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Domestic Violence and the Link to Addiction

Our story is often our greatest teacher, as life weaves what we are meant to learn into our existence with great consideration. We come to discover that we are mere players in the grand design of awakening.  And through our maturation, the qualities of humility, endurance and resilience, start to dwell within us.  In time we see that the journey itself is alchemizing us, and our power comes in our ability to rise from the ashes that the fire once consumed us.  There is a beauty in this, an invocation of all things spiritual; like a phoenix rising anew.

This process does not exclude anyone on the planet. We are all being raised like children as we continuously learn and grow. There is inspiration in our becoming and beauty in our darkest days.  These are the moments that forced us to emerge and pave our destiny. These are the experiences that required us to look deep within and realize our spine is made of iron.

It would be easy for me to continue on in a philosophical manner, which bears all things lovely in so far as poetry is concerned.  But rather than speak from bird’s-eye view, I feel it is imperative write about matters directly.  So I sat to think about whose story would exemplify courage in both action and honesty. My friend Jessica Yaffa immediately came to mind, and so I asked her if she would be willing to tell her tale. And in her usual fashion Jessica bravely obliged.

Jessica’s story is not an easy one to digest, for she has suffered greatly at the hands of horrific domestic violence. She has been raped, beaten, and tortured. And for the sake of honoring people’s comfort levels, I have left out some of the more gruesome details. If you wish to learn more, consider visting Jessica Yaffa’s book, Mine Until.

The Story of a Domestic Violence Survivor

Jessica grew up in what she calls a “normal” family system, yet she vied for her father’s attention and approval.  Circumstances warranted this need and Jessica began to compensate for her self-perceived shortcomings through a relentless game of perfectionism.  At the tender age of 16, her performance caught the eye of a popular classmate in school.  He showered her with “love” and Jessica was enamored by his attention.  “It felt amazing to be seen, desired and wanted,” she told me, “I was in heaven.” After all, the deepest part of Jessica had been yearning for the gaping hole in her chest to be filled since she was a child.

By the time Jessica went to college, psychological and emotional abuse made its way into the relationship.  She told me of her boyfriend’s non-stop accusations and domination over her every move. He accused Jessica of cheating multiple times, despite her clean hands and devotion to him.  Through the under-handed tactics of mental manipulation, Jessica ended up believing that she was the cause for the continual chaos within her relationship.

In time, Jessica found herself commuting from Los Angeles to San Diego five days a week just to prove she was innocent. By being in her partner’s apartment when he arrived home from school, Jessica was living out his demands. Curious about her internal process, I asked Jessica what she was thinking and feeling at this time.  She simply said, “I was so caught up in trying to figure out what I was doing wrong that it didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t the problem.”  And so it goes in the face of abuse, the victim subscribing to the tyranny of lies spewing from the perpetrator’s mouth.

In time Jessica moved back to San Diego and attended college at a local university. One night she decided to stay at her dorm and watch movies with her friends, a seemingly small act of self-love. She told her boyfriend over the phone that she would see him in the morning.  Shortly thereafter there was intense pounding on the door. Her boyfriend barreled in, grabbed her by the throat and pulled her into the hall. Dragging Jessica down to his car, he threw her in and pinned her face against the window.  He was for all intents and purposes, kidnapping her as punishment for simply not complying with his wishes. How dare she choose to spend time with friends?

Her boyfriend would not allow her to sleep that evening. He mentally, emotionally and physically abused her for hours on end.  Eventually both of them fell asleep, and when the morning came he stared at her with tears streaming down his face. Her boyfriend blamed everything on an increase in his alcohol intake and apologized profusely. He was in a state of total remorse, and Jessica found his alibi to be legitimate.

Surviving, Overcoming, and Rebuilding

Time went on and the abuse continued.  Jessica gave birth to their son and desperately tried to bring stability to an unstable environment.  Of course this was a futile attempt, as rage is no one’s servant. And one day that rage came after Jessica again, but it missed her face and struck their son. It was in that moment that Jessica made an inner-resolve to get her son out from under the roof of tyranny.

Given that her every move was monitored, escaping was no easy feat. There were cameras up in their apartment. She was watched through the blinds when her feet exited the front door. Every chore was observed, and heading to the laundry room was no exception. The following day when Jessica made her way, she dropped the basket and sprinted to the safety of the building manager’s office. She locked the door and ordered him to call the police.

