I have chosen today to rise above the shame of my own experience with domestic violence and speak out, as a survivor. I have given talks, raised money and I have been asked a thousand times, Michelle, why domestic violence? I never answered with anything but, because there is a need. I am not going to give you stories of trips to the emergency room or explain the nights of fear of my own husband’s key unlocking the door. At this moment it serves no purpose to re-visit those old memories. At times, I look back on my life and that part feels like a lifetime ago and I think did that really happen to me? Was it just a horrible dream?

As is the case for many survivors it took multiple attempts for me to break free. When I left for the last time, I wouldn’t have made it without my friends and family to encourage support and me. It was so very scary. What am I going to do? How will I support myself? The answer to those questions, I had to decide for myself but for the first time in over seven years, I knew I had the freedom to decide. I would buy myself a car; get a job, issue the restraining order and subsequently divorce him.

Those of you who ask why does she stay? I want to pose this scenario, imagine, you have rushed to cook dinner, clean the house, prepare the kids for the evening and bam, he goes off, throwing food, cursing, calling names. Did you expect it? Did you deserve it? NO! You replay the incident over and over again trying to analyze where you went wrong. Weren’t you doing everything you were supposed to do for your family? Maybe he was having a bad day, perhaps you could have done a better job cooking dinner, maybe you could have kept the kids quiet, after all, this is not how someone who loves you is supposed to act; you must have done something wrong. Tomorrow will be different, you say to yourself.

The scenario you hope goes more like this, you have great news to share or you have had a trying day. You need or want comfort from your significant other. You arrive home and share your day’s events with them and embrace in hug. It feels so good and comforting being in the arms of the one who loves you; the way love is supposed to feel.

Five years ago, I attended a luncheon Lenten service at church near my office and the guest pastor that day spoke on a verse from the bible regarding Hannah and her inability to conceive and the shame that was bestowed upon her. He stated that “Hannah rose” above the shame and that we all have something we need to overcome and with hope in our heart it is possible. The pastor passionately repeated at the end of his sermon two simple words, “Hannah rose.” Now, I know you must be thinking, what does this have to do with domestic violence?

For me those two words in the pastor’s message was a call to action. I had been sitting on my couch watching TV for years thinking you know I really would like to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter but what do I have to offer. The answer was right before me and I never realized until that Lenten service, HOPE.

What I want to impress upon you is that if you are family, clergy, doctor, first responder, or friend of a woman who is suffering through unimaginable isolation and fear of domestic violence, offer a kind word of support, do not give up on her. Give her hope that she can make it out and not just survive but also flourish. Encourage her that one step can begin the journey that right now seems so daunting. Reassure her that she can find herself, she can find love, and she can find peace.

I have turned my personal struggle to overcome shame into action. I met with lawmakers to lobby for new laws, volunteered at a shelter, answered hotline calls, raised money, and watched children which enabled mothers to attend support groups.

I have since dedicated myself to make our community safer for the women and children affected by domestic violence.