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Blossom Your Awesome Podcast Episode #66 Thriver Zone With Susan Omilian

by Sue Dhillon
August 25th 2022

Blossom Your Awesome Podcast Episode #66 Thriver Zone With Susan Omilian 

Susan Omilian is an author, motivational speaker, attorney, and nationally recognized expert has worked to end vio... More

blossom, your awesome podcast episode number 66 today on the show, Susan Oh million is here with us. Susan is an author, motivational speaker, attorney and nationally recognized expert who has worked to end violence against women for the last 40 years in the 19 seventies, she founded a rape crisis center and in the early 19 eighties represented battered women in divorce proceedings. Susan is the founder of Shriver's own, a healing place for women who want to reclaim their lives after abuse and thrive. I am so honored and delighted to have Susan here with us sharing her wisdom, love and light. Susan, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Oh, I'm so excited to have you here and get into your story. Now let's start, you are an attorney, you're an author, you're a motivational speaker, you have been helping women for decades now give us a little of this backstory and then let's get into um the driver's own and all of that and what you are up to today.

Yes, So, um yes, my, my career, I guess if you call it that, I don't know if that's what we do anymore. Um, but it goes back about 40 years. I started working with women, I think in the women's movement of the 19 sixties and seventies consciousness raising groups. I was interested in women's rights. I always wanted to be an attorney from a fairly young age and I didn't see a lot of women attorneys around that and I really didn't have any idea how I would do that. I grew up blue collar in Detroit michigan. So it wasn't really experience around me. But when I got to college, I got very interested, um, in the movement, particularly around women's legal rights. And when I came out of college, I before I went to law school, I started doing, I started a sexual assault crisis service in the area, a suburban area where I was living outside Detroit. And I just got really interested in advocacy. I, I don't know exactly why, maybe because I always wanted to help people, but the idea that this was a movement that was really beginning.

And the, I mean, I remember a time when there weren't rape crisis centers, there weren't domestic violence shelters. So I was really, um, working at the beginning of the movement, and then when I went to law school, I became clearer about wanting to work with women um, on legal rights. And after law school, I when I started practicing law at a legal aid program, uh, working for free. Um, but getting paid through the, through state and federal money. Um, I started working with women who were coming through domestic violence. We had just passed a restraining order law in michigan at the time. So it was very new area judges didn't know what they looking at. Um, and they really, we really hadn't even had words for most of what was going on with women, not that it hadn't been going on for centuries, but we didn't have the words and the law didn't prescribe it in many ways. So, um, kind of law school, I moved to Connecticut, I started working with the women's public interest law firm here. I really wanted to focus on women's rights and we were doing some of the early work on sexual harassment, Once again, not something that was even identified as illegal until the early 1980s.

Um, and I went to work for state government here in Connecticut, working in child welfare. So all this was sort of, building into a career of, I guess, a career. Um, but I wasn't really sure why I was doing this work. I had never had been experienced myself. Um, no, what I knew of my family, there wasn't any particular experiences. So, um, What it all came to was after I had left state government for a while. I started writing a novel, actually, and um, and this is now in 1999. And I had I have a niece, my niece Maggie, who was attending college in Michigan, and she was killed by her ex boyfriend, um, who then killed himself. And suddenly, although in this horrible moment of of how this could happen. I don't know why I thought my family was the other that it wouldn't be um, uh touched by this kind of violence, particularly gun violence. Um, but some part of me was like, everything I'd ever done came to this moment and it really became clear to me that there was not only um work that I still needed to do um in the movement, but also kind of different work.

Um I felt like with Maggie's death, it was very personal now and very immediate and also very emotional for me. So I couldn't go back to the work I was doing in crisis intervention. Uh every woman in the shelter was Maggie and it was just too emotionally difficult for me. So I struck out on something else I think mostly because I realized I was on my own journey now as a secondary victim of a crime and I really wanted to heal myself and not get stuck in my anger. And so I slowly devised a workshop. Um I got this idea that if I couldn't avenge Maggie's death by the way that we traditionally do it because he killed himself. Um I couldn't take him to court and make sure he, you know, got prosecuted and convicted and wouldn't hurt anybody else. So I got this quote living, well is the best revenge. And I thought, yeah, that's exactly what I want to do.

Um not get caught in my anger. And um he destroyed my niece. He was trying to destroy my family by putting us all through this very traumatic experience and there's no way he was going to do that. Um So I started doing these workshops. I am not a clinician, remember I'm an attorney, but some part of my own personal journey and a lot of my work around writing and creativity sort of led me to let me ideas about how to how to run it and how to help women find a very positive place. So I started doing work which was victim to survivor to thrive. Er and that's really where I got the idea that we need to help women continue their journey beyond just surviving what's happened to them and see if they can move into a perhaps a more happy, productive and certainly a more fulfilling life, then they may even have experience before what happened to them. Because many women in our society, many people in our society have other trauma histories that compound it.

