My Survivor Story

I wrote this reflection for my original blog, Upside Down Cats, on September 27. 2007.  I feel a  strong urge to re-post it here on the current incarnation of my blog in the hopes that it reaches the attention of someone who needs to hear that escaping – and moving on from – domestic violence is possible.

The first time he hit me was two weeks after we started dating. We had been napping…my head was tucked up under his outstretched arm. When I rolled over, apparently my head caused a piece of the skin under his arm to be pinched…HE WENT BALLISTIC! He accused me of hurting him on purpose and went running into the bathroom to inspect his injury in the mirror. When he emerged from the bathroom, he called me a stupid, careless bitch and punched me on my right upper arm. I told him how sorry I was, how it was purely an accident and that I would be more careful in the future. Then I cried…Once he saw that I was hurt too, he apologized, saying he didn’t know what came over him, and that such a thing would never happen again.

Thus began our ten year cycle of abuse…

Why, you may ask, didn’t I cut and run that very moment? Frankly, as I write this I ask myself the same question. I do have the answer…Not an excuse, but an explanation.

The allure of this relationship blinded my better judgment. I met him in Psychology 101 my first semester at college. I was 18 and he was the “older man of my dreams” at 26. He, I told myself, was the type of man who was attracted to me. It took being away from the “boys” in high school to find someone who would appreciate my maturity and intelligence. To have this man desire me was very ego-stroking. He told me early on in our relationship that I was the woman for him…he wanted me at his side as he pursued his career. How flattering at such a young age to have this grown man rely on me! It was accepted that his career would be the focus of our life. He needed further training, so I left college after two years, we were married and moved out of state to continue his education.

For many years, I did try to fulfill the role of helpful wife…I made study cards for him in school, let him talk me into letting him submit papers I’d written to his professors, cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, paid the bills, and performed every other homemaking task, so his energies could be focused on school and work. When he quit the career for which he had prepared for so long and went back to school full time, I even supported him emotionally and financially. How was I repaid for my loyalty?…verbal and emotional abuse, drunken (among other drug-fueled) rants, physical intimidation and abuse, belittling, name-calling, not to mention public embarrassment. He would call me stupid, ugly, and conniving. I’ve been pushed down the stairs, shoved, had my hair pulled out, been punched in the face, bitten, strangled and spat upon. I have been threatened with a gun, a knife, and anything else he could get his mitts on. Instead of feeling a sense of outrage at these times (it wouldn’t have changed the course of events anyway) I would lapse into a state where I didn’t care what happened. I would just wait for whatever was going to happen to happen so it would be over…until the next time.

And still I stayed.

I wasn’t exactly on auto-pilot, but with every hateful word or gesture, a little of my identity died. His unquenchable thirst for control and domination consumed my spirit. After a while, I just accepted it as the way things were in the life I’d chosen. I felt that I had made a promise to this man to be his helpmate, and if I could just help enough, I could make him happy. Once he was happy, I rationalized, he would show his appreciation for all I’d done to help him succeed by treating me with love and respect. Somehow the victim misconstrues it as her shortcomings that cause the problems.

I felt true pity for him when he told me about his miserable childhood…being an only child, enduring frequent moves for his dad’s career, and supposedly being sent to a mental institution when he was a teenager. What kind of caring person, raised in a loving, stable home wouldn’t cry for this poor soul! What I didn’t know is the “charisma” I fell for was actually the spiel of an emotional con man. To this day, I don’t know – nor do I care at this point 16 years later – if any of that sob story was true. Regardless, it worked its magic on my tender heartstrings.

At several points he swore off all drugs and alcohol, convinced that all his problems stemmed from his abuse of those. Later, when his personality hadn’t changed an iota, even without the substance abuse, he would start back up again. His next manipulation was to convince the doctors and therapists that he suffered from everything from chronic back pain to schizophrenia, psychosis and various personality disorders. He was convincing and adept at making people believe he was whatever he wanted them to believe. When last I saw him, he was back into Alcoholics Anonymous…Personally, I believe he is not an alcoholic but an assholeaholic!

