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In Recovery – The Journey After Living In an Abusive Relationship

Recover from abuse

Once you escape an abusive relationship and are finally free from domestic violence and / or sexual assault, you might have expected an immediate sense of relief. A deep relaxation and “breath of fresh air” because they have left a difficult and ugly past experience traded for a new, clean blank slate.

In reality, what many victims who leave an abusive relationship feel completely differently. Rather than peace and relief, they may feel anxiety and even guilt. Or, they may feel like they can feel nothing at all. While this is completely normal, it may be extremely surprising and difficult to deal with if you are an outside observer, or a friend or family member, or the former victim themself.

However, these types of emotions are completely normal. The reason for these seemingly puzzling reactions. Like grief, there are different stages of recovery from emotional and physical trauma, and not everyone reacts the same to similar situations.

Recovery from trauma is unique for everyone. While recovering, you might feel that because you aren’t instantly happy and relaxed, that you are “failing at recovery” and that this is due to a flaw you have. You may struggle with the fact that you can’t relate to how other people cope with recovery.

Stages of Recovery from Trauma

As early as the late 1800’s, psychologists started mapping out a framework of how people recover from trauma. In the 1990’s, this framework evolved into a three-stage model for understanding trauma recovery.

Stage One: Safety and Stabilization. After experiencing trauma, survivors feel unsafe in their own bodies and in relationships with others. Regulating their normal emotions is unexpectedly difficult. The survivor cannot usually associate this difficulty dealing with normal everyday emotion with their past traumatic experience. If this is the case, it may result in a prolonged period of time before the survivor can release their residual fear and regain a normal sense of physical and emotional safety.

Stage Two: Remembrance and Mourning. In this stage, survivors may begin to process the trauma. They can begin mentally and verbally build some meaning to what they feel emotionally. This stage is most often easier when a trained therapist or trauma recover therapist assists in it. This will help the survivor build structure and objectivity to their process.  Additionally, survivors typically need to mourn all the losses they suffered during their trauma during this stage. A therapist or counselor provides support and guidance while survivors learn to allow themselves personal space, to express any emotions they need to express and to grieve.

Stage Three: Reconnection and Integration. This is the rebuilding stage. In Stage Three, survivors learn to recognize the impact and depth of the victimization they lived through. At the same time, they learn to accept that the past trauma no longer a defines them. They start to look at themselves from the perspective of meaningful relationships. They establish a new sense of self and work on building their own new future. That new future can take a multitude of different paths, but is no longer rooted in victimization and self-doubt.

Pitfalls to Avoid While Working Through Recovery

Many domestic violence survivors start recovery with overwhelming amounts of self-blame and confusion, They may be “emotionally beaten down” and unclear about who is “at fault” for the trauma they experienced in the abusive relationship. This may manifest itself in a feeling of frustration, depression and a sense of resignation. This stalls progress towards recovery.

Moreover, survivors have often been conditioned by their abusers to be passive in thought and action. Showing any resistance or anger could have literally put the survivor’s life at risk. Therefore, they are ill-equipped to develop anger over the injustice of their past trauma and reassigning blame to the appropriate party – the abuser. Key elements that survivors need to achieve recovery are to be able to reclaim their own voice, learn to let go of fear, and not be afraid of showing and feeling their own emotions.

Recovery Takes Time and Work

The hard truth is that recovery from trauma takes time. It doesn’t matter if the abuse lasted only a few months, or continued over decades, recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Truthfully, total recovery from the damage of abuse and trauma may never be attained. However, the severity of the trauma’s can be reduced substantially with help from trained professionals and belief in oneself. The good news is that ultimately, everyone truly does have what they need inside themselves to recover. It often just takes some help to get there.

The BIG “E”

As mentioned before, survivors must be able to reclaim their own voice, let go of fear, and show / feel their own emotions in order to progress toward recovery. These are all aspects of EMPOWERMENT. That is why VEST focuses on supporting current and former victims to achieve Empowerment. We believe that our concentration on helping people discover the power they have inside of them, positions them better to create the building blocks that are the foundation to recovery.

To read more about one woman’s recovery journey, CLICK HERE to see a recap of Nancy’s journey, originally published on psychcentral.com.

House Renews Violence Against Women Act – VAWA… What Next?