So that's the work I'm doing today. It has blossomed into books and continue to do the workshops. I've been doing them virtually now since Covid, and I'm really moving now into helping train other people to do what I do, and also to see it become more integrated into the society, particularly the domestic violence and sexual assault um services. So, it's been a journey. Um but I can see where it started and I can see how I got here and I continue to see what happens next, wow! Oh my God, that is just, oh, it that is so remarkable. That is such an incredible story. And um yeah, so I have so many questions now, more than more than I did before, so now I'm really, I'm like, wow, I already had all my questions lined up now, it's like, okay, even more questions, so you know, first I just, I think it's so amazing, tell me your thoughts on, you know, I was gonna ask you until you then said, well, it wasn't like I had ever experienced any of this, I didn't know why I wanted, was kind of drawn to help women in this way and it's so interesting that it kind of came full circle, then you have this very personal experience with your niece Maggie and um so what was that moment, like this culmination of, like, did it, was there any feeling of divinity or like this is ordained or you know, what was that like for you, spirituality, maybe a word that Yeah, well, so it was kind of a yin, yang kind of thing, so part of me was just shocked and outraged that this happened to Maggie and how could this happen to her, she was this bright, beautiful, athletic, talented, she wanted to go to law school, we talked about the cases I had done and she was just, you know, brimming with excitement, very, very smart.

Um so one part of me is just outraged by this whole thing and what would I do if you know, if this happened to me, what would Maggie do, and oh my gosh, and the other part of me was like, oh that's why I was sort of like this moment of discovery and um I didn't, you know, I don't know if I would have discovered this. Um I've been thinking a lot more lately about how people have spiritual awakenings in their life and not necessarily religious. Um I sort of separate religion and spirituality. You can be spiritual and also be religious, but there's some people that don't follow a more religious sort of path um to find spirituality, but some part of you that's been untouched by all that's happened to you. And that sort of rises to the occasion and perhaps makes you do work that you wouldn't have otherwise done. I don't know without Maggie's death, not that I wanted my niece to die in the way she did, but I don't know that I would have gotten to this work without that moment.

And so it's kind of a gift and it's kind of a a sorrow for me. Um and but that but I also realized that I could not control what happened to her and there are many things in life that she can't control. So and they are defining moments. It was a defining moment for me and I think all I could do was say yes rather than no. Um and I think that is what I also try to say to the women, I don't know why this happened to you, I don't know why you've suffered domestic violence or sexual assault or child abuse, maybe your whole life has been this and I can't imagine because I've never been there. But there is a moment that you can do something else with it. And um and and as you look having my experience over the years working in this movement, there are a lot of survivors who awoke in this movement so that so they have a personal challenge and they have decided to trans transform that into something good.

I think the other thing that I've learned a little bit about in reading some clinical stuff around trauma which has been much more um prevalent these days, more talk about trauma. I think in the covid crisis we've been in. Um people have been more aware about trauma because it's happened to them around Covid. Either people they love dying or themselves being um having covid and the implications of it. But anyways, there's a bit of research about what's called post trauma growth which is looking at people who have gone through significant trauma in their life. And that I think I had this idea that when after Maggie was killed, that I would return to where I was the status quo before Maggie. But there is no before Maggie anymore. That that that has that her death has and the way she died um has changed that for me. But that growth that I don't know that I would have got to thrive without that experience.

So post traumatic growth is not so much going back to where you were. And for many of the women I work with, going back to where they were was not that great a place either, but sort of then transmuting it in some way and coming to a place that you may not have ever gotten to. Um, and in a, in a very personal way. Um, and it may not be, I have met a lot of survivors of homicide and many of them have told me the same thing. They did not have this personally in their life and then when their loved one was killed. Um, and it may not be even a domestic violence situation, it may have been in a car crash or um, or a suicide, um, that they have had this growth and, and we talked about it as a club, none of us wanted to join, but because we are part of this club now that we talk about what we're doing in our loved one's name and that makes us really happy. Wow. That is just all so incredible.

Um, what you're doing and how you're kind of, you know, leaning into growing from it because not everyone is able to do that. So let me ask you, um, you know, you have this sense of confidence and I think as a woman, you've been doing this for so long, you were, you know, in the early, uh, you know stages of this with speaking out for women and helping pass legislation for sexual harassment in the workplace and all of this now, where does that come from within you? Like, where were you just always confident? Because you know, this kind of period of time where women were supposed to be a little more reserved and not so outspoken and right, so where where do You figure that out? Well, um, I always like to talk about. Um, my generation, I was born in the nine, I was born in 1949, the the end of the uh was a post war baby. I'm a baby boomer. Um, I was raised in the fifties.

So I always feel like I'm I had one ft in the fifties and one ft uh in the sixties and seventies. So I was raised in the fifties where women were, like I said earlier, I didn't know any women attorneys. Um they just weren't out there. I I had this idea, You know, I went to the library and found novels about um, what they call courtroom dramas and I just loved them. And, and so I really had no role model, I had no idea. Um, so yes, I was raised in a time when women were submissive and the goal was to get married and have babies and a lovely thing to do. Just never seemed to sort of sort of wrap my, my head around that. Um actually the bridge to all this was um in high school I was the, the school newspaper editor. Um, I think one of the first women actually to be is now that I think about that this 1967 when I graduated from high school. And so journalism was my actually my first thing um because I've always been a good writer that I wanted to use to write and to be a journalist.

