Stephanie Melissinos Piston
Silence is Not golden SPEAK OUT, BE HEARD end the Silence on Domestic Violence
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As a child, I lived in a neighborhood where I was the target of bullies. I was tall for my age, chunky and due to the family situation, not a lot of money for "trendy clothes". Teasing was the norm, and I considered that a part of life. I was so desperate for the friendship that I wouldn't tell my mother; for fear that she wouldn't let me play with the kids.

No surprise that I had no self-esteem. I felt that I wasn't attractive, and that I would be lucky if someone, anyone dated me. I had become a part of two Masonic Youth Groups and made friends, leaving the neighborhood kids behind. But the damage had already been done. If you asked anyone who knew me at that time, the words "energetic", "outgoing", "personable" would have been used to describe me. What no one knew is that insecure little girl was still there and I was just playing a role.

I moved up through the ranks in the youth groups and became State Sweetheart for the New York Jurisdiction of DeMolay International for Boys. It was a one-year term and I traveled and met many people. At that time I was living with my grandparents, helping to take care of them, working a full time job and doing this one-year commitment. I thought that I had put many things to rest, felt confident and sure. I was all grown up and capable of making grownup decisions. Or so I thought.

At an event, I met "A", through mutual friends. He was attractive, quiet, thoughtful and a member of the organization. I had been through some not so good relationships as a teenager and this was different, adult. Plus being vouched for by people I trusted, I jumped in to a relationship.

"A" and I got serious pretty fast, and I wasn't frightened. We partied, had fun, he supported me in my travels and we talked almost every night by phone. We were 200 miles apart, but we were going to make this work. During the latter part of my term in office, he proposed, and I accepted. We had only been together 7 months. My parents had met him, liked him but were concerned that maybe I was moving too fast.

Three months before we were due to get married, "A" had a nervous breakdown, I rushed to his side, and with his mother, got him help. My mother voiced her worries and I argued "in sickness and in health" and that I could take care of him. I had no idea what I was in for.

We were married in September 1989, I moved from New York City to Upstate New York, found a job, we got an apartment and started our married life. Things started to go downhill soon after that. "A" was on prescription anti-depressants and anxiety medication; he also liked to drink. He was diagnosed with OCD and every little thing would set him off. I tried to rationalize the behavior, make excuses for him and to myself. His mother was inserted into our lives, and while I enjoyed the "mothering" aspect, as time passed it was becoming interfering, stifling, and intrusive.

I felt alone yet clung to the relationship, since I was living in a place that I had no family of my own, no close friends in the area. I was completely isolated from any immediate support system that I could have used. I had now become an adviser for the DeMolay's, so I did have contact with other people that knew me. But since "A" had been a member, and they knew him, I said very little, for fear that I would lose the one activity that was becoming important to me. It was the one "thing" that was mine.

Due to financial difficulties, "A" and I moved in with his mom, which was the beginning of a very long road that wouldn't end until almost 14 years later. "A" liked to gamble, and continue to drink, plus take the meds. He liked to go to strip bars and slacked off at work. If I complained, “Mom” chastised me. I needed to be a better wife, and daughter in law. That I was the cause of "A"'s problems and that I wasn't taking my marital vows and duties seriously. I was petrified to be cast out and left alone in a place where I had no one. And those threats came often from both "A" and his Mom.

Our sex life was sporadic, and for me, painful. I often bled after sex and again, the blame was laid at my feet. I was too "cold, not adventurous enough, etc". There were nights that I would just lay in bed and pray that he was too drunk to want to do anything. Some nights I got lucky. "A" liked pornography, and seemed to enjoy violent scenes. He would watch them over and over again; I would be pressured and coerced into doing things that I wasn't really comfortable with. There were times that walking was painful for days after.

The verbal barrage, the sometimes physical continued, from both ends, "A" and his mother. Three years into the marriage, there was a small turning point. I miscarried. And was left to deal with it on my own. "A" would tell you that it never happened; his mother would tell you I over dramatized it. A surgeon I saw a few years later would tell you, that I wasn't making anything up, my medical records backed it all up; vindication that came too late.

