Dana Diaz was born to a teenage mother who didn’t want her and grew up with a stepfather who was verbally and physically abusive. She left home as soon as she was legally able to and swore that nobody would ever treat her like that again. When she was 19, Dana met a man she didn’t like very much but she was lonely and starved for attention – and he was from a Leave it to Beaver kind of family. She fell in love with his family and assumed that his behaviors were due to being young and immature. Within a month of their first date Dana had moved in; five years later they got married and two and a half years later they had a son. Dana was 27 and that’s when things really started getting bad.

Guest Bio 

Dana S. Diaz is a wife, mother, and author of the best-selling book GASPING FOR AIR: THE STRANGLEHOLD OF NARCISSISTIC ABUSE. Dana has had life-long experience with narcissistic abuse, beginning in childhood. Her education in journalism and psychology at DePaul University in Chicago gave her the ability to accurately verbalize and express how narcissistic abuse creates confusion and conflict within victims, so that she can help other victims know they are not alone and better understand their own circumstances.

Today, Dana is a proud voice for fellow victims who are unable, afraid, or ashamed to share their experiences. She strives to create awareness and understanding to ensure victims are given the support they need to first understand their situation and then begin the healing process. Her first book, chronicling her own abusive marriage that lasted nearly three decades, started as a journal that she hid under the couch cushion in the basement.

Dana lives with her husband in Illinois and is in the process of publishing the prequel and sequel to GASPING FOR AIR.

Turning 40 and Surviving an Abusive Marriage

In this episode of the Forty Drinks Podcast, Stephanie interviews Dana Diaz, the survivor of an abusive relationship. Dana shares her harrowing story of living with an abusive husband for 25 years and the toll it took on her physical and mental health. She discusses the financial, emotional, and physical abuse she endured and the isolation she experienced. Despite the challenges, Dana found the strength to leave her abusive marriage and rebuild her life. She talks about the importance of self-care and surrounding herself with positive influences. Dana also reflects on the impact the abuse had on her son and her hopes for his future. This powerful episode highlights the importance of recognizing and escaping abusive relationships and finding healing and happiness in midlife.

Highlights from the episode:

  • Dana’s experience of financial, emotional, and physical abuse in her 25-year marriage.
  • The impact of her husband’s controlling behavior and isolation on her mental health.
  • The role of self-care in Dana’s healing process and finding her own happiness.
  • The concern for her son and the hope that he will break the cycle of abuse.
  • The importance of surrounding oneself with positive influences and supportive relationships.

In this powerful episode, Dana shares her journey from surviving abuse to finding healing and happiness. Her story serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience of survivors and the importance of breaking the cycle of abuse. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate, follow, and review the Forty Drinks Podcast.

Why are abusive relationships hard to leave?

Nobody sets out to enter an abusive relationship but once we realize how bad things have become it’s hard to find a way out. This is because abusive relationships are about power and control – the abuser wants all of it. Behaviors that may seem chivalrous or caring become controlling. Behaviors that start out seeming immature calcify and bloom into violence. By the time we realize how far things have gone, we feel shame about letting them get that far, as if it was our choice. Toby Myles was a grown woman, divorced with two kids when she started dating someone she thought was the polar opposite of her first husband. Rachel Isabela moved to South America with her husband and ended up isolated and dependent on him before things got bad. The bottom line is that it’s not your fault and there’s help available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7/365. Call them at 800-799-SAFE; chat online at The Hotline.org; or text START to 88788.

Guest Resources

Dana’s Book: Gasping for Air: The Stranglehold of Narcissistic Abuse

Find Dana on Facebook

Find Dana on Instagram

Do you have the Midlife Ick? 

Download Stephanie’s guide to the Ick to diagnose whether you or someone you love is suffering from this insidious midlife malaise. www.fortydrinks.com/ick  

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The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications


Dana: Hey Dana. Thanks for joining me today.

Thank you for having me.

Stephanie: It's my pleasure. I am really, excited to get into your story. You have a couple of elements here that I have not encountered before, which always makes me very interested in your story. So as we think about kind of how we get to the starting point of the story, can you tell me a little bit about the guy you started dating when you were 19?

Dana: Oh, yeah, I could tell you all kinds of things about this gentleman, um,

Stephanie: And I'm sure we'll talk about him a bunch, but

let's start when you're 19.

Dana: absolutely. You know, so 19, you know, we have to give the premise that I was just out on my own. You know, freshmen, somewhere between freshmanor sophomore year in college, I had been born to a teenage mother who did not want me. She got married when I was young. Her husband was physically and verbally abusive. So people just have to understand that little nugget to understand what my mindset was.

I'd always been very strong willed. Very opinionated and headstrong. So I left that home as soon as I legally could at 18. And I said, nobody's ever going to mistreat me like that. Nobody's ever going to talk to me like that again. I'm going to go make it in this world on my own, whatever I have to do. I was young, I was 19, naive. Comes around Christmas time. You see all these engagement ring commercials. Everybody's coupling up and the joy of the holidays, and I was not very joyful because, you know, it was depressing, honestly, being by myself. And like nobody was expressing interest in me, you know, looking back, I could see that I honestly, I was desperate. Let's just say it. I had not been loved by my mother o r my stepfather. I did not have love in my life like ever. And I was told that I was worthless, undeserving, all these awful things. I was even told that nobody would ever love me. So, you know, it really, yeah, it really impacts a human being when you're hearing this from the time you can remember up to your teenage years.

So even though I knew it was wrong, I mean, it's still, I internalize these things. So I literally went out in the world, like just starving for love, like any little iota of attention. I always say I felt like a little puppy, like, love me, love me, love me, please. Like I'm wagging my butt. That's why I'm shaking. Wagging like a puppy. Um, you know, just hoping for that little treat. I was a people pleaser I just like was whatever I would do to get that little bit of you know two seconds of attention those were my little breadcrumbs of love.

So this guy walks into where I work. I worked in real estate. He walks in the office. I Immediately think he's aloof. He's a jerk. He's arrogant. He wants servitude. He feels entitled to it. Uh, no, thank you. He literally reminded me of my abusive stepfather. But I was lonely and he was about my age. He completely ignored me.

A week or so later He comes back, you know, because you know, we have to sign papers and do things and you know he asks me to come over one night and I didn't want to cuz I'm like, I just don't like this guy and But I'm like, what else do I have to do? Maybe I'm being too judgmental. Maybe I'm being too picky.

Stephanie: Mm-Hmm.

Dana: I go over there. He lives like a frat boy. He is drunk, completely drunk, which turned me off. I didn't appreciate that. My grandfather was a full blown alcoholic and just not interested in that. It wasn't my thing. it just wasn't for me, but I'm here. And he spit beer on me, not once, but twice to the point where I was soaking wet. I was disgusted. I was pissed. I

Stephanie: Wait a minute.

Dana: done.

Stephanie: What do you mean, he spit beer on you

Dana: He thought it was funny to drink beer and spew it out at me.

It was, it was amusing to him. Yeah.

