61% of domestic abuse survivors report PTSD*. I thought I was stronger, smarter, different… Unfortunately, no.

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I have PTSD.

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What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological condition, characterized by:

  • symptoms specifically associated with exposure to a traumatic event.
  • Providing appropriate and individualized resources and services to victims is critical for their active recovery and healing*.

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The impact of domestic abuse can linger long after the violence has stopped.

The impact on the victim can be in the form of:

• injury (financial, work related, emotional, physical)

• damage to physical and mental health

• suicide and feelings of hopelessness

• sexual and reproductive health

• ill effect on children

Victims of domestic violence who seek healthcare often find themselves not having their needs catered to, or even recognized (Heise et al., 1999).*

In my case, during the relationship, there was a constant feeling of fear and never feeling safe around this person when in the home with him and my sons. We never knew what he was going to act like and we always knew he would yell at us and scare us at night, or when he had been drinking or doing drugs. I often had to call the police to protect myself and my sons, through out the thirteen year relationship.

We had a family dog that I adopted from “2nd Chance Rescue”. He always called her “your dog”. He kicked her in front of me when he was angry to the point she yelped in pain. He made me pay for her medical bills and would get angry when I wanted him to pay for half of her needs. He was always angry about money even though I used every cent I made to pay for the boys, their clothes, school projects, holidays and birthdays. The boys and I loved our dog. Aidan, one of my fraternal twins, loved taking her for walks around the neighborhood. He was so gentle with her, I thought he might be a great vet someday. My constant thought was always a prayer that neither one of my twins would become an angry, scary person that treated women badly in front of their children. I don’t know if leaving their father when they were thirteen helped solve this problem or not.

I have vivid memories and sometimes, nightmares, about actual moments when I feared I was going to be killed or my sons would be injured by this man. These involve moments at multiple locations, from being in a car on the freeway, to being on vacations in different places, at restaurants, at my parents home, etc… Many of these times were in front of my sons or friends, or the public. Other times were at the home, and only witnessed by me or my sons. There were times I was so afraid, I had to lock myself in a room with my children. I remember huddling with them on the floor, watching the light change under the crack of the door as their Dad drunk raged outside the door. We just wanted him to go away and be quiet. It was so frightening. I cried many times in complete disbelief that anyone could act the way he did. I longed for my first husband’s kindness and the fact that he never physically scared me.

There came a point where I was trying to become independent and I consulted the schools about what to do. They were included in the decision. I had to let go of any “control” of my sons in the school (ie…IEP meetings at Drake and “parent nights” in order to get away from their father). Their music teacher would invite us to different concerts so we would not have to see each other. I wanted to be able to go to the school events, but I couldn’t handle seeing their father at all. It made me feel sick to my stomach and I would instantly have tension, unnecessary stress and frequently, the feelings of fear and panic would return, even in a public place. I never trusted that I would be safe around him. It was this feeling of past trauma and history of unpredictable behavior that scared me.

Financially, having to leave with no custody, alimony or any form of support, (because we were not technically married and the courts take too long to resolve these cases) I spent so much time, my own money and my parents money, and many days just to get through the court system. I had to do this even though I didn’t want to have to spend this time and angst going through it. This was a loss to me financially, while the boys father continued to work full-time, I had to go through this “unpaid work” and try to work, find housing, and create the framework and strategy for a legal conclusion of paternity and custody just so I could move forward. Having more help in this to speed up this process and help women get custody support AND some form of “alimonyeven if they were not married, is very important for women in the future.

Even when I was living away from him and custody and 60–40 arrangements had been agreed upon (June 2016), there was anger and harassment. There was difficulty getting to spend my agreed upon time alone with my sons with out their father interfering, showing up and yelling, wanting to remain on the property when he was supposed to go somewhere else, etc… “It’s my house!” I remember him yelling from the backyard where he wanted to do yard work. (It was a rental home.) His presence on my weekends wasn’t non-invasive. He still wanted to access the kitchen and bathroom. My sons still had to go out the back door to the garage for their bikes. We all had to go outside to get to the car to go anywhere else. We would see him. He was still there even if he wasn’t supposed to be.

