The date was November 13, 2023.

I sat in the hotline room at my local domestic violence center, ready to answer the phone.  I was scared to death.

This was the last step in my certification to work with domestic violence victims and survivors through the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  I had completed 40 hours of classroom training and started my practicum – 300 minutes of phone time on the hotline; only active calls counted.  If the phone didn’t ring during my shift, the minutes didn’t count.

In preparation, I shadowed staff, listening as they took calls; the next call would be mine.   My mind raced:  What the hell was I doing?  For the first time in my life, I had imposter syndrome.  Would I have the compassion, know-how, and grace to skillfully guide the callers to the needed services?  Could I help them find their own way out of hell without telling them what to do?   Would I embarrass myself and this organization I cherish by sucking as a volunteer?  Were they going to send me back to training?  Would I freeze?  Could I actually help a caller understand that the abuse was not her fault, her abuser was not going to change, and there was a whole life waiting for her when she was ready?

The phone rang, and I picked up ..”Hello, how can I help you?”

And my “why” hit me like a peaceful bolt of lightning.

I realized I was on the front line, actually helping to solve the crisis of domestic violence.  Fifty percent (50%) of individuals today are impacted, directly and indirectly, by domestic violence.  Look around at your friends, colleagues, employees, and neighbors – you hear it all the time – the patterns of power and control.  Domestic violence (physical, emotional, and psychological abuse) is everywhere.

  • It is that colleague who comes in every day with red eyes after crying and is completely distracted because her spouse screamed at her for an hour before she left the house and she really doesn’t know what she even did but knows it is all her fault;
  • It is your employee who is scared to death and can’t really get their work done because her sister is a victim;
  • You hear it from your best friend who shares that she isn’t allowed to spend holidays with her family as her spouse demands they once again go to his sister’s house;
  • You are out to dinner with another couple, and you watch as the wife tells a humiliating story about her husband;
  • Your boss seems off and scared – you don’t know her ex-husband is waiting for her in the parking lot to talk (40% of domestic violence victims are stalked at work).   Here, your boss is embarrassed to ask anyone for help.

When you hear patterns of power and control in intimate relationships, you are listening to stories of domestic violence.

Many victims and survivors have no one to turn to, so they call the hotline.  For some callers, I would be the first person they tell and the only one who could understand how they got into the current situation and the many barriers preventing them from leaving.

I’ll fast forward a bit and tell you that I absolutely had the chops to pick up that phone and help.  And I also had a TON to learn –  I had no idea what the address of the administration office for donation drop-offs was.  I needed help with the wording to explain when the shelter was full.   My vulnerability in admitting I didn’t know something was my superpower – yet again.  “Hold on, I’m a new volunteer and need to find your answer.”

I did take a few minutes in between calls and acknowledged the elephant taking up most of the space in that 10×10 hotline room…it was not all that long ago I was the caller on the other end of the line when I escaped domestic violence.  I was desperately looking for assistance to protect my family from relentless sadistic stalking and harassment.   There was a volunteer who sat in that very room and skillfully listened to me as I sobbed out of fear.  She opened the doors to legal support and 18 months of crisis counseling, trauma therapy, EMDR,  support groups, and educational programs.   Her compassion and guidance put me on my path to healing.  And here I was, sitting in that same spot, about to help in the same way.

It took 27 hours in that room to complete my 300 minutes.  The time flew by.   This wasn’t work; this wasn’t about the minutes (ok, it was a little bit about the minutes); this was about unconditionally helping the individual on the other end of the phone who only had that hotline to turn to.  The callers needed shelter from the storm, counseling for a child, help with a Protection from Abuse Order, and resources for a client.  Many survivors needed emotional support to figure out their next steps.  I was there to support, actively listen, give resources, help with a safety plan, hold space, and learn.  Many would consider the work menial, but I found it to be transformational.

So what is my why exactly?  Educating victims and survivors and supporting people on what domestic violence is and resources to get help.  Domestic violence starts the minute a victim meets an abuser, and there are signs we can ALL recognize at ALL stages of the relationship.  And we ALL need to be able to recognize it.  I’ll continue my work on the hotline for now, and in the early spring, I’ll be the rookie member of the volunteer team leading a 10-week educational program for victims/survivors.  That is the program that taught me about the types of trauma and domestic violence I had experienced, the effect it has on our bodies, how to deal with fear, and how to heal with dignity.  This program was the most transformational in my own healing journey.  I’ve also incorporated my “why” into my professional life as I have started working with company executives to establish in-house support for employees who are suffering through domestic violence and those who support victims/survivors – more on that later.

Are you looking for your own why?  I can’t really tell you how to go and find a purpose.   I would highly recommend looking at your life first and examining where you have received help.  You could also look at what situation seems unjust and then learn how to make a difference.  Remember, posting on social media and discussing how unfair a situation is will not solve any problem.  Ya gotta get out there and get your hands dirty.  You’ve got to give of your time, energy and money to really make a difference.  Sorry if that was a bit of a sting.  I’ve made space in my life to talk to company executives, the DOJ (yes, in DC), and my local officials (who don’t see the problem but I’m not giving up).  Ya gotta pound the pavement, fund the causes, pick up the phone.

I didn’t expect to find my why this year, just like I didn’t expect to get married (wait, what? Haha – more on that at some time in the future when I am ready).  I didn’t expect to publish a book or launch a new part of my business helping corporations put supports in place so empower employees can empower victims/surivvors of domestic violence.  Sometimes, these ideas and opportunities just hit you – like the brush of a feather, the slipping on of an engagement ring, or a massive shove over the cliff with no net by the universe when you just aren’t getting it.  While we may (and really should) all have plans to grow and scale and find purpose; sometimes ya just gotta set your intention and let the universe work its magic.