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Brie Ortega

 

Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project? 

 

“I’m participating because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of emotional abuse and how that can impact us intergenerationally.”

 

I’m participating because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of emotional abuse and how that can impact us intergenerationally. And it’s something I’ve really come to discover in my own healing process. I think it’s important for women to see women who look like them talk about their experiences. And as a black and Mexican woman, I want to offer myself to have other people see themselves in me if that helps them in their healing. I feel safe with you all, I feel trusted. I feel like this is gonna be an important step in my healing process.

 

 

 

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

 

“The bomb drop experience that helped me shatter the trauma bond that I had with the person, was when another woman reached out to me who was being simultaneously abused and just having this strange and beautiful supportive conversation…”

 

Yes. Pretty soon after I decided to cut ties with that person, I was talking about my experience a lot with friends and family and just processing it all. And I think it was not only something I wanted to do for myself, but something I felt helps normalize talking about these things. I want my friends to know that this is what I’m going through and let’s talk about this. Let’s normalize these discussions. And overall, it was a very positive experience in talking about it. Mostly, it was other women who took care of me and I got to observe who will support you and who won’t. And that was a really powerful learning experience and taught me a lot about how to support other survivors.

 

Sharing was part of the healing process, probably from the beginning. The bomb drop experience that helped me shatter the trauma bond that I had with the person, was when another woman reached out to me who was being simultaneously abused and just having this strange and beautiful supportive conversation with this woman I had never met that lasted a few hours. And I think that was [deep breath]…it was heavy emotionally to hear what she had been going through for a much longer period of time, but it was also extremely validating. And we were able to validate each other and kind of support each other like, “Hey, you can get through this and I’m sending you love.” And that’s unprecedented [big smile]. You don’t hear about these things happening. The experience in sharing with friends was very supportive, mostly from women. With men, I had to kind of break down like this is why this is abuse and this is why this is part of a patriarchal pattern of oppression. So it was like me getting to play the role of teacher, which is something I embrace. I know that requires emotional labor and there’s a lot of feeling like you shouldn’t have to do that, but a part of me feels like I’m willing to take on that role. And then I got to see people who stepped away and that was really interesting just to see how those people’s identities influenced their decision and what their relationship was with the abuser and the choices that people make. Part of that was painful, but I mean I just turned it into a learning experience. And being able to look at this…I tend to intellectualize [laughs], so I definitely treated this whole thing like a case study and learned a lot from it.

 

 

 

What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?

 

“I realize what happens is that you’re so much trying to chase that initial high of that person being so perfect and in alignment with you that you start to think that maybe I’m doing something wrong to warrant these devaluations and you start to like ignore them or think of how you can do better.”

 

My last quarter of grad school, I reluctantly took a domestic violence class and I thought, “I’m not gonna work at a shelter, but this is the only class that fits into my schedule [laughs].” But thank God I did because that class helped me recognize a lot of what was happening to me, but I still wasn’t able to break out of the situation. So fast forward…I end up meeting a guy who has a similar ethnic background to me and has positioned himself as, or built this image of, a race scholar in progressive circles, social justice circles. So I’m like, “Wow, this is a person who I think might really understand what I’ve been through or some of what I’ve been through and be able to relate to.” So at first, like getting to know him, there was a lot of what I now know is termed “love bombing,” where the person is kind of just flooding you with attention and admiration and mirroring your qualities. So that happened for a good few months and then slowly, there’d be these little devaluations and I’d experience one and I’d be like, “Hmm…why would he say that?” And it popped up to me like, “That’s a red flag.” In my inner social worker voice like, “Red flag!” I realize what happens is that you’re so much trying to chase that initial high of that person being so perfect and in alignment with you that you start to think that maybe I’m doing something wrong to warrant these devaluations and you start to like ignore them or think of how you can do better. So that was happening and there were times where I would step away, but I would come back to the situation and whenever I would try to express what I was feeling or give him some sort of feedback, it would be like, “You’re the only person who’s ever said that to me. Like, what do you mean? I don’t see it that way.” Or, if I even showed screenshots of “This is what you were saying to me.” He was like, “Um, this is why I need to have phone calls.” Like a blatant gaslight, which now I know that term. And that went on for a few months and we had planned to go out of the country together. I was gonna join him somewhere and early in our relationship, he was like, “You gotta be here, it’s two weeks, it’s gonna be great. I’ll translate for you.” I don’t speak Spanish and that’s a sore spot for me because I feel like I should speak Spanish as being of Mexican descent. So this trip was being planned and I had been getting these red flags for a few months. And I’m like, you know, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go somewhere with someone who’s familiar with the place, so I’m gonna go.