I did not find it funny. I found it very demeaning and disrespectful. Like I said, been there, done that my whole childhood. I'm not trying to be with somebody who, this is just not my kind of person. Not that I'm above anybody, but everybody's different. There was just nothing about this guy that I wanted any part of,

Stephanie: Right,

Dana: If that had happened to me now, I would have said I'm out. Peace. See you later. Have a good life. I was 19. I, I cannot tell you. I still to this day, cold and wet. I don't do cold and wet and I was cold and wet. I just without even. thinking took off my, took off my top, which is a dumb thing to do admittedly. Dumb.

Stephanie: Lots of us do stupid things when we're 19, and I, I was, I was the queen of that, so I'm right there with you,

Dana: Okay. Well, I feel better because I know that you know, it doesn't make sense and people would say oh well then you got what you deserved. So yeah,

Stephanie: Which is never true.

Dana: well

Stephanie: let's, come on Dana.

Dana: People say that though. People say that

Stephanie: you're exactly right. People do say

Dana: people say that. And unfortunately, those were the things in my head. I thought when he was taking advantage of me, I just let it happen. I did not want it to happen. I let it happen. And by the end of the night, I was disgusted with myself, disgusted with him. And he's telling me he loves me and it's the two of us against the world. And we're going to be together forever. And I'm like, You know, this is a little much.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Dana: Yeah, that was the beginning. That that is the beginning of a love story

Stephanie: Oh

Dana: That was it. Yes, so I know. I know. I know.

Stephanie: So wait a minute.

Dana: me

Stephanie: I know you do. And I don't, I don't mean to, I don't, I don't mean to react negatively. Um, I'm, I'm reacting out of care for you already. this. Listen, we all have meet cute, meet not cute. We've, we've all got stories of, you know, oh, I hated him at the beginning, and then we got to know each other. So how did you go from that, those first couple of interactions, that first night where you went over there to falling in love with him? What, what is that pathway?

Dana: So within a week of this, one week, we'd had, obviously we hung out more, had some deep discussions. Cause I, I felt like, okay, well we know each other pretty good now, you know, that way we're gonna, we're, let's learn about each other a little bit more. He actually did seem to relate to a lot of the stuff in my childhood saying he was the black sheep. We seem to have stuff in common, he kind of made it out that he was neglected in a way.

I couldn't make sense of it though, because within this week, he also had me meet his parents. Now, this was key because I met his parents and it was like walking into like the Beaver Cleaver household. I mean, they were the loveliest people you could ever meet. Now, here's a girl, 19, just came out of a house where my mother was emotionally distant, quite neglectful, honestly, never really wanted anything to do with me. A stepfather who abused me. I literally fell in love with his parents. I wanted his life even. I mean, it sounds a little nuts, but, in my mindset, I thought, okay. There's no way that he's this person that I'm seeing. Like maybe he's just young and and he'll grow out of it. He'll mature. It can work and, you know. His parents liked me a lot like his I met his grandma and grandpa real quick They were just the sweetest things ever. I just loved this family

He told me you'll be a part of this. Like, let's stay together. I want to give you the house and the white picket fence, and I want you to be part of this family. I wanted all of that.

And I'm a very reasonable person. I thought, okay, it's not like I hate him. I don't like him much, most of the time, but you know, we can figure it out. At 19, you're trying to figure life out, you know? And I thought, let's, let's see where this goes.

I'm going to be honest with you. I think that we romanticize and fantasize and have all these ideas in our head about what love should be. Certainly anytime you're with anybody, you get the little butterflies and all that. I always, I think because I I'm distrusting because of my childhood. It's hard to trust people when the two that are supposed to love you most of all don't. I knew that love was much more complicated than just all that fluttery stuff that you feel. You know, it's nice. It gets you through the first few months, maybe a little longer if possible. But I knew that, you know, it's going to be a give and take, it's going to be, you know, a choice. You know, I, I hate to say, but I think love is a choice, you know, do you care about a person through some time?

Yes, you care about them. People are going to grow. They're going to change. Life happens. You know, it's just about how you get through those things. Well, we didn't communicate very well and I didn't have much faith in us. Can I say I loved him? I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me, but his actions to me weren't very loving. He had angry outbursts all the time. He blamed me for everything. He would even tell me he didn't like me. and the feeling was kind of mutual. Yet at the same time we'd have this other part of him I called him Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because then there were times where we were watching TV and he's caressing my cheek and telling me how much he loves me. Or we're at his parents house for dinner and he has his arm around me and you know telling them, you know, about courses I'm taking, you know, at university. And, you know, saying he was proud of me. It was hard to negotiate this conflicting dynamic in my head, but I looked at it because I think people often say, if you're in a toxic relationship or dysfunctional relationship, why do you stay? Well, there's a million reasons why people stay, but I think a lot of it, especially with the narcissists, there is this love hate that you see that they can love you. You don't like when they hate you, but you know, they have it in them to love you. So you're always wishing and hoping and waiting for that love and you take it when it comes. And then the bad stuff you start to enable or excuse. It was just a bad day or, you know what, we you know. Something must have happened. Or he's in a bad mood or, you know. I mean, we all have those moments, but it, just goes on and on and on and, and you think it's just the course of a relationship, but you know, at some point, it just unfortunately took me 25 years, but at some point you have to just face what it is.

Stephanie: if there was a love hate, that was more love than you had in your childhood home,

Dana: Yes,

Stephanie: it

Dana: it was,

Stephanie: better,

Dana: it was better. It was giving me what I needed. And this is the other nugget of this is, you know, for people that have not had any kind of trauma or something that impacted, their perspective, their mindset. Yes, you hit the nail on the head because all I ever wanted was love and this man was giving it to me here and there, sometimes. But it was enough because yes, it was more than where I was. I've been called a lot of things in my life and that's neither here nor there because I have not internalized it, but is it weak? Is it pathetic? It's just how it was. This is typical with narcissists. The problem became is that they push their bounds with that hate aspect. They push a little bit more every time. Whereas in the beginning, it might just be, this angry little tantrum and it upsets you and you freak out. You kind of freeze and you're like, Ooh, I don't want to provoke that again. And then the next time it's punching a hole in the wall and then you got to call somebody to come fix it. But you can't tell them how it happened and you're making excuses. Oh, I just, you know, I ran into it or whatever. Then they push a little more next time. Next time. Next time. Until I had a crowbar swung at my head. There was a knife that he kept on the table there next to the couch where he watched tv. When you see a knife that nasty sitting there all the time, you keep yourself in line. You don't say what you wanna say. You don't defend yourself. You don't disrupt the peace. You keep the peace, especially when there's a child in the house.

So it gets into a domestic violence situation where you're just plain old scared to leave at this point. Five years after we got married, I just was, I'm done. I'm out. I don't want to do this, but, I felt like I owed it to him. I owed it to his parents who I loved very much. I owed it to our son who I wanted to have an intact family. I felt like I had to try try to bring out more of that love part subdue more of that hate, but unfortunately it got kind of flipped. And by the end, he told neighbors he wanted me dead. And he did make an attempt.

