Not Silent, Not Alone

Amy Daumit suffered in an abusive relationship for nearly 20 years. Today she works to help people find a different way.

The Forget Me Not flower is a small, unassuming blue bloom, named for the mission not to forget the suffering, the poor and the needy. This flower and its heavy meaning is embedded in a Fort Lauderdale woman’s mission to educate her community about domestic violence.

Amy Daumit, 40, works at Expresso Coffee. She’s in a happy relationship, has earned multiple degrees, and her laugh is infectious. You’d never know that eight years ago, she left an abusive relationship that lasted nearly 20 years. Because of her experience, she formed the Forget Me Not Advocacy Group for domestic violence prevention.

“Abuse still sadly hides in the shadow,” she says. “It’s easier to ignore the screaming going on next door than to intervene or help, because ‘It’s not my business.’ But people don’t realize it is your business.”

Daumit’s early years were happy — she grew up in a tight-knit family in the Northeast, and she was close to her brother and extended family. Her parents are still happily married. “There was no abuse, there was no unhappiness,” she says. “This wasn’t a pattern of abuse that I saw it or that I expected it or I thought it was normal. It was quite the opposite.”

She met her ex-husband when she was just 16 years old. Looking back, there were signs of the impending domestic violence that would come. When he didn’t get his way — when Daumit got home later than anticipated from shopping with her mother, or when she wanted to hang out with her friends — he went into a rage. Sometimes he would threaten to break up with her if she didn’t do what he wanted.

Her mother expressed concern, but the teenager brushed it off.

“Of course I blew her off and begged him to stay and not break up with me; I thought my world would end,” she says. “Now as an adult that has been educated and abused, I know that those are all warning signs. It would start that he would be angry or he would refuse to talk to me on the phone, or if he was angry enough he would threaten to break up with me.”

As they got older, his behavior intensified and turned physical after the two were married. On their honeymoon, he threw his wedding ring at Daumit. Within the first few months of their marriage, he was so angry he put his first through a wall. Eventually, he would punch, slap and choke her.

The number one question people usually have for survivors of domestic violence is: Why didn’t you leave?

For survivors, it’s a number of factors. Some reminisce about the good times and believe they can get back there. Others have not been allowed to have jobs and will have no money to support them or their children should they leave. Some are too scared after being threatened, even told they’ll be killed if they leave.

But at the core of it all, abusers are masters of manipulation, Daumit says, and are often very charming. “It’s such a process that over time it gets to where you believe it’s your fault, you believe that their actions are your fault,” she says. “If I just cooked better or looked better or got a better job or understood him more, he wouldn’t be this mean to me.”

At her ex-husband’s encouragement, Daumit applied for and was accepted into law school. Her schooling required the couple to move, and she went ahead to the new city for the first few weeks while her ex-husband finished up some business at home. For the first time ever, she lived by herself, and she realized that she felt relief. This began a nearly two-year process of leaving her abuser.

“I was realizing how not normal my life was,” she says. “I started getting more and more fed up with how much happier everyone around me seemed to be, and how much more they seemed to have their life together.”

Once school started and her ex-husband moved in, things got worse. Demanding her attention, he would take her textbooks and wouldn’t allow her to study. More than once, she escaped to a friend’s house so that she could prepare for exams. Finally, she confessed to her friend what was going on. The friend encouraged her to visit the school therapist.

Daumit wanted to try therapy before, but knew her ex-husband would find out when he saw the bills. As a student, she could go for free and there would be no trace of her appointments. She told the therapist how she felt that leaving her marriage made her a failure, that she didn’t try hard enough. How her husband was threatening to quit work so he wouldn’t have to give her alimony if she left him, how he would ruin her reputation.

The therapist gave her a reality check. “He basically said to me, ‘You’re putting yourself in a very dangerous situation. You could very easily die,’” she says.

“I was so beaten down at that point that I just didn’t care anymore, and that’s just an awful place to be, when you don’t care anymore. To me, that epitomizes what an abusive relationship does to you as an individual; it just destroys who you are. It takes away all of your joy, your happiness.”

The death knell to the marriage came when Daumit tried to log into her email so that she could take her final exam — her ex had hacked into her email and changed the password. He saw that she had emailed a platonic male friend and was livid. As he berated her in the kitchen, she “snapped.” “I literally decided in that instance that that was it. I said I was going to go home for Christmas and I wasn’t coming back,” she says.

Eight years later, life is completely different for Daumit. She continued with therapy and is now in a healthy, loving relationship. She still struggles with physical ailments that doctors believe are the result of her body being in a constant state of stress for more than a decade.

As a therapeutic exercise, she kept an online journal, Forget Me Not, where she chronicled the process of gaining self-esteem, believing she was worthy of love, and that rejection is a normal part of life. She would later self-publish her writing in a book by the same name.

Forget Me Not has since morphed into a nonprofit, which recently received 501(c)(3) status. The charity’s board is made up of men and women who have experienced abuse, have volunteered in shelters, or are a part of the Girl and Boy Scouts programs.

Last July, Daumit quit her job in federal law enforcement to focus on the nonprofit while working at a fellow board member’s coffee shop for income. Since then, Forget Me Not has led workshops, drum circles, yoga practices, empowerment days, and hands-on activities with children, teens and adults. It has hosted vigils to remember victims of domestic violence, as well as created a public art project where members of the public drew what love is to them with chalk.

In group exercises, Daumit teaches self-reliance and entrepreneurship. One exercise has participants read a situation and decide if the behavior is healthy, unhealthy, or abusive. The group discusses their thoughts, and many are left with a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. It’s information that could literally save a life.

“It was such a process for me and based on what I’ve heard from other people, and what I know just about domestic violence and my dedication to it, it’s a process for everybody,” Daumit says. “It’s not taken lightly to leave and some people, sadly, they don’t get out alive.”

Originally published in Fort Lauderdale magazine.

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