As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2012, we are grateful to share these guest posts to raise attention to what #DV is and how to work with it.
It manifests itself in many ways.
John hits his wife because dinner’s not ready on time. Bob tells his girlfriend she’s lucky she has him, because no one else wants her. Jane smacks her husband and tells him he’s not a real man.
I’m not an expert, but throughout my life, I’ve witnessed different domestic violence situations and dealt with the aftermath. In my experience, abusers try to isolate their victims from friends and family so loved ones aren’t around to help. Self-esteem is shattered, and a woman may feel trapped with no means of escape. An abused man may feel worthless; the ones I know overindulge in alcohol to cope.
Even victims with an outside support system may have a hard time escaping. Some believe their abuser really loves them and they hope things will get better. Others may have received threats and be too afraid to leave. Or it may be a combination of things.
The strongest woman I know beat this cycle; I’ll call her Sarah. I admire her greatly. After more than a decade trapped in an abusive relationship, Sarah broke out of the vicious cycle of threats and abuse, followed by apologies and promises of change. She found the strength to stay away, no matter what her abuser did.
Impressively, Sarah put her life back together and rebuilt her self-esteem. She has a job that gives her a sense of accomplishment and is now engaged to a wonderful man. This amazing woman is finally free from the fear of whether or not she’ll live to see the next sunrise.
Witnessing Sarah’s struggle spoke to me in a profound way. I wish everyone had this strength, this faith they could rise above domestic violence. I wish all sufferers could see their own worth and ignore their abuser’s lies.
When I first started writing, I didn’t consciously think of these things. I never set out to write a story about abuse, though domestic violence has been a common story line for my novel ideas.
Lilly, the heroine of my recently released novel, suffered abuse at the hands of a sadistic fiancé. My book is the story of Lilly’s journey to rebuild her life. During interviews, bloggers asked what message my writing shares. In truth, I didn’t know the answer to this without a lot of soul searching.
I didn’t write this story to spread a message, I wrote it for myself. It’s the story I wanted to experience—the victory of a woman overcoming a horrible past and moving on to better things, able to stand up for herself in the end.
I didn’t expect such varying reader reactions. After I completed the first draft, two friends who have suffered abuse asked to read it. They loved it, saying it was engaging and compelling. They enjoyed the stalker angle mixed in with the romance aspects.
Confident, I submitted it to an on-line critique group for strangers’ opinions. To my surprise, some people there didn’t identify with Lilly. They complained she was too insecure. Several of them didn’t understand why she couldn’t move on and live her life as though nothing happened. They had a hard time sympathizing with her belief that something was wrong with her and another man could never love her.
These readers also told me they had no experience with abuse or abuse victims. By the last third of my novel, they gained understanding. They begged me not to change Lilly, saying they now saw why she was the way she was, and stating I told her story the right way.
This led me to question whether I had created a character only victims of domestic violence would initially like. My critique partners read it because they wanted to help improve my book. I wondered though, would they have continued if they weren’t helping me? Would a regular reader make it past the first few chapters until reaching that moment of understanding? It weighed on my mind as I headed into editing.
I spent months living Lilly’s life. Some scenes left me an emotional wreck as I empathized with this insecure woman while admiring her unique strength. If you decide to write a story like this, know that it is a difficult process. I spent hours in tears as I imagined Lilly’s life, living scenes in my mind before typing them.
My editor suggested I take out Lilly’s insecurities and change her outlook to one of hope earlier in the book. I tried to do this, but it felt wrong. I didn’t find the changes realistic and many things stayed.
Since publication, I’ve received reviews stating the reader couldn’t connect with the characters or they rolled their eyes at Lilly’s insecurity. I’ve also received other reviews telling me it is a wonderful love story full of suspense, and they couldn’t put it down.
I can’t say if I made the right choices from a marketability standpoint. Then again, I don’t believe victims of abuse just “get over it,” as some people seem to want. If even one person reads my book and is inspired to find help and get away from their abuser, or if someone gains empathy and is inspired to help an abuse victim, I will take that as a victory and be happy with the decision I made to keep true to my vision and to Lilly.
If you or someone you know suffers from domestic violence, there is help available. In the US, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit www.thehotline.org.
My message (the one I didn’t know I had) is this:
“A better future is possible. Sarah broke free and improved her life. Others can too.”
Visit Chantel Rhondeau’s Website: http://www.chantelrhondeau.com
Follow @ChantelRhondeau on Twitter