By now you know that once a week (Friday) I try to bring you a post from someone not named Joel.
The posts are usually from someone that I have met on my journey that has something to say or something that can help you in one way or another. Typically, the posts are fairly lighthearted and can be easy to read. This week is the opposite.
This story is from a friend of mine who asked if she could post on my site. Without even taking a second to respond, I said, “Yes!”. Little did I know but this would be the most impactful story I have ever read. The words are raw and the topic, real. I warn you that this is not an easy read but is one you need to read. Domestic violence is real.
There are many things in life I stand for:
among others. Domestic violence is not one of them.
In my opinion, there is no place for domestic violence in our world. NONE.
If I can ask one thing of you? If after you read this, would you share it? Go home and talk about it. Look over to the person beside you and chat to them about it. I want to see it hit every corner of the globe. Domestic violence is something that has affected all of us.
Cheers to your success,
This story is set long before a breaking point. It starts with a young woman working in an industry where society had already decided there was no place for her…a female POC (person of color).
I started late in the game and becoming a chef wasn’t what I thought it would be. My journey was fast, hard, cruel, and purposeful. The urgency of my ‘rise’ was motivated by wanting to catch up to all the men who had been working in kitchens since they were 15.
I was 21, years behind them in knife skills, knowledge, and experience.
Like others before me, I put myself through college while working. For me, I did it as a Bread Maker. The weeks were seemingly endless. I worked 8pm-4am, 5 days a week and then 7:30am-3:30pm at Culinary School, the same exhausting 5 days a week.
What I remember most was that I could not move at a pace that I needed to in order to get where I thought I was going. I left with four months left on my docket because I was offered a position within a well recognized restaurant that was opening another location.
At first, all seemed fairly streamlined. I had picked up 2 other jobs bringing my total jobs to 3, each with varying degrees of attitude and culture.
Exposure. I wanted exposure and this ‘was’ my way to get it. The only commonality was that I was either the only female or the only person of color. That was always the case.
Over this time (2010-2014) I had gone through a myriad of places, chefs, and cooks and in each encounter I couldn’t help but notice the instability and, worse yet, the vulnerability that I had in myself.
Being vulnerable can mean many things but in my instance it was a deep-rooted malfunction of what my values and perception of reality were.
For those of you who don’t know about the industry, life is hard and the harder it becomes, the more you get promoted. Chefs live very humble lives, though that’s a euphemism. We drink and smoke excessively, vices with steep prices. We are always broke but by a miracle that I still don’t understand, we somehow had money to drink. I suppose that when your aim to is numb yourself from the 15 hour days followed by sleepless nights, only to “wake up” (we never went to bed) and do it again, it was easy to justify finding the money.
When we arrive, it’s do or die time. A switch is flicked and we work ourselves into a stupor all over again, paying our dues in hopes that we hit the big time.
Every one of my dreams started off that way. The first 6 months were great until the mentor you thought you had, turned on you. This was usually because, you were either doing too well and surpassing them, or they knew they could squeeze cheap labor out of you, because well…why not?
Domestic violence ahead
Pots, pans, the occasional knife, food, and words…the mentors of this industry were rockstars…alcoholic, dysfunctional, drug abusing artistic-geniuses that we all wanted to learn from or better yet, be. You can’t see the violence coming, but when it does, it hits you like a West Indian Grandmother. Worse yet, acceptance of this behavior is…well…accepted.
It became normal for me to have things thrown at me, to be verbally abused, locked in storage rooms, have my life/reputation threatened, and countless calling of names – the identification of myself, not as my name but as “Hey, Brown Girl.”
I left the industry after a battle against time that I realized I couldn’t win and drowning in my choices. By Christmas 2015, I had worked myself so hard that I put myself in the hospital from dehydration and exhaustion.
It was at that moment that I told myself it would be the last time I let someone take everything from me. I gave my life to a restaurant that couldn’t care less about me. I spent my whole career being second. Even as a chef, I was still second to the Restaurant Owner.
