Emotional abuse is still abuse. Long story short, the straightforward story—I ended up with JJ10K because I had been volunteering with SafeHomes for about a year. I started volunteering with SafeHomes because I had just moved to the area and looked for a way to utilize my skills until I had my first daughter. SafeHomes recommended me to JJ10K when they were looking for a Marketing Director, and now here I am. Little did I know, however, was the impact that JJ10K would ultimately have on me.
Emotional abuse is still abuse. Long story short, the straightforward story—I ended up with JJ10K because I had been volunteering with SafeHomes for about a year. I started volunteering with SafeHomes because I had just moved to the area and wanted to utilize my skills until I had my first daughter. SafeHomes recommended me to JJ10K when they were looking for a Marketing Director, and now here I am. Little did I know, however, was the impact that JJ10K would ultimately have on me.
When I first met with Goldei at the Grovetown Starbucks, one of the first questions she asked me was if I was a domestic violence survivor. I replied with, “No.” Of course, I wasn’t. Hitting in a relationship never occured; therefore, I denied it. It wasn’t until I heard Goldei’s story for the first time at the SafeHomes Survivor’s Walk in 2018 that I realized my answer wasn’t no. Let me start from the beginning, share my story with you, and share it for the first time ever.
Some of the best memories happen in college. In hindsight, while there were some memorable moments, I wouldn’t exactly call it the best. I moved away from home at the age of 17 from Hawaii to California. My dad had encouraged me to choose Vanguard University because my Aunt lived in the same area. He wanted me to be around family. I had a rocky relationship with this Aunt since I was a teenager, but as my family put it, “that was just her. She’s family, and she is who she is.”
On my first morning in California, I was homesick. I missed my family. I didn’t want to get out of bed. She couldn’t understand why and took it offensively because she believed that it just meant I didn’t want to be with her. Her mood escalated to anger and yelling at me until I was yelling back and crying. This was only the first of many fights to come. But, like most of the times that followed after, she’d apologize, and life would move on. My Aunt started to spoil me the longer I lived with her. A Disneyland annual pass, clothes, food…anything I wanted, she’d buy, but the fights would continue on and off. I told myself that, “it wasn’t a big deal” because that “was just how she was.” She promised she would change.
Power and Control Escalated
Due to finances, I ended up moving in with my Aunt from the dorms. I moved in with her, and the fights escalated. Most conflicts led to me being backed into a corner, where my only response was to fight or flight. Sometimes I had to fight to get her out of my face (she was about 70-80 lbs larger than me). There was constant conflict and tension.
Slowly, I became more isolated. I was told that my parents didn’t care about me; if I moved back home, they would control my life. I ended up cutting off contact with them altogether. I couldn’t go out with my friends alone. She would get angry if she wasn’t invited to go with us, so she’d come. A 38-year-old woman, hanging out with her 20-year-old niece and her friends (sometimes at college parties and events).
I had gotten my first credit card with her. As she said, “to build my credit, and I could always pay it back.” However, as time went on, she would encourage me to use it. I racked up $10,000 in credit card debt. I was encouraged to spend on Disney runs, merchandise, and travel with what money I did receive from work and a schooling stipend. By the time I graduated, I had a high minimum credit card payment to make and low income. Because I believed my parents didn’t care about me, I couldn’t ask them for help. I was financially reliant on her.
The Last Straw
In those five years I lost myself. I had no family but her and her immediate family and no friends of my own because I had cut them off. My decisions in life were not my own because if it didn’t align with what she wanted, it would turn into an argument. It was a life of luxury with beautiful things. Still, behind-closed-doors, I was going into catatonic states, depression, and hair-pulling due to how far our fights would escalate. I had become angry, short-tempered, and continuously on edge…waiting for the next battle. I was, at that point, a shell of a person.