Stephanie: Let's, let's pause for a moment and, and, and back up a little bit 'cause this is, there's a lot here to, to, to digest. How long did you date before you got married?

Dana: We, it was five years. But we lived together because a month after we met, he had me moved in.

Stephanie: Okay. And you're still going to college though? You graduated from college? Yeah. Yeah.

So you, so you dated for five years and then you got married and you were married for like five years before you had a baby, is that right?

Dana: It was more like two and a half years. We had a baby.

Stephanie: so you're like 27 ish when

Dana: I was exactly 27. Yeah. Good math.

Stephanie: Uh, I, I just want you to know I used fingers to do that. I, I

Dana: Okay.

Okay. So you have a baby,

Stephanie: and how do things shift when a baby comes into the picture?

Dana: That's when it got really bad.

That's when it got really bad. That was

actually the key factor. So he never wanted children. He was upfront about that from day one. Never wanted children never really said why it was more of a noble thing like, oh, it's a terrible world Why would you want to bring a child into it?

I was fine with that because of my childhood

Honestly, I had made the decision around 12 or 13 years old that I probably wasn't going to have children because I was terrified About that cliche that you tend to turn into your parents or a parent and

I I just was terrified I didn't trust myself um Because I had no other way to, to know how to be a loving parent to a child.

Um, I had no model of that,

but my ideas changed. You know, when you are in your twenties, you're watching everyone else get married and everyone else having babies. And then you start having. Thoughts about it yourself and that's kind of where I was and I thought, well, after being exposed to, you know, I had a very close relationship with his mother and father.

I was close with his sister. I thought I can do this. I, I am seeing examples of good parenting of really amazing mothers. And I can do this with their help. This can happen. And I just had to get him on board and eventually I did. So yes, we had a baby.

It was strange during the pregnancy. I was very ill. So he resented me because I was on bed rest. I was blacking out. I could not keep even water down. Literally. I was actually losing weight, um, in my first half of the pregnancy. Very sick, so he resented me that, you know, he was always complaining. The house wasn't clean. I wasn't working as much, you know, just cutting me down and I wasn't doing enough and it was all because of this baby.

But then towards the last half, when I started feeling better and be able to be a little more active, he. He kind of got, you know, like his chest would get puffy around people, like he would like, it's like he had a claim on me, like that baby, that big belly was like, yes, that's like marking his territory, I always said, if that makes any sense, like he felt like I was definitively his. He possessed me, he possessed this baby. This was all his family, he felt very, very good about that, really boosted his ego.

So the baby comes, he is berating me about the baby crying. Okay, well, I'm getting up every two hours, feeding the baby, changing the diaper. Well, then he can't sleep if I'm getting up out of the bed every two hours. And somebody in this house has to make the damn money. And, you know, just being really just rude about it. And I'm like, it's a baby, it's going to cry. It's they do that, you know, and they do need me. Well, why do you have to run to it every two hours? Because it's a newborn and I need to feed it and I need to tend to it and I want him to be a secure child. So that means I'm going to go and be with him and soothe him. And that's what mothers do. Well, that wasn't okay. So within a couple of weeks, I was kicked out of the master bedroom. Um, so I took up residence in the guest room and thus started, you know, this whole cycle that basically lasted to the end of our marriage. I was putting the baby before him and he's a narcissist.

Narcissists have to be number one. Um, so he was not going to be second to anyone, nevermind this child. He hated this baby. He hated me for giving all my love and focus and attention to this baby. So I would get the silent treatment. He would threaten to kill himself if, if I didn't do this or that, which always put me in the position of, do I leave my newborn baby unattended or do I tend to him? And he didn't like my responses to that, um, because I felt like he was a grown man and he needed to get his crap together and no, I wasn't going to abandon my baby for him. Um, So it just created this, this dynamic between us going forward, you know, for the next almost 17 years, I guess, after that, that, uh, you know, it was, he always even said it was always me and our son and him. Like he put this division between us that we were already a divided family in this house. Um, and that's how it was treated.

So he resented me more. He hated me more. He took it out on me more and I was lucky if I got the silent treatment for a few days or sometimes a few weeks that would go on. I just tried to keep the peace as much as I could, for our son, because he didn't deserve to be brought into this situation. Um, and had I known it was gonna get so volatile, I wouldn't have, but he's, he was there and I loved him more than any mother could ever love their child. After the childhood I had, I mean, I was not gonna, you know, raise him in any other way.

It definitely put me. In a difficult situation. So not only was I tolerating all this, you know, taking in all the stress and the abuse, cause there was financial abuse going on too. And there were sexual things.

Stephanie: Tell me, what financial abuse means in this

Dana: It means something different in every narcissistic relationship. What I experienced was, you know, his money was his money. And my money was his money. He spent very irresponsibly, very carelessly. Um, you know, by the end of our marriage, he had completely drained the 401k. He had taken out all the equity in our home. Um, and I'm talking about, you know, over $100,000. He took credit cards out in my name and, and racked them up and we had nothing. I mean, there was nothing to even account for these things. He was just blowing it on alcohol, going out, you know, indulging his every whim without consideration for the fact that we needed to pay the money back or that I had to keep working, working, working, working.

And what about our kid? I mean, even when our son needed braces, he didn't want to pay for our son to have braces because that was his money. And I said, well, I'll pay for it. I'm going to pay for it. But other people are financially abused, which this also happened with me, where they restrict your access to their checking account and their funds. And, you know, they'll, they have to have access to yours. You just can't have access to theirs. Um, and I know I've met many other victims of abuse, um, where narcissists require them to give them receipts for every, I mean, if you buy a dollar pack of gum, you got to give them a receipt to show for it. And you can't buy anything for yourself. It's being controlling, but to an obsessive level that's unreasonable in a marriage, nonetheless.

Stephanie: You said you were so close to his parents and you loved his parents. Did you ever talk to his parents about this?

Dana: I tried to, it's very hard because, you know, somebody's parents, they loved him very much, you know, obviously that's a parent should. So I had to tread lightly and kind of like tiptoe to see if, you know, kind of like dipping your toes in the water and see if it was okay to go there. I tried with his mother a few times and she would joke that, Oh, all the men in the family have anger issues.

And I would be like, well, this is a little more than anger issues, but you know, his dad sometimes would step in and have a talk with my husband and things would be better. Things would absolutely be better. But unfortunately his dad died, um, five years after we were married. So, um. Yeah, it was terrible. It was a terrible loss and his dad was actually, you know, there's that one person in every family who holds the family together, they're the glue, and that was his dad. So after his dad passed, it's, it was just everything kind of fell apart.

Stephanie: Yeah, it, it sounds it sounds terribly hard. Um, so I, I, I kind of jumped in there a moment ago. You, you said that, um, there was financial abuse. Can you tell me a little bit more about, you said he would take things out on you. What, what does that mean? What did that look like?

Dana: That looked like if he didn't get his way, um, you know, whether it was berating me with words, um, or it was, yeah, I mean, there was so much, there's so much to it. Um. For example, when I had a few miscarriages and he would yell at me about, why can't you be like every other woman? Um, why can't you be like my mother and just have babies?

