Not Silent, Not Alone
The Forget Me Not flower is a small, unassuming blue bloom, named for the mission not to forget the suffering, the poor and the needy. This flower and its heavy meaning is embedded in a Fort Lauderdale woman’s mission to educate her community about domestic violence.
Amy Daumit, 40, works at Expresso Coffee. She’s in a happy relationship, has earned multiple degrees, and her laugh is infectious. You’d never know that eight years ago, she left an abusive relationship that lasted nearly 20 years. Because of her experience, she formed the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group for domestic violence prevention.
“Abuse still sadly hides in the shadow,” she says. “It’s easier to ignore the screaming going on next door than to intervene or help, because ‘It’s not my business.’ But people don’t realize it is your business.”
Daumit’s early years were happy — she grew up in a tight-knit family in the Northeast, and she was close to her brother and extended family. Her parents are still happily married. “There was no abuse, there was no unhappiness,” she says. “This wasn’t a pattern of abuse that I saw it or that I expected it or I thought it was normal. It was quite the opposite.”
She met her ex-husband when she was just 16 years old. Looking back, there were signs of the impending domestic violence that would come. When he didn’t get his way — when Daumit got home later than anticipated from shopping with her mother, or when she wanted to hang out with her friends — he went into a rage. Sometimes he would threaten to break up with her if she didn’t do what he wanted.
Her mother expressed concern, but the teenager brushed it off.
“Of course I blew her off and begged him to stay and not break up with me; I thought my world would end,” she says. “Now as an adult that has been educated and abused, I know that those are all warning signs. It would start that he would be angry or he would refuse to talk to me on the phone, or if he was angry enough he would threaten to break up with me.”
As they got older, his behavior intensified and turned physical after the two were married. On their honeymoon, he threw his wedding ring at Daumit. Within the first few months of their marriage, he was so angry he put his first through a wall. Eventually, he would punch, slap and choke her.
The number one question people usually have for survivors of domestic violence is: Why didn’t you leave?
For survivors, it’s a number of factors. Some reminisce about the good times and believe they can get back there. Others have not been allowed to have jobs and will have no money to support them or their children should they leave. Some are too scared after being threatened, even told they’ll be killed if they leave.
But at the core of it all, abusers are masters of manipulation, Daumit says, and are often very charming. “It’s such a process that over time it gets to where you believe it’s your fault, you believe that their actions are your fault,” she says. “If I just cooked better or looked better or got a better job or understood him more, he wouldn’t be this mean to me.”
At her ex-husband’s encouragement, Daumit applied for and was accepted into law school. Her schooling required the couple to move, and she went ahead to the new city for the first few weeks while her ex-husband finished up some business at home. For the first time ever, she lived by herself, and she realized that she felt relief. This began a nearly two-year process of leaving her abuser.
“I was realizing how not normal my life was,” she says. “I started getting more and more fed up with how much happier everyone around me seemed to be, and how much more they seemed to have their life together.”
Once school started and her ex-husband moved in, things got worse. Demanding her attention, he would take her textbooks and wouldn’t allow her to study. More than once, she escaped to a friend’s house so that she could prepare for exams. Finally, she confessed to her friend what was going on. The friend encouraged her to visit the school therapist.
Daumit wanted to try therapy before, but knew her ex-husband would find out when he saw the bills. As a student, she could go for free and there would be no trace of her appointments. She told the therapist how she felt that leaving her marriage made her a failure, that she didn’t try hard enough. How her husband was threatening to quit work so he wouldn’t have to give her alimony if she left him, how he would ruin her reputation.
The therapist gave her a reality check. “He basically said to me, ‘You’re putting yourself in a very dangerous situation. You could very easily die,’” she says.
“I was so beaten down at that point that I just didn’t care anymore, and that’s just an awful place to be, when you don’t care anymore. To me, that epitomizes what an abusive relationship does to you as an individual; it just destroys who you are. It takes away all of your joy, your happiness.”
