Domestic-violence victim shares her story to help others
Every time she speaks in front of a crowd of young adults, Debbie Berrones-Miller sees the signs. The fiddling and the twitching. The wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look.
She knows what it means.
A victim of domestic violence for 20 years, it’s nothing short of amazing that Berrones-Miller can talk about the horrors she endured at the hands of her ex-husband, the father of her three children.
But she’s doing more than talking about it. Berrones-Miller is determined to help young people from falling into the same trap she did by not responding to the precursor to domestic violence, often called dating violence. The issue deserves more attention this month, with October recognized as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she said.
“I’ve spent too many years crying, too many years feeling helpless, hopeless,” Berrones-Miller said. “If I can help save someone else’s son or someone else’s daughter from not ignoring the signs, it’s worth it.”
In an effort to bring the subject out of the shadow of stigma, Berrones-Miller talks to groups through her startup nonprofit, Light of Hope, http://www.lightofhopeco.org. She encourages young adults to scrutinize their relationships.
Does he text you constantly? Is she jealous of every girl you talk to? Does your boyfriend try to control what you do, whom you see and where you go? Does he threaten to kill himself or kill you if you broke up?
All those indicators were there for Berrones-Miller, but she figured she and her husband could work it out.
“You think, ‘We’re in love,’ ” she said. “I was so ignorant. The mental abuse was almost worse than the physical abuse. I was almost like he hated me. I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not loving him enough.’ “
As is often the case, abuse against a partner only gets worse with time. For Berrones-Miller, the abuse escalated after they married. She wasn’t allowed to laugh when she wanted. Every choice she made was questioned. She was called every name in the book. She became his punching bag when he drank alcohol, often being hit in the head so hard she blacked out. Once after being hospitalized, she tried to remember what happened as doctors ran tests. She couldn’t remember, but her doctors said her brain was inflamed. Had she been in a car accident? A blow to the head? Her ex-husband who was in the room said it must have been stress from her job. She then remembered he had punched her, but she kept it from the doctors.
Berrones-Miller twice attempted suicide. Her troubles weren’t over after she was able to leave her abuser and divorce him. After years of being abused, she lacked self-respect and confidence. She turned to drugs and alcohol. She renewed her faith in God, which helped her get clean and she started to heal.
Coming to the point of talking about the years of abuse was another milestone. Like other victims, Berrones-Miller felt ashamed. In her Hispanic culture, talking about domestic abuse wasn’t done.
In retrospect, Berrones-Miller said, the best thing she could have done was tell someone she was being abused. She encourages young people to do activities that bolster their self-esteem so they are more prepared to stand up for themselves if an abusive situation arises.
“Every young woman should treat themselves like a piece of fine jewelry,” she said. “You don’t have to be with a boy to have a good time. Right now, just take care of yourself.”