 

“I learned in a really dysfunctional way that, that is normal…to feel devalued, to feel like you’re on eggshells is normal. So that continues and I’m starting to realize like, ok ‘That is abusive.’ He hasn’t put his hands on me, but this is abuse.”

 

So I went and even before we leave, I had been bringing up what was happening more and he would say, “You know I’m just so busy and I think being away, being out of the country would be good.” So I’m hopeful, but I’m hesitant at the same time. We get there at night. The first night there, I could tell that his behavior has intensified. And I’m like [deep breath], buckle my seatbelt, like what am I about to experience. We had planned to get up the next morning to run and he was very like abrasive about it and very pushy. And I had just gotten in the country the night before; he had been there a while. And I don’t know the language, I don’t know where we’re staying, I don’t know the streets, I don’t know anything. So we’re setting off on this run in the wee hours of the morning. It’s maybe like 5 am, and it’s dark. And this is my first time seeing the country and he wants to run ahead. And I’m like, “Ok, well, where can I meet you?” And he’s like, “It’s just the end, you’ll know when the end of the path is there.” And I’m like, “Well can you tell me what it looks like?” And he’s like, “You’ll just know it. It’s the end. I’ll meet you there.” So he runs ahead and as I’m trying to work my way to what I feel is this destination point, the sun is coming up and I’m seeing this incredible dilapidation around me and it’s just so symbolic that I’m like by myself in this place. And I get to what seems to be the end; I don’t see him. And I hang around and I kind of walk back and forth a little bit, I don’t see him. There’s no phone, I don’t speak the language, there’s no way for me to navigate. And so I’m like okay well, I’m just gonna walk back and maybe I’ll run into him. And I don’t and it’s like 2 hours. So I’m in this place 2 hours. I’m seeing this incredible dilapidation around me, but I’m also seeing these couples like affectionately walking together holding hands and I’m like, “That should be me. What is happening here? What am I doing?” So eventually, one of the friends who was on the trip with us encountered me and he’s able to navigate us back to our starting point, where the guy I was with, he sees us and he has this incredible look of anger and he’s like, “Where were you? It was simple. How’d you get lost?” And he’s like, “The police are looking for you.” And I’m just like, “What?” And we go inside where we’re staying and like immediately, he starts joking about the experience. And the fact that I was lost and that was like…that was the beginning of that trip was really a wake up call to me. After that, there was just more intensive emotional abuse and him like…I would ask him something or talk to him and he would just ignore me. There were more put downs, shaming me for not speaking Spanish. Making it like it’s walking on eggshells to try to talk to him. And in retrospect, I realize that was something that was normal to me because as a child, I had an emotionally abusive caregiver and I told my dad and he was like, “You, know just ignore her.” And he didn’t pull me out of the situation because it was cheap babysitting basically. So, I learned in a really dysfunctional way that, that is normal…to feel devalued, to feel like you’re on eggshells is normal. So that continues and I’m starting to realize like, ok “That is abusive.” He hasn’t put his hands on me, but this is abuse.

 

And then one night there came a point where he was frustrated and he like used his body to just like bump into me to move me out the way, and immediately I’m doing these mental gymnastics, like “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. He…oh he just, you know he just wanted to move me out the way.” And like, making excuses, but at the same time, I realized this is how it escalates. Like, this is happening. So at that point, I’m just trying to make it through the trip and things get bad to the point where one of the friends who was on the trip says something to him, like “What’s going on?” And he’s [deep breath], he’s saying things like, “Well I’m used to women throwing themselves at me.” And that isn’t something I was doing, so I guess that was frustrating him and that, “Our energies aren’t compatible.” So he’s blaming it on me.

