About Kristen

My name is Kristen and I am a survivor of domestic violence. I recently graduated with my master’s degree in neuroscience. However, over the last year my passion has shifted to domestic violence advocacy. I have started a blog #Speak (https://speak766.wordpress.com/) where I discuss my story and issues facing survivors of relationship abuse. I also use Twitter (@speak766) to promote my blog and connect with other survivors and advocates. I hope that by sharing my story and talking about these issues I can help other survivors to speak out. There is still so much silence and shame surrounding domestic violence and abuse, which perpetuates the cycle and allows these crimes to continue. My goal is to help break the silence that surrounds domestic violence and abuse, one voice at a time.

My Story

My story began much like any other. I fell for a charming and charismatic man. We were both in the same neuroscience graduate program. Everything seemed so perfect in the beginning. We spent all of our time together; he would surprise me in the lab when I was working in the cell culture hood, help me freeze down my cells in the liquid nitrogen tank, and hold me in his arms and say over and over how unbelievably happy he was with me. However, over time, things started to change. He became possessive and controlling, telling me what to wear, and who I could talk to. He even forbid me from wearing my favorite color, pink (which is now the background color of my blog). Then one night, he got very drunk and became physically aggressive with me. I will never forget the terror I felt that night – him pushing me and shoving me, trying to hit me with his belt, his roommate tackling him to protect me. But what I remember more than anything is how dark his eyes became – they transformed from a light hazel color to pitch black. Those black eyes and the fear they inspired will be ingrained in my memory forever. Because as ignorant as it may sound, I never thought I could be scared of a man. I never thought a man, one I loved no less, could try to hurt me.

After that night, things continued to go downhill. He was threatening me all the time, telling me I was incompetent, everything I did and said was wrong; everything I wore was either too revealing or not fashionable (even though he was color blind and admitted he had a terrible sense of style). He started grabbing me and touching me when I didn’t want him to, but when I told him No he would threaten to break up with me, or worse, get angry. I remember sitting in my car for 20 minutes every time I went to see him and praying that he wouldn’t explode into one of his fits of rage. Finally, I got to a point where I just couldn’t take it any more, when the dread of staying with him finally started to outweigh the fear of losing him. On August 9th, 2016, I told him that I didn’t need this any more. He became angry, furious, the black eyes returned and soon the cops were there as well. I did not want to press charges at the time. However, the cops told him to stay far away from me. He did the exact opposite.

He harassed and stalked me at work for months after we broke up. Unfortunately, our labs were in the same building so this made it quite easy for him, and quite terrifying for me. I learned every secret entrance, elevator, and stairwell in the building to minimize chances of seeing him. I did not confide in anyone in the program or my lab about what had happened. In an academic setting, things can get very complicated very quickly. I was scared that no one would believe me, or worse, that I would be retaliated against for telling the truth. After about 6 months, he finally stopped. That’s when my healing journey truly began.

My Healing Journey

My healing journey has been a lot of ups and downs. One of the hardest things to accept was that this happened to me. As vain as it may sound, I thought I was too smart to fall for a man like this. And I never thought that a man like this would come in the form of a neuroscience MD/PhD student. But as I have learned, abuse does not discriminate. Anyone can be a different person behind closed doors, no matter what their profession is or how charming they may seem in front of others. And that is why for the most part, I stayed silent. I was left with that unrelenting fear that no one would ever believe me.

However, I slowly started to confide in more and more friends. It was difficult and sometimes downright terrifying, not knowing if they would believe my story. Each person I told represented a risk to me. And unfortunately, not everyone did believe me. But for the most part, I received an overwhelming amount of support from people, and found new friends in unexpected places.

I think that the biggest part of my healing journey has been sharing my story. With every person I tell I get a tiny piece of justice. There is one more person out there who knows the truth. One of the things I have learned through all of this is that silence is suffocating. Speaking up is hard, that’s for sure. But staying silent isn’t much easier. It is the power of words, connection, and sharing my truth that has helped me heal.

And as I have started to speak up, I have learned just how many women have stories of their own. And like me, most of them have stayed silent. I was heartbroken that there were so many women out there who felt like they couldn’t share their story. So I decided I wanted to change things. I started writing a blog and connecting with other survivors, hoping that by writing about my experiences I would encourage others to speak up as well. I attended the annual National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) conference, where I met dozens of other brave survivors and lobbied on Capitol Hill for bills that would support survivors, and I have started to get involved in my community. I am more determined than ever to help shatter the silence that surrounds domestic violence and perpetuates this cycle of abuse. Perhaps the one positive out of all of this is I have found what I really love and what gives me meaning. And that has made all the difference.

“You are stronger than you realize and you can survive all of the obstacles life will throw at you. It will take time, but you will come to see that you are beautiful and you are more than enough.”

To My Younger Self

Dear younger self,

I know you are studying hard, learning about synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, and dendrite branching. You have big goals and you think you have every step of your life planned out. However, it’s true what they say – that things don’t always work out the way you plan. But I am here to tell you that this is okay. Learn to rise above the challenges that come your way, even if they’re not fair and not what you expected. Never settle for less than you are worth or stay with someone who continually tears you down. Sometimes, the harder thing to do is to walk away. But you are stronger than you realize and you can survive all of the obstacles life will throw at you. It will take time, but you will come to see that you are beautiful and you are more than enough. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help along your journey. It is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. Find people who love you for who you are, lean on them for support, and be there for them too.

And when you are ready, speak up and share your story. Go out of your comfort zone and take risks. Do the things that may seem scary or impossible. It will not be easy. Not everyone will believe you or support you. But it will be worth it. And always remember that you are not alone. Survivors are everywhere. We all have a story to tell. So dig deep within yourself and find your voice. And when you do, don’t ever let it go.

Love always,