I am lucky on a couple counts…we had no children, so I never felt compelled to stay in order that the children be provided for. I’d like to think I would have left even sooner to ensure their emotional and physical safety, but I can’t honestly say what I would have done given those circumstances. I am also fortunate that I was not injured more severely, as he was 6 feet tall and 300+ pounds to my petite 5 feet and 125 pounds. I know he would have been a bully even if our sizes were more similar…he didn’t abuse me because I was small and vulnerable – he abused me because he felt small and vulnerable.

How did I finally decide to put an end to it?

I became aware that every man did not act and react to things the way he did. I became aware of a man who spent his time in similar pursuits, yet also had integrity, peace and passion in his life. I became aware of Scott. At first he was an acquaintance of my husband from college, but his company was so enjoyable he became a frequent guest at our home. I began to regard him as first, a welcome breath of fresh air, later, (as my husband became increasingly out of control) my light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, and ultimately, my lifeline. Once I saw that life could be joyful and not always dismal, it was as if my eyes were suddenly open for the first time in a decade. I actually began entertaining thoughts of a different life than the hellish nightmare in which I’d been drowning.

When my husband took a job in another state, expecting me to abandon my established daycare business and follow him again, this time I said “No.” At first I didn’t know it would be forever…I took the opportunity for some breathing room away from his influence to mull things over. After a week I felt like a new person…I felt like a whole person! With time to think clearly, my course of action became obvious..

Until the time was right for me, no advice anyone could have given to me would have made any difference in my decision to stay. The same stubbornness that compelled me to continue trying to make him happy compelled me to stay until I released myself from my sense of obligation to him. It had to be my own idea, in my own time…

It was during this emotionally turbulent time when I made the decision to file for divorce and reclaim my life that Scott’s and my friendship really bloomed. His support and belief in me made it possible to survive those many angst-filled months. That is when we realized we had fallen in love. He’s my silver lining!

It has taken many years to reach this day where I can reflect objectively about my past. I have never spoken about it to many people – even dear friends and family know very little about this. Scott is the only person who has known about it all. More recently I have thought that my story of escaping an abusive relationship may be inspirational to a victim, potential victim or loved one, but I’ve never really put words to the thoughts before this moment. I suppose I needed a reason to go to the emotional and physical effort…My impetus for writing and sharing this today is to participate in Blog Catalog’s Bloggers Unite theme, which happens to be Stop Abuse. All I can do is tell my story, with hope that it serves as guidance for someone in need of support.

Why did I allow myself to become trapped in this type of relationship the first place? I simply didn’t know any better. Domestic abuse was not widely discussed back then, especially in my family. Not to assign blame to them in any sense, but my family was too loving and caring…and sheltering. They did not know that there were manipulative people like him in the world, so they did not know how to prepare me. They taught me that unconditional love, loyalty, and patience are the qualities that make a good marriage…it turns out that is only true if both partners are sane. I can only say to those who may be suffering through a violent relationship – your situation is not as unique as you think, and there is a better life out here on the other side of it.

I want to help people avoid becoming involved in abusive relationships.The most important thing is to educate young people about healthy relationships…we can learn to protect ourselves from falling prey to predatory personalities. It isn’t possible to “fix” an abuser any more than it is to “fix” a serial killer. The things we can control are our vigilance, awareness and action. We teach children about appropriate boundaries to arm them against sexual abuse…those same lessons need to be extended into the realm of relationships. Teach that when a partner is abusive, the only thing it means is that there is no love or respect for you. In the same way children are taught about “stranger danger,” they need to be taught how to recognize and deflect manipulative people.

Surviving such turbulent times has rewarded me by teaching me some important truths about myself. I would not be the person I am today had I not weathered this storm. I don’t just think – I know – I have untapped stores of emotional strength within me. Had I never felt so weak, I would never have learned what I’ve got within me. The thing I’m most proud of is that I never really lost myself…and now I’m better and stronger for the experience.

Posted in Memories, Survivor of abuse, The personal development of Gina | 1 Comment

I Just Saw a Face

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

I, me, mine…. 

This is the one!

Recently my mother-in-law gave me a photograph she’d come across that had been taken at a wedding we both attended 20+ years ago. When I saw myself in the photo, I was astonished. Not because it was like a time capsule that transported me a couple decades back in time, but because of how I thought I looked…Great!