Reauthorize VAWA

Last month, the House of Representatives approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that protects and provides resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The measure passed 244-172 with bipartisan support. This important law provides funding for critical programs meant to assist and protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault was originally passed in 1994. In 2018 the law lapsed because Congress failed to reauthorize it due to partisan disputes over gun control and transgender issues.

Although the core legislation has broad support, certain provisions added to the bill at that time has proven to become an obstacle to its passage and reauthorization. In fact, in 2019 the House passed the VAWA measure but it then stalled and never brought up in the Senate.

The question remains whether this recent House victory, and a Democratic-led Senate means the Violence Against Women Act would finally pass and be re-enacted.

A number of Republican senators, including Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have gone on record stating that they are working to find a bipartisan compromise that can pass the Senate. However, there are still obstacles to achieving the level of support needed for successful reauthorization. This is due to some provisions that the current House-passed bill contains. The most contentious issue is the provision to expand the criminal threshold for barring an individual from buying a gun. This new provision includes misdemeanor domestic abuse or stalking convictions as valid justification to prevent the ability to purchase a gun. It also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” so the existing gun purchase/ownership prohibitions would extend not only to family members but will also include dating partners.

Chief opposition to this provision is the National Rifle Association and several GOP lawmakers. The NRA argues that while protecting women from violence is important, the addition of these gun ownership bans make the VAWA bill essentially a vehicle to subvert the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The House-passed bill also strengthens existing protections for transgender women to access women’s shelters and serve in prisons that match their gender identity. VAWA advocates state that the gun and transgender provisions in the current bill are necessary to protect victims, and that these provisions are central to ensuring that people stay alive.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is leading the effort to develop the Senate GOP’s counterproposal to the House bill. Ernst said, “What we’re hoping to show is that we have enough Republican support on our bill, and that we’re willing to work with Democrats on this, and hopefully, by combining forces we can come up with the 60 votes needed, and pass a good, modernized bill that will work for the Senate.” However, Ernst also indicated that the gun provisions would still be a problem in the Senate.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has stated that the VAWA would be brought to a vote in the Senate as soon as possible. Unfortunately, obstacles to passage still remain due to the issues that Republican Senators have with the gun and transgender provisions. One belief is that in effect, the lapse of the VAWA has little practical effect because Congress had continued to fund the related programs even without authorization. Therefore, failure to act now will not materially affect efforts to protect women against domestic abuse and sexual violence. But failure to reauthorize the VAWA leaves the funding of those programs unprotected should budget constraints require cuts. Additionally, the enhanced protections dealing with misdemeanor domestic abuse and stalking, closing the “boyfriend loophole, and more protections for transgender victims would not come to pass.

What comes next? We are eager to see what Senators Murkowski and Ernst can develop with regard to an acceptable counterproposal to the existing bill. What we can do in the meantime, is communicate the need to pass the VAWA as soon as possible to our Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla.

Domestic Abuse During Our Pandemic

Domestic Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March and April of last year, it became necessary to impose strict stay-at-home orders help contain the spread of the coronavirus. A team of sociologist led by Alex R. Piquero of the University of Miami, conducted a study featuring a systematic review of multiple studies on domestic violence incidents. They compared the number of incidents before lockdown versus the number of incidents after lockdown restrictions were put in place.

What They Found

  • Based on their review of twelve studies in the United States, most of which were comprised of data from multiple cities, they documented that domestic violence incidents increased 8.1% after pandemic-related lockdown orders were imposed.
  • These studies covered data from crime reports, emergency hotline registries, hospital and health records, and other administrative documentation. This differed from earlier studies that relied exclusively on police calls for service.
  • Specific factors responsible for driving the increase are unclear, but it is believed that the lockdowns and pandemic-related economic impacts likely intensified factors that are typically associated with potential domestic violence causes. This includes influences such as:
  • Increased unemployment, especially for male head-of-household families
  • The stress to provide childcare and homeschooling with limited options for assistance
  • New or increased financial insecurity
  • Negative coping strategies that were engaged in or worsened due to both financial and emotional stress of quarantine. This includes alcohol and substance abuse
  • Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic left parents and children isolated in their homes thereby cutting families off from friends, neighbors, co-workers, support services and others who might have reported signs of abuse and violence. and who could have potentially helped mitigate or intervene when domestic abuse incidents occurred.