After the miscarriage, I sought counseling. "Kate" was my saving grace, and over the next 18 months helped me work through all my emotions, the past, and the pressures. "A" and I tried couples counseling together with Kate, but "A" felt that the request made of him were too "oppressive", i.e.: no drinking for 30 days, look for a new apartment, doing things just the two of us, and not include his mother.

We did get a small apartment, "A"'s drinking continued to get worse, he was taking more medications, and I was getting tired of holding it all together. A job transfer within the company I worked for became available and I applied for it, with the hope that "A" and I could move together and get away from his mother. I commuted 75 miles each way to work for three months, "A" told me that he wasn't going to even move half way between his job and mine, even though my job was the better of the two. That became my wake up call that he was not going to do anything to save this marriage and that if I stayed, there was a good chance that I would end up hurt, or dead.

Leaving became the critical issue, when “A" realized that I was going to move, with or without him, the violence escalated. He liked to grab me by the throat and slam me up against the wall. Threats that I would become "like Nicole Simpson" were uttered on a regular basis. I was able to make some new friends at the new job, and stayed overnight, and not tell "A" where I was. I tried to make the separation as easy as I could, tried to remain friendly.

The last night I spent in our apartment, after I had already moved most of my stuff out, I was sleeping on the couch; I was leaving in the morning with the last of my things. It had been quiet between us and I had a false sense of "he won't do anything to me now". "A" had gone out drinking, came home and started shaking me awake. He sat on me and pinned me down. He was crying and telling me that we were married in the eyes of God and how could I leave? I calmly told him that it was too late, I was too tired to do this anymore, to get off of me and to go sleep it off. "A" became angry and tried to take me on the couch. I had a bat on the floor by the couch and was able to grab it and threatened to take it to his head if he didn't get off of me. "A" realized I meant business; I shoved him to the floor and watched him stagger off to bed. I spent the rest of the night awake, left early and never went back without someone.

I was able to break free, get a divorce and start building a new life in Syracuse, NY. I met a wonderful man, Ed on the job and after being together 4 and half years, we got married. We were able to be blessed with two children, Zachary and Kaitlin. Even though I had this life, and it was busy, and full, there was a part of me that was blocked off, even to Ed, who knew about "A" and some of what I had gone through, but not all of it. No one knew the whole story, I was so busy giving this perception of "I'm good, I survived", that I never faced the whole abuse myself. That was going to change.

In 2005 I was working for a woman who was verbally, and mentally abusive, not just to me, but also to the rest of her team. I was struggling with work, and outside pressures (raising a small child, a toddler, husband in college, medical issues) that every day was becoming an effort just to get out of bed. I couldn't eat, wasn't sleeping, having nightmares; I would wake up in a cold sweat.

I ended up taking a 6-month leave of absence due to stress and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I worked with my therapist twice a week, my primary care physician placed me on anxiety medication and anti-depressants, and I also went to a gym five days a week in order to help with the depression.

The months of therapy made me confront the abuse I suffered at the hands of my ex-husband and his mother. I also had to revisit my youth and the groundwork that had been laid that may have contributed to my need to "fix" everything, everyone. It was by far some of the hardest work I have ever done; telling my family and friends the entire story and not editing it, was tough. But everyone that I have told, they tell me they have a huge amount of respect for overcoming it, and regret that they didn't help me sooner.

I am a "survivor" now, not a "victim" and I am willing to tell the story, if it helps. I still work with the Masonic Youth, and as an adviser myself; I have to go through a "Youth Protection Program" every three years to be certified. I have asked that a domestic violence program be offered in conjunction with it. Right now, it is not on the table. But I keep asking.

There is such an opportunity to reach out to these young people, at an age where they are forced to grow up so fast, where peer pressure is rampant and not all young men and women have the capability or self-esteem to stand up to it. The ages range from 12-21 years, an opportunity to tell them NOW, no one deserves to be hurt, verbally, mentally, emotionally, physically. That the cycle of violence CAN be stopped, we as adults have an opportunity to show that domestic violence has no place in our society. I'm willing to share my experience, if I can save one person from the pain that my family and I suffered, and then maybe, just maybe, living through it was worth it.

Thank you for your time.