And, you know, he'd criticize my appearance sometimes and say, you know what time I come home every day? Why aren't you putting yourself together? Brush your hair, put on makeup, you know, just making me feel very deficient. there was another time where he was clearly disapproving of something I did, that he walked upstairs, got his gun, didn't say one word to me and just carried it out just so I knew he had his gun.

Stephanie: Okay. I am gonna shift gears just a little bit because we mentioned a little while ago that you graduated college, uh, I think with the same degree I did. You graduated with a journalism degree, right?

Dana: Yes, yes, yeah, I, minored in psychology, but yeah,

Stephanie: I minored in poli sci. So,

Dana: fun

Stephanie: Okay, so you're a college grad and you are, I don't know, let's say in your thirties now, what is it that you're doing for a living?

Dana: Well, here's another form of abuse. Narcissists like to isolate you and hold you back from your potential. He actually made my graduation day from college absolutely miserable because he did not like that. I had a degree that was higher than his. He only had an associate's degree. He moved us out 90 miles away from everybody and everything we knew, because he would not be happy unless he lived in a rural area in a small town with a little farm.

And I just thought, that's fine. I'll figure it out. You know, there's small town papers I could write for. There's things I can do online, you know, there's the internet. Um, but he would not have that. He did not even like me on the computer. So, um, I couldn't even read books because he would get offended that, I think he just didn't want me influenced by anyone or anything, only by him. So he had me working for his friend's wife, cleaning houses. So I had been scrubbing toilets and washing floors on my hands and knees. And I'm not any better than anyone else.

Stephanie: Sure.

Dana: It paid. I made my income. I could put my son on the bus for school, get him off the bus.

I would have been fine with that. And, and it was very successful. I actually ended up buying her out of the business, you know, because I had done so well with it. it would have been okay, but it's just not, it didn't align with who I was. It's not what I wanted to do. And that always kind of gnawed at me.

So I'm living this life that I'm not happy. I'm being treated like crap. I don't even live where I want to live. I'm nowhere near anyone in anything. I can't see anyone. I can't even go to church on Sunday without him causing a fight, accusing me of loving God more than him, or screwing the 70 year old priest. So, you know, it, I just got to a point where, you know, I wondered, is this what, is this what my life's going to end up as? Am I just going to like die one day? And that's it?

Stephanie: This revelation came, how old were you?

Dana: Right about when I turned 40. Yeah. Yeah,

Stephanie: Go figure.

Dana: Exactly. Because I think there's a mortality issue. I think we all realize. I mean, we have so much more life to live after 40, but I mean, even I, even at 20 something, I would tell people they were old when they were 40. Like, Oh my God, you're an old person. person, you're going to die soon. So you start to think that when you hit that age, you kind of reflect back and say, well, crap, I might only have 20 or 30 more good years left if I'm lucky physically, and I got to do the stuff I want to do.

And yeah, so. Right about that same time,I also got sick. Here's the other complication. All of the stress I'd been enduring, all this abuse had actually caused so much cortisol, which is a stress hormone that's similar to adrenaline. It was causing so much cortisol to run through my body at such high levels that I actually became autoimmune and I developed this lung disease. You hear my scratchy throat. That's just a lack of oxygen. Never smoked a cigarette in my life ever. It's a rare lung disease that the neurologist actually said is pretty common in abuse victims, um, which makes me sad, but it's something I have to live with.

At my worst point, and this was about the end of 2019, so just not even four years ago, I was so sick I had a backpack oxygen machine that I wore the mask just so I could breathe and keep my oxygen levels up to keep my heart beating so that I didn't lose vision and my hands wouldn't go numb and all this other stuff, but I was so physically weak. Physically, there were mornings I couldn't even tear toilet paper off the roll. And I mean that very seriously.

Like somebody is going to have to do this for me now at this age? And the doctor's talking to me about, you know, undergarments that I can wear and I'm like, no, like this. I, I, I am a cross country coach for 9 years. I run 5 miles every morning. I eat healthy. Like, I'm a fruit and vegetables girl. Like, this shouldn't be happening to me.

So. Yes, I had to look kind of look at my age and be like, is this what I want the rest of my life? People ask me advice all the time. Like how did you change your life? One question changed my life. I was laying in bed one night. Well, not even bad I slept on the basement couch because I couldn't stand to sleep in the same bed with this man. I slept on the basement couch and I was laying there one night and I said, what do you want Dana? What do you want? What the hell do you want in your life? If nothing could hold me back.

You know what I wanted? I wanted to travel. He wouldn't even let me go to Florida for my great grandma's funeral. I just wanted to go see things. I wanted to read books. I wanted to write a book. I'm a writer. I wanted to write maybe as a career, you know, I just felt like there was so much more to life. I wanted to have friends. I wanted to be married. I really did. I I always thought I would make a fantastic wife to somebody. But I wanted to be married to somebody that would reciprocate the love that I gave them and the respect, and I don't know, kindness, and maybe somebody who actually wanted to spend time with me. Like I wanted to be married to my best friend and I just, then my next question was, okay, so are you going to have that if you stay here?

Stephanie: Right.

Dana: What's going to happen if you, if you don't change something? And I looked at it like, okay, well the doctor says my body's shutting down, so I'm probably going to like die of suffocation at some point, cause I can't even breathe or my heart, the doctor said I was more likely to have a heart attack because of the lack of oxygen. I'm like, okay, so I'm going to have a heart attack when I'm 42 or 43. That's great. And my life will be over and my son will be raised by this piece of crap. This isn't how I wanted to go out. I just felt like I had so much more life to live. And so, as strongly as I felt about the seriousness and the sanctity of marriage, I just, I couldn't do it anymore. I I had to make a choice for myself and let me tell you, it was the best thing I ever did in my life. Best thing I ever did.

Stephanie: You had a, you had a journal though. Tell me about your journal.

Dana: Yes. So here's the kicker.

Stephanie: There's a couple of pieces that are coming together here, because you're talking about this, you were at two thou, this was like 2019. You, your,

Dana: This is the end of 2019. So I make this revelation that I'm done with this. I'm out.

Stephanie: and then....

Dana: I, in February of 2020,

Stephanie: The world.

Dana: I, well, I talked to an attorney. This is the sixth attorney I have spoken to during my marriage, but I am ready. I'm like, I'm not even having a consultation. I just want to be done.

I need to be done with this. Okay. Well, here's some things I need you to do because here, you know, people have to understand too. We had cows, we had pigs. We, it wasn't just like we had a house in a subdivision and I could just take my kid and go. There were things to consider. Um, She gives me some homework and yes, less than a week later, the world, the worldwide pandemic of COVID. So now I am in a house.

Stephanie: trapped

Dana: Stuck with this man. I cannot get divorced because the courts are closed. I can't even file for divorce. And at this point, all joking aside, I mean, I laugh at the irony of it all, but the, the thing that wasn't funny was that he had expressed, and I still have the emails and texts. He wanted me dead. He said it would make it easier for him. If I was dead, he told our neighbors that he was planning to kill me. So I'm a little nervous. I'm a little nervous.