Once I had my own housing, he wanted to know where I lived even when I did not want to tell him. He used financial abuse in the form of withholding custody until the end of the month when I needed to pay rent, and then he denied the custody so I would be forced to have my landlord communicate with him directly. Then, and only then, would he pay the very minimal amount of custody($800./month). Although I had another form of income, denying this money caused me to appear financially insecure in front of two separate women renting me housing. A sublet in San Rafael (Sunset Way), and a sublet in San Francisco (Kirkham Street). He would wait until it was so late that he had to PayPal the two women landlords and this is how he found out who I was renting from, their names and where I was living.

There was a constant feeling of, “Why me?” All my friends who have divorced were married and got more financial assistance, a house or some form of long-term support. I worked VERY hard for my twin boys, especially because they had special needs and required additional support for many years before they could do things with out an extra parent or aide. The public schools in California required “mandatory volunteering” for parent drivers on field trips. I was required to help at the school until my sons were through middle school. I was also required to be at many after school activities or else my sons were not allowed to participate (I was told that because of their behavior/needs, they needed me there). I was only able to work part-time until they were 13, at which point I tried to return to school for UX Design, and was forced to leave due to a health scare with one of my sons. Special Needs were involved. Domestic abuse was involved and the California school system is not the same as that of the East Coast, where they usually have buses for field trips.

One of the hardest parts of this was the fact that none of my friends with kids really believed the domestic abuse and manipulation part of the story because they never really saw what happened in the home. Some of my friends did see it happening early on. There were even times when he yelled in the house when my friends were visiting. This turned my friends away from wanting to visit the house at all. I never felt like I had real support from my closest friends, in the form of a shared couch to crash on or funding. Most of my friends were now Moms who had their hands full. I even had one Domestic Abuse Center in San Francisco laugh at me on the phone and tell me “You weren’t abused”. Why would anyone call a domestic abuse center if they weren’t really abused? Do you think anyone wants this stigma attached to their history? I had always hid what was happening for so long because I did not want anyone to know about this. I took happy photos, posted them online. Tried to “accenuate the positive”.

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The best parts of my escape story are about the things I did to stay sane during this traumatic time. I learned guitar, wrote songs, learned Salesforce with Trailhead(pictured), attended the free days of TrailheadX and Dreamforce. I visited former teachers, galleries, farms and places by bike I had only been by car. I raised money for SFBike and Climate Crisis via ClimateRide. I met other volunteers and students. I took a management class at a community college. I danced to many live bands and felt free for the first time in a long time.

Seven different women I knew contributed to a GoFundMe this February, 2020. This helped me pay my bills and food when I first arrived in Connecticut and started the paper work for EBT Food Stamps, Health Insurance and the hip replacement I knew I had needed for over a year. It was time to take care of my health. I still need dental work on a lower right molar and have only called once to try to schedule this. My bank account is overdrawn. I have looked into Bankruptcy support and the paper work requires me to report everywhere I lived over the past 3 years. I have had to move over 10 times in the past three years. I lived out of my car while job hopping around San Francisco as a production design contractor and art teacher for more than 9 months.

I have never hated someone more than my sons’ father for putting me in this situation, and I was raised as a Catholic and taught to “forgive and forget”, and “never hate” anyone. This kind of abuse is not something you simply forgive. You can not forgive an abuser and suddenly “get along with them” enough to co-parent. You are escaping that madness. You can’t be friends with this person.

You can only hope the world changes so that men do not treat women this way any more in the future. I can write a letter to his employer, and send it. I believe this is important to do. I can feel sorry for him, for not being capable of empathy and kindness towards the mother of his children. I can empathize with his belief system, that he never was someone who was able to include me in his mind as an equal. He saw me as a nag, a hindrance, and a sex object. He regularly called me a bitch and made me cry in front of my sons. Getting drunk and stoned when he had season tickets to baseball games with his guy friends was so important to him that I was seen as “ruining his day” when I had a medical emergency (caused by our toddler son) and had to be driven to the ER for a broken nose. The behavior from this human was beyond anything I had ever witnessed in real life in an individual. These things were only the kind of drama I’d seen on television. I’d never seen anyone combine drugs, alcohol, chewing tobacco and cooking, skiing or driving. I’d never met anyone that needed some sort of drug in him all the time to just exist.