And um the first newspaper um job I got was working on women's News, which shows you how far back that was writing, you know, weddings and writing up weddings and, and garden club stuff, but then I would find an article about a woman who didn't, you know, change her name when she got married or um, the local now chapter. And so I sort of slowly moved into it and when I, I realized that I wanted to be more of an advocate than journalism allows you to be, which is the objective part. And there were, there were women in journalism, not a whole lot. Um, but that's when I went to law school at law school, I literally was, was only a third of us in law school who were women. And so yeah, I really had to um, I don't, you know, I'm, so it makes me laugh that you think I'm so confident, but it was a long process. Um, and there's still days when I'm, you know, not sort of enough and I'm thinking okay, what, you know, what role are we playing today? Um So yeah, it was it's my generation had a real struggle with it, but I think when we saw it um in the 19 seventies and we were just, you know, beginning to even, like I said, even have words for it, we saw that there was something that we wanted to do and the women I've met in the movement over the years, and there's still many of them who are um working very hard and the young women coming in are doing amazing things that there's a necessity to this um you know, the the idea that women are not second class citizens that we have something to offer and um and that, you know, we have choices to make, and so I always thought that I only had one choice and I didn't want to, that was not a choice that I was, that I was pulled towards.

Um but I think my generation really started to define what a career low like in a career that you could have, although um you know, I know young women who are still juggling career and mom and wife and, you know, the whole thing, so we're still we're still in that same, that same dilemma, but I think it's gotten clearer and clearer and I think what's interesting to me right now is a lot of young women is I understand it coming out of college, I want to start their own business um that was unheard of in my generation, you yeah, to get a job and work somewhere, I've had my own business now for about 10 years and it still amazes me have a business. Um once again, not something that was in the category of what women were supposed to do and certainly not maybe as a husband and wife kind of thing, but not to have their own business. So um yeah, it has been a real journey to find that part of me and to also see it as um a part of me that was brought out with this tragedy, but it was it was it was underlying for me for a long time, I think I was just trying to find the work I felt the most comfortable with and felt the most passionate about and that's really what this is for me right now, mm I love it.

Susan, I love that now, I mean, I just love the fact that you're this outlier, right? You were you are an anomaly at that time. So what kind of feedback are you getting from people around you at that time? Are you, are people saying, wow, that's awesome, you gotta go for it or did you have some naysayers? You know, saying, oh my God, that's so impossible and it'll never, you can't do that and women aren't lawyers and you know, did you, were you getting any of that feedback where you just tuning it out? Um what was, I mean, I have very, I have a very loving family, a very large, very large extended family. My grandparents were immigrants, their polish immigrants, so um there was a lot of sense and some second generation in this country, my mother was both, my mother and father had, their parents were from Poland. Um, so there was a real, you know, and in the polls are very industrious people, so we were supposed to work hard and do something, you know, value, but um like I said, I grew up blue collar, so there weren't a lot of people that except in my generation that even went to high school, let alone college.

Um, so that was a pursuit that my parents were really clear about and that my parents bless their hearts, really were clear that I have brothers and I have a I have a younger sister that both girls and boys were going to go to college, you know, and and we figured out how to do that with scholarships and whatever. Um, but my family always was kind of like, why are you doing this? You know, and not not directly at me, but um and then I have a couple of, you know, members of my family who think it's, you know, I've been doing wonderful things and are very supportive. So, um, but I, I was I was an anomaly, there is no question about it. And so what I had to do was seek out other women and particularly in the beginning of the women's movement, um, in the 19, well, late sixties, early seventies, there were a lot of us who were seeking each other out. Um, and I did start to meet women attorneys. I started to meet women attorneys who were doing, um, not just family law, but we're doing criminal defense work, which was, it's still, well, it's probably more prevalent now, but um, it's still not the place that most women attorneys go, um, mostly because it's, it's a very difficult practice and it's hard to balance that with um, with home and family, but, um, so I think there were, there weren't naysayers in my life, but there weren't people that could totally understand where I was going.

So, most of my support for many years has come from outside of um, where my friends have been uh, supportive because we've been in the struggle together for a long time. It was even trying to find what we were trying to do here. Um, and finding role models and then I think now it's trying to see where we can make do the most good and really sort of drilling down on some of the issues that we thought we'd never be able to address. Um, and um, you know, so, so one of the things I did after Maggie was killed beside working with victims, I started working With men who were offenders, um, who were men who harmed, and mostly men who were arrested for domestic violence. And had been sent to a by the judge had been sent to program, um, Psycho educational program. So I did that for about 15 years and that it was really my work with victims, sort of informed that work.