Stephanie: Hello. Understatement of the decade, Dana.

Dana: So I am living. I literally move everything that I can into the basement. Um, which was mostly finished. Um, he turned the water off in the bathroom to the basement. I did not want to provoke him. So I, I mean, this was turning into ridiculousness. I am 93 pounds because I was so sick. I had dropped to a skeletal 93 pounds.

So I was propping myself up on the laundry room sink to pee and then cleaning it out with bleach so that I could also sponge bathe myself and brush my teeth because I did not want to go. He was trying to force me out of the basement to go upstairs. I had a little fridge down there. I just, I ate apples and drank whatever. You know, waters or whatever.

My son is on the main floor. He is 17 at this point

Stephanie: Mm-Hmm.

Dana: And he's seen it all. He he's seeing it all, but he also doesn't want to provoke his father because he knows who his father is. He's not scared of him, but he doesn't want to make him angry. So he's not taking sides either. I will give my son credit that he is the diplomat of all diplomats. He will not take a side. But he's seeing it.


Dana: So I'm in the basement thinking this man wants me dead. We're stuck in this house. Literally, I mean I jokingly would tell myself this is like Survivor, like who's gonna make it out of Covid alive. Um, so I started keeping a journal. Now mind you I have to be careful because this man monitors my phone. My i'm pretty sure there was a gps tracker on my car um because he just knew too much.

So I took just a plain old notebook. Moms can relate, you know, when your kids come home at the end of the school year and they've scribbled all over the covers and half the pages of a notebook, but there's still a good half the notebook left. I tore out the used pages. It was unsuspecting, I thought, so I used the pages that were blank, and I would document if something was said that wasn't right, or something was threatened, if something happened between us, I immediately went and documented the day the time this is what happened. And I kept this under the couch cushion in the basement where I slept, thinking it was safe under me, although I don't know that I was necessarily safe. But, you know, I was putting 2 by 4s under the knobs to the doors to the basement so that I could just feel safe enough to sleep because I was worried that, you know, he usually struck at night, um, when I'm most vulnerable and I'm sleeping and I wear contacts or glasses, so if I don't have them in, I can't even see. And, you know, so I, I was just trying to do the best I can that if something did happen to me, because I was sure he was going to make it look like an accident or that he was creating a narrative outside the house. I heard that I'm suicidal and I'm crazy and mentally unstable. He would make it look like a suicide. I wasn't sure. So I needed to have some record that somebody would find in case something did happen to me. But then as COVID went on, you know, cause it lasted a few months, I had a lot of time on my hands and I'm down there where I'm trying to minimize my interaction with him.

So I'm sitting in my basement with my laptop, like, you know what, let me elaborate on these stories. Let me actually draw them out because I was just keeping them to like one or two sentence summaries and I wanted to have a record in my computer. So I did that and that's eventually what we ended up putting out as, as this book that we've published this year. Um, it's a compilation and obviously I had to fill in all the gaps, but it tells of from the day he walked into my life until actually after the divorce, because unfortunately divorce when I, when the courts finally reopened and I talked to that seventh attorney, I just, I wasn't even going to argue about assets. I didn't care about the house. I didn't care about the car. I didn't care about money. He could have everything. I just wanted my kid and I wanted the hell out of there. And that's what I got. He didn't fight me on anything because he was getting everything he asked for. He didn't have to pay me any money. I literally was like the easiest person to divorce because I just wanted to be done so bad.

Stephanie: well, you just wanted to get out of there with your life

Dana: Yes, but it's hard to explain that to attorneys because they want to tell you what you're entitled to and what you should fight for And I'm like, I don't want this back and forth I told this last attorney I want to come to your office in an hour and I want to give you the the full amount. I don't even care, you know, I'll pay for the whole thing. I will give you cash. I just want this done. I want this filed today and I want to be done. And I said, how soon can you have me divorced? He said, three weeks. I said, I'll, I'll see you in an hour. I'm done with this. I'm not fighting for anything. I just want my kid. And my ex did not fight me for anything.

He was more concerned about his truck and his four wheeler and his guns. And you know, that I wasn't going to come after him for those things. And I said, no. I, I don't want anything from you. I literally don't even want to talk to you. So. We got divorced and that was that. It got violent after the divorce, When he found out that I was taking a friend, well, a date to my sister's wedding, um, this was what a month and a half or so after the divorce, um, he came in the middle of the night and was shouting and insulting me outside my bedroom window and then shot a gun off a few times. Um, we had six squad cars at the house and they did not take him away.

Stephanie: What do you mean? They

Dana: They did not take him away. They said that they couldn't arrest him for being drunk. He said he didn't shoot the gun. They couldn't find the gun because in the amount of time when you're living in the rural area, they're not there in five minutes. It took them a while. And I was on the phone with 9 1 1 the whole time thinking he's going to come in the house and he's going to kill me. Um, finally, just like he'd promised. Um,

So, it was a long road of court after that to get an order of protection because, unfortunately, I had not reported any of the other, uh, incidents that we'd had in the 25 years, so they did not see it fit that I should have an emergency order of protection. Um, So it took a court date and me bringing my neighbor as a witness, and thank God she agreed to, even though her husband preferred that she didn't get involved because my ex had already shot one of their dogs for walking across the front yard. Yes, the dog was shot in the neck The dog survived though. FYI, so I don't want any I mean, it's sad, but I ended up paying for the surgery because I felt guilty that he was such an ass. That he would do that to an animal who wasn't even doing anything.

Stephanie: Right.

Dana: So, yeah, so they were worried about retaliation. They had four kids. They, they were worried about their other dogs. They were worried about anything, you know, he, he was a loose cannon. Um, but she did come on my behalf because she was very worried about me for many, many years. You know, kind of seeing things from a distance, but knowing that. You know, he was who he was. So, um, I did get an order of protection. It was that the order said he could not come within 10 feet of me. And I argued with the judge and I said, I'm 93 pounds, your honor. He could throw a two by four at me from 10 feet away and hurt me. He could shoot me. He could throw a knife. I could name a million things. He could probably throw a fork at me and make it stick if he threw it hard enough. So I wasn't safe and so It was a rough patch and that was at the end of 2020. Yeah, that

was actually,

Stephanie: Dana.

Dana: that was actually three years ago on October 17th. Um, so three short years ago. And then when I moved out of that house, we sold the house. My son said, let's get out of here. We sold the house early in 2021, moved out. And he moved seven miles away from us, which in, on these country backroads takes about five minutes. So, you know, he's always watching. He's always near, um, but I'm not afraid anymore. And that's what changed. Um, am I scared? Yeah, I still have anxiety.

