Last June, photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz won the 2013 Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award for her work documenting domestic violence. She had followed a couple, Shane and Maggie, for several months and photographed moments of their lives in great detail. Sarah wrote on her site:
I had originally intended the story to focus on the difficulties felons face once being released from incarceration. My intention was to paint a portrait of the catch-22 many individuals find themselves in upon release, the metaphorical prison of a stigma they can never seem to escape. The story changed dramatically when one night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight. Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her 2-year-old daughter, Memphis.
Sara asked someone else in the house to call 911, and she documented the abuse.
All the while, Maggie was being tossed across the room and choked in front of her tiny daughter until the police arrived.
Fellow Huffington Post writer Galit Breen asked me to make a statement for an article she was writing for All Parenting about the story. I had seen the headlines, but hadn't yet clicked through the photos when she asked me to contribute my comments. When I finally looked at the whole series, the tears rolled down my face before I could stop them.
I told Galit that I cried for Maggie, and I felt her fear and loss and pain. I felt her wish that she could change him. I cried for the children, watching this play out, and wishing for them a better future. I cried for the feelings I had when I was punched in the jaw and kicked and screamed at. I detested Sara for standing there, snapping photos, while this family fell apart. That's what my heart said.
Maggie is now in Alaska, reunited with her husband and father of their children. She is fighting poverty, age, inexperience, fear, stress and a history that now includes battery. It's a Sisyphean task.
When I split up with my husband, it wasn't after he wrapped his fingers around my neck and socked me in the jaw. In fact, I married him after that. I know just how hard it is to break away from the erosion of self-esteem to find the true you again. And I didn't have kids at the time.
I have been thinking of Maggie every day for a week now, and I'm willing her with all my heart to push through this. For herself, for her kids, for her husband... for the rest of her life. There are far too many Maggies in the world.
I want to gather all of the Maggies in my arms and hold them and tell them this:
He's going to tell you that it's your fault.
He's going to tell you that you pushed his buttons and made him do it.
You're going to think that you're crazy.
I know you feel worried that you will never find someone else to love you, because your worth has been compromised.
I know you are afraid that he's right about all the things he says about you.
I know you will feel nervous about dating someone new and you doubt your judgment.
I have been there.
I doubted my worth, my self-esteem suffered, and I worried that my judgment was not just askew but absent.
It's OK to quit a relationship. You are stuck in a riptide; reach out for the nearest hand and grab it and let them pull you ashore before you drown. I told different people small pieces of my story but told no one the whole story. I was afraid that they would tell me to leave him, and I was not strong enough to do it.
Know that this is your chance to teach your children about healthy relationships.The last thing you want is for your son or daughter to grow up thinking that they can be treated this way, too.
It's OK to feel sorry for him. I know you want to fix him. I know you are hoping that love will carry you both to the happily ever after. It will not happen as you're getting hit. He needs help that you cannot offer.
Don't kick yourself for missing the red flags along the way. It is never too late to change. If you are afraid for your life, listen to your intuition. You are not insane. You know when it's wrong if you listen to your heart.
It's OK to feel scared and unsure about what your life will look like without him. You will grieve the relationship, the loss of hope, and the emotions that you thought were love.
It's OK to wonder if you can live without him.
YOU DESERVE BETTER.
Believe it. Tell it to yourself every day.
Real love does not hurt - physically, verbally, or emotionally.
I love you. Love yourself enough to break the cycle. No one else can do it for you.
Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, wife, and mama to a mini-Texan. In 2013, her blog Two Cannoli was named a Babble Top 100 site, and she wrote about domestic violence at Violence UnSilenced. She's proud to be a 2013 cast member and 2014 co-producer of the Listen To Your Mother show in Austin. She was recently named a BlogHer Voice of the Year reader for 2014, and she writes for the Huffington Post.