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Dr. Susan Hammoudeh

Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project?

 

“I thought that if I wanted to be part of social change, then I needed to be an advocate and I needed to speak.”

 

Because of a sense of social responsibility. This was a difficult decision for me to make…you guys know. But I thought that if I wanted to be part of social change, then I needed to be an advocate and I needed to speak. And I wanted to help reduce the stigma attached to domestic violence…the shame, the embarrassment. So I want to be able to tell my story and show others that you can share this part of your life. It doesn’t define who you are. You can share it without embarrassment, without shame and you are not a victim forever and there’s a way to get out. There is a way. So my hope is that someone reads it, and will resonate with it, and that will bring them some comfort…or if someone reads it who’s in a domestic violence relationship, they can gain some sense of hope. That something can be done about it and reaches out for help.

 

 

 

Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did sharing have on you?

 

“I shouldn’t have to hide from it, just because society judges us.”

 

Yes, I have in therapy and I have with several close girlfriends of mine who were in similar situations themselves, so it was very cathartic to be able to share my story with other women who’ve experienced domestic violence. And it made me feel like I’m not alone; this doesn’t just happen to me.

 

It was very freeing. I felt that I was no longer tied down to my past. I felt understood because I shared it with other women who understood what I had went through. And it let me know that I can share it and let go of the shame that I used to feel during the relationship. It was crucial. Therapy was crucial, being able to be honest and open in my closest relationships was crucial, it allowed me to be me…like this is who I am, this was a part of me, this was part of my past and I shouldn’t have to hide from it, just because society judges us.

 

 

 

What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?

 

“And he deemed me his ‘savior,’ which was a horrible role for me. And the minute he found out I wasn’t perfect, all hell broke loose.”

 

When I was 23, I met this boy at a bar. Literally our eyes met across the bar that he worked at and there was an instant connection…really strong physical connection. And everything happened really fast. All of a sudden we were in love, and it was amazing and there’s nothing like this and we have this incredible connection. And it unraveled pretty quickly. So, some of the red flags that I saw that I chose to ignore were the yelling and the screaming. Not initially towards me, but like road rage, towards a neighbor, towards a roommate. Like, really aggressive yelling and screaming. And I thought “Hunh, ok he has anger problems,” but I was really empathic to his history…he had a very traumatic childhood, so I was vey sympathetic and I was like, “I understand. I understand where it’s coming from. It’s alright.” Then it started to be directed towards me. And I was in such shock because no one has ever spoken to me in such a way, I mean the most derogatory names…everything from racist names…sexist…it was horrible. Horrible. And I was beside myself and almost paralyzed, like what do I do in this situation? Then he would apologize for it. And I look back and I’m like why didn’t I just leave? Why didn’t I just go? But it’s really hard to explain why I stayed in the beginning and didn’t just head out of there after the first few big fights.

 

So, our relationship was incredibly chaotic. Every time I tried to break up with him, it was…how do I describe it…it was rough. Threats to either to harm me or to harm himself. So I stayed with him. In the beginning I loved him and I didn’t want anything to happen to him. And again, I understood his behavior. I understood all of his symptoms. So, it made me incredibly sympathetic towards him. And he deemed me his “savior,” which was a horrible role for me. And the minute he found out I wasn’t perfect, because he put me on such a high pedestal, I was his “angel”…these are the words he used. His “saving grace,” his “angel.” The minute he found out I wasn’t perfect, all hell broke loose.

 

The emotional abuse was so extreme. The berating. I mean things I would never think of…names and phrases that I would never in my entire life and that anyone would say to anyone else, he would say to me…I mean from whore to slut to sand nigger to just comments about how I look, my body, my family. I mean it was on a daily basis. I mean…what do you do with that? This is someone who claims they love you. What do you do? And you sort of just cry and try to process it. And it’s really difficult.

 

The abuse turned sexual and it was primarily when he was intoxicated. He had an alcohol problem, a drug problem. So that was always the excuse right…so “Well, I don’t remember any of it. I don’t even know if this happened.” So some nights were so horrific. And when I would tell him what happened the next day, he would feel bad and then I would feel bad because, how can anyone live with themselves knowing that they’ve done something so horrible. But, I also sounded like I was making stuff up…because it was so bad and because he wouldn’t remember any of it. Then he would accuse me of lying. So he had a really hard time accepting responsibility.