Download the entire report HERE.


A separate report from the National Commission Criminal Justice (CCJ) showed that there was a 9.7% increase in domestic violence calls for service during March and April, that started even before state-level stay-at-home mandates began. Extrapolating that study nationally, the researchers estimated that there were approximately 1,330 more domestic violence calls for service per day across the U.S. during the time period. In Solano County, the incidents of domestic violence increased over 200% during the pandemic.

Help is Here

These factors were the driving force behind the establishment of VEST, the Victims Empowerment Support Team. We understand the immediate and longer term impacts on domestic abuse and sexual assault that spawned from the pandemic. We want you to know there is someone to turn to for pandemic related or other domestic violence concerns. We want you to know that Help is Here.

To contact VEST, CLICK HERE or call 707-247-5521 for help, or to volunteer time or other types of support.

To make a tangible step to help in the fight against domestic violence, CLICK HERE to donate.

Seeing the Signs : Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Part 2

In a previous blog post, we discussed the signs that indicate you may be part of an abusive relationship. But even when you, yourself are not being abused, recognizing the signs of abuse is extremely important.

One of the fundamental beliefs at VEST is that Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault are social issues that impact more than just the individuals who are need support and protection. The impact of these types of violence is felt by the entire community and has impacts that affect the entire generation.

Therefore, all of us as members of the community, have an obligation to help eliminate as much of this problem as possible. This is for the common good. And as part of that effort, learning to spot the signs that someone may be in an abusive relationship is a vital skill to develop.

Signs That Someone May Be in an Abusive Relationship

Your “Abuse Radar” should go off if a person you know:

  • Appears to be overly worried about pleasing their partner / family member.
  • Are constantly checking in with their partner / family member.
  • Exhibit noticeable personality changes, such as seeing chronic low self-esteem in someone who was previously usually confident.
  • Has a partner / family member who constantly belittles them in public and / or on social media.
  • Never seems to have any money available, even for small things such as going out for coffee.
  • Suddenly loses access to important things like their cars, keys to their home, medicine, etc.
  • Begins skipping-out on work, school, or stop taking their children to childcare – often for no clear or rational reason.
  • Increasingly opts out of group and other social activities.
  • Seems to wear clothes that don’t fit the season, like long sleeves in summer which can cover bruises and other injuries.
  • Are constantly make excuses for injuries, especially if their injuries occur more frequently than you would normally expect.

Of course, you may also be witness to overt instances of abusive behavior, where a person is injured, ridiculed, harassed, abandoned or yelled at by their partner / family member. And abuse is not a one-way street. Women are capable of abusing their male partners as well. Even if they are not as strong as their victims, they can employ tactics such as using weapons, conducting “surprise” attacks or attacking while you are asleep, or threatening or injuring children or your pets.

What You Can Do

The most important thing you can do for a friend you think may be suffering in an abusive relationship is to “be there” for them. Be open to listening to them. Be patient and stay calm. Even if they are exhibiting many of the “self-damaging” behaviors abuse victims use, it is important not to chastise, blame or push them too aggressively to seek help. Don’t participate in any of their misleading or delusional thinking they use to hide the abuse. Simply speak the truth. Explain what you perceive in as factually and non-emotionally manner as possible. And, suggest ways that they may get some help.

If you live in Sonoma County or the surrounding area, encourage them to visit our website www.vestsolano.org or to contact us by emailing us at info@vestsolano.org or by calling 707-247-5521.

If you live outside the area, you can direct the potential victim to a local domestic violence agency or have them call the National Domestic Violence 24-Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or for TTY for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-787-3224.

However, if you feel the abuse victim or anyone close to them is in direct physical danger, please call 911 to get professional assistance as soon as possible. Also, encourage the victim to distance themselves from the abuser immediately.

Lastly, any support you can give to your local domestic abuse and sexual assault support agency will be hugely appreciated and deeply impactful. We encourage you to donate any amount you can to local support agencies and become part of the solution to domestic abuse and violence.

To donate to VEST – Victims Empowerment Support Team, CLICK HERE.

Seeing the Signs: Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Part 1

Are You Being Abused by Your Partner, Friend or Family Member [Abuser]?

