Impact of Violence on the Workplace - Part 1

Part 1 – The Blog and the Blow Up

by Daisy Winters, M.A.

Trying to avoid spilling my precious morning coffee while lugging the ancient beast of a laptop, I settled awkwardly into a spot at the café that was my “second living room.” The kids were just off to school and I was determined to make this the morning that I wrote my first blog post for Centre for Violence Against Women and Children. I had shared my story with the Centre a few months earlier and had been invited to write about a couple of topics; the impact of domestic violence on the workplace would be my first.

I arranged coffee, laptop, purse, and coat and noticed three people at the next table, one of them wearing a jacket bearing the logo of my ex’s employer. It startled me but anything associated with him threw me off guard. I took a deep breath and thought, “loads of people wear clothing with company logos; it doesn’t mean anything”, and paid no more attention to it, focusing instead on coming up with a catchy first sentence for the blog. Suddenly I overheard, “I’ll get ‘J’ from X-division to give you a call.” HIS name, HIS division. HIM. It was like being hit by lightning. I froze. I felt my entire skin contract, muscles coiled, ready to run. Heart pounding, throat constricting, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. I just needed to get away! Get away from these people who knew the man who had kept me in a golden cage for almost half my life.

woman writing at cafe

I watched myself get up, turn to the table and blurt out, “I’m J’s ex-wife!”. I felt like I had left my body and was hovering above it, watching this train wreck happen, not being able to stop it. I couldn’t for the life of me think why I would have wanted to identify myself to them, but my brain wasn’t thinking. It was panicking, in survival mode: fight, freeze, or flee and it was choosing to flee. The woman turned to me and said with a huge smile “Oh, hi Daisy! How are you?” I didn’t recognize her but, apparently, she knew me. In a strangled voice, I heard myself choking out the words, “I have to go, I have to go, I have to go!”, gathering my things, spilling my coffee in the process, and running out the door.

The sudden blast of cold air bit into my brain, making me inhale sharply. I shot back into rationality and was, at once, horribly embarrassed. What the hell had just happened to me? I felt like I was going to vomit. Quickly, I walked to my car and got in. A primal howl erupted from my body, long, loud, and hard. Tears streaming down my face, I viciously pounded the steering wheel, screaming in despair. How DARE he still hold this power over me! How DARE anyone invoke him and violate me in one of my safe spaces. How DARE my body react so viscerally to even the mention of his name! And shit. My coffee was wasted too.

Then, suddenly, I was grateful to have had such a concrete demonstration of what domestic violence can do to a person. THIS was the impact of domestic violence on the workplace. This was my brain reacting to the neglect and the verbal, emotional, and financial abuse I’d endured for 17 years. At that moment, I couldn’t have made a work-related decision, developed an exam, or read an essay if my life depended on it. My brain was entirely consumed by the need to survive, the need to escape my abuser. It was completely incapable of thinking creatively and fulfilling my promise to the Centre. If my brain was rendered incapable of writing a coherent sentence after simply hearing his name, a full year after he had left, how could someone who is still living in an abusive relationship, and whose brain is preoccupied with survival on a daily basis, function to their fullest capacity in the workplace?

It took a full month for me to recover from the café incident before I attempted to sit and write again. I took the safer route, choosing to write at my dining room table instead of risking the possibility of being exposed to anything that could hijack my efforts again. Although I’m continuing to process, the decision to blog being part of that process, I wonder how long it will be before I can hear his name or even the name of his workplace, without feeling like I need to vomit.