Domestic violence: a secret issue we cannot overlook

U.S. Air Force Maj. Amanda Sims-High, 23d Medical Group Family Advocacy officer, presents Tech. Sgt. Katherine Gay, 23d Medical Support Squadron medical laboratory technician, with a plaque for her role in the Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness luncheon Oct. 8, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Gay shared her experience as a domestic violence survivor with guests in attendance.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Nash/Released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Amanda Sims-High, 23d Medical Group Family Advocacy officer, presents Tech. Sgt. Katherine Gay, 23d Medical Support Squadron medical laboratory technician, with a plaque for her role in the Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness luncheon Oct. 8, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Gay shared her experience as a domestic violence survivor with guests in attendance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Nash/Released)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- "Mom, did Daddy hurt your feelings again?" a confused and scared child asked his mother after witnessing a heated exchange between his parents.

Being addressed by her frightened child during the aftermath was a surreal moment. This was the breaking point in which she hit rock bottom. She realized she had to make a change and not use the idea of love as an excuse in hoping that things would get better.

Years of maintaining the false image of having a healthy household and marriage finally came to an end. After consoling and detailing the years of being on the receiving end of verbal, emotional and physical abuse to her mother, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Katherine Gay, 23d Medical Support Squadron medical laboratory technician, wondered what was next after experiencing an 18-year relationship of domestic violence with her ex-husband.

"I knew what [domestic violence] was, but I didn't see it applying or happening to me," said Gay. "Like with [getting into an accident] while texting and driving, or being hit by a drunken driver, people think 'oh, that won't happen to me,' or 'I'm strong and won't let anything like that happen.' That was how I felt about domestic violence."

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is forcefully intimidating, physically assaulting, sexually assaulting and/or other abusive actions used as a controlling mechanism by one intimate partner towards another.

"Domestic violence can be emotional abuse, putting someone down and blaming someone for everything, which to me was worse than physical abuse," said Gay. "Words hurt and lasted a lot longer than being hit.

Gay vaguely remembers the first events of the domestic offenses, but recollects some of the initial characteristics that led up to experiencing physical violence.

"I can't remember the first [abusive] event, but it started out with the constant questioning," said Gay. "Things progressed from arguing, yelling, being put down, telling me I wasn't pretty and that no one would ever want me to eventually fighting."
Gay's idea of having a happy family allowed her to accept the abuse and blame herself. She wondered how things would be if she left, but those thoughts cleared her mind because she didn't want to be considered a failure as a mom due to breaking up the family.

However, the couples strained relationship slowly changed her into a different person.

"I was isolated from my friends and family, and even lost my faith because of him," said Gay. "I had big dreams and milestones set to accomplish but I dropped out of college because he said that I was 'too stupid to accomplish anything.' Anything I did where I had the potential to grow as a person was stupid to him.

"[The relationship] also changed my ability to be my true self," Gay added. "I had two personalities which made me a total fake at work and I hated it. I went from a stressed out and uncertain wife to an optimistic, seemingly happy Airman. It was hard to cover up my optimistic acts of being put together and outgoing. Because of it, I felt like I was on edge."

Although the relationship kept her on edge, Gay ultimately thanks her ex-husband for giving her the opportunity of a life time. One that ultimately helped her successfully transform into a domestic violence survivor.

"One thing I am most grateful for, besides the kids, is the fact he forced me to join the Air Force," Gay added with a wide smile. "Little did he know the Air Force actually gave me the strength and courage to end our relationship. I knew the Air Force would take care of me. I knew I'd always have a support system, a pay check, a house to live in and that my kids would be taken care of."

Surprisingly, the most terrifying day came when her stability came into question as she was uncertain about the kids and her future.

"The most terrifying day is when he left me and the kids," said Gay, who recalls almost fainting from being physically sick. "He drove away in his pick-up truck and I prayed that he would never come back. I was glad he left, but also got sad and felt alone. I didn't know what to do. I had to go to work and find child care for my three kids. After telling my mother about the situation, I notified supervision and went about finding child care and started my road to recovery."

Utilizing her will power and support from family and friends, Gay attempted to become her true self again. After 18 years of being a domestic violence victim, people might wonder - why didn't you just leave?

Having the ideal family was more important than Gay's personal well-being as she made excuses for her abuser, hoping things would get better. When Gay's ex-husband left, she took time to reevaluate her life.

"The first thing I did was put my kids and I through counseling and joined the choir to find my faith again," Gay added. "My biggest fear during the marriage was if I told, what if no one believed me because I didn't show bruises or what if child services took my kids?"

Fortunately, the process hasn't changed Gay's career status and her family is intact. Once Gay received medical help and was well into her road to recovery, she noticed positive changes in her life.

"I became that young girl, who had ambition, hope, and a sense of humor again," said Gay, stating she felt like a bird finally let out of a cage with a new lease on life. "I was a hollow person; a robot that did whatever he wanted to do, but that wasn't the case anymore. I started to feel strong, unstoppable and accomplished. My children saw me happy and we started doing things. I can't get back those 18 years of my life but then again, I wouldn't have my children and be the person who I am today. It sounds weird, but I'm so thankful for my ex-husband. He's made me stronger."

Gay feels obligated to share her story and voice her experiences and opinions towards domestic violence during Moody's Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Awareness luncheon this month.

"Your time will come when you'll have the strength to say you're not going to take it anymore and you're done," said Gay. "No one could convince me to seek help and heal until I was ready and had the strength.

"It's funny looking back on it now, but I had a really good friend that came to work with a black eye and I called the first sergeant," Gay added. "I knew she was being abused but yet, I couldn't come forward for myself."

Gay emphasized the benefits of victims having a positive support system and seeking self-help when ready.

"Just be there for them to give them that courage to keep believing," said Gay. "Also, it's important to seek help and be strong enough to tell someone. Every individual is different, but once they realize enough is enough, they can take that stance against domestic violence and become a survivor. I'm proud to be a survivor."

For information on prevention programs or to make a referral regarding suspected abuse, please call Family Advocacy at 229-257-4805. Additionally, the Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate is available 24/7 to take restricted reports by contacting 1-229-444-6808.