The death knell to the marriage came when Daumit tried to log into her email so that she could take her final exam — her ex had hacked into her email and changed the password. He saw that she had emailed a platonic male friend and was livid. As he berated her in the kitchen, she “snapped.” “I literally decided in that instance that that was it. I said I was going to go home for Christmas and I wasn’t coming back,” she says.
Eight years later, life is completely different for Daumit. She continued with therapy and is now in a healthy, loving relationship. She still struggles with physical ailments that doctors believe are the result of her body being in a constant state of stress for more than a decade.
As a therapeutic exercise, she kept an online journal, Forget Me Not, where she chronicled the process of gaining self-esteem, believing she was worthy of love, and that rejection is a normal part of life. She would later self-publish her writing in a book by the same name.
Forget Me Not has since morphed into a nonprofit, which recently received 501(c)(3) status. The charity’s board is made up of men and women who have experienced abuse, have volunteered in shelters, or are a part of the Girl and Boy Scouts programs.
Last July, Daumit quit her job in federal law enforcement to focus on the nonprofit while working at a fellow board member’s coffee shop for income. Since then, Forget Me Not has led workshops, drum circles, yoga practices, empowerment days, and hands-on activities with children, teens and adults. It has hosted vigils to remember victims of domestic violence, as well as created a public art project where members of the public drew what love is to them with chalk.
In group exercises, Daumit teaches self-reliance and entrepreneurship. One exercise has participants read a situation and decide if the behavior is healthy, unhealthy, or abusive. The group discusses their thoughts, and many are left with a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. It’s information that could literally save a life.
“It was such a process for me and based on what I’ve heard from other people, and what I know just about domestic violence and my dedication to it, it’s a process for everybody,” Daumit says. “It’s not taken lightly to leave and some people, sadly, they don’t get out alive.”
A Domestic Abuse Survivor Speaks Out
By Erin Quinn-Kong
Amy Daumit was a high school freshman in Pennsylvania when she met her future husband. They started dating her junior year and got married six years later; she was 21. “Everyone thought he was fantastic,” Daumit, now 40, says. “He was educated, smart and funny. People really liked him, and I was the one who ‘won him’ in high school.”
It wasn’t until their first year of marriage that he began physically abusing her, though Daumit realizes now that he was controlling and emotionally abusive from the very start of their 16-year relationship. “He’d do it in very manipulative or covert ways,” says Daumit. “He never wanted us to hang out with my parents or friends. He’d say little things that would make me question my friends or my mom being upset if we missed a family function. If I went out shopping with my mom, he’d call me obsessively. And if I made him angry, that was it—he was going to break up with me.”
Daumit says she ignored and excused those red flags throughout high school and college. “Coming from a very caring family—my parents are still together—I couldn’t understand someone being mean just because,” she says. To the outside world, Daumit, who holds dual degrees in elementary and early childhood education with a minor in psychology, as well as her Juris Doctorate, looked like she had it all together. And no one had any idea that her then-boyfriend was emotionally abusing her. “I was a confident person who went after what she wanted,” Daumit says.
After they wed, her husband started physically abusing her—including chocking her, slamming her against walls and kicking and punching her—though still no one in her life knew. “He never left marks people could see, and he never put me in the hospital,” Daumit says. “I kept it a secret because I was married, and you’re supposed to be married for life. I thought if I was a good wife, he wouldn’t be upset all the time. I was the queen of lying to make my life seem OK to the outside world.”
“He never left marks people could see, and he never put me in the hospital.”
She’s Not Alone
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by a romantic partner, with women between the ages of 18-24 most likely to be victims.
Daumit says she can see now that she was a “prime target” when she met her ex-husband in high school. “I was young, I was a nurturer. I always wanted to be a mom and take care of people,” she says. “Narcissistic personalities see that empathetic people are willing to give, give, give, so they take, take, take.”
She wishes that her ex would have actually followed through all those times he threatened to dump her in high school. “I thought my world would end if he broke up with me, but I would have learned that you get dumped and then you are OK,” she says. “And I would have learned what I wanted in a relationship.”
