The power of a story

"once upon a time"Every now and then, a TV show gives me ALL of the feels. 

(Do people say that anymore – gives me the feels? Is my emo showing?)

Usually because there’s something in it that feels really true to an experience in my own life. 

Recently, I watched the Netflix mini-series MAID. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s the story of a young woman, Alex, who struggles to leave her emotionally abusive partner and get herself and her young daughter into a safe and stable new situation. It’s based on a book by Stephanie Land, about her own experience.  

Some of you will understand when I say: there were moments in this series that felt truly mind-blowing to me – breathtaking, amazing. I found myself thinking “is this really on Netflix? Are they really telling some real truth about domestic violence on TV?” It filled me with hope and excitement and a profound sense of validation.

Only some of you. Because not everyone understands how excruciatingly difficult it can be to be heard, let alone understood, after you’ve lived through some types of abuse. 

I (here I actually pause writing for quite a nervous while, because even writing this here on my own computer with nobody around is hard to do!) lived through an abusive marriage. A similar experience to Alex’s struggles in MAID – where the guy can proudly and arrogantly say “I never laid hands on you!” … as if that’s the winning card in a game of Domestic Violence Poker. 

Alex’s partner never laid hands on her… he just bashed in the wall next to her. Just threw things at her. Just screamed at her. Just created a situation in which she had no power to make decisions or be independent. Just convinced her that he knew better.

My abuser never “laid a hand” on me, not in the way people mean when they say that. He just smashed things, threw things, coerced me, frightened the children, sexually abused me, tried to isolate me from family, glared at me in such a way that I knew I had to get out of the room with the kids for a while…. Then, later, he gathered his bunch of allies to help him keep the children off me and attempted to ruin my life. 

I was very lucky to have savings of my own, a loving new partner and family, some supportive community members and a part time job. Even with all that, getting away from abuse is HARD. Especially when it keeps following you. It takes women an average of 7 attempts to leave an abusive partner. Alex made it in 2. I know how lucky I was to be able to stay away the first time.

Domestic violence is not just black eyes and bruised arms. You can tell people that, and they can believe you, but they still don’t understand. I literally described to someone the way in which my abuser had raped me, and that person still decided there are two sides to every story and chose to remain friends with him rather than me. I tell people the odd, confusing ways that someone can intimidate and manipulate their wife, and they look at me blankly.

But put it in a book and on a TV show, and be real about how strange it can be… and people can start to understand a little better.  You can’t see a scene of a young woman pressing herself back against a wall, frightened, and a man’s hand thumping the wall next to her head, and not see abuse. You can’t watch a group of supporters gather around a manipulative man and help him take a woman’s daughter off her without realising how wrong it is.

Telling stories is incredibly powerful. People listen to stories much more than they listen to statistics or information or facts.

I know we get told this in voiceover all the time. But watching this series really drove it home to me. Tell your truth, tell your story, and people will listen. 

Some people will hate you for it. Some will love you. Some will have their mind blown and feel life-changing validation because your story was the one they needed to hear in their life.

And if you’re a voice actor, or actor of any kind, and you get to help tell other people’s stories… just remember what an honour it is. Be thankful. You get to share things that can change the world.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, try to find some help:

1800 Respect Australia: https://www.1800respect.org.au/

The Hotline USA: https://www.thehotline.org/

WAVE network international: https://www.wave-network.org/wp-content/uploads/WAVE_folder180919_low.pdf

Image by @MPstockart

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18 comments… add one
  • Michael Apollo Lira Oct 28, 2021 @ 1:02

    Wow Sumara… That’s a really big thing to open up and share about. That’s a powerful thing to do. I’m so, so glad you’ve been able to find a better life for yourself and your kids. All my respect for using your words and voice to share something so personal and to advocate for those who may need to see this.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 16:27

      Thanks very much, Michael. I really appreciate the support. <3

  • Joshua Alexander Oct 28, 2021 @ 3:17

    Sumara, my precious friend. I hope to meet you in person one day, to give you the gentlest of hugs, to press my hand into yours and look in your eyes and tell you profoundly that you matter. To say to you that what happened to you was indefatigably wrong. To stand with you. To call you survivor and friend. On behalf of all men everywhere, I am so sorry. I am very grateful for this blog, for your victory, and for you. Thank you for being vulnerable and for speaking truth. Blessings on you, my dear friend.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 16:06

      Thank you for all your support, Josh. 🙂 It’s very encouraging to be just heard and believed.

  • Gary Mason Oct 28, 2021 @ 3:40

    I feel for you, and understand how difficult it was to discuss this at all, let alone in this public setting. I too was in an abusive marriage. I am a large-ish man and she was a petite woman so laying on of hands was never an issue. But the mental and emotional abuse was real, and with 4 kids, leaving was not an easy decision. She actually succeeded in keeping the kids from me and I lost 8 years with them. She has since passed away (I don’t celebrate that, I am somewhat heartbroken over it as once she no longer had me to kick around she abused the kids and damaged that relationship which can now never be repaired), and I now have great adult relationships with all of the kids. It is nearly impossible for a grown man to convince people that he suffers at the hands of a narcissistic abuser.

