As I look back over the last year, I cannot help but notice all of the things that have changed. This year started with my ex-abuser making his last attempt to try to stalk me before he finally gave up. And it ended with me leaving my neuroscience graduate program to pursue a career in domestic violence advocacy.
In between these milestones, I started this blog as an outlet to tell my story and encourage other survivors to do the same, and I found more comfort and support than I ever could have imagined. I no longer feel the need to stay silent. I am not afraid to tell my story to anyone for fear that they won’t believe me. Because now I know that even if one person doesn’t believe me, there are plenty of other people out there who do. And as a wise friend once told me, more people ended up believing me than I had thought.
With this support, I found the courage to go out of my comfort zone and attended NCADV’s Take A Stand in honor of the 30th anniversary of domestic violence awareness month. At this event, I met other survivors and advocates, learned about bills affecting survivors, and lobbied on Capitol Hill with staff members of senators. As a neuroscience graduate student who dissects brains and feeds cells all the time, this took the phrase “stepping out of your comfort zone” to a whole new level. But this experience was truly life changing. I met some of the most inspiring and amazing people I have ever met, and I found something that was a thousand times more meaningful than playing with cells in a dish – using my voice to help empower change.
So, perhaps the biggest change of all this year – I decided to quit my neuroscience PhD program and leave with a master’s degree. During my master’s defense, I concluded the presentation by telling my committee members, all of who are very established scientists on campus, that I am leaving neuroscience to help end domestic violence. Needless to say, this is not the typical conclusion for a master’s defense in neuroscience. But I cannot tell you how empowering it felt to stand up there in front of all of these important scientists and declare that this is what I want to devote my life to.
I never thought that any of this would happen. But this seems to be the direction that life is taking me. Last week was my final week on that campus, which holds so many painful memories for me. I will never again have to walk past my abuser’s lab in our building. I will never have to look behind my shoulder or peer around corners to see if he is there. I will never have to feel my heart racing as I go to my car at the end of the day, scared that he may have purposely parked next to me yet again. As long as I was trapped in that building with him just 3 floors below me, I could never truly be free. I guess this is what I have done in 2017 – I reclaimed my freedom and found my voice. And I will never again be silent.
In 2017, I said goodbye to neuroscience and academia, and goodbye to staying silent and being afraid to speak the truth. I found what I truly love and I am not looking back. 2018 – Bring it on.