Education and grace are the foundations on which I built my freedom.
For four years my worth had been tied up into how clean I could keep a house and how skillfully I could keep the peace.
My abuser once told me that if I could just organize the dishes better, he wouldn't get so angry.
Once his parents, after seeing a trail of bruises on my ribcage, told me that they had found moldy Tupperware in the refrigerator. Any man would find that intolerable.
Somehow - two years into the fray - I convinced my abuser that I should go back to school and finish my degree. I can't remember what it took to convince him, but ultimately he allowed me to attend Azusa Pacific University, a Christian school in Southern California. The moment I was accepted, I stacked my days and nights with classes so I could finish as quickly as possible.
A lot happened in those two years. When the doctor told me that I should quit school, I added more to my schedule instead of giving up. By my last semester I was taking 19 credits on top of working part time for the school's English department, interning at a production company in Hollywood, and going for weekly appointments at USC Cancer Center. All the while the hits got harder. The damage was greater. And the harder the beatings got, the harder I worked with no idea what the outcome would be.
The last week of school, my Advanced Screenwriting professor asked if we had any prayer requests.
"I really need a job," I blurted out. That may have been the first time I had ever asked for someone to pray for me.
The professor paused for just the briefest of moments and said: "Just talk to me after class."
She told me I could immediately start working as her assistant at her nonprofit, and the moment I walked through those doors, she didn't hesitate in piling on the responsibilities. She had me running the books, learning grant writing, painting lines in the parking lot, preparing for board meetings, sifting through scripts, and of course making coffee.
But the inception of my freedom was the moment she entrusted me with the keys to the office. That moment she instilled in me a sense that my head could be used for something other than a punching bag. And she unknowingly gave me a place to run to at night, where I could have a safe space to sleep under my desk.
This is why having the In-n-Out Burger rubbed into my hair was just a step too far. Because I finally knew that degradation was false. Even if I couldn't see it for myself, someone I respected saw value and worth in me, and I trusted her enough to take her word for it.
One in four women have been affected by severe intimate partner violence.
One. In. Four.
These are the women you're engaging with every day. The women at your gym, the women in your office, the women in your schools and at your church. By showing every woman you encounter trust and honor and respect, you simply have no idea just what impact your making on her life.
I will never forget the people at Azusa Pacific, friends, professors and the financial aid department, who consistently believed in my intrinsic value and potential. It's because of them that I was finally able to break my own chains.
Of course, that's just the beginning of the story...