    That was 20 years ago, and I now have had two truly wonderful partners (lost my wife in 2016) who are loving and supportive. What a difference 2 decades makes! I am very happy that you have gotten out of that relationship and are on a much happier path!

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 16:12

      Gary, I’m so sorry that that happened to you. Keeping someone’s children away from them is just beyond imagination. My heart hurts for your children and your relationships with them. And I understand how hard it would be to try to tell your story. I’m sorry for the nonsense we get fed by society that keeps us from hearing and understanding other people’s truth.

      I have one of my three children living with me. I am able to text or call the other two sometimes. I’m grateful for that.

      • Gary Mason Oct 29, 2021 @ 0:15

        She was trying to control me, and when I refused that was my “punishment”. Thankfully, they grew up and began to see her for what she really was. In the end it was her that suffered more than me. I can’t say the 8 years was “worth” the relationship we have now…but I am eternally grateful for that relationship. It COULD have come out much differently. I pray you ultimately have the same.

        • Sumara Meers Oct 29, 2021 @ 15:05

          Ah yes, I know all about punishments involving using children as bargaining chips. It’s awful. I actually decided not to fight for custody because all I saw was years of fighting and manipulation – with the children placed purposefully in the middle of a grotesque tug-o-war. Unfortunately they end up in the middle anyway, but at least there’s some semblance of peace and stability for them.
          Thank you for your thoughts. <3

  • Steffi Oct 28, 2021 @ 6:23

    Sumara, I’ve only just ‘met’ you online, but I feel I know you a little from your great posts. This is incredibly brave but so Desperately needed out in the world. I’m so sorry it happened to you, but soooo happy you got out the first time. As you say, sometimes it takes a lot longer.
    Thank you for being strong and allowing the world your story so we may learn from it. It’s a big responsibility we VOs have every time we take the mic.
    THANK YOU.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 16:14

      Thanks so much, Steffi. <3 I'm taking baby steps in telling bits of my story and it makes it much easier to get lovely, encouraging comments.

  • JD Kaye Oct 28, 2021 @ 7:03

    Sumara,
    What a terrific post! . It took an inordinate amount of courage to write that piece. I have so much respect for you after reading it. Thank you for sharing such an intimate story, and congratulations on getting out of that situation on the 1st try.

    You are truly a force to be reckoned with.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 16:16

      Thanks so much, JD. I really appreciate the support. And, well, some days I am much more of a force than others! 🙂

  • Reece Oct 28, 2021 @ 18:14

    Great comments. Hard act to follow 😅. I’m inclined to be negative about the abuser rather than positive about the survivor. My critical nature, I guess.

    I don’t have a lot to say.

    There are a lot of men who abuse women and then justify it with their religious beliefs. They have religious family members telling them that professional psychological help is not necessary. They don’t actually believe that they have a problem.

    I’m no psych but I took one look at him, when I first met him and I knew straight away there was something wrong with him.

    Tell other men that their behaviour is uncool when they are abusive towards women.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 28, 2021 @ 18:20

      They have lots of ways of justifying themselves, and it’s so easy to do when everyone around them and most people in general society have such bizarre ideas about acceptable behaviour.

      Yes, exactly. People have to say something, when they can and it’s safe for them. That’s how we change the world, baby. 💗

  • Jon Gardner Oct 29, 2021 @ 0:06

    Sumara, you are a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. Not just how you sound, but what you have to say. If I can see your value from 12,000 miles away, no man standing in front of you has any excuse. I’ll be honest, your post made me uncomfortable. It made me sad, angry and triggered my Papa Bear protective mode. It also made me proud of you and want to stand up and cheer. Thank you for sharing, and for being you.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 29, 2021 @ 15:06

      It sure can be uncomfortable to read and hear about. Thank you for your kind words, Jon. 🙂

  • Tyler Robbert Oct 29, 2021 @ 0:29

    Sumara, thank you for your vulnerability. Thank you for taking the time to write this eloquent truth. Thank you for risking potential disbelief and backlash from the dark recesses of the internet. Thank you.
    My wife and I have been watching MAID, too. I couldn’t agree more about how powerful of a story and show it is. I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched something that gave me such a visceral reaction—every. single. episode. I cry at almost every movie we watch now (I chalk it up to becoming a daddy, though Pixar doesn’t pull any punches in the emotions department), and it’s been no different as we’ve watched MAID. It’s convicting. Not because I have engaged in or been the recipient of that kind of abuse, but because I am so privileged and fortunate that I haven’t had to worry about it. And not having to worry about it often leads to not thinking about it at all. Over the past few years, I’ve realized how blind I’ve been to a lot of the suffering in our world—even when it was near me. My wife and I both have committed to becoming more aware and informed. We want to be ones who help people’s stories—the TRUTH—be heard. We want to be a part of those stories.
    Thank you, again, for sharing YOUR story. It touched my heart and reminded me yet again how important, how compelling, how powerful stories are. You are a gift. I feel grateful to be a part of the VO community alongside you.

    • Sumara Meers Oct 29, 2021 @ 15:02

      Thanks very much Tyler. 🙂 I tend to cry at anything related to parenting too! You’re right that it can be so easy to just not see bad things that are going on even very close to us. … but, people telling their stories helps, at least. Thank you for your kind words.

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