UNBREAK YOUR HEART
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“Each painful break in your life journey is like a colored piece of glass being broken. Each fragment has its place in the creation of a beautiful masterpiece. ~Shannon Knight
What if healing old wounds was the missing link that was preventing us from complete healing.
I began writing Unbreak Your Heart long before I published Grateful Heart: Memoirs of a Cancer Survivor.
Having a grateful heart was a crucial part of my emotional healing, and a step that everyone can (and should) take, but I wanted to expand on the practices and habits I have used to heal that I couldn’t cover in my first book. In my journey to healing my body from cancer, I realized that taking the responsible approach to healing meant healing my mind, body, emotions, and spirit; I couldn’t just target my physical symptoms.
While I believe that gratitude is an important step to changing your life, there are other pieces to the puzzle that must be acknowledged. Revisiting my past traumas, including cancer and domestic violence, through a more compassionate lens helped me heal tremendously. It has taken time and great effort to free myself from pain and trauma in my past. Slowly I developed a new perspective of all that I endured. I learned that even though we have been hurt that our life has a great purpose. I learned about self-compassion, I developed empathy and I became liberated from self-blame, shame, and guilt. I want to share the lessons that helped me with you and help you heal and rise up from emotional pain.
Unbreak Your Heart is for all of the moments of fear, self-doubt, self-criticism, resentment, shame, confusion, heartache, and sadness.
I Am a Survivor of Domestic Violence
Many of you know about my cancer journey, but you don’t know my whole story…
For the first time, I want to open the gates, break down the walls, and be completely transparent with you about a part of my life that I was always afraid to go public about. I hope that by telling one of the deepest, darkest parts of my journey coping with domestic violence while trying to survive stage 4 breast cancer that it will help someone else. I hope they gain the courage to recognize their worth, bravely stand up for themselves, and begin to heal so they can begin a new chapter of life and love that they deserve to live.
Please note that the story I am about to tell is heavy and may be triggering to some who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms. Throughout my life I have faced dangerous situations and survived as a victim of stalking, sexual assault, and domestic violence; although painful, these pieces of my history are integral as they helped shape the person I am today. My primary focus of trauma will be based on only one relationship, my marriage and how I coped with domestic violence while simultaneously fighting for my life as I battled stage 4 breast cancer and survived both. It would be the last time I ever had to endure domestic violence or the diagnosis of cancer. It is a story of how I healed slowly and intentionally by changing my behaviors and perspective and most of all how I learned how important self-compassion was as well as my faith in God when it was the darkest of times.
Discretion is advised for reading certain chapters of this book; I do not want to trigger anyone, but I hope that my complete transparency will help someone else in a similar situation to identify with me and get out of the danger. Just as I had to advocate for my own health when battling cancer, I have had to advocate for myself as a victim of domestic violence at a time when there were many, many doubters.
I experienced domestic violence at every level of the relationship: when he was my boyfriend, my fiancé, and later, my husband; this is why you will see all three terms used interchangeably. It may be confusing to some, but I refuse to use his name in my book, so although the term may change, I am referring to the same man throughout.
I want to shine a light on some of the domestic violence I went through during the course of my relationship, and how it continued to escalate throughout our marriage. I was fighting stage four cancer at the time, and I was extremely fragile, physically and emotionally. I had never heard stories of domestic violence while someone was fighting for their lives; it was unconscionable to me. That’s one of the reasons why I kept it secret when it was happening.
My husband looked like a hero, a loving and attentive husband who supported his wife while she was fighting cancer. In sickness and in health, right? My husband was an extrovert who had a lot of friends and came off as extremely likable. We had grown up together, so we ran in similar social circles and had quite a few mutual friends. Even the friends he kept separate knew me, and that I was battling cancer.
At the lowest point, I found myself in a marriage with no money of my own, having to raise funds through Angels for Shannon to get to Mexico for the alternative cancer treatment that I wanted instead of chemotherapy. One trait of domestic violence abusers is controlling their victim’s finances; they make it so you are dependent on them and isolated from as many sources of freedom and support as possible. They won’t just give you $200 to spend as you please, because that could get you a hotel and a taxi cab. My husband controlled all of the finances.
All the funds raised for my cancer treatment were kept in his bank account and he did not allow me to have access to it. Thousands of dollars over the course of two months went directly into his account, which was another way of controlling me and keeping me from leaving him.