And my work with the offenders now informs my the victim works I do with victims. Um, it's a it's a path that we have, we're just larry moving into. Um, I don't know that we can change some of these behaviors by these men. Um, some of them are driven by their personalities and personality disorders. Um, but unless we go in, unless we address this problem on a number of fronts, I don't think we're ever gonna resolve it and and also in the area of sexual assault. Um, so, um, you know, rather than saying, why do women stay, um, why do women put up with this? Why does he do that? Um, does he see the value of it? Did you see how it's destroying his relationships? Um, always tell the guys, you know, Yeah, you can be controlling in a relationship and you can make somebody your wife or your girlfriend do what you want them to do, but they're never gonna love you if you're looking for love. That ain't the place to find it.

So, um and I think that's really unexplored territory. Um The other one that's sort of dovetailing into it now is the gun violence. And it is not a notice that most of the mass shootings are by men. Most of the mass shootings, uh, and even the domestic uh terrorism that happened January six. Many of these men have domestic violence records. Um so um or sexual assault convictions. So there's a connection to all this, the accessibility of guns. Um my niece was killed by a gun that was, she didn't know he had um he bought it um with a with a a background check, but he used a college dormitory address and the gun shop owner had no responsibility, no legal responsibility to notify the college that he had the gun. If they would have been notified, they would have been able to reason for reasonable cause um searched his room and found the gun before he killed her.

But all that is kind of all muddled into um, one of our current issues that is really unresolved in our society. The connection between guns, domestic violence violence in general and men. Um, and how we tease that apart. Um, either by going to um we haven't been really successful on the gun violence issue yet, but we're slowly getting there. I think it's even trying to understand all those connections. Um the data is all there, there's no question about it, right, wow, Susan this is just so remarkable the fact that you were so I didn't know that you were also had this history with working with offenders which just makes you put you on this whole other level, because now you are looking at the whole picture and you are like you say, able to, you know, better understand the victim by working, you know, with the offender and having that kind of whole picture there, that's just um you know, and I really just believe so many people in so many different um kind of modalities there, you know, therapy or whatever it is, we're just kind of looking at the victim, right?

We don't really know what this other person's going through. How do we ever help them and get them to stop victimizing? So I think that's amazing. Well, I think the other part of that is that working with these men um and and they were mostly young men, I'd say 30 forties. Uh it would depend. Um and I worked in two different states over the 15 years that I did it, their trauma history is incredible. Um they just don't come to the table. Um with this arrest. Um usually the man I was working with mr misdemeanors pushing and shoving breach of peace. Maybe a simple assault though, some were arrested for strangulation. Um if you ask them, I mean without with very rare exception, what their childhood was like, many of them witnessed domestic violence. Um, many of them were abused as Children. In addition to this witnessing, um, they lived in communities where there's a lot of gang violence and gun violence.

So they come to the table um, with their, their own history, um, and their own lack of understanding about how you, how you have a healthy relationship. No clear role models, no male role models. If you ask them, you know, who was, what was there, who if they had a male role model in their life. Um, that was a little hippie. Sometimes they talk about a coach or a teacher in school, but usually not their father or their stepfather. Um, so we have to recognize where it doesn't justify their behavior, um, that these are men, many of these people are on a powder keg just sort of, and then they try to get into a relationship and have it be healthy and they have no, they have no modeling for that. Um, you know, they don't have a, um, and, and and that kind of that kind of culture where men are supposed to be tough and strong and you know, whatever. Um, the kind of culture I grew up in how men were sort of, um, although my brothers are not like that.

My father was not like that in any way shape or form, but I always think that that's the exception to the rule and isn't that sad. Um, and now, you know, in the flip side of this has got to be that generally from what I've read, what I understand, what I know about this with, as far as the victim is concerned many times, that person doesn't necessarily come from a whole, you know, upbringing, right? They've experienced trauma, they have their own insecurities. And some things that allow that versus that woman who's been raised in, you know, without abuse and without witnessing that and confident she's less likely to. Well, as I've gone through this work for 40 years, I think there are fewer and fewer of those women who haven't had this any kind of experience in their life. Yeah, many of the women I work with, although when they come into my workshop, one thing that I decided to do, which I think has worked really well is I don't ask them to tell me their abuse story, I make sure they're safe and if they if they're, I don't usually don't work with women who are still in the abuse, um, it's just another piece that I can't do very well, I can't do that crisis intervention.

And so I make this, so, but when as the story slowly come out, um many of them have had this history of trauma for particularly witnessing domestic violence as Children. And, and, and there's I don't know if this is a research thing or statistic or whatever, but um, but you know, the likelihood, if you, if you witnessed domestic violence as a child, I mean, think about how vulnerable that is, particularly little little baby, um, who doesn't even have language yet seeing their mother. Um, and their father do things that are very violent, um, that they're the idea that you either are going to be a victim yourself or a perpetrator is pretty reliable. Um, and that's what I see with the men. You know, like I said, very rare, but they say that they had witnessed domestic violence in some point of their life or other kinds of violence. So I think, I think trauma history is not only that kind of abuse, trauma history, but also institutional trauma, you know, where the institutions in your life don't, you know, don't, um, either traumatize you.