I was happy with my sons and teaching them about the world, nature, music, science, making costumes, gardening, biking, hiking, trips from SF to Monterey to Tahoe. We did a lot together and I never had to drink or be on drugs to be with my sons. I’m so sorry this ended the way it has, and I wish I could find a way to get back to California and be guaranteed work that I enjoy, care about and that is seen as a healthy step for me and my sons. I need work and housing, and I feel so exhausted and traumatized from the entire experience, a hip that is not healed yet, and of course, Covid and Climate Reality.

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Downtown San Francisco, Holiday Streets, with my twins in 2018.

There are so many things on my mind, but I definitely miss my sons and California most of all. I really was happier there, and I have the same feeling of being “trapped” in a place I don’t want to be here in Connecticut. I just want to go back to California and be near the coast. Be there for my sons. I so wanted a job that fully supported me and my housing where they would feel proud of Mom. I was so happy when I was able to buy my son his first drum set. Take them to Flower Piano every year. Help my sons get into music lessons with Blue Bear Music. Teach them to ride the bus, BART and bike throughout the city. Find music friends in San Francisco to keep them moving forward with their passion. We went to see Bobby McFerrin at SFJazz! We marched in the Climate March. We marched in the Pride Parade. We took Salesforce Park by storm. We loved learning about city life, together.

Recently, having no income, I gifted my sons a flute and online flute lessons for their Birthday this April using PayPal. I can’t afford this, yet being 3,000 miles away, I wanted to give them something to help them get through the isolation of the Covid pandemic. My son posted online that he has already put his own flute samples into his dance music compositions. That made me happy, to know that my effort paid off in his music education, despite the fact that I had to use a loan through PayPal to provide this for my son.

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Blake at Flower Piano, 2019

I have always wanted them to see me as an equal to their Dad so they don’t feel like I am not capable of caring for them too. I always wanted equality, but I guess I didn’t know their father would act the way he did. I didn’t imagine one person could ever be so selfish and weirdly competitive that they would intensionally destroy someone’s housing options, health, career, etc. I just didn’t know how addicted, cruel and narcissistic he was when I met him. When I discovered his habits, I always thought he would change and things would get better. Unfortunately, it just kept getting worse and worse. I was forced to seek more support. Contact Child Protective Services, talk to the schools, friends, family, attorneys.

I do feel hopeless and angry at times because I can’t imagine being able to afford my own housing and have a full-time job, even though it is what I want and I was absolutely able to do confidently in my past. I need kindness and support at a workplace. Not competitive people that are mean and don’t understand what I’ve been through. This is why I thought I could create a special program at Salesforce or another company for domestic abuse survivors. I just don’t know how to do it. There are grants available for survivors to go back to school, etc… I want to work and feel comfortable again on my own. I do not want to live in fear or be separated from my sons any longer.

I’ve had a couple ideas. The book I’ve been writing feels like a mess. A wild escape journal full of music and humor, but ultimately, I am left homeless with out my sons and needing therapy for PTSD. It shouldn’t have ended this way. I was a college educated woman, with tech skills. I should have been able to survive the leap away from my abuser, but he fought back. Suddenly, the man who never really wanted to be with his sons thought I was going to steal my sons from him, and photographed my license plates on my car, angrily, in front of me and them. He acted like I was a scary person, when I never had been. He told me I’d never be able to succeed. Then, after each of my contracts ended, he’d be angry that I didn’t have a full-time job yet. My attempts to find meaningful, long-term work over the past three years were never good enough, his anger increased. I was belittled by him for so long, despite the fact that I was a working, caring and loving mother. I have a very hard time feeling hopeful or confident, despite the fact that I know I am qualified for many high paying roles.

There is something about wanting to finish my book that feels it would help me, but I can’t seem to do it myself. I need an editor and have no money to pay anyone. I have thought of selling my car, buying an electric bike, and starting a GoFundMe to bike across America back to California, but we have Covid, and this is not a very safe plan. I know I am currently not physically capable of biking across the country. I don’t know what I am doing anymore, and I am frustrated with this feeling. It is a combination of knowing I need stable housing in California, work I love and my health. My health does depend on a safe place and a quality relationship with my sons, who I consider my closest family. I can’t stay with my parents. I am not myself here. I feel angrier here than I did in California. I don’t want to be 3,000 miles away from my sons.