 

“I’m like, ‘Wow this person who has positioned himself as this social justice advocate is really not any of those things when it comes to women.’ And I wanted so badly to believe he was that image. I think that was a big part of why I was ignoring the red flags.”

 

Eventually, that trip ends, but as soon as I get home, I see a message through social media from a woman who is asking me if I’m seeing him, because they’ve been together for a number of years. And that was just a bomb drop to me and it immediately gave me clarity to why some of his behavior had intensified on the trip because she was able to see what we were doing to some extent and asking him questions about it, and he was trying to throw her off the trail and was gaslighting her. So, like my heart is pounding and I see that she wants to talk. So I’m like, “Ok, ok. Let’s do this.” And I talk to her and I hear so much pain and just how this has impacted her health and that was the point at which I was like, “Whatever you were doing to try to minimize his behavior, stop. This is extremely abusive. You need to cut it. You need to cut ties.” So while I’m talking to her, I’m messaging him about what I had found out, and he’s like, “Well, you don’t know what I’ve been through.” And I’m like, “Why do you treat women like this?” And he’s like, “Why what?” And I’m like, “Wow this person who has positioned himself as this social justice advocate is really not any of those things when it comes to women.” And I wanted so badly to believe he was that image. I think that was a big part of why I was ignoring the red flags. So he’s like, “You don’t know what I’ve been through. You’re not in my shoes.” And then at one point, he’s like, “I’m sorry and I’m not gonna say it again.” And that was the last time I had communicated with him.

 

And then after that I ended up meeting other women who went through various levels of mistreatment or abuse with him through social media. And it was such a powerful experience in being able to heal as a community in a way. And it just showed me so much about the power that we have and the power we have to break the scripts that we’re used to following. I found about some of the women just from previously hearing either him mentioning them or knowing that there was some level of affiliation, but then the women who reached out to me on social media were able to confirm more of those identities. And they actually found me based on what I posting about emotional abuse. So, I think often times, we’re connected in ways…and you know social media, the “suggestions” are people you don’t know what you are experiencing together. So, the little suggestions that pop up, I think that was part of how we got connected. And then I think women just being able to see what I was talking about resonating with their experience so much. There were definitely patterns. Like, the focus of the relationship had to be on him and if there was attempts to focus anything on the women, that was met with disapproval, varying levels of disapproval or coldness or devaluation. There’s an Afro-Latina theme with the women. Not everyone, but that was a theme. And that I think, also relates to the type of work this guy puts out that draws people to him as a leader. Especially now that there’s definitely visibility for this population, it leaves a lot of the women vulnerable to people who are raising awareness and can…it’s easy to treat some of these folks as male saviors. Another theme was that these are sweet women. These are really good people. These are good people who wanna give the benefit of the doubt who project their own empathy onto this person. I recognize and identify codependent traits within myself and I could see threads of that through the women. I don’t wanna label them as codependent, but I take on that label and that’s something that this experience really pushed me to confront and I see how that ties into my childhood and really having to sacrifice my needs to maintain an attachment relationship with an abusive caregiver. So, I definitely had that pattern. I definitely had a pattern of dating narcissistic men. And this really helped to shatter that and break out of that pattern and really interrogate, like “Why is this happening? Why am I getting into these patterns?” It was surreal, it was beautiful, it was strange, it was healing, it was validating. Speaking to some of the comical elements, just finding those things that we all heard, like, we were all told that we were soul mates [laughs]. It’s like a template that you just apply.

 

 

 

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

 

“What no longer lingers is this sense that I’m responsible for abuse. That feeling of walking on eggshells is normal. That, that sense of being devalued is normal. I think I’ve completely washed myself of that.”

