"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you" -- Maya Angelou
I kept my abuse a secret for over 20 years; the Ray Rice story moved me to speak my truth.
When I was 26 years old, my ex-husband and I were driving through Greektown, a thriving restaurant and entertainment area in downtown Detroit. It was bustling with people on that warm summer night. We got into an argument, about what I can't remember. What I do remember is that one moment we were arguing and the next I was bouncing off of parked cars on Greektown's main street. My 6'7" husband had leaned over, opened my door and literally kicked me out of our moving van and sped off.
Surprisingly, my first response was not to check to see if I was hurt, it was to look around to see if there were witnesses. It was not because I wanted witnesses to the abuse; it was because I was ashamed.
Monroe Street was one block from Detroit's Recorders Court (now the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice). It was a meeting place for probation officers, judges and attorneys. I was one of the first two women to supervise adult male felons on probation in Detroit. I was known as this courageous, intelligent, trailblazer so my first thought was, What would this do to my reputation?
Next I remember thinking, Who can I call? I was injured however I was afraid to call my family or friends. I come from a very close family and I feared that if I told my brothers they would end up spending their life in prison. I was too ashamed to tell my friends who held an image of me that I did not want shattered. I felt very alone. I felt very responsible. I chose to marry this man so I felt it was my responsibility to bear the consequences.
I limped to the hospital that fortunately was two blocks away. When I got to the front door of Detroit Receiving Hospital I was too ashamed to go in; they knew me at this hospital. I had visited many of my probationers who had been treated there. I decided to walk home, a seven-block trek at 11:00 on a Friday night.
I spent the rest of the night wondering if what had happened was my fault and thinking about why I married this man. You see, I had no reference point for domestic violence. My father treated my mother like the lady she is. My brothers always courageously and publically defended any woman they witnessed being physically or emotionally abused.
Why I Stayed: I was afraid! I was ashamed; most of all I felt alone -- I was afraid of being judged. How could Michele Hunt marry an abusive man? What would this do to my career? What would my family think of me?
Why I Left: I realized that staying was not an option; I knew I had to escape! Like a prisoner of war, I devised a strategic plan that took five months to execute. During that time I was quiet, kind yet distant. Like a cat, I waited for the right moment. When that moment came I pounced. The day he knew that he had no choice but to leave quietly, I was free at last -- or at least that's what I thought.
Why I Kept My Silence? I kept my secret from everyone for over 20 years because I was afraid of being judged. My successful career helped me to rationalize and "justify" my silence. I was promoted from probation officer to Director of the Detroit Women's Correctional Facility. I then served as the first female deputy warden over programs for rehabilitation in an adult male prison in the Michigan Department of Corrections. I went on to become the first female vice president in a prestigious, global Fortune 500 company where I served as Corporate Vice President For People. Next, I served on President Bill Clinton's Transition Team and then President Clinton appointed me to serve in his Administration as the Director of the Federal Quality Institute in the Reinventing Government initiative.
Since 1996 I have lived a highly visible life as an author, public speaker, entrepreneur and strategic advisor to leaders of Fortune 500 companies, organizations and communities around the world. Through all of this I protected my secret like a lioness protects her cubs.
Why I Came Out of the Closet. I told my family first. I could not take another moment of hearing them tell "funny" stories about my ex-husband. My response had always been to leave the room when they revisited the "good old days" that included him. They naturally thought I was being overly sensitive. One day it just came out; it wasn't planned, I just erupted. I told them everything. They loved me and supported me. Their only question was, "Why didn't you tell us sooner". I shared my secret with my daughter Nicole when she was 13 years old. She encouraged me to go public with my story.
It was 1999 when I was on stage giving a speech on DreamMakers: Putting Vision & Values To Work that I went public. I shared the mantra that my father made us say, seven times every morning, before we set off to school. We had to stand in the mirror with him standing behind us and repeat seven times: "I am healthy, happy, beautiful, intelligent, loving, loved and I am wise". At the end of my speech a women raised her hand, stood up and thanked me for sharing my mantra. She went on to tell her story of domestic abuse to 2,000 people in the audience. She then told us that my father's mantra was a gift that might help to fortify her children from experiencing her trauma.
My daughter's encouragement and that beautiful women's courage, gave me the strength to speak my truth. That was my real V Day, the day my spirit was liberated.
"... and then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in the bud, was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -- Anais Nin
It is for my daughter Nicole and women, girls and boys around the world, that I choose the most powerful form of communications on earth to come out of my closet. I want anyone and everyone who is enduring abuse of any kind to please know -- You Are Not Alone!
May we all find the courage to share our stories. Our transparency, our voice, may help to liberate those who are caught in the insidious cycle of violence and abuse.
"Each Time a women stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women" -- Maya Angelou