I was just reading about Pope Francis, who was apologized in Canada for the, the catholic church taking uh, indigenous populations Children out of their home and and and telling them they couldn't speak their language and they couldn't follow their customs. That's institutional trauma. It goes way way back. Historical trauma. There's all kinds of ways that people have been traumatized and and how people react to it. Maybe either as a victim in the future, uh, not necessarily consciously perhaps or as a perpetrator. Um, it's it's a learned behavior. Um, and I found for many of the men that I work with the learned behavior was when something bad happens to you or you don't feel good about something you get angry and men are allowed to express 11 feeling in in their life, uh, and to be a real man. And that is anger, even though there's a lot of other feelings underneath that usually hurt and sad. But men are allowed to show that um if they do then they're, you know, Sissies and whatever that's changing a bit, but it's not changing fast enough.

Um And I think that's for from that, from that ground work. Um, it's really hard to move into a space unless you're, you know, um, in therapy if you're really working at it, if you're, you know, educating yourself and and working at it, but those are not services that are free to most people these days. And most insurance companies just more recently have allowed even mental health coverage um, with your insurance. So, um and men really aren't encouraged to go to therapy this lifetime. Uh, maybe the, maybe the younger men are, but I don't know. Um, so we've got a long way to go here and I think we're, what we're managed to do as a society is getting a little bit clearer about some of this. Um, and trying to dig a little deeper, um, not only how to prevent um, people from getting into these situations. I see my work helping women move on after abuses prevention.

So they don't go back and that has been the rhythm for many women over the years somewhat for economic reasons, um that women because we weren't didn't have access to good jobs. Um as we were talking about before that we had to be economically rely, reliable, reliable, reliant on a man to have a to have a, you know, good financial situation. That's changing quite a bit. But it's still sort of how people view relationships. You know, we're gonna get together and it's gonna be lovely and and and we're gonna, you know, be successful financially, whatever. So, um a lot of that is not necessarily what's actually happening to most people in this society. And now let me ask you Susan. So for someone because I know, you know, victimhood, it's it's hard cycle to break and it's, you know, just repetitive and redundant.

You get out of one you know, relationship and you kind of, you attract that same person, right? Because you have all that kind of internal stuff. What is for someone who's kind of stuck right now in some situation? What is the guidance for them? Like where do they begin to unchained those shackles? So today there are a lot of of excellent service. Is there free of charge um for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, the crisis intervention, getting people safe and stable. Um those programs have been very successful. There's not enough of them. They we found during covid time that many more women were sort of stuck in relationships. Um now they were being um quarantined with their abusive partner. Um and so we're sort of unraveling that, and I think that that was actually good and one level, because people were like, oh, domestic violence and sexual assault, that's not a problem anymore, That's not been true, I think what's missing and the piece that I've been developing, not that I'm the smartest person in the world, but I think it's a natural processes that um most of the women that I meet who come into my workshop are really good survivors.

They have survived many, many things in their life, and they have positioned themselves um on some level to just keep surviving. You know, they'll tell me I'm a really good survivor can survive anything, and I sort of challenge them to say, okay, well why don't we move to take that energy and move it to another place, which I call moving from survivor to thrive. Er and I think there's a part of them that's been untouched by all this ever happened to them, A part of them I call it could be, you know, some people have words for spirit or or um soul or just a part of you that's been untouched and to bring that part of you up and to first of all recognize the positive energy of that, you mentioned before about confidence, you know, that I have confidence, I think because I've taught myself over the years to get to that, that that part of me has been untouched by all these other cultural things women shouldn't do and to bring that part of me up, I call it the happy person inside, it's just kind of a fun way to describe it.

And the second thing that I do to even get women to that place, like some of them tell me they've never felt that way in their whole life, um, so that they have had victimization over time and then many of them, like I felt like that one as a teenager, but I don't, I don't, I don't feel it today, so trying to bring that part up and the second thing that I tried to help them to do is it's a motivational model that they sort of got stuck in the motivational model. They either don't have enough positive energy um which is the first thing we work on um and it could just be things that make you happy, you know, in a very superficial way, you know, it's like I'm happy because it's summertime, um just beginning to build that that sense and then focus, desire something that you want that's maybe attainable right now and you can build from that, so I want to go back to school, I want to go back and get a good job, I just want to like clean my house and feel like I'm living someplace that feels real comfortable, so desired goal. And then what's your fear? What's the fear that's holding you back?

And for lots of fears? People think about those as physical safety. I think most of our fears, our thoughts, not things, you know, I'm not good enough. I don't deserve better. Um, I'll never get my life together and really start to poke at that. And how do you um get that negative voice in your head to quiet down and to get the positive to come up and then to realize that at the end you're gonna feel really good. I have value in my life, which may be why this is directing me through my whole life. I don't know. Um, but I have a value that if I do meaningful work, I am really happy and I think that's been true about me my whole life that even in law school, it was clear to me I wasn't going to law school to practice corporate law or tax law. That's a lovely thing to do. But it just didn't match my to me that was not meaningful work. What's been So if if my desire matches my that value, I will go for it. And I think women who come to my workshop realize where they're stuck and then they start to be able to motivate themselves.