I still look over my shoulder sometimes. I still worry. Um, You know, that he might show up or that if I'm alone in the house, you know, and I hear something or see a vehicle pull in the driveway. Yeah, I, I'm still. I'm still not sure I am completely safe from him, but I published this book and I'm speaking out because it's important and, as far as me, I'm taking a risk, but I feel like if something happened now, everybody will know who did it. And if he wants to take that chance, that's on him. I'm not going to submit myself to the silence that I did for 25 years. You know, I tried to kind of let a few people know, cause I wanted somebody to help, but it's sad to me that so many people might've seen it or they thought it, but nobody did anything. Nobody stepped in. And even in my childhood, you know, now that I have been out there with the book and everything, I've had a couple of people come forth that I hadn't heard from in 30 years. And, And, the, the most disturbing one, and I don't hold it against her, but she said, well, I'm glad to know that you're okay, because I always thought I was going to turn on the news and see that your stepfather killed you and left you in a ditch. And I thought, if you thought that though, why didn't, why didn't anyone do anything? You know? And if she thought that, how many other people thought that? And, you know, it's so hard to, to be a victim. I mean, I'm a survivor, but people turn their heads so many times.


Stephanie: let me, let me ask you a couple of questions.

Dana: sure.

Stephanie: If anybody knows someone who is in a position that looks like it might be similar to yours, what would be useful? What would be helpful to somebody? What would have been helpful to you when you were in the thick of it with a young child? How could somebody have helped?

Dana: This sounds really simplistic, but honestly, like for me, it was when I went to church, there was one older lady that sat in the pew right behind me and she would see me crying when I'm on my knees praying and just see me sobbing. She would put her hand on mine sometimes, or when she was passing during communion, put her hand on my shoulder. So I knew she cared and, and that sounds so simple.

Is that pulling somebody out of a situation? No, but over time I learned that I could go to her and I could confide in her. And she got me in touch with, you know, some other people in the church, one of them being, you know, one of our priests and, you know, I'm not, I'm not trying to direct people to religion. Please don't misread me, but it might be somebody at work. It might be somebody in your family. But if anybody had said, you know, like my neighbor who did come to testify, she was always very bold about, Oh, well, you need to leave it. You don't need to, you don't deserve that. You need to get out of that. When you're in that situation, I know people mean well, but that's not going to convince somebody to leave, you know, so I think just letting them know. Like, I see you,

Stephanie: okay.

Dana: I, I have an idea of what's happening. Like I said, it could just be that hand on the shoulder, put, holding their hand. Give them a hug. Just say whatever it is, I'm here, because we have a hard time trusting people. And we don't, we cannot risk anything. We say getting back to the person doing this to us,

Stephanie: Yeah.

Dana: but we need sympathy. We need somebody to show that they care.

Stephanie: when you said, you know, I wish somebody had helped, it's, I, I think it would've been hard years earlier if somebody had said, I'll help you get out. That I, I, I have an understanding that when you're in these abusive situations, it's, it's hard to extract yourself and it's hard, like sometimes you can't even see the way out. So, so saying I'll help you get out is, is not necessarily the help that someone in that position needs. But you're saying just, just be present

Dana: See the person. Believe them. Yes, exactly. And honestly, when I look back, I wish, I wish that my mother in law and or father in law, or even my sister in law would have intervened. Um, I think what I see because, you know, I, I unfortunately I'm a narcissist magnet, but what I see in a lot of families is people see what's happening, but that's their family.

That's That's their brother or their son or their whoever. And I don't mean to pick on men. Women can be abusive too, but that's part of their family and I don't know if they're afraid or if they feel it's disloyal, but they are, they will dismiss and dissociate from the victim, as opposed to intervening to get their loved one help or, or I hate to say, you know, call the authorities and have them put behind bars if need be. But I have seen it in my life multiple times where people. I mean, I have been like shunned from every family I've belonged to because of what other people did to me, and that's not fair. Because those people have no conscience about what they've done to me and they're, they're invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, where I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas? By myself.

I mean, I'm happy, I'm very happily remarried now and my husband will not leave me on a holiday, but it's just, it's just us. Our kids go to their, because what do I have to offer my son? My son loves me, but he has cousins and grandmas and grandpas everywhere else, but I'm not invited because I opened my mouth because I was abused and I acknowledged it and I said it wasn't okay. So I don't get to be part of the family.

And it's disgusting, but you know, it's a very lonely thing. So I think, and when you're in the situation, it's lonely.

So yes, being there for somebody and there are, you know, I mean, if I really thought somebody was in, you know, a life threatening situation, you can call the non emergency number for the police and make an anonymous request for a wellness check.

Stephanie: Right,

Dana: Does that always help? Does that always work? No. I, mean, I, I, you know, I've talked to so many people through, um, you know, my advocating for them that, you know, I, I've even had many of them say that, you know, the police did come and the police stand there asking them, right, even asking the kids right in front of the abusive person, did this happen and they're terrified. They're not going to be the ones to, you know, so they say, no, it didn't happen. And then nothing happens. There's no consequences. There's no justice. And then now they're in more trouble and have to face more consequences when the authorities leave. And, you know, how much more bravery, do they have to summon up within themselves to open their mouths the next time? You know, they might not. So it's a very real thing. Um, and it's very upsetting and it's very disturbing, but it's something that goes on all the time. And just, unfortunately, like within families, people turn their heads too often, and we just have to be more aware so we can save more people.

Stephanie: Dana, when you were able to finally file for divorce and, and get divorced and, and know, find a, a place to live on your own, that was, you were at least relatively safe. Even if you understood that your ex-husband was on the outside of the four walls. How do you begin to heal?

Dana: Well, I had a unique situation and I'm thankful for it. Um, so most people probably will not be able to relate to this. Um, in these small towns, there are usually a few prominent families that are well known. And, and one of those families I had known, you know, 15, 16 years. My, my son grew up with many of the kids in the family. So one of the people in this family, um, that I had been friends with for 16 years, her brother in law, he was noticing things. He was very sensitive to things and we had, you know, become friendly over the years. I had known him a long time, but towards the end, uh, like, especially when I got sick, he had become more concerned on me and would check in on me more.

And, and, and was a great support. Um, So by the time we sold the house and everything, he had actually caught, he was my date to the wedding, you know, that had upsets my ex so much, because we were spending more time together. So he actually wanted us, my son and I in his home where he felt he could protect us and keep us safe and, you know, where I would be, you know, my nervous system could calm down a little bit so I could try to heal. And through that, we always had liked each other, and we fell in love. And, and it was, you know, it's hard because people say, Oh, well it happened so fast, but they have to remember, like I was done with my ex, it wasn't when the divorce papers were signed. It was 15 years before that. And. You know, I was still that girl that wanted love. I wanted to be in a, in a relationship and this man just, you know, it was very easy. It just clicked and I had known him already and even my son wasn't phased by it because he's like, oh, him. Okay, cool. Like, it wasn't a thing. So we were fortunately in a situation where we could just move and be okay. And we were surrounded by people that cared about us and loved us and, we've been thriving since. So, but I realize that's not a normal situation, but yes, there are cameras all over the property.

