Beth Brown always knew she wanted to help people. She received her bachelor’s in human services because the college she attended didn’t have social work. And though an abusive relationship during that time could very well have knocked her off course, it seemed to strengthen her resolve. She ultimately walked away from her ex-fiancé, moved to another state, buried herself in grad school (admittedly somewhat unhealthily), earned her master’s degree in social work and met her husband of 18 years. Today, she’s a mom to two teenage boys, ages 14 and 16, and she’s a licensed social worker at TriStar Centennial’s Parthenon Pavilion, where she specializes in adult mental health.
“My favorite thing about my position is that I can positively influence those who are struggling,” Beth says.
Last summer, things came full circle for Beth when she got involved in TriStar Centennial Medical Center’s Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Task Force. The task force, which is the first of its kind in Tennessee, is working not only to train TriStar Centennial hospital employees to recognize the signs of domestic abuse when a patient comes into the emergency room, but also to implement a program that will give these patients the resources and ability to get out of an abusive situation.
“Imagine you walked in here and I told you that you need to leave home right now with only the clothes on your back and the things in your purse,” says TriStar Centennial’s Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Stroburg. “You may have children, and there are likely all of these other issues that you have to work on to get out of that situation, so we’re trying to figure out how to really help a victim be able to get help.”
Cynthia points out that one in three women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence.
“Once you’re made aware of the number of people who are impacted by domestic abuse, you can’t just ignore it. You have to do something different about it,” says Cynthia, explaining that IPV Director Meera Ballal, who launched a justice center within a Texas hospital, introduced TriStar to the possibility of implementing this program.
With folks like Cynthia Stroburg, Meera Ballal and Beth Brown involved, there’s no question the IPV Task Force is heading in the right direction. And for Beth, it’s been quite the personal journey. Through the IPV Task Force, she told her story publicly for the first time, and these days, she’s continuing to speak out in hopes that her voice will inspire even one person to walk away from an abusive relationship. She sat down with us at TriStar Centennial Parthenon Pavilion to share her story in an extremely emotional interview. Beth Brown, our newest FACE of TriStar, isn’t just a survivor, she’s living proof that there’s life beyond the abuse.
When did your abusive relationship begin?
I went to Henderson State University [in Arkansas] on a swimming scholarship. I had a boyfriend in high school, but I didn’t really know a lot about dating. But I found a guy in college and thought I was in love. [Beth gets choked up.] I was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and he started attending that, and that’s how we met. The dating process started great. He was very loving, very supportive, caring, and it just turned. There were other things influencing his behavior that I was not even aware of — alcohol, drugs. We dated for I guess six months, and then we got engaged. The abuse started off emotional and verbal, and when I moved out of the dorms to an apartment by myself, the abuse got a lot more physical. I was away from my family — they lived in Texas at the time. I tried to hide it. I never sought medical care because I was scared and embarrassed. There were many times that I was physically hurt. I had bruises all over my body. I would make up stories. I would lie to friends, I would lie to my family and say that everything was OK. That’s the part that hurts more than anything [Beth is crying] because you don’t want to hurt your family. They were trying to help, but when you are lying and not telling the truth, it is very hard for people to help.
What do you think made you stay with him?
I know people don’t understand that, and they wonder why it took me so long to leave or why I would continue to stay in a relationship like that. It just goes so much deeper than that, and there are so many more emotions. [Beth begins to cry again] Sorry, it has been over 20 years, and it hits me like it was just yesterday. But you get to a point where you depend on those people, him specifically, and it just kind of alienates you. When you look at the cycle of violence, I think it’s hard to recognize things when you are in that situation. There was a lot of going back and forth. “I love you, I’m so sorry, I forgive you, Please stop, Please don’t leave.” Every time I tried to leave, I was encouraged to come back. He’d say, “I can’t live without you. I don’t know what to do without you. I’ll hurt myself if you leave.” I felt emotionally torn, I felt like I couldn’t leave. I felt like I was in a box, but I just couldn’t step out of that box, knowing that box was made of plywood or just cardboard, I could not take that step. It was just very hard for me to do.
When did you finally leave?
I finally made the decision after I graduated from college. We had been fighting pretty much all the time for several weeks, and I called my parents and asked them to come and get me. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that I needed to get out. My parents came very late at night, they packed me up, took all my stuff, took me and we headed back to Texas.
How long did the relationship last?
About a year and a half, close to two years.
Once you moved to Texas, was it an easy break?
No, it wasn’t easy, but he didn’t know where I was. He assumed that I went home, and I actually decided to go to graduate school, so I had moved to graduate school at the University of Texas in Arlington. He called several times, but I said “NO” and made the decision to not look back and move forward. Of course, I had a lot of medical problems that I didn’t understand were related to the stress of all that. I had kidney stones. I had to go to the ER for abdominal pains and things that were related to stress and were related to the trauma.
You got to safety, you started graduate school, and when did you meet your husband?
I did not date in grad school. My sister tried to set me up with everyone and every thing. I just wasn’t ready. I met my husband when I was an intern for Big Brothers and Big Sisters during my last semester of grad school. He was a Big Brother, so we couldn’t date anyway, but we waited until after my internship, and it was just a very slow process because of my experience. I was not at all ready for a relationship, and I took it very slow. My husband will tell you that the first time he asked me on a date, I told him I had to go shopping with my sister. [laughing] I really did, but my experience made me timid to relationships, and it just took a long time to feel comfortable. I was eventually very open with him. I mean obviously he probably had insight as to why I was timid. I didn’t disclose my story right at first, but I did say that I was in a bad relationship that caused me not to be very trusting, and we had to take it slow.
How did you get involved with the IPV Task Force?
It’s a God thing. I don’t really have another explanation. Our supervisor asked if anyone was interested. We’ve got a lot of responsibilities, so it’s hard to think about adding something onto an already-full plate. I can’t even put my finger on how I ended up getting involved, but I said I would attend a couple of meetings, and in the first meeting, I just knew I could be an advocate, so I pulled Meera aside and told her I had a story to share. It’s not like me. It’s very out of character for me to step up like that, and public speaking makes me really nervous, but when they mentioned they’d like to have a personal story for the task force kickoff event, there was just something inside of me that was kicking and screaming to tell her. And since then, I’ve been amazed by the support from women and men — my coworkers, colleagues, friends and family, my church. It was very overwhelming but also encouraging, and I think it’s been a healing experience too because I went through it with a therapist, but when you hear those words … It’s something inside of you. It’s a freedom, but also just a hurt and a pain, and I just wanted to let other people know.
What would you tell someone reading this who might be in a toxic relationship?
I would encourage them to look into the signs and symptoms and really evaluate the relationship and get help. Seek help. Find a counselor, a support group or someone that they can share with.
Thank you for being so brave and sharing with us. What do you hope people will take away from your story?
My ultimate goal out of all of this is to be a beacon and a light for someone else. I don’t feel that I’m brave or look at myself as brave, but I know that’s part of it. I know that’s part of healing, and I don’t want that to be taken away from me, but this is about standing up and saying, “No, this is not OK, and we deserve more, and we deserve better, and women have a voice.” I can’t imagine the women who have to try to leave alone, the women who have to do it with kids, or have to go to shelters. I left everything, but I didn’t have a lot in college, and I had a loving and supportive family to help me.
Thank you again to Beth Brown for sharing her emotional story of domestic abuse. The IPV Task Force hopes to begin implementing their new program at TriStar Centennial by the beginning of July. Resources for help are available by calling the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 356-6767 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. All calls are confidential.