 

“’Oh my God, what if he kills me? What if he snaps my neck?’ That’s how hard he was shoving me around my room. And I was like, ‘He’s not gonna remember it. He’s gonna wake up and find me dead, and he’s not gonna have any idea what happened.’”

 

There was some physical abuse as well: rough housing, pushing me around, pulling my hair. And again, it was “I was drunk, I don’t remember any of it.” And there was one night where he came over uninvited to my apartment. He was completely intoxicated, and it was the middle of the night. And this is something he would do often…just come over uninvited. I literally would try to break up with him and he was always there. But he comes over and rips my clothes off, pins me down to my bed, spits in my face, raises his fist at me and in the meantime I’m screaming…in the hopes that my neighbor…someone has to hear. Someone has to hear because I’m screaming so loud. He raises his fist and says, “If you scream anymore, I’m gonna punch you!” And I’m like [to herself]; “I have to go to work tomorrow. I have to go to work tomorrow.” So I’m just like, trying to get out from underneath him. There were moments where I was able to and I would, literally, no clothes on…try to run outside, and he would get me. He put his hand over my mouth, he was pulling me by my hair and I was like, “Oh my God, what if he kills me? What if he snaps my neck?” That’s how hard he was shoving me around my room. And I was like, “He’s not gonna remember it. He’s gonna wake up and find me dead, and he’s not gonna have any idea what happened.” And I’m like, “My family. What is my family gonna think?”  And I was SO beside myself…it was like I was above myself and him looking down and I was like “I CANNOT believe this is happening.” He ended up passing out [simultaneous laugh and sigh]. Thank goodness. Passing out as he was raping me. And I couldn’t sleep. And I just sat on my couch as he was on the floor and…I took a shower…and I went to work.

 

The next day, I told him what happened. Parts of it he didn’t believe because it was so horrific. And, yet, hearing him, I was still feeling guilty because this was a horrible thing for anyone to have to face and live with. And I think that empathy piece is really wonderful, but it’s also kind of a curse because you feel so much and I’m sure this hurts him too because it was horrendous, but he didn’t believe a lot of it. So, again I look like this crazy woman making up stories about what my boyfriend’s doing to me.

 

“How do I process my boyfriend raping me and then blaming ME?”

 

And then there was a day where he came over uninvited, totally sober, and raped me. Afterwards he said, “Do you see what you made me do? I didn’t wanna have to do that.” And again I’m completely beside myself, I was like, “He just raped me. There are no drugs in his system. No alcohol in his system.” And so we get in the car to get cigarettes from the gas station and he’s like, “What would you call that?” And I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “What just happened…you were saying no.” And I looked him in the eye and I said, “Rape.” He got out of the car, got his cigarettes and that was it. That was the end of the night. It was unreal. It’s just out of a Lifetime movie. How do I process my boyfriend raping me and then blaming ME? He took ownership of my body and then telling me it was my fault because I never wanted to be near him. It had gotten to that point…”I don’t love you, I don’t want to be with you, you need to leave me alone.” And he told me, “If I can’t have you, nobody else can.” SO cliché. So cliché. He would threaten to hurt me, to hurt my family, to try to ruin my career if I left him. And I never told anybody. He lived with me for 6 months and nobody…this was toward the end of the relationship, nobody knew…one, ‘cause I was embarrassed and I didn’t want to bring any toxicity to anyone else’s life because he would make it miserable.

 

“My mother’s words were probably the most critical…most important part of what happened and how I was able to just say, ‘Fuck it, I’m done and there’s nothing that he can do.’”