Um, you know, there are, uh, safety measures in the home and, and I'm, you know, even if you talk to my husband, he's been on a few podcasts with me, you know, kind of getting that perspective. And he said it was a stress, you know, it was an adjustment for him and his son that lives with us that, you know, they didn't realize how badly I was traumatized because like just passing in the hall sometimes if I didn't see somebody coming from around the corner, I mean, my reaction to the startle, just, it wasn't, it wasn't one you would laugh at or joke about, you know? And so they had to learn that they had to kind of like, they'd come around the corner and be like coming around the corner, Dana, like, you know, kind of alerting me and they had been used to living in the country, leaving doors unlocked, and I'm more like, windows locked, we're gonna walk around the house, make sure lights are off so nobody can see in, and, you know, it just made me feel better, and so they had to adjust to those things, but, you know, I, I've been through some healing. Now that I know I'm safe, and my nervous system has calmed, you know, I've gone through some healing for CPTSD and my anxiety has come down tremendously and I'm not depressed. I'm not crying all the time anymore. You know, like I've, I've come a very long way in a short time and just life in general is more fulfilling. And I think that's the beautiful part of it is that, you know, all those things that I said. I wanted to do when I asked myself what I wanted my life to look like. I am married to my best friend now, and he reciprocates the love and respect that I give to him.

And we, I mean, I couldn't adore this man more and it's not a newlywed thing. I've known him a long time, but he's everything that I could have imagined a husband to be. And like last year, we took 9 trips around the world. And this year, I think we've been on like four or five. We have, we didn't get to go as much cause I've been busy trying to write books and everything.

But that's the beauty of it too. I'm not scrubbing toilets anymore and there's nothing wrong with cleaning houses, but I'm finally doing what I always wanted to do. I've published one book. I'm, I have two more that are written that we're editing the manuscripts now. They'll be published next year. I feel fulfilled. I feel whole. I, I'm just living my authentic life and I feel so strongly like it's not too late. I've, I've gotten to do some amazing things since I've been out of that terrible, you know, the first 45 years of my life, basically, you know, I'm now living a life that's true to what I want it to be. And there's nothing that can make you happier than that.

Stephanie: Can I ask you, how is it, and, and you've already kind of touched on it, but how is it that you know that you're in a healthier relationship now?

Dana: So the best example I can give, I, I lived, I had a doctor tell me once that he felt bad because I was scared of everyone and everything. And I was, everything scared me. I was scared about, did I make the right choice of what I cooked for dinner? Because there were just, if I so much as sniffled or said I had a sore throat, I mean, the reaction I would get. Everything I said and did just existing, was wrong. I was just basically punished for living for, for being. It doesn't take much to be better than that. But what struck me and, you know, I was really nervous that I couldn't be healthy enough myself to be in a healthy relationship. But what struck me was I was having a bad day once like mentally, I just in a low place. And this was in the midst of my healing and I'm just trying to figure things out and resolve them and accept them and, and, and forgive myself. And my husband comes home. And I said, ugh, stay away from me. Like, I don't even like myself today. I can't, I, I just, I can't. I can't be what you think I am or what supposed to be or whatever.

And he just looked at me and he said, well, I don't always like you that much either, but I love you. And I just looked at him like it sounded so offensive, but it resonated so deeply with me because. I knew he loved me because his actions showed me he loved me.

We could have a disagreement, but talk like you and I are talking and just say, well, this is what I think. Oh, well, this is what I think. Yeah. I just, I'm not buying it. And then we're still laughing and carrying on. Whereas, I mean, God forbid there was anything that wasn't exactly how somebody expected it to be would turn into world war three. So, the healthy part of it is just that there is always love there, in every interaction, even in disagreements. Even on days that maybe one of us didn't get enough sleep or had something happen, not in the best mood, we never stop loving each other. We're always good to each other. We're always respectful.

Um, I honestly didn't think relationships like this existed, and maybe I just got lucky and got the right guy, but man, I'm lucky. I got the right guy this time, and I wish it for everybody else because it's an amazing thing. And there are still days I have to pinch myself and say, is this real?

Stephanie: Well, there's two more things I'm curious about.

One is, so for other folks who maybe are coming, you know, maybe are, are hearing, Things that are too familiar or too on the nose in your story, and, and they're, they're, you know, gonna find the courage like you did to, to get out. What kinds of things did you do actively that helped you heal?

Dana: So one of the first things that really helped me, and again, this is unique, but it's not so much to everybody. You know, my husband now, he was there as a friend. I didn't really have, I didn't have a mother or, you know, like anybody to go to. Um, But I had him now again, keeping in mind that for the first 45 years of my life, all that I have been insulted, demeaned, degraded, humiliate every single day.

I don't feel very good about myself. I mean, to say I'm insecure and have a low self esteem that I had no self esteem whatsoever. I knew I had fight and I knew I had potential. But I didn't have, I didn't think very much of myself. So just the difference of having somebody in my life who was speaking positivity into me and encouraging and supporting and saying, sure, you can do it. Or, you know, Oh, you want to do that? Well, you should, or even just. You know, like the one thing that I noticed with him, my ex husband, the only nice thing he ever said to me ever in our 25 years, he was always saying, Oh, you're so pretty. You're so beautiful. That doesn't mean anything to me. It actually kind of makes me sick. So here's my husband and I never even said that to him, but he would compliment things in me, that like he would read some of my writing and say, wow, I like how you explain this, this particular way. Or gosh, you're so smart. I like how you think about this, you know, when we're talking about maybe some political situation, like he was kind of helping me see qualities in myself that I had not acknowledged.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Dana: And so I started liking myself a little bit better because I'm like, I have value. You see something good in me. I didn't, but when somebody is speaking this into you, you start seeing it. And then I, you know, my, my little circle grew a little more. And so other people were in my life that were, you know, telling me, you know, this and that. And it's not about like, you know, pouring all these compliments onto somebody. I'm just talking about regular interactions. And so when you have more positive people in your life, and you're putting yourself in positive situations, it's going to eventually be a little contagious. And I had only experienced negative.

So that was, that was first and foremost, one of the biggest things for me. Um, because you need to have some sense of self respect and self love to even be in the mind space to go into the healing.

But one of the other things that I always suggest to people, because not everybody can afford therapy. Not everybody is into therapy. I. Uh, you know, not everybody has insurance that covers stuff, but one of the, the things that I did immediately when I, as a matter of fact, the first night after, when he moved out, my ex moved out after having everything dictated to me, what I should wear, what I should do, what I should say. I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. You know, I had my own thoughts and feelings and beliefs, but I wasn't allowed to have those.

So self care, self care is so essential. And by self care, I mean, it was kind of like that night. I said, what do you want, Dana? It was like the same thing. What does Dana want? Well, Dana likes the color red. So Dana's going to paint her nails red. And you know what? When I looked at my red nail polish that he would have said, I looked like a whore with on. I thought it was pretty and it made my heart a little bit happy to see my nails painted red. And it was wearing an outfit I hadn't worn because he didn't like what I wore. And it's not about, you know, enacting any kind of revenge and doing things they didn't like, but it's about doing things that make you happy.