When you hear the terms “Domestic Violence” and “Sexual Assault” you might think you know exactly what that is. But did you know that these types of malicious behaviors can also be very subtle and hard to recognize. Moreover, through frequent occurrence or how due to biased societal practices or beliefs, you may have become desensitized and become trained to think some types of domestic violence and sexual assault are actual acceptable, rational behaviors.

This is due to the fact that the abuser either consciously or unconsciously understands that these types of abuse is actually mostly about controlling someone’s mind and emotions. Of course, in order to accomplish this they may hurt your body to attain this control, but many times it doesn’t. Abuse often leaves you frightened and confused. It makes it difficult to see your abuser’s actions for what they are. That they are really just ways to control you. In addition, physical abuse isn’t what comes first. And the levels of abusive behavior can start with minor actions that slowly build up into more and more controlling and damaging actions. Often this includes cutting you off from other people to the point where you feel trapped in the relationship.

Have You Seen These Signs?

Controlling Behavior

  • Do you avoid discussing certain topics, saying what you think, or to saying “No” to having sex even when you don’t want to?
  • Does your Abuser threaten you or make decisions for you?
  • Does your Abuser often put you down and criticize you frequently?
  • Have you been accused you of having an affair?
  • Does your Abuser tell you how to look and what kind of clothes you should war?
  • Do you get blamed for being the person responsible for “making your Abuser” act in a controlling or hurtful manner (gaslighting)?
  • Are you afraid of your Abuser?

Indirect Physical Abuse

  • Have you ever been abandoned in a place you don’t know?
  • Have you been kept from eating, sleeping, or getting medical care when you need to?
  • Has your Abuser ever locked you in or out of your house?

Isolating Behaviors

  • Does your Abuser embarrass you in front of others, especially up to the point that it makes you want to avoid people?
  • Does your Abuser keep closely monitor where you go and whom you go with?
  • Do you have to ask permission to go see your friends and family?

Symptoms of Financial Abuse

  • Does your Abuser keep all the cash and any credit cards?
  • Have you been put on an allowance and/or have every item you have spent money on?
  • Is this allowance often too small to cover everything you need for even the minimum daily expenses?
  • Are you prevented from spending any money unless your Abuser approves of it in advance?
  • Have you been prevented from getting job or earning your own money?
  • On the other hand, does your Abuser take all or most of the money you earn away from you?
  • Has your Abuser ever stolen money from you or anyone close to you?

Sexual Abuse

  • Does your Abuser make you participate in any type of sexual activity or dress in any way during sex that makes you feel uncomfortable or is painful?
  • Have you been told that you owe your Abuser sex?
  • Does your Abuser refuse to use a condom or any other birth control when you want to?
  • Has your Abuser ever threatened or tried to give you an STD?
  • Have you ever been forced to have sex?

As the Abuse Intensifies 

  • Does your Abuser yell at you?
  • Does your Abuser throw things, break things or punch the wall when they are with you, whether they are directly angry at you or even something else?
  • Has your Abuser threatened to hurt you or someone close to you because of something you did?
  • Has your Abuser ever threatened to kill themselves, you or someone close to you?

Many of these signs of abuse may seem minor at first. Or, your abuser may have given you reasons or excuses why these abusive actions are normal and appropriate. But if you do see many of these signs, and you feel that you are being controlled or abused, you most likely are.

Watch This Video

Understanding the “Signs” of abuse is explained further in this talk by Francesca Anastasi, established entrepreneur and philanthropist. She is a domestic abuse survivor and has dedicated her life to helping reduce domestic abuse. This talk was originally delivered for a presentation on www.getinspiredtalks.com.

What To Do

If you or those close to you are being physically hurt. GET HELP IMMEDIATELY! Separate yourself / yourselves from your abuser and contact 911 if it is an emergency situation. Even if you aren’t being hurt physically, you should get help as soon as possible. Contact a local domestic abuse center and start a conversation with an advisor or counselor. In Solano County and surrounding areas, you can reach out to VEST, Victims Empowerment Support Team by clicking here or email us at info@vestsolano.org. And wherever you are in the United States, you can always call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 [1-800-799-SAFE] or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/Hard of Hearing). This is available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Remember. Help is Here.