 

So, he lived with me for 6 months because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. I kicked him out because my mom was coming to visit me and my mom…she didn’t know the details, but she knew that something wasn’t right. She knew. And there was a day where he was stalking me. And my mom and I are on the road, running an errand and there he is. Right next to me. Trying to talk to me. And I’m just ignoring him like [to herself], “my mom’s here, this is horrible, I don’t want her to know anything about what’s going on.” And we pull over into a parking lot and he comes out and just starts yelling at me and yelling at her, and telling her how all of this is my fault and it’s the family’s fault that they don’t want us to be together. He was very threatened that I was very close to my family. He eventually leaves, and my mom and I are having lunch and I’m like so shaken up, and she’s like, “Listen. There’s nothing that he can do or say to us that would ever make us leave you.” And it was at that moment, that I was like, “I can have my life back.” Because that was a big part. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I didn’t want them to know. And knowing that I had their support…and I know rationally that they would never abandon me, but hearing those words gave me the motivation to just…“Fuck it! I’m out of here, I don’t care how he’s going to retaliate, I’ll be able to fight and deal with it because I want my present and I want my future.” And that’s how I did it. It was hard. I mean it was a good year or year and a half with the emails and the phone calls and I would just ignore the texts. I mean by no means was it easy and it was incredibly draining a year after but eventually he stopped. He stopped calling, he stopped emailing me, stopped texting me, stopped trying to find me. I think the last contact he had with me was maybe 2 years ago. He found me online because I’m a psychologist and all my information is up there. And he called. He called my Google Voice number. But it’s been a while and I think I’m completely free of him [room laughs]. That’s kind of the shortened version of the story. There’s a lot more to it. But, my mother’s words were probably the most critical…most important part of what happened and how I was able to just say, “Fuck it, I’m done and there’s nothing that he can do.” I mean it was terrifying because he used to threaten me a lot. And a lot of them were empty threats, but there were also a lot of times where those threats were not empty. Not at all. And so, it was scary. And for years I’m like looking over my shoulder, like, “Is he there? Is someone gonna come banging on my door in the middle of the night?” It’s incredibly frightening. It’s so frightening. But I did it! I did it…and I’m here. And I have my freedom and I’m so happy.

 

 

 

What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result?

 

“There are moments where I’m so happy that I cry tears of joy.”

 

No more anger. I’ve let that go through therapy and yoga and meditation. No more embarrassment. No more shame. It’s very freeing. Letting go of anger is…I know it’s hard; don’t get me wrong, I was very, very angry at him for a very long time. But what good is that doing? Nothing. So I had to come to this place of Zen and really look inward and come to a place of acceptance. Like I said, this is what it was, this is what happened. This does not define me. It is part of my history. I can forgive because that’s the only way I can let go. And that’s what I did. And it’s very freeing.

 

That experience catapulted me onto the path of self-actualization. I think a lot of people tend to find themselves in college or maybe reach self-actualization early on. Or at least start the process. But for me, it was this situation, because there is something that is so beautiful about pain because it transforms you. Once I was able to process everything…accept everything and forgive him and let it go, my perception on the world changed…others, myself.  There are no words to describe what it’s like to start to become self-actualized.  It’s this very beautiful, beautiful experience, and it’s wonderful. There are moments where I’m so happy that I cry tears of joy. Everyone’s road to self-actualization is very different, usually pretty difficult and this was mine. And so for that, I am grateful. And when I say I forgive him, I didn’t…I mean, in my heart [room erupts in laughter] I didn’t make any efforts to contact him, but just to myself because I was so angry. I had to let it go.

 

 

 

What is your definition of love and how does that love feel?

 

“Unconditional love is nondestructive.”

 

I think that the purest form of love is unconditional, nonjudgmental and non-possessive. If you can accept your partner with all of their flaws, if you can love them without claiming ownership and if you can respect their background, their values, their opinions that may be different than yours and you’ve got something very, very special. And it feels very pure. And it feels freeing. And I know I use the word freedom a lot because that’s what it feels like when you don’t have an unhealthy attachment towards someone.

 

The Dalai Lama said [smiles] that the best relationship is where your love for one another exceeds your need for one another. And his need for me…exceeded his love for me. And I don’t wanna invalidate how he felt about me, however it was unhealthy. And it was a toxic kind of love. Unconditional love is nondestructive.

 

 

 

What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you?

 

"It means that I survived [smile], and that others can too."

 

 

 

Do you have any parting thoughts?

 

“You can have your present and you can have your future.”

 

There’s hope. At your darkest hour, when you have given up already because you’re TIRED…and you maybe have tried and you haven’t been able to get out, there are options, even if they’re difficult to see .You need to be able to reach out to somebody…just one person. You can have your present and you can have your future.

 

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WARNING: this website contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence that some may find graphic or triggering and not appropriate for all ages.

 

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