The violence towards me and stage four cancer was equally dire and urgent. I prayed for help but felt trapped. My husband deliberately intertwined the fight for my life with his need for control; he was very calculating and I lived with the threat of harm every day. My will to survive cancer was strong but my anxiety and fear were escalating with each physically violent and emotionally abusive act towards me.
He abused me throughout our relationship and his actions grew to be more belittling as time went on. No matter how bad it got, I could not leave him. I tried a few times but it was futile.
One time, I escaped our home and made it as far as Frasier Park… which felt like a universe away but not far enough at the time. If you’ve ever been in a fight-or-flight situation or seen a horror movie where the victim is trying to escape, you can relate. Hiding behind the bushes would either get you spotted by the bad guy right away, or you are so tucked under his nose that he can’t see you but your brain is swirling with thoughts of all the things you need, like car keys and your cell phone. I have a soft spot for my dog Louie and I just couldn’t leave my little Italian Greyhound dog behind.
On this particular night though, it was unusually cold… it was in the ’30s, which is rare for Southern California. His explosive rage frightened me enough to make a run to my car and leave him finally! I scanned the living room for the car keys and found them, normally he hid them from me. At each point, I felt a success. After I obtained the keys all I could think of next was I had to make it to the car before he realized what I was doing. I ran quickly and quietly and it felt like I held my breath the entire way to the car.
I got in safely and I locked all the doors and said: “Thank you, God!” Another success! I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot as quickly as possible. It’s odd what you think about as you are driving away in crisis mode. I realized I didn’t know a single neighbor to reach out to for help.
As I drove on headed North I thought about my dog Louie and felt bad for having to leave him behind. The violence towards me always affected Louie and I knew he was confused probably looking for me.
In a flash, I made up my mind to leave California and head back to Tacoma, Washington where my best friend Heather lived. She and her family always made me feel at home and I felt safe with Heather. As the miles of asphalt separated me further and further from the nightmare of my husband I became more relieved. I thought about the year 2000 when I first arrived in Washington with my 12-year old daughter. I had been a victim of stalking and sexual assault which forced me to move out of state for safety. I will be writing about this part of my life in my next book.
In 2006, I received my first diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer and I beat it. By 2009 it was safe to come home to California and return to my familiar life.
As I kept driving I thought, “How did I get from there to this?” I felt ashamed because I was once again facing a violent relationship and having to reach out for help. I felt like I failed in getting my life right. As I drove on I obtained more clarity and I quickly realized I did not have enough money to even pay for the fuel that I need to get me to Washington.
The feeling of shame mixed with the reality of how unprepared I was to start a new life on my own pushed me into feeling hopeless about my successful escape. What was I thinking! Research shows that it takes a victim on average 7 attempts to leave a domestic violent partner before they leave for good. I was not prepared and did not have a safety plan in place. Even though my husband had hurt me so bad I had to call him and let him know I had no money and no way to leave him. I didn’t know what to do. I could see no other way to keep on running, I had to pull the car over and think.
It was cold and I felt defeated as I made the call. He answered and listened to me apologize about leaving and I told him how scared I was. He said he had overreacted and that he was sorry and kept repeating, “You need to come home.” I told him I was afraid to return home because he would be even madder now because I left him and I didn’t want him to hurt me again.
“I’m not mad. I love you. Please come home,” He said in a soothing tone of voice. I said just give me a minute, I need to think and hung up my cell phone.
I sat in the car shivering and took some time to think about everything. Why hadn’t I thought to grab a coat? Why hadn’t I stashed money away in a backpack and why did I not think to grab my dog? It was late, almost midnight and the cold and helpless feeling of not having money to move forward made me realize there really was no way out of this situation so I called my husband back and told him I would come home?
I turned around with just enough gas in the car and drove home. When I arrived at about two and a half hours later, I was exhausted and petrified to walk in the front door. I didn’t know what to expect When I eventually entered the house it felt like I was walking eggshells. He embraced me with love and concern and everything was fine that night. He went above and beyond, doing as much as he could to make me feel loved again. This is an example of the cycle of violence.
This is just one incident out of many; I will be detailing particular events of my relationship with this man and other unfortunate incidents throughout the book because as I talk about emotional healing, it’s important to note that I believe a lot of the trauma I experienced in this relationship contributed to the recurrence of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.