So they're not caught And there's bad things always happen to me on, you know, life is too scary. But they start to pull it apart and the women I've worked with over the years, I've worked with hundreds of women's, hundreds of women who come through my program and I have continued to work with them in a follow up program for the last 10, 15 years from many of them. They have done these amazing things. I have gone back to school, they have started singing again, they started painting again, they've bought houses, they've started businesses. Um you know, slow steps. Um and some of it was just getting their energy back and they haven't the ones I have stayed in contact with have not returned to an abusive relationship and in fact some of them have found healthy relationships. So um it's a it's a process that many that we all have. It's a natural human process, but for people who have been traumatized or have gone through some difficult times in their life, they've either forgotten how this works or they've gotten stuck somewhere. Usually they've gotten stuck that they don't have a focussed desire and they don't have enough positive energy to start moving through it.

So I don't know how I came to all this. It's certainly how I motivated myself after Maggie was killed. I was gonna do something that was meaningful and something to mark her legacy. And um I had to break down my fears and and get positive in and slowly start to do these workshops and write books and um every day I wake up and try to think of the next thing I'm gonna do um because that's, that's feeding that important part of me doing meaningful work, doing something good. I love that. That is so beautiful now. Tell me Susan. So if there's, you know, one thing, if there were one thing when you look at all these women that you've worked with, the ones who have been able to turn that corner, what is it when like that light bulb moment for them is they're kind of one thing that stands out in your mind. Oh, I could, I could see down their faces at in the workshops, there's like, you know, they're there, they sort of come into the workshop.

I used to do the workshops in person before Covid and now I'm actually doing them virtually on zoom. So, but I still have the same ability to see. And you know, we do some arts and crafts, arts and crafts sends things to start to move them a little bit. It's taking them, although their inner critic is like, I don't know how to draw on it. It's like that's okay. Just put things on a piece of paper, grow things down. It's okay. Um you can't do this wrong. Um yeah, I think it's, I think it's a moment where it's um what Oprah Winfrey calls that the Aha moment, the moment when they can feel that part of them, it's been untouched, sort of come back even with just a little bit of a whimper um that there's something that they want um that they don't want to stay where they are, not, not even necessarily an abuse, but in that frame of mind that the abuse has brought them to, uh and maybe it's abuse across their entire lifetime um that they don't want to be there anymore. Um and that that that energy starts to build so that it may be something they have to start small and move through it.

I think the other thing about what I've been able to do, and this is once again, I didn't know what I was doing, but I didn't want to just have a workshop and then say goodbye to them, that I built this community, so they start to feed each other and they start to see, oh, look what this person's done, she's been in the room for 10 years, I want to be that, you know, so, like, once again, that role modeling and they're not, you know, there are very successful women out there um that do not have their trauma history out there. So you see this woman and you think, oh, she's a business woman, she's so if you find out that, I mean, Oprah Winfrey has been very clear about her, her past trauma. Um and that's been a role model for people, you know, if Oprah can do that, I can do my thing. Um, and I think that's the kind of role modeling that women need to see. And then they become a role model themselves, not only for other women, but for their Children. Um, that mom didn't stay. Yeah, she got herself in a situation that wasn't good, but she, she left, She got out, she, you know, she's changed.

She's moved, moved on. And that's, that's a gift you can give to your Children. No question. And I think this community that you've built is just so huge around the work you're doing, right? Because I know women who have left momentarily and then they go back, they're lonely, they're scared, whatever. But I think having that camaraderie seeing, hey, it actually feels good. And there's these other women who are like me and they're doing it and Joy is okay. And I am worthy of, you know, making a little art today rather than getting beat up today or whatever. Right? So I think it's changing the frame of mind that your, I mean, that's when I was doing divorce law years ago with these women who had been and like I said, I was at the very beginning of the movement. So these women have been uh, numerous relationships when I pulled the file. Um, and, and then their their their their mothers were and God knows how many generations the, you know, the idea that to break that cycle of violence and I tell this to the men, the male offenders.

I've worked with you. You want to break this cycle in your generation. Um, and and and not have your child. And that really connects with them because they know if they remember one thing is how it felt for them as a child to be caught in that cycle. So the idea that we're breaking cycles of violence, not just pulling, you know, one person out and every person you pulled out is great. But you know, for many, many years we didn't even have words for this. So, um, you know, today we're getting even more, more exact words. The word coercive control is now a word that's been um, in a number of states, including Connecticut where I live, we have a law against. Uh, well, the law now defines domestic violence to include coercive control. And that's that really, you know, not physical violence, that's not the part of physical violence. But physical violence is certainly a factor in it. But it's that manipulation, that that like you said, what, why this woman goes back manipulated back into it, maybe, you know, verbally about him continued to stalk her.