Now that’s saying a lot because I’ve always been highly critical of my appearance, especially in photographs. A photo freezes a person in a single moment where, as someone who has been dissatisfied by her looks since virtually day one, every perceived flaw can be pointed out and obsessed upon. There are only a handful of photos of me that I deem acceptable since I hit puberty.

I received the message early on that there was something different about the way I looked. I developed “nursing bottle mouth” (from drinking from a bottle too long) which decayed my front baby teeth, making me self-conscious about smiling. A close friend of one of my sisters told me my nose was big when I was six. My hair was problematic – never conforming to popular styles. My older sisters provided conflicting intel about my appearance: I should keep myself tidy, but that it was vain to “primp.” Then came the braces! And Mom’s non-affirming advice for school picture day to “smile with my eyes.” As a uniform-wearing Catholic school-attending girl, my at-home wardrobe was severely lacking. I never felt at home in my own skin, or with what I had to work with.

At the age of 13, I started public school. No more uniforms! My teeth were looking good! I could wear makeup! Yet the damage to my psyche was done. To my mind, there was always something wrong, unconventional, different… about my appearance. Pretty girls got attention and praise for being so and, since I didn’t, I concluded, I must be inherently flawed or less worthy. I felt inferior and invisible by default. No one ever told me that the way I looked was fine, not abhorrent, within the realm of normal… I really needed to hear that – but it never came. In its absence, I filled in the blanks with self-critical assessment and judgement.

My first husband was quite forthcoming when it came to pointing out the flaws he perceived in my appearance – and of course I took his opinion to heart as well. And why wouldn’t I? They just reflected and reinforced my own terrible self image.

It’s not surprising then, that every photo I saw throughout my life reminded me of what I didn’t like about my appearance. I winced every time I saw a photo of myself as it provided physical proof of my ugliness. As an adult, I suppose I try to make myself as attractive as possible and hope for the best, thinking, I may not be pretty, but it’s not for lack of trying. Maybe I get some credit for that… Yet when I see a photo of myself, I’m horrified as to how there could be such a discrepancy between what I see in the mirror and what the camera lens invariably captures.

Until this one. This one was different. At last, a photo that showed what I thought I looked like, and it was – shockingly – ok.

Scott and Gina

There I was, looking, if not gorgeous, EXACTLY as I’d hoped I did that day. Polished, put-together, maybe a little glamorous (not to mention happy and relaxed). Interestingly, I have another photo with Scott from this same event, taken by someone else with a different camera. I didn’t (and still don’t) see a particularly attractive – or accurate – image of me in that one. But this other shot…this one does match what I’d seen in the mirror while dolling myself up for this wedding. This one doesn’t reinforce my belief that, at best, I’m a troll, no matter how much I conceal, highlight, style or gloss. 

Why is this photo different from so many other photos I’ve hated of myself? I have no idea. But here it is, evidence that flies in the face of a fact I’ve believed to be true my whole life: That I’m an non-photogenic freak. A photo that shows me a new truth. It’s as if I’ve seen my own face for the first time. Or maybe with new eyes. It’s a powerful revelation knowing that this is possible.

How many other “facts” about myself am I seeing through old eyes, or a distorted lens? Maybe I’ve taken those things for granted about myself, with an outdated perspective. What else could I accept – even love – about myself by revisiting existing notions? Or by looking at them from another angle or viewpoint? 

All it takes is the shift to happen, for whatever reason, to convince me that I don’t have to be stuck in a place where self-hatred defines and dominates me. Through these new eyes, I see the real me. And I’m free of that burden I’ve dragged along with me my whole life.