 

What no longer lingers is this sense that I’m responsible for abuse. That feeling of walking on eggshells is normal. That, that sense of being devalued is normal. I think I’ve completely washed myself of that. It’s a process when most of your relationships can be described in that way; you really have to do some deep work to unravel that and to look at ways that you…look at how you’re treating other people. So that has left. A lot of the anger has left, but maybe it’s just shifted to a different type of anger. It’s less of that acute, intense, immediate anger and more of like anger for the pattern that this is a part of and being able to use that as motivation to raise awareness. As a result, I’ve done more digging into my family history and seen or uncovered, or still uncovering, women who have been abused and have been erased in some way or another. And that I think has really helped me heal—feeling like they’re with me and recognizing how intergenerational abuse gets perpetuated. For example, my grandmother on my father’s side was with a really abusive man, but my father defended him to me. So that messaging. That is messaging to a young girl that abuse is okay. So uncovering those intergenerational patterns and uncovering more of my tendency to be codependent and like why that is and how it manifests so that I’m able to recognize it as I’m doing it now and I can intervene. I can express myself, like, “You know, I have this pattern of doing this that I’m trying to interrupt. So, right now I’m feeling triggered.” And being able to express that to people.

 

 

 

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

 

“Love is anti-oppressive.”

 

Love is anti-oppressive. It is personal, it’s political. Love is healing. And in a political, social, economic context that devalues black life, intimate relationships of love are a political site of resistance and healing. So I’m starting to take an increasingly political take on what love is. In trying to understand my experience, I’ve been reading like bell hooks, Kimberly Crenshaw and Kimberly Crenshaw has done some great writing on taking an intersectional approach to domestic violence and how it impacts women differently. It impacts the way we experience abuse differently and the way others react to us. And I think with our political climate now, I’m seeing more than before, how important it is that we have healthy relationships as we’re gonna be fighting these political fights. Love is really political and enabling us to have strong movements to heal from what we’re doing every day out in the world. Love for me has intensified as I’ve gone through this experience. I see it more than just we happen to think fondly of each other. It’s really this intentional process that’s action based, not just saying, “I love you.”

 

 

 

 

What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you? 

 

“It’s and act of love and it’s a political act, because the people who have been erased tend to have identities that are devalued. So, bringing those people back is an act of resistance…and love.”

 

It means giving voice to the voiceless and those who have been erased. It’s a political act. It’s and act of love and it’s a political act, because the people who have been erased tend to have identities that are devalued. So, bringing those people back is an act of resistance. Bringing those experiences back is an act of resistance and love. It takes a lot of love to do this and to be brave in doing this. It makes things real that are often denied. In this current landscape of alternative facts [laughs], we need to now more than ever speak up. We need to tell our truths. It means speaking truth to power.

 

 

 

Do you have any parting thoughts? 

 

“I really think we need to take an intersectional approach to domestic violence and partner abuse and realize how our intersectionalities really impact the way women experience abuse, are reacted to by the community if they’re able to come out or if they’re trying to come out.”

 

I really want to normalize talking about abuse. I feel very strongly that we need ways of holding each other accountable, that holds abusers accountable without discarding them, but also creates a culture that supports survivors first and foremost. And I don’t know what that looks like, but I’ve been reading and trying to figure it out and I just know it needs to happen. I really think we need to take an intersectional approach to domestic violence and partner abuse and realize how our intersectionalities really impact the way women experience abuse, are reacted to by the community if they’re able to come out or if they’re trying to come out. It impacts whether they’re able to seek safety and healing. So, that’s a really big part of what I’ve learned from this. I know women of color…we often feel pressured to stay silent because we don’t want to portray our communities in a negative light, but we are not making progress if we are abusing the women in our communities, so this has to be talked about. It’s easier to talk about love and it’s sexier, it’s commodifiable, but we also have to talk about what undermines that love, what undermines the strength of our community if we’re gonna be strong. If we’re gonna make real progress. So, I’m happy to be a part of normalizing the conversation. We have to shift the conversation from, “Talking about abuse undermines the community” to, “The abuse undermines the community.” And framing this as like, “Let’s make our community stronger.” Like, we wanna tackle diabetes…let’s tackle abuse.

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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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