But intimidation that, you know, this the, you know, this, look, if you don't come back, um, I will do something to you and it will not be pretty. Um, so that that coercive control. That power over that keeps women in relationships not because they can't get out or couldn't get out of that, but it's easy to get out. Um Some women take seven or eight times to get out but it's a combination of having the money to find a place to live and that switch of that that idea that I am a valuable person and there's a life that I can have without this person manipulating me. Now, as I said early on some many of these men will not change. So if they have Children with these men they will will be a continuing um lifelong um connection to them and it'll always pull them back. But um but perhaps not to the relationship.

Um and I think women are getting more options to see that you know, particularly economically that you don't have to go back. Um but they're still be ramifications about this whole thing. And that. Coercive control is not a criminal act these days. But it's now being used more in looking at child custody issues around um uh in civil court. Child support. So the idea that we're beginning to get more language. So the women are like yeah that's what he's doing. I didn't know there was a word for it. Uh and now they can go somewhere and use that word and people like oh commercial control. That's what we're talking about here mm wow And I know the psychological component to being um with an abuser is just such a huge part, right because you're just not only being physically abused but just being reminded of how worthless you are. It may not even be. My niece was never physically assaulted by this man before he killed her. Which is I think one of the reasons why because she was so smart and so uh she's a problem solver.

She was going to solve this problem all by herself. Um because he wouldn't he wouldn't end the relationship. Um and he kept he kept uh stalking her um on this college campus and there was not enough in place at that college campus at the time. Um that um she saw that there were helpers that would understand because you know physical danger is a really good warning sign. But um refusing to end the relationship was also a warning sign. Um pushing the relationship too far too fast as a warning sign, threatening to kill yourself if she doesn't return as a warning sign. So all of those um you know we've been more articulate about it and um and I always tell women you know when they said to me well he's just you know verbally abusive to me but you don't know when that's gonna switch in particularly the most vulnerable time women are is when you leave decide to leave or express the fact that you'd like to leave because you don't know where he'll go then um where this person could go because he's never gone there before with you.

Um and that vulnerability is why you know the shelter movement is so important and all those safety and security services are so important um that need to be strengthened and and to be in place um for women. Um no matter what mm And now Susan I would imagine you know as far as getting help you kind of have to call on your own. But if you are related to a victim or you have a friend or someone in your world, how can we help people who may need help? Is there something we can do to get them the help they need? Well, I think what's helpful is to educate yourself about domestic violence and sexual violence. Um and this kind of course control um they're on my website which is thriving zone dot com. I do I do have the although I don't do this part work that part of the work myself anymore. But I do have a warning sign list up there. Um and some people just don't know that they're I mean I think it's helpful to have words for it.

There are words for it. Um and I think a lot of the women that I have worked with over the years say oh my God I didn't know there were words for that. I thought it was just happening to me. Um I think the other thing is if you know somebody who's in a situation where you think there's some word sort um that, you know, it's it's a real delicate dance because sometimes they um uh well, first of all, a very controlling abuser is going to try to shield them, make sure um what's the word? Um try to um limit their access to their family and friends, people who might say, you know, who's really abusing you, you should get out of there. So um there's a danger in that. Um But so the idea is to educate yourself know, the resources in your community. Um you can call the crisis line and just find out what's available. Um There's, I think across the country there's uh there's a national domestic violence hotline.

They can get you in touch with any of the programs. Um But just, you know, I had a lot of people who come to some of the programs I've done over the years, who are the grandmother of of their granddaughter is in a situation, what do I do? How do I do? And that's what I said educate yourself be available. She may not hear it the first time. Um but to know that there are some people that think their families will either be embarrassed by what's happening um that they, that they might condone what's happening kind of like, you know, you made your bed so Ryan it kind of stuff that maybe my generation, but but you know what I mean. So it's it's a tough situation, some, you know, I always say she may not be ready for this information yet or this, you know, um, and she may not be able to do what makes sense to you, like leave or um, there's just lots of complications. There could, there's Children, there's money, there's um, safety issues. Um, but there are people who are willing to help.

So, um, I think it's really important mostly that we recognize that physical violence alone is not the danger sign, but just that the relationship that is being complicated by the this kind of manipulation and coercive control is really what we're talking about. And, and in many of these cases, there also might be sexual violence over the years. Um, you know, when I first started doing sexual assault work, it was like the stranger rape, It was gonna be somebody who is going to cost you on the street. You don't know, most women, most victims of sexual assault are actually assaulted by somebody, you know. Um and sometimes the sexual violence is also part of the domestic violence. So, um, but there are people out there who can help. Mhm, wow. Oh my God, you are just have so many insights on this for us all. I would now let me ask you, um, you know, best revenge. Can you talk to us about that, um, the best revenge.