At this point her now husband did what many abusers do once the cycle has been interrupted; he showed great remorse. He vowed to quit drinking.  He said all the right things with a flair for the logical.  He took ownership of his chaos and vowed to emerge triumphant. And for a while he did, romancing her back into his life.  In time the abuse started again and Jessica found herself leaving and coming back several times. They say the third time is the charm, and in some beautifully destructive way she found this to be true.  Jessica had finally reached the point in which she realized nothing would change. She left for good.

Despite the separation, this man continued to threaten her and her family.  Over 100 police reports were filed and in 2001 he was sentenced to prison on 14 different accounts.  She told me that he is up to be released as early as 2025. I imagined his pending release elicited a lot of feelings for Jessica. I asked her how she felt about him walking free again.  She said, “What was true for me five years ago wasn’t true last year or even yesterday.  And so what is true now, likely will shift as well. It is something that changes over time.”  It seems this is wisdom that far exceeds her circumstance alone, for we are always in the process of fluidity when it comes to our emotions.

Committing to Change

Jessica went on to receive great accolades in her career and attempted to “win” at life. She told me that she moved from man to man; never doing the inner work she necessary for true healing.  She had been shattered, beaten down and stripped of her sense of self.  Quite naturally, she instead put her attention on her surroundings.  This is a common practice after trauma, trying to find security through perfecting one’s outer world.

Jessica admitted that she began a love affair with her boss, which resulted in them both getting fired. It was humiliating, and yet, it also served an important purpose in Jessica’s life.  This was her final straw; she would no longer tolerate an existence that housed dysfunctional relationship dynamics.  Jessica sought therapy and began the journey of uncovering what is helpful, and what is not, when it comes to rehabilitating after trauma.

Jessica learned the hard way that her nervous system had been so traumatized, that she was living in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Going to talk-therapy without first helping her body regulate was causing systemic overexhaustion, resulting in Jessica becoming almost non-functional for weeks at a time.  For someone who has not suffered PTSD this may seem extreme, and that’s because it is. Jessica eventually learned that she needed to seek help from a professional who was trained in dealing with trauma, which has a different approach to healing than traditional talk-therapy.  She slowly began to learn how to be in her body without wanting to escape it. Minute by minute, day by day, Jessica found her way back into a state of regulation.

Jessica bravely faced her own weaknesses, and revisited the experiences stored in her body. She grieved, cried, crumbled, and rebuilt. She is a warrior and a testament to what is possible when a woman decides that she is worth more than the sum of her past. Today Jessica lives within the arms of a healthy relationship and her hard work has bore fruit.  She has a family, an amazing career, and a relationship with her body in which she is the driver.

Jessica uses her story and experiences, as well as her resilience and knowledge, to help other women emerge from the darkness. She is a sought-after expert in the field of trauma and domestic violence. In fact, I met Jessica because I had the honor of facilitating groups at a recovery home that Jessica helped pioneer. Her message is loud and clear and she proudly wears the titles of educator, motivational speaker, advocate, professional, consultant, and survivor.

Opening the Door for Others

Jessica Yaffa is the president of a non-profit called No Silence No Violence, which seeks to eradicate the stigma around domestic violence. They provide resources, tools, training and new beginnings to women in need. She is also a senior consultant at Doyen Consulting Group, where she oversees the trauma aspect of care as it relates to mental health issues, disordered eating and addiction. Additionally Jessica leads groups at Haven Hills Recovery, a trauma-informed rehab for women in San Diego, California.

Jessica is also the CEO of Jessica Yaffa LLC, which provides certification training programs, coaching, and workshops for professionals looking to gain more knowledge in the area of abuse and trauma recovery. She travels far and wide speaking and providing key insights from a survivor’s point of view. To learn more about these services, please visit Jessica’s website.

It is a beautiful thing to have a mission, one that is heartfelt and aimed at helping others. I feel it is important to honor the work that one must do within themselves to be able to truly stand at the podium and be an integrated teacher. I admire Jessica for the courage that she called upon as she traversed the mountains and valleys of her own mind.

If you have any questions for Jessica, please do not hesitate to reach out to her through one of her many organizations. She is an invaluable resource and has gifted many women with new skillsets and rays of hope. If you are a victim of domestic violence, suffering from addiction in hopes of numbing the pain, or are a loved one of someone who is suffering, please know you are not alone. Sometimes the biggest gift we can give ourselves is simply admitting we need help and support. Life is not meant to be lived alone. We need each other. Many blessings to you on your journey, and may the wisdom of courage beat inside your heart.


Images courtesy of iStock

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