A Return to the Fires

This is a still frame from a documentary film that Firesteel intern Carissa Daniels is producing. The film puts viewers in the shoes of someone who is experiencing domestic violence. Image courtesy Carissa Daniels.
This is a still frame from a documentary film that Firesteel intern Carissa Daniels is producing. The film puts viewers in the shoes of someone who is experiencing domestic violence. Image courtesy Carissa Daniels.

My work as an advocate involves interviewing people about some of the worst things they’ve ever experienced. Talking about domestic violence, poverty, illnesses, the loss of loved ones, and homelessness can be emotionally exhausting for me, and it’s obviously much harder for the people who have lived through these traumas. While sharing stories is often therapeutic, revisiting painful memories or describing difficult current realities can put people in a dark place. I think it’s important to recognize the sacrifice that advocates make when they open up about their personal experiences. I’m in awe of and grateful to our intern, Carissa Daniels, and all the other people who bravely share their stories. –Denise

Written by Carissa Daniels, Firesteel Advocacy Intern and Seattle University Communications Student

After surviving domestic violence, I determined that once it was safe to do so, I could bring some positive into my experience by sharing my story and educating others. This could potentially save someone else from having to go through the nightmarish hell that I have lived. I have done what I can to educate people, not only about domestic violence, but also about the process of getting safe, dealing with court and other related issues, and working on healing and building a successful new life.

Most of the time, this process is relatively painless now. I have told my story countless times when working with victims, in interviews with the media, at schools, and at domestic violence victim support organization events. My current projects, however, are anything but typical, and involve sharing a lot more personal information than I have put out previously at any one time. Working with another film student, I am creating a documentary in the hope that it will educate people about domestic violence in new ways.

I recently recorded my first voiceover for the film. We started at the beginning, and I found myself talking about things that I’ve never voiced in this way before, including being asked to go in-depth about things I have only looked at on a shallow level because it isn’t something I wanted to spend any more time on than I had to. It’s painful and difficult work.

I talked about the red flags that I didn’t see, which was pretty basic, but then I discussed the submerging of self that goes on when one tries to survive an abusive home life. I talked about being a chameleon, and how when you work so hard to please another, you lose yourself, and you don’t know who you are, or what you like or dislike because it is all about the abuser, and pleasing them. I also talked about how when in this kind of situation, there are times when you “disassociate” or separate your spirit from your body, in an attempt to protect yourself, just as you bury your true feelings to protect yourself from being hurt.

I cannot go back and change any of what I went through, and by educating, I want to save others from going through my pain. In my head, I know that these projects make sense on several levels: personally for taking my own healing to the next step; professionally; and civically, because education is critical to making a difference and stopping abuse. I also know it can help other survivors to know they are not alone. My hope is also that it gives people who are still in abusive situations the strength and the courage to do what they must do, to protect themselves and their children.

When blogging, I usually have more words than I know what to do with. This time, it is all I can do to get this much out. The work must go on for me, and it will. I am focusing on taking care of myself, and doing what I am called to do, and am passionate about. I hope one day I will be at a place where I can see myself as healthy enough to take that next step and build a new relationship. One of the things that those of us who have survived don’t often talk about is the stark terror of repeating the cycle. Being alone is hard, but being with the wrong person can be deadly.

Find more stories

  • Read other Firesteel posts by Carissa about her first time advocating in Olympia, and her volunteer work helping people who are experiencing DV.
  • Listen to dozens of StoryCorps “Finding Our Way” stories featuring the voices of people who have experienced homelessness in the Puget Sound area.
  • Fashion model and actress Lenisa Ann Careaga recently wrote very movingly about surviving domestic violence. “For 8 years I have felt a crippling shame and embarrassment around opening up to share it, until today. Today I realize my story isn’t just about me. It is about the many women suffering from similar abuses today. It is about the many other women who also feel the shame I have felt and who haven’t yet had the courage to open up and share. If this story reaches just one other woman, it was worth it,” she wrote. Find her story on Facebook.

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