For Daumit, she says starting law school when she was 30 was the “beginning of the end” for her abusive relationship with her husband. “I moved to South Florida for a few weeks before him, so I was surrounded by people and could see what normal should look like,” she says. “Still, I didn’t leave him for a year and a half.”
When things finally came to a head during her second year of law school, it happened all at once: Daumit didn’t feel able to mask her relationship anymore and called her mom one night when her husband kicked her out of their home. “She flipped out and drove all the way from Pennsylvania to Florida,” says Daumit. “He went ballistic, yelling and threatening to call the cops on her. It was the first time he showed his true colors to her, and she was terrified.”
Although Daumit wouldn’t leave with her mother that night, a friend convinced her to go to a therapist at their school. “I just wanted to fix my marriage, but he said, ‘This is domestic violence—you do realize that?’” she recalls. “He said there was no fixing my marriage. My life was in danger, and I needed to get out.”
“[The therapist] said, ‘This is domestic violence—you do realize that?’ He said there was no fixing my marriage. My life was in danger, and I needed to get out.”
Determined to finish her winter finals, Daumit spent two weeks alternating between studying at a friend’s house and locking herself in the guest room of her home. When finals were over, she told her husband she was leaving for Christmas and not coming back. He said he was going to find her and kill her. “I was lucky he didn’t follow through,” says Daumit. “He had a lot to lose, including a good job. That was fear enough for him, so he backed off.”
She moved in with her parents for two weeks, returning to Florida when she knew her husband was on a cruise with family to clear her stuff out of their apartment and sort out her financials. Although Daumit and her husband continued to live in the same general area, and he acted “crazy” while their divorce was being finalized, she says once their divorce was final, her ex left her alone. She heard it was because he met someone else and remarried within a year.
“I sometimes feel guilty about that,” she says. “I never pressed charges. I was so thankful to be rid of him and still very broken mentally. It never occurred to me that I could press charges, or that he deserved something as harsh as that. Now it is way too late, due to statute of limitations. I regret that because he can continue hurting others. I pray he doesn’t.”
Eight years later, Daumit has built a life she’s proud of. She wrote a memoir about her journey called Forget Me Not, and founded an advocacy group of the same name. She’s also been in a “wonderful” relationship for almost two years. “The advocacy group just happened. I’m doing it full-time now, living on my savings and loving every second of it,” she says. “We have a peer support group and workshops and classes for teens. There seemed to be a need for it, since not a lot of survivors are willing to speak. It’s embarrassing to be known as a person who was abused.”
Daumit has learned that society in general doesn’t want to talk about domestic violence.”There is such a stigma about it,” she says. “You have to be willing as a community and as an individual to acknowledge that it is happening—and that you may know someone experiencing it or causing it.”
What You Can Do
If you think someone in your life may be a victim of domestic abuse, Daumit has one piece of advice: “Acknowledge that you see what is going on, and say ‘I worry about you, and I love you,’” she says. “They may lie about it or not want to talk right then, but when they are ready to reach out, they’ll reach out to you.”
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support. You can also chat with an advocate online at thehotline.org/help.
As told to Hannah Hickok by Amy Daumit
We started dating when I was 16—high school sweethearts who got married when I was 21. He played football and was in the school band, well-liked by kids in all different groups, both popular and unpopular. He was smart and charming, made me laugh, and was nice to everyone. Looking back, I always sensed there was something off with our relationship, and that not everyone’s boyfriend guilted them when they wanted to spend time with their friends or family, or picked fights and threatened to break up if they disagreed. There were small signs of control from the start, but I ignored them and made excuses for him. I never imagined that sweet teenage boy would turn into the man who made me fear for my life—and then made me stop caring about life entirely.
The violence started out “playfully.” I remember the first thing he destroyed of mine: A Disney Beaker doll that he ripped the head off of because he knew I liked it. He liked to hold me down even though he knew I hated to be restrained, and would practice martial arts skills on me—like arm bars and wrist locks. When I complained, he would get upset and guilt me into continuing. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like it or that it caused me pain. I couldn’t tell you the first time he hit me out of anger. Sometimes I wonder if I blocked it.