One night a fight had gone too far. I had reached my breaking point. I was done, and I was going to go home. She got angry, left, and took my phone with her so that I couldn’t contact anyone. I found my iPad and Facetimed my parents. Absolutely hysterical, at 12AM, I told them, “I don’t care if I change my mind, you need to force me to come home now. I can’t stay here.” I can still see the fear and concerned look on my parent’s faces. Instantaneously with no questions asked, they booked a plane ticket and a shuttle. I threw whatever I could into two suitcases. She came home, saw me packing, and lost it. She began to cry, yell, and tried to hold me down—pushing me into furniture or using her body weight to sit on top of me. By 3AM, I was in a shuttle on my way to the airport. I was on a plane by 6AM, in Hawaii within 5 hours, and at baggage claim crying into my mom’s arms; home for the first time in 4 years.
The Beginning of the End
It didn’t end there. I woke up the morning after I moved with bruises all over my legs. To this day, I can’t remember how it physically escalated to me having injuries. My parents had to protect me from her as we attempted to cut off all sources of contact that she had with me. I received notifications that someone was logging in to all my social media accounts from California (she knew all my passwords). She was sending me e-mails that would start out as an apology and turn into an attack.
Three months later, I had to fly back to California with my mom to pick up my things. She didn’t want anything to do with me, so my mom had to pick-up my car keys from her, and we found boxes of my things thrown into my trunk. My mom and I had to sort through, toss, and pack my stuff in a hotel parking lot.
It was done. My Aunt was out of my life as much as she could be (because, keep in mind, that since she is still family, I may have to interact with her eventually). As time went on, the effects of living in that environment started to show. I began to get flashbacks of fights that had occurred. To this day, I am prone to anxiety attacks when there is conflict. I have had to continually fight the words that she had spoken over me daily. I continue to see a therapist to process everything.
Journey to Healing
For years, I had not classified what happened to me in California as anything. It was just a dark time, a messed up time, in my life. When I started to experience postpartum depression after my first child, that is when it really came out of the woodwork, and I was trying to figure out what it was. This all happened soon after I started volunteering for SafeHomes, and when I started working with JJ10K. It wasn’t until I heard Goldei’s story that I truly understood what it was and could start healing. Goldei said one line in her speech that changed my life—”A person doesn’t have to hit you, for it to be abuse.” That is when my healing and my journey to understanding emotional and verbal abuse began.
In hindsight, my relationship with my Aunt had all the signs of abuse:
• Isolation—She separated me from my family and didn’t allow me to be with friends alone. She convinced me that my family didn’t care, so their warning to leave fell on deaf ears.
• Financially Reliant—I had racked up debt while being with her that I had no money to move into my own place or pay for my own food.
• Reactive Abuse, Gaslighting, & Manipulation—When her anger would go too far, I would react to the abuse to protect myself. A way that I had never acted before. She would retaliate and tell me I was abusive and crazy.
• Mental Abuse—Her words put me down and caused me to believe that there was something wrong with me.
My story has now become my driving force in working with JJ10K and SafeHomes. I genuinely believe that if someone had sat me down and told me, “Naomi, this is not you. This is abuse. You deserve respect and care, even from family. This is not normal.” then maybe things would have played out differently. My experience drives me to work every day to bring awareness to domestic violence. It is my hope that someone in my situation, or worst, will resonate with our posts and seek help.
To end, this is my message to you—please, if you see a relationship that makes you stop and think “that’s not normal,” then say something. More than likely, there is something unhealthy going on that could escalate into something physical. Be there for your loved ones, and don’t be afraid to bring it up.
Thank you to Goldei and the JJ10K team. You have impacted my life and helped me find healing. Thank you, to our runners, for running to build awareness and raise money to help those seeking freedom from abuse. I always say it in everything I post, and I will never stop saying it—Jingle Jam 10K is more than a race. We don’t run for bling or run just to run. We are a voice for silenced when we run. Jingle Jam 10K is SO MUCH MORE, and we have our runners to thank for that.