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My Awakening & Rebirth Along the Journey of Hope Part One: by Donnalynn Scillieri, MA

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

with Gerri Budd, Ph.D.

Noteworthy: Domestic violence is intentional intimidation: physical assault, battery, emotional, verbal, spiritual, cultural, neglect, sexual assault, stalking, gaslighting, financial and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NACDV) reports twenty women are battered every 20 seconds by an intimate partner in the United States resulting in ten million victims per year. During a women’s lifetime twenty-five percent will be subjected to abuse (American Medical Assoc.) and it is the leading cause of injury over vehicle, muggings and rapes (U.S. Surgeon General’s Office). Susan Weitzman (author of Not to Women Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages, 2000) stated, “35% of victims across the US are educated professionals.” That is where I come into this realm of nightmares.

What is important about what I am writing about is not my story of abuse but the bridge from abuse to a new life – The Journey of Hope.

Before I tell you about myself, I am going to tell you about two women who meet at a Wall Street gala.  Their husbands work together on the NYSE.  The forty something old woman is seated at the table, rather depressed and disappointed where life brought her.  Her husband is a recovering from various addictions and things have been hard.  They have children but things are just not what they should be.  She looks up and in walks a woman in her late 20’s wearing a stunning Bergdorf Goodman cocktail suit.  The forty-year-old heard the younger woman was a trader with a very promising career ahead of her.  The young women is lucky, too, with a white on white apartment in Manhattan, great job, wonderful friends, doting fiance…she envied her, so young with a whole life ahead of her, if only she could do hers over.  The women became fast friends by the end of the evening, they learn a lot about each other and share the same birthday.  The older woman shares her tragic story and the younger one is empathetic but very confused by it all. The younger one has a lavish wedding and the forty-year-old women attends the wedding and celebrates the birth of the first child.  I am going to come back to this story at the end.

I am a fourteen and half year survivor of domestic violence.  There are multiple counts of domestic violence in New Jersey, and I lived through: emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, gas lighting, stalking and financial with two kids in tow. I wrote this as first a survivor, second as an academic, third as an advocate and fourth as a global gender-based violence expert.    When I first left my batterer, a woman said to be, “You should be excited, you are starting a journey and can be whoever you want to be.”  I thought she was crazy but she was right and here is my story of the awakening and rebirth along the journey of hope.

So let me tell you how the first baby steps of my journey started and evolved into a full run…I had no idea I was a domestic violence victim because that didn’t happen to women like me.  As I traveled my personal journey, I didn’t realize I was on the road to recovery, and I didn’t recognize the milestones until a few years into it. I left on October 1, 2005 with a thirteen year old son and an eight year old daughter, $500 and a Jeep about to be repossessed and went to my parents who did not want us and made it perfectly clear everyday.

My marriage was a nightmare.  He constantly yelled; NYSE trader swallowed by his cocaine addiction.  There were overdoses, the worse was when the hospital held us because he took 53 pills in one day and it appeared to hospital staff as a suicide attempt.  The state came in and forced my ex-husband to be held until a full psychiatric exam was completed over a few days. I missed my son’s first day of second grade.  My ex didn’t hurt the children directly but his behavior in the home hurt them indirectly.  The domestic violence cycle moved with his addiction which is not an excuse for domestic violence.  Things would be great; then he would have the urge to pick-up cocaine; then he picked up and the lying began which would trigger the abuse.  Paychecks would be missing, bank accounts drained, cars repossessed, utilities shut off while the “reign of terror” persisted.  The health insurance would be lost which was monumental because my daughter was fighting a kidney reflux.  I became physically ill with the cycle.  He was paid twice a month and of course there would be a payroll disaster on payday which he covered with his lies and his abuse.  Three days before, I would suffer from migraines that would run for days along with a stomach disorder.  I would become engulfed in fear and I felt as though I was splintering from the back of my head into panic attacks.  When I would fall into my terrorized state and beg for help my parents would scream along with my ex-husband.  They just did not understand the crisis while my friends were trying to rescue me, but I was not understanding my crisis. My friend Laurie and her husband gave me an older car, so I could leave without car payments and I was thoroughly confused.  Whatever my friends were referring to and trying to tell me, it could not be me, nor my life.  Everyone had to be mistaken. I would wonder to myself, sitting in hell, “this cannot be my life.”

I noticed one day that everything that made me “me” was gone.  I loved art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art since I was eight years old and took the children’s Art History classes on Saturday mornings. I adored New York City and lived there during my twenties and never went there anymore.  If I saw theatre, concerts or ballets they were on PBS and these were cultural events were integrated into my childhood.  I had been a stock trader with beautiful clothes and always made-up and did not recognize myself in the mirror.

Since I was eight, I loved the New York Times for the art articles and but during those fourteen and half years my favorite section was the Sunday Styles section.  I read the engagement section for two reasons:  1) the older brides and the parents of the blissful couples still had their lives and identities…where was mine?  My kids didn’t know the real me…I had gallery space in Manhattan at eighteen years old in the Paula Insel Gallery…I was ground breaking when I was one of a handful of women traders in the eighties…living life large in Manhattan during my twenties. I didn’t remember being the person on my old business cards and I always had beautiful clothes and now I did not recognize the clothes in my closet. In time, I watched “What Not to Wear.”

My ex was on the NYSE when 9/11 happened and I realized the fear everyone was feeling and describing was what I experienced every day of my life.  Terror was in my own home and when I tried to tell anyone, no one understood what I was saying.

Then, I thought I figured out how to “fix” my ex’s problem. My five-year-old daughter’s best friend invited her to Vacation Bible School and I would drop her off and listen to the Pastor’s sermon.  My son, ten at the time, was drawn to the church and we all became Christian (a liberal Christian).  Well, I solved my problem, so I thought.  When you turn your life over to the Lord, your faith is tested.  Can you hold your faith and overcome the obstacles?  Life went into fast forward Hell.  My ex was stealing more and more and I never could understand it or grasp what was happening around me. I was drowning and the tidal waves kept coming.  Until, he stole the church collection and was caught red-handed.  The interesting part was the children’s and my faith grew stronger and at times I felt Jesus at my side.  My church held a meeting and strongly suggested a divorce.  All the therapists were recommending the same thing…his drug use was diagnosed as hopeless.

Back to the story about the two women, well, I was the woman in her twenties and the other woman tried her hardest to help me until my ex stole from her daughter. I lost touch with her but always miss her.

Please join my as I share another part of my story in the next blog.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please call 911 or you can call, chat or text the Domestic Violence National Hotline:



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