How can I make this work with out sharing my information with their father? I have to do this on my own, with out my parents sharing information with him. I have to do this with out sharing my location online. I don’t want him to know where I live or where I am working. I can’t ask him for money because that makes him angry, but if the courts in the future created a better system for this that was more equal, it would have helped all of us get through this more easily and possibly not created PTSD in Mom. I needed more financial support right at the beginning, and a true, long-term housing plan. Contract work was not enough. I needed a full-time, permanent job. I needed a better support system in California.

I never thought my life would be so complicated. This is one of the biggest reasons I miss my only husband and best friend, Gunnar, so much. Our life seemed so easy compared to all that I have been through. He is still the only person I really feel like talking to right now. His calmness, passion for music, creativity, sense of humor, love of dogs, nature, skiing, windsurfing and the ability to make me feel at ease was all I ever really needed. I miss him every day, and I think about how he went on to work as an audio programmer at all his favorite companies. His C++ skills combined with electronic and classical music composition skills were in high demand and allowed him to stay in California and have a solid career here and do the things we’d always dreamed of. I just didn’t get to remain a part of that journey. I am definitely sad about that. Absolutely. Always have been, because I knew him very well after eleven years with him. I never have met another friend I loved as much as Gunnar.

I have never had a gaggle of “girlfriends”. I’ve always had about three close women friends at a time. Three in college. Two in grad school. Three or four moms in my sons’ grade school, and so on… The “Twins Club” in Marin. The support group from Easter Seals when my sons were 3–4 years old. Somehow, we raised the kids despite all this drama. There is a sadness that you feel, knowing your friends’ kids had homes, owned their houses, and could afford furniture and actually decorate together peacefully when you spent 13 years learning how to avoid arguing about money with someone who you ultimately, could not love. Losing your best friend of eleven years, ending up in a drastic situation for thirteen years with “the wrong person” and worrying about your sons from 3,000 miles away is still not a positive resolution. I now have a “pen” and a guitar. I like to sing and write songs. I’ve learned a lot about Salesforce. I have a loving heart and I care about people, but I never stop believing I will get to give Gunnar and my sons a hug again, in a better place. I don’t like to lie. There are people we will always love, no matter what happens.

The future is uncertain, but I do know that my sons are now eighteen, and to the best of my knowledge, they have never done drugs and I’ve never seen either one of them drunk. Swimming, cycling, hiking and creating music have been more present in their lifetime. They have both told me they don’t want to drink or act like their father did. I haven’t seen my kids in seven months and I feel like I am going to explode from the frustration of missing them and the grand spaces, colors and beauty of California. Despite global warming, fires, homelessness and a global pandemic, after twenty eight years, California is still my home and I need to be there and involved in my sons lives to feel like a whole human.

If you have ideas to help or job offers in the Bay Area, please contact me.
If you would like to contribute to my bills during my recovery, you may do so here. Thank you so much for caring enough to read about what I am going through. It is really appreciated.

-Colleen M. Proppé

  1. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Upon Admission to Shelters Among Female Victims of Domestic Violence: An Ecological Model of Trauma, Dekel, Rachel, PhD, Shaked, Omer Zvi, MSW, Ben-Porat, Anat, PhD, Itzhaky, Haya, PhD. Violence and Victims, Vol 34, Issue 2, DOI: 10.1891/0886–6708.VV-D-16–00200

2. PTSD and Domestic Violence, Tanya M. Grant. August 23, 2019. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118929803.ewac0426

3. THE EXPERIENCE OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, Ruwab Khemchandani, Dr. Priyanka Kacker, PhD Scholar, Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University Assistant Professor, Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University. drkacker@gfsu.edu.in
https://www.gapijfbs.org/articles GAP INDIAN JOURNAL OF FORENSICS AND BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE, Volume I Issue I, January — June 2020

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Life-long artist and designer. I love creative writing, live music, acoustic guitar, golden doodles, border collies, nature, cycling and organic food. She/her.

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