“By God, when you see your beauty you will be the idol of yourself.” ~Rumi

Posted in The personal development of Gina, Women on the Verge | 2 Comments

Looking At My Future From Today

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

The last hour of this year that finds me contemplating my future self… 


In 2020, Gina will be a woman who:

  • practices a proactive daily routine
  • frequently steps outside her comfort zone with grace and confidence 
  • makes daily strides (however small) toward goals that matter to her
  • moves her body to encourage flexibility and strength
  • doesn’t hesitate to ask for help
  • believes that kindness is the most attractive accessory
  • makes sure her ego takes a back seat to her instinct
  • says “no” to things that don’t serve the best interests of her life
  • turns toward that which calls to her spirit
  • recognizes when she’s worrying and turns her mind to more productive pursuits
  • reads something mentally nourishing daily
  • can withstand feeling that she’s “falling apart,” secure in the knowledge that it’s part of growth
  • courageously tackles something intimidating
  • is grateful for everything, good and bad, for the gifts that can be gleaned
  • learns a new skill
  • honestly believes that she’s awesome
  • believes her past beliefs and identity do not define her present or future
  • unconditionally loves and appreciates her body and mind – for what they were, are and will be
  • speaks her mind because her opinion matters
  • writes from her heart and soul regularly
  • firmly believes (despite all evidence to the contrary) the fairy tale with all her heart: 
    • love will triumph over hate
    • people are inherently good
    • the betterment of the many outweigh the enrichment of the few
    • that humans working together toward a common goal is the strongest force that exists
    • compassion is the cure for the world’s ills

When I look in my 2020 mirror, THIS is who I’ll see. I will step into this Gina because she is already here, waiting for me to embody her.

Posted in The personal development of Gina, Women on the Verge | 1 Comment

That’s My Bag, Baby

Something I’ve learned about myself through the years is that I’m a one purse at a time girl. Many years ago, I was the sort who had a purse for every color palette I might wear, every season, every type of occasion, every amount of ‘cargo’ I might be carrying but as I’ve matured, I’ve decided, “Screw that!” What a unnecessary thing to transfer my stuff from one bag to another before going anywhere. All I need is one good bag. Not a fancy, pricy, status-screaming bag – but a nice bag will last long enough for me to develop a relationship with it. Just one bag to rule them all…It was damn nearly a revelation, to be honest.

Firmly entrenched in this mindset, I began shopping online for ‘my’ ideal bag. Thank goodness for search filters that helped me cut down the myriad of choices by style, size, price range, material… It was not an easy search and I must admit to a couple misfires along the way but last April, I finally came across an amazing purse that checked all my ‘must have’ boxes:

  • crossbody style (because when I am out with my bag, I wear it)
  • size appropriate to carry what I carry (or are likely to want/need to carry
  • light colored interior (so I can more easily find what I’m looking for)
  • completely closes with a zipper or such (for security’s sake)
  • some separate compartments but let’s not get crazy with ’em
  • style and color appeal to me (I’ve pleasantly surprised myself with my choices in the past)

The bag of my dreams was from a manufacturer I’d not heard of – Old Trend – but I immediately identified with their tag line, “Modern Vintage.” The bag was being sold on, sharply discounted from retail price. Before allowing myself to go head over heals for it, I, of course did diligent research and discovered that not only was the company and their products well regarded but their mission aligned with my values – just read their About page to see what I mean. It was a match made in heaven – all that at a price I could justify paying. So I ordered it.

Upon its arrival, I was thrilled! Well packaged and it included a storage bag (which I will never use because it will always be in use) but a very professional touch nonetheless. I packed it full of my stuff and I was a happy, stylish lady about town.

Then, four months later, IT HAPPENED. We were furniture shopping and the strap hook worked its way out of the body of the bag resulting in the loss of the crossbody strap! I was devastated. But I wasn’t going to give up on this bag or the company I’d come to admire; not yet. I don’t go down without a fight!

So I set out to put their reputation for quality and customer service chops to the test. In a respectfully-worded email, I politely asked if, even though I’d purchased my bag from and not directly from Old Trend, they might stand behind their product (especially since it was only lightly used for four months). To my delight, I received an equally respectful response requesting that I send the bag in to their headquarters so it could be inspected and evaluated by their quality assurance team. They would get back to me regarding their determination – free repair or replacement. So I shipped the bag off to California. After a few weeks, I heard that they had determined that they would replace my bag; but that this particular bag in my chosen Chestnut color would not be available until the last week of November. They offered me the option of receiving the same bag in a different color or a similar bag which actually retailed for considerably more. I looked into the latter option but determined that I was still in love with my original bag and would be willing to wait for it to once again be available. When I didn’t hear from them by the beginning of December, I emailed them again. They informed me there had been a delay with the shipment of the bags but that they’d be sending mine out the week of December 15. They provided me with a UPS tracking number and, lo and behold, I received my replacement bag on Christmas Eve!

