run back out to the grocery store to pick up more tissues and supplies for to make our daughter fresh chicken noodle soup tomorrow.

Even now, as I type this in bed next to our daughter, my husband is back downstairs napping.  The card that I bought him to celebrate is sitting, unsigned and unsealed, on the island in the kitchen where he found it this morning just in time to remind him that he never even thought to get me a card.

This is not what I imagined our life would look like this time last year.  Actually, this exact time last year I was relaxing with my eyes closed as the finishing touches were being completed on my hair and make-up.  I don’t think I was envisioning our one year anniversary, but you can bet if I was it didn’t include me being covered in dried strings of snot, watching yet another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and trying to negotiate holding a sick toddler without squishing the baby still a’ brewing inside of me.

And honestly, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I know the cliché is that the first year of marriage is the hardest, but that wasn’t my experience here.  Perhaps it was because we had already been together for so long (six years last September) or maybe it was that we lived together for several years prior so not much actually changed when I changed my name.  More than likely it was just the fact that we had already experienced our hardest year, that first year as parents.  And although that was unbelievably hard, I think it actually made us stronger as a couple.

It also made me realize a lot about our relationship.  I never understood why people called their significant others their better half before, but I think I get it now.  I have discovered that there are some things that my husband is just better at than I am.  Sometimes, he has the better half of our qualities.  Where I am tightly wound, he is easy going.  Where I am quick to anger and hold tight to grudges, my husband has an even temperament and is forgiving.  When I see red, he sees reason.  Sometimes I expect the worse of people and he gives them the chance to be who they are.  He learns his lessons where I keep making the same mistakes over and over… the list could go on and on.

He is my better half, and I am so glad that we found each other all those years ago and have taken this strange path that life has set us upon.  No, none of it has been what I expected (or honestly, even something that I would have thought sounded remotely enjoyable all those years ago).  But now, here I sit, covered in dry boogers, exhausted to the core of my being, and still wonderfully and magically in love.

It’s a different love than I have ever experienced before.  Long gone are the days when we would get drunk and make out on the couch with our hormones all aflutter.  But I can say when I came home last weekend and found my husband and daughter napping together, side by side, laying in identical positions, there was some fluttering.

Watching him be a good dad and a wonderful husband doesn’t keep me in love with him (he keeps me in love with him all by himself), it just reinforces those reasons I fell in love with him in the first place.

So today, while the honeymoon is officially over, I still find myself deeply and unendingly in love with my husband.  And I am pretty confident he feels the same way about me, gas and all.

Happy First Wedding Anniversary.

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Photo by Maria Kalitina

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