I have made it a habit not to subscribe to news outlets because of the tragedy of stories being told. Of course, I am not oblivious to the real-life situations, however I want to read stories that inspire, uplift, and give meaning to life. So, the three-week isolation from news headlines, while in Cuba, was tranquil.
Bixby, an app powered on my Samsung Galaxy Note 8, apparently, provides local news updates. This morning as I looked out to the mountains in Colombia, I was alarmed by the headline, “ER doctor gunned down in Chicago hospital”. Without reading further, my heart sank as chills made it’s way down my arms; I knew it was domestic violence. As I further read the developing stories, it was confirmed that Dr. Tamera E. O’Neil, age 38, was gunned down by her estranged fiancée after she, allegedly, broke off their wedding that was scheduled in October 2018. Domestic violence is sometimes called intimate partner violence. It includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as sexual coercion and stalking by a current or former intimate partner. An intimate partner is a person with whom you have or had a close personal or sexual relationship. Intimate partner violence affects millions of women (and numbers of men) each year in the United States. I did not know Dr. O’Neil but I instantly felt compelled to have the courage to share my personal journey with domestic violence.
Dr. Tamera E. O’Neil
My Personal Journey
After a series tormentous events with my husband, things were getting worse and I knew that a divorce was the best course of action for my safety and sanity. His behavior had become unkind and unpredictable. At one point, our marriage counselor was uncomfortable with his behavior and urged me not to return home with him following a session. My husband pleaded with me to return home that night to “sleep in our bed” and that he would leave the home for me to rest. However, my intuition would not allow me to follow that plan; I did not return that night. Instead, I chose to go to my office and lock myself indoors. This was not a wise idea, but I was functioning in scarcity–as I did not want to spend money with an impeding divorce.
Indeed, I could have called friends or family who would have opened their doors to me without judgment, but I was afraid of placing them in the crossfire and I felt ashamed. The next couple events left me afraid but alarmed. Within days of one another, I was warned by a colleague and a medical professional that my life was in danger. My colleague was unaware of marital discord but relied upon a premonition that I was going to be attacked in my office. The medical professional called me after hours, following a disturbing appointment with my husband, to warn me that it was believed that my husband would attempt to kill me and take his own life. It was strongly believed that he would attempt to catch me at my office and therefore, I was encouraged to seek shelter elsewhere while filing for the divorce. I sat in a moment of disbelief, I thought to myself, “How could this be my life?”
I began to reschedule my clients and boarded a plane to retreat for the next two weeks with friends and family in states far from Texas. I spent those days crying and strategizing because it was impractical for me to leave everything suddenly. Upon my return to Houston, I filed for a divorce and sought shelter with friends and family as it is strongly advised in domestic violence situations. It was important that I inform my workplace, friends, and family that I was filing for a divorce and that my life was possibly in danger. Keeping everyone informed allowed the opportunity for myself and others around me to be vigilant of our surroundings in the coming weeks.
I was encouraged to seek assistance from a local women’s shelter, which I had advocated for my clients to use many times in the past. To my surprise and utter disappointment, I was informed that I could not be granted an order protection based on a medical professional’s “opinion” or “belief” that my life was in danger. We needed statements of intent to harm, and not behavioral observations. Additionally, I could not receive assistance because I had not previously reported any physical abuse or I had not received a direct threat from my husband. I attempted to explain that not all domestic abuse cases have a trail of incidents that are reported or physical assaults that leave remarkable bruising. Moreover, he was an ex-police officer who had a good understanding of what he could get away with, such as threatening to “drag” me out the car and “beat” my “ass” or even the times when he would use his body and size to push me into walls. Not to mention, subtle verbal insults to diminish my self-worth. In my case, these incidents could not be used to qualify me for an order of protection or shelter services because I did not report them prior. I was provided a list of places for counseling services, which can be beneficial if you do not have a private therapist. I left the local women’s shelter feeling defeated, and vulnerable. Suddenly, I understood how a score of cases involving women (and men), who died at the hands of their significant others, were gone unnoticed until the situation turned fatal.
There are a few tips that I learned along the way to help keep me safe until my divorce was finalized. Because there is open criminal investigation against my ex-husband, I continue to utilize the following safety tips:
Suggested Safety Tips in Domestic Violence Situations
Develop a Network: It’s not easy being vulnerable. Actually, it can be quite difficult telling friends and family that things in our relationship’s have reached to alarming heights. My rule of thumb was to tell a friend, family member, a coworker, and my therapist. It was important to me that someone was aware that my life could be in danger.
Partner Up: Try to avoid being alone. It is wise that to travel with at less one other person.
Safe Meet Up Location: At times, tensions will die down and your significant other may invite you to meet up to talk things over. If it is a definite breakup of any kind, avoid the meeting up in places without a metal detectors. Choose locations such as a courthouse lobby, police station, major libraries, etc. This may seem dramatic but your life depends on it. In recent times, meeting in public spaces (e.g. parking lot, workplace, supermarket, etc.) has not deterred an angry significant other who has planned to fatally injure the other person.
Evacuation Bag: Keep a bag packed with essentials in case you need to leave quickly for safety reasons. Make sure to have copies of identification, birth certificate, health records, prepaid debit card, bank account information, certifications, underwear, a change of clothes, and a prepaid phone (I learned the hard way that a scorned spouse will track your phone or have it disconnected, if you are on a family plan).
Make Record: Take pictures of injuries, if possible. Keep a journal with dates that chronicle verbal abuse or incidents of subtle violence. If you have a therapist, keep them informed of acts of violence. If it’s not documented, it could be treated as if it did not happen or as the incidents were not serious.
Relocation (Optional): Taking time to seek a new place to start anew may be needed for safety reasons. Often times, we believe that it will be too difficult to start over or we believe that we might lose too much. After reading through countless obituaries of people who died has a result of domestic violence, it was apparent that NO loss of material possessions is greater than the loss of our lives. It was only divine intervention, that I met women who shared their stories of relocation due to domestic violence.
Spiritual Protection (Optional): Whatever your beliefs, in the Divine or not, it has been paramount in my spiritual well-being. I pray for divine protection and keep myself adorned with precious stones and crystals for protection for my mind, body, and spirit. For example: I use smokey quartz to keep negativity away and amethyst to reduce anxiety. You can find out more about crystals and stones on instagram @purplestargoddess.
A free 1-800 telephone hotline. You can talk to trained advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without giving your name or address. The counselors can help you talk through the steps of leaving an abusive relationship. You can call a hotline as many times as you need to.
This journey has taught me that domestic violence, or intimate partner violence can happen to any of us. It does not care about our socioeconomic status, age, race, religion, ethnicity, disabilities, educational attainment or any other characteristics that make up who we are. We are humans who experience.