She’s come home!

Although it took a relatively long time, Old Trend really did come through for me. They stood behind their product, took my request for recompense seriously and acted with integrity throughout the process. Was I disappointed with the issue with the original bag? Certainly. But I’m willing to give them another chance because of the way they treated me as a disappointed customer who still wanted to believe what they stated in their mission statement. I see several subtle changes in the new bag – some leather reinforcement in the area where the hardware had wiggled loose. So maybe I helped them to improve this bag with my feedback. In any event, I’m gratified to have my all time favorite back to use and enjoy.

Unboxed at last!

So I guess the moral of the story is, if you REALLY love something, believe in its character and quality, and reach out with respect, good things can happen. Sometimes, you just have to take a chance, even in this cynical world fraught with shoddy merchandise empty promises. You could reap great benefits and have an uplifting, quality experience.  At least its worth the effort to try. Thank you, Old Trend, for being a responsible company and for renewing my faith that reaching out matters.


So yes, this IS my bag, baby!







Posted in For this I'm Grateful, The personal development of Gina | Leave a comment

The Magical Mystery of Musical Memory

Listening to Sirius Radio is a special treat for us nowadays. Once Scott and I became work-at-homers, it was an expense we couldn’t justify so we cancelled our subscription. On Monday, Scott and I took a 40-mile-each-way road trip with his mom. The long ride to and from afforded us some serious time with her Sirius radio and Scott, riding shotgun, was in his glory, in charge of music selection. Deep Cuts, carefully curated classic rock and, of course, the Beatles station, were in rotation.

On the way home, we heard a version of this song on the Beatles station. Obviously it was performed by the Beatles but, although the arrangement was similar, I recognized it as a song sung by another voice whose identity I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. I also didn’t know the name of the song. Just a vague but certain memory that I’d heard that song before. When I mentioned it to Scott, he said he wasn’t aware of it on any original Beatles release – maybe from the BBC sessions? he mused.

Once back in front of my laptop, I embarked on Internet expedition to find what recording of the song I remembered, based upon just a few words I could string together and “Beatles recording.” (What would my “satiable curiosity” do without Google?) I found the Beatles’ version right away (sure enough, they’d recorded it in a BBC session) and then, the answer to the mystery: The Honeymoon Song, on Mary Hopkin’s album Postcard, produced by Paul McCartney. Alas, I had solved the mystery of why I know a version of a song associated with the Beatles – but not recorded by the Beatles – that Scott (the ultimate Beatles fan/encyclopedic Beatles expert) didn’t. 

Here’s the backstory: In ~1974, my brother gave me his copy of Postcard. I listened to that album night and day! After each listen, I’d place the LP back in its sleeve and carefully stash it in my bottom dresser drawer for safe keeping. Then came the black, black day when, as I shut the drawer, the album became jammed and, as I pushed it closed, was crushed. And so was I. I cried for hours and had a lump of sadness in the pit of my stomach for days. Mourning. It was as if I’d lost a friend. My Mary. My first music.

Many of the songs on that album have stuck with me and come bubbling up to the surface of my awareness from time to time: The Puppy Song, Inchworm, Happiness Runs, No Business Like Show Business, Young Love, Someone to Watch Over Me, Those Were the Days. Upon listening today to the rest of the songs, they’ve washed over me like an auditory time capsule. I remembered bits and pieces of some and the rest simply transported me back to the soundtrack of an 11 or 12 year old Gina. Imprinted on my brain, etched in my soul, a part of my being that I’d nearly – but not actually – forgotten. I feel reconnected to that youthful version of myself through the magical mystery of music. It’s wonderful to be able to access a little bit of that time when I was coming into my self through these songs.

The miracle of a girl falling in love with an album produced by Paul McCartney growing up to fall in love with a guy who fell in love with the Beatles is not lost on me, either. In fact, it gives me shivers.

Posted in Memories | 1 Comment