I am an idiot, a slut, a bitch and a victim. I am also an entrepreneur, a teacher, an inspiration and a survivor. If the opinions of others drove my decisions, my life might have been very different, depending upon whose opinions I valued the most. But other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.
I have survived many kinds of physical, verbal and sexual abuse, by more than one person in my life. Not only have friends, family and strangers judged me for my experiences and the choices I have made, but also by the frequency of bad choices I made. That still does not define me.
I was taught from an early age to sweep bad behavior under the rug and keep family secrets hidden. I was taught it was important to look good from the outside at all costs. This carried on into my adult life, too. I bounced from one abusive relationship to another and always worked so hard to make it look good from the outside. I thought it was a badge of strength to endure anything.
Sixteen years ago I escaped an abusive husband with a toddler on my hip and we travelled 8000 miles to return home and start a new life with no money or car. I just had the dream of creating an income with the crafts I learned while I was pregnant only 2 years prior.
Through perseverance, hard work and not giving up, I blazed a trail in the craft industry and always kept a roof over our heads. I worked while my child slept; I worked courtside at all his sporting events; I worked in parking lots, in lines and in waiting rooms. I did everything I could to juggle being a stay-at-home-mom and work from home successfully. And all the while I was protecting my child from the death threats and incessantly abusive calls I would receive from his dad who never offered financial or emotional support, nor visited his child once we escaped.
After several years of feeling like a stronger and more independent woman, I was convinced I would be able to choose a better partner if I tried dating again. Not only was I wrong, but this time I had to try harder to hide my dirty secret of abuse because of social media and having an online presence for my business and lifestyle brand.
It was only after this last abusive relationship, when my final public beating was captured on video from an off duty video journalist, that I could no longer hide my secret: there was tangible proof from an outsider. With the journalist’s recording, and working with the district attorney, I pressed charges and my abuser spent time in jail for that particular beating only. Sitting in the courtroom with him, and standing up to say what he did to me was not ok, was one of the hardest things I ever did for myself. But I also considered the potential women in my abuser’s future. I made sure there was a public record so that a future woman interested in a relationship with him could be informed, and make her own decision about getting involved. Thinking of potential victims empowered me to stand up for myself that day. It made me feel less alone.
Since then, I have been through abuse counseling and learned a lot about myself: what is normal and abnormal in a relationship, what red flags to recognize, and how I deserve to be treated.
The greatest part of my healing began after that. With my business platform and audience in social media, I have been able to speak out about domestic violence, share my story, and teach others that they are not alone. Abuse has an ugly way of isolating victims and making them feel like they are the only ones with a dirty secret. With such positive reactions from my audience, I continued to speak out about domestic violence and created a charity, Project Kristin Cares. Through my business and my charity, I spread awareness and donate to women’s shelters to give back. I have a buy-one-give-one initiative: for every item sold in my shop, I donate a product to help survivors of domestic violence. Products are sent to women’s shelters each month. While I know I can’t help every person, I know I can help one person at a time.
We can choose to listen to the opinions of others, or we can decide their opinions of us are none of our business. I choose to listen to myself, and give back to others what I would want to receive if I was in their situation: a kind word, a thoughtful gift, a hug, or a reminder that you are not alone. Collectively, these little things are what make a big difference.
Kristin Omdahl is the best-selling author of 18 how-to craft books; TV personality; curator of gorgeous and thoughtful products for her Kristin Omdahl Brand; and producer of educational and inspirational videos. Kristin is the founder of Project Kristin Cares and donates one-for-one for every item sold monthly from her shop; together we can help survivors of domestic violence. Kristin is celebrating the 16th anniversary of her business this year.