Um, so, um, I said before I found this quote living, well, is the best revenge. So a lot of what I do with the women is talking about. Uh you know, their goal was to live well how where they define that. Um in one of my books, I put together a three book series called The thrive Ear's own book books, they're actually kind of workbooks with the materials that I use in my workshops. The third book is actually called Living in the thrive er zone. So it's entering the thrive er zone, staying in the thriving zone and then living in the thriving zone. And in that book I interviewed seven women who have come through my program and really had them talk about what their journey, what has been and how they got to thriving, what pieces really helped them and how they're living well today. And and that's one of the things we are as a community redefining what living well is and for a lot of them it's for all of them it's been not returned to abuse, but it's also moving into places that they thought they couldn't do um jobs, they couldn't get uh education that they thought they weren't smart enough for and just you know, living well with their their Children and making sure their Children are okay.

I think the other thing that I've done with best revenge um is I I because I'm a writer after Maggie's Maggie was killed, I wanted to write something about her and what happened to her, but I didn't want it to be a memoir, that was too emotional, that was too high hard to write. So I have put together and that's exactly the third book is coming out this year, so exciting. Um I've always wanted one of my little girl dreams was beside being an attorney was to write novels. So I mostly based on Maggie's story inspired by a story. I have written a three book series um showing what happens to a situation like that. Um and then and how family and friends really resolved to um have this person's life be a legacy. And um it's been fun, It's been kind of um you know, what would it look like if the college where Maggie went to school really did change if colleges and schools were more adapt to this, and also how do people recover from and heal from that kind of and and oddly enough, all of my characters in the book, most of my characters have are now doing meaningful work.

So it's been kind of fun to play with that. So, I think I think people I also go through warning signs in that in the novels. I think some people get um information better through stories. So, um I try to use that as an example of, you know, like in Maggie's real life case that even though there wasn't physical violence, she was certainly in danger. So, um but I'm a writer, I always come back to writing and I think that's the way we need to communicate information that is um life changing, life saving, and then um my work, I think is life changing and it certainly has changed my life. So, I come from that place, wow, Susan, you have been so amazing and it's just just so remarkable the work you're doing, so I am just so blown away by your story and I just think it's so incredible the work you do in the life that you're leading, you know, by living your purpose and changing lives helping women, a life of a life of purpose that I call a life of power and purpose that empowerment.

And then, um I think that's what we're supposed to do in this lifetime is is help help each other and have some kind of purpose, whatever that is the people who are most successful and seeing the most um fulfilled in that I have experienced in this, in the world I've lived in over the last number of years. Um people who have a purpose seem to have a really good life. So that's what I want, that's what I want, and it has to be a big purpose. It can just even just be taking care of your kids and and making sure that you're okay. Um that's that's certainly there. Um I'd love to have. I do have free workshops. That's one of the things that I've been very clear about from the beginning. I do not charge the women the survivors to come to my workshops and they are virtual now. So I've been getting women from all over the world to come, which is very exciting. Um And also outside of where I live in the Northeast here. Um and that information is on my website thrive er zone dot com. You can also go more directly to um um my Avenging Angel dot com.

So I welcome people to do that or refer some people. You talked about referring people. Um I'm looking for women who are in that survivor mode moving into thrive. Er That'd be great. Yes. And now, you know, I will have links to all of your uh two different websites. I'm going to have links to all of that. I know you have a bunch of resources, so that's amazing, and I think it's so incredible that you're offering free workshops, which is just like, sounds like I I didn't hear that correctly. Well, these are not these are not luxury of them. So I I know a lot of women who said, you know, if I had to pay for it, it's gonna be my choice between paying for a workshop for feeding my Children and that's just not a choice that I think women in these situations should have to make. So um I do have a nonprofit organization that that's that funds me and supports me. So um that's how um, how, how this is happening right now.

And I think that's, and, and all other services. Uh, the crisis intervention services are also free of charge. So that's not something people should worry about. Um, there are other things like hiring lawyers that are a little more difficult. But um, but I think that's one of the values that's really important in this movement. Mm I love that. That is amazing. Now. Susan, I just again, I wanna just thank you today for your time. You have been so amazing. I'm so moved and touched by the work you're doing. I would love for us to stay in touch circle back and have another conversation because I know we, there's just so much more that you have so much more wisdom and insights for us now in closing. If there were one message you would like to leave women who are stuck or whatever or just any message, what message would you like to leave us with in closing? Well, I will go back to my theme. You can do more than survive and they think it's ever happened to you.

You can thrive and and we're working on that definition, making it bigger and bigger every day, but certainly a happy, healthy, productive person and, and also to help your Children take that journey to and then fine living well is the best revenge. You may never get back at him or the person that's hurt you. Um, because that's just not gonna be possible even in the criminal justice system, but you can live well and that will be your best revenge. That will make that person really crazy to see you do well. So let's go for that. Oh I love it Susan, you have been so awesome. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for for um uh the theme um you know the awesomeness of all of us because I think we need to celebrate and like I said be role models, this is fabulous, so thank you, you're awesome, thank you so much. Mhm.

Blossom Your Awesome Podcast Episode #66 Thriver Zone With Susan Omilian
Blossom Your Awesome Podcast Episode #66 Thriver Zone With Susan Omilian
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