It got much worse as time went on. I’ll never forget the first time he put his fist through the wall of our first bedroom, months after we got married. His anger escalated from verbal and emotional attacks to all-out, hate-driven fits of anger that included hitting me, holding a gun to my head, and threatening murder and suicide. The trigger could be anything from dinner not being to his liking to the cat throwing up in the house or forgetting something at the store.
I didn’t leave because I couldn’t—or didn’t want to—believe he was being mean to me, so I made excuses. No matter what he did, he was the love of my life in my mind, so I never thought of leaving. I never saw people who loved each other being mean just for the sake of being mean, so I would tell myself he was having a bad day or that I had done something to hurt and anger him. “Look what you made me do!” he always said. When he said it was my fault, I believed him.
I tried to be a better person, one who would make him happy and not bring out this side of him. Looking back, I see that the more he took, the more I gave, and the more I gave, the more he took. I can still feel the emptiness in the pit of my stomach when I recall him hurting me. It’s the feeling of being hated by the person you love most in the world.
Things got worse when I started law school. At first, he encouraged me to go, but I now think that was just him building me up in order to tear me down or see me fail. There were so many “normal” people around me and he got more aggressive, controlling, and physical than he had ever been in the past. Eventually, I became deeply depressed and no longer cared about anything—whether I lost him, if I made it through school, or even if he killed me. I was miserable beyond anything I could have ever imagined. When I saw myself in the mirror I saw a tired, defeated soul. I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
The only motivation I had was getting through school so that if I survived leaving, I had a chance at taking care of myself. My parents figured out what was going on when he threw me out of the house, my mom drove from Pennsylvania to Florida to be with me, and he showed his true colors. She left because she was terrified and begged me to go with her, but I stayed. I finally ended up leaving a couple months later.
I’ve been out free eight years and still struggle with functioning as a survivor instead of a victim. For years after my marriage, I grappled with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was angry and bitter, and needed people to understand that you don’t just get better after what I went through—even though I didn’t fully understand it myself at the time.
I’ve recently had some things happen that make me feel out of control and like my hard work has been for nothing. I’m struggling to move forward and not allow myself to spiral into depression and giving up. It isn’t easy but I tell myself constantly that I refuse to be a victim. Instead, I will survive and love the life I have.
For women going through something like this, please know that the abuse is not your fault and it is not OK. No one can save you but you, so find someone you can trust, seek out therapy, and get yourself out of the situation. Know that it doesn’t end when you walk out the door. Admitting you are being abused is the first step, and getting help is the second. Dig deep and find the strength to start the journey to the beautiful and happy life that you deserve.
Amy Daumit is the author of Forget Me Not: Learning to Live With Me and For Me.
Best Things to Do in Broward and Palm Beach this Weekend
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Sometimes, experiencing interpersonal violence can lead you to speak out against violence and to raise awareness by helping others to cultivate healthy relationships for the future. Outreach like this is made possible with organizations like the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit
Forget Me Not Advocacy Group, a group committed to stopping domestic violence before it starts through education, community awareness, and support.
Set up “to give our young people the tools they need – through classes, workshops, and community events – to recognize and avoid abusive situations,” founder Amy Daumit explains, “We strongly believe that by sharing our stories, and talking openly about domestic violence, we can shed light on it at a grassroots level and start creating change here at home and later with all who are willing to listen.” Saturday, the group is raising awareness with Kayak for Change fundraiser. Pop in a kayak or canoe and paddle the six-and-a-half-mile Wilton Loop at a leisurely pace. Lunch will be provided midway, and pie and coconut cocktails will be served at the end of the trip. The trip runs from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Atlantic Coast Kayak Company, 1937 Wilton Dr., Fort Lauderdale. Visit forgetmenotgroup.org for more info. BYOK (Bring Your Own Kayak) for a $40 donation or rent a kayak for a $60 donation. Terra Sullivan See Full Article