I left, as gracefully as I could, only to stumble onto other work where I realized that no matter what industry I was in, I would have to continue to give to others at the expense of myself.
Giving my best work to make another man the best he could be
Thinking I broke this pattern for the last and final time, I fell in love. It was a good love, for a time. That is until the abuse that I was programmed to think was normal began.
It went on for months.
Extreme verbal, emotional, psychological, and physical abuse and this was my breaking point.
Admittedly, I was in over my head. I had taken abuse for so long that I thought there was a light at the end of my tunnel. I was convinced I could take it and work through it, all to help this person who, somewhere along the line, had cracked.
Suddenly, I was slipping back into the role I have always been: King Maker.
As I stretched my neck to the ceiling to assess the damage, I asked myself, “How much makeup do I need this time?” And this was my new normal.
I asked for help for him. I begged his ‘friends’ to get him help and their responses were something that would surprise even me.
“Sounds like you two are in a real pickle, good luck!”
“I don’t want to get involved.”
“Just love him.”
Somewhere after being knocked out and having my life threatened, I came to terms with the fact that I was just a punching bag to him. I was a victim of domestic violence. There was no light at the end of any tunnel, let alone my tunnel. We had stopped moving the first time he put his hands on me.
He ran, and his friends who had left me defenceless, helped him every step of the way.
Why didn’t they believe me? Why didn’t they fact check or ask for evidence? Most importantly, and this is something that haunts me to this day, why did they believe him on blind faith, and assume that I, the female, was crying wolf? Falling prey to ‘whose truth’ is a dangerous game we play far too often.
It didn’t matter the severity, or that there was a warrant for his arrest. He ran and was able to run.
Did they (his friends) ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, by hiding him and helping him run to a tropical country, they would be denying this woman justice and closure?
My lowest point came as a female “friend” (one who I thought would understand me) stood against me and stare boldly into my soul and said, “I think you are a liar, and your experience is untrue.” She helped hide him for 11 days. Powerless to do anything, I then found out that my story is not unique. It happens all the time, but most go unreported. In fact, only 1 in 4 women reports domestic abuse because no one ever believes them.
This woman made me a statistic: By denying me the rights I knew I deserved.
In hindsight, my problems started long before I met him. He merely became the catalyst not to my demise – but to my rise.
Never or now
My moment came when I couldn’t blame the veil anymore. My choices and actions would have to help decide whether or not I got out of this on top.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to leave, recognize that unhappiness can also be fatal – and let no one tell you any different. Make your decisions and make them with the intention of putting yourself first.
It’s either never or now.
Root yourself in your values
I struggled with the expectation that was placed on me or the set expectations I made for myself. I was coaxed into believing that you shouldn’t have expectations of anyone else, only yourself. It’s true to a point, but being rooted in your core values is not a bad place to be.
Live in a place where no one can convince you of anything other than your greatness. If you know this, you cannot be shaken.
The system will fail you
Understand that justice is a word thrown around quite lightly in North American culture.
As priorities go, domestic violence is low on the list. I learned, and still am learning, just exactly how easy it is to slip through the cracks.
Domestic violence is allowed to be “determined by its urgency” through just a phone call.
Look around you, what does your support system look like?
Do you have one? How do you get one?
If you are a victim of domestic violence and cannot speak to anyone, there are organizations that can be reached out to discreetly to help find you safety. Asking for help isn’t easy, especially when you feel ashamed, embarrassed or think you can fix it, but you must do it.
You are not alone.
www.helpguide.org is a great place to look. They help talk you through the many disguises abuse can wear and create an escape plan for you.
Value yourself & know this:
- You are not to blame
- The cause of domestic violence is not you
- You deserve to treated with respect
- Most importantly, you are not alone.
There are people who want to help you, and those people include me.
Jayanti Shalini Sharma