If I wanted a pint of ice cream for dinner, you know what? I'm pulling out the butter pecan and I'm having ice cream for dinner. I remember that actually the night he did move out. He always controlled the TV. I love horror movies. Like I'm a horror movie freak, like the paranormal stuff. I sat down and watched a movie on Netflix and I mean, I was by myself, but it was the best thing ever. I was so tickled that I watched this movie. I had popcorn. I had the whole thing and I was in my jammies and it was just nice to be true to myself. So that's what I refer to when I say self care. Do what you want to do. Have what you want to eat. And wear what you want to wear, but do the stuff that makes your heart happy. You know, put on that music. There's songs that I like to, you know, dance in the kitchen while I'm cooking, whatever it is, make your heart happy.

Stephanie: Yeah. Follow your own im impulses,

Dana: Exactly. I got, yeah, indulge your whims, whatever it is. And, and these are reasonable things. I mean, any one of us, there's things we could do right now. And, you know, sometimes it was just like, oh, I've got all this, you know, energy in me and I'm kind of anxious.

Okay. So I, I would pop in earbuds, put on music I like and go for a run, whatever it is. But there's always something that you can do that doesn't cost you money. Okay. That you don't have to exert much effort for that is just going to make your heart dance. And if your heart is happy, it's going to fill you with joy. And and that's just pouring some, some love into that, you know, into that cup you need to fill up. And once you can fill that up, I think it prepares you better. Um, you know, for the forgiveness you need to give yourself in order to move on in the healing process.

Stephanie: Yeah. Wow. I have one last question, and um, this is, this is the last sort of element that I'm, I'm curious about, but are you concerned that your son picked up on behaviors from growing up in that household?

Dana: Very. Yeah. And now I'm going to cry.

Stephanie: Oh, I'm sorry I made you cry. I

Dana: No, it's okay because you know what? It's the reality of it. Um, unfortunately, I mean, there's different theories about how people come to be abusers or narcissists or whatever. You know, my mother and my stepfather both had terrible, terribly abusive childhoods.

Stephanie: Mm-Hmm.

Dana: That doesn't make it right. I still think it's a choice because I was abused and I did not abuse my son. Because there was no way in hell I was going to do that.

But, I'm going to talk traditional gender roles. And I mean, no disrespect to people who identify otherwise, but speaking traditionally

Stephanie: course.

Dana: boys model. Yeah. Boys model their, their father's behavior oftentimes. Girls model their mother's behavior. Yes, my son's model of male behavior and, and role as man of the house, was not one that I would have liked. And you know, I, I've read too many psychological studies that say, you know, kids are wired by the time they're six, seven years old, as far as the expectations and gender roles and, you know, even their belief systems and everything. So yeah, it worries me a lot because my son and I have had some serious discussions, you know, all through his childhood. I remember once regretting it, it just flew out of my mouth. We make mistakes as parents. And I said, you're acting like your dad. And he just started crying and said, don't ever say that to me. I don't ever want to be like him. You know, he knows who his dad is. He knows who his dad is. Boy, there are times when I'm around him that even his nonverbal, you know, behavior is just, I've had to learn, I had to learn self regulation real fast to be around my son without feeling like I was around his dad. And it's hard and yes, I am. I am terrified. He is he is 20 years old now, still very young, but he is in his first very serious relationship. They are living together and I pray every day that that he has learned how not to be. and I'm grateful that he had the opportunity to see me in my new marriage and to see that a man can be very kind to a woman and respectful and all these things that I wish he would have seen his whole childhood and I hope that's enough.

But all I can do at this point as a mother is love my son. But one thing that I learned from my mother and my former mother in law is that if this girl that he's with ever comes to me and expresses any concern, I am going to hug her and tell her that I love them both. And my son and I are going to have a conversation because there's no way in hell I'm going to let him think it's okay to ever treat somebody, whether it's a romantic partner or friend, anybody, the way that his dad treated me.

Stephanie: Mm. Oh, Dana, that's some heavy stuff. Would you ever consider talking to him and telling him, I mean, has he read your book? Have you told him about your experiences?

Dana: My son likes to pretend stuff didn't happen. Um, he knows I wrote a book. I don't even think he knows the name of it. He never mentions it. He only asked me once what it's about and I treaded lightly and said, it's about toxic relationships. And he gave me an eye and said, you're divorced and you're writing a book about relationships. Hmm. And I laughed and he laughed and we let it go. And it's probably better because the, what makes this book unique, um, well, for one, there aren't too many books out there where people have divulged, you know, so much information about personal experiences. There are a lot of it books about abuse and domestic violence,

Stephanie: In theory and Yeah.

Dana: but very few that are personal experiences.

The other part of it is that I, I go pretty deep. I mean, there are things in there that, yeah, I hope he know, never, ever, ever finds out, but I think it's important to tell the whole story because every, every piece is part of the puzzle of trying to figure it out and every part of that puzzle was a part of my healing. And it's going to be part of somebody else's healing because what I've been able to put together and the perspective and, and, you know, all the things I've learned are the things that I'm hoping other people will learn as a result too. And, and I've fortunately had that effect that I wanted that, you know, I have people reach out to me on social media or by email and say they read the book and they had the strength, you know, to leave. Or they're, they're getting out or, you know, and, you know, my mission is not to make people leave their marriages or their partners. It's just for people to treat each other better. To treat each other kindly and, and just not abuse somebody. It seems like a simple request, but, um, if somebody is not willing to change the way they treat you, then, you know, you do have to consider your circumstances and what you want in life.

Stephanie: you know, my goal with having you on the podcast today is to showcase a version of what midlife looks like when you're deep, deep into, uh, an abusive situation and, and finding your way out successfully, even though the, the journey was frightening and harrowing. Um, you know, I, I, I like, you want to showcase that so that other people can see themselves and say, actually, I never would've called it this, but those behaviors sound familiar. So maybe, you know. Or I feel unsafe, or, I, I feel, you know, belittled and, and that's not right. So, you know, is there, are there other options or is there a way out of this? So,

Dana: Exactly. And I want to also point out real quick that, you know, I love that your podcast addresses, you know, that 40 mark because it is a critical point in a lot of our lives. And I do meet a lot of people who say, well, there's no point. I'm in my forties, I'm in my fifties, even a few people in their sixties and men as well. The point is 3 years ago, I thought my life was nothingness. I was dead inside. My body was physically dying. And I look where I'm at now, if I would have known that I could live this fulfilled life and live the life I wanted, I would have walked out years ago. Years ago. Probably 15 years before when I wanted to originally. It is never too late. Ever.

Stephanie: Correct. It is never too late. Yeah. I had a realization, uh, over the summer that, um, I turned 52 this summer and I was walking to work one day and I realized that, um, I think I've said this before, but I realized that my, my father's mother died when she was 92, and my mother's, uh, aunt died when she was like 99 and a half. Um, and, the women in both sides of my families live really long lives.

Dana: Sounds like it.

Stephanie: And so I thought, well, for crying out loud, I, I, might have 40 years left. 40, which is kind of fun because you know, the whole 40 drinks and like my focus on 40 and it's like, you know, it is, to your point, it is never too late. Even if I only had 20 years left, you know, that is still a lifetime. That's a generation.

Dana: You can make it work. Let me tell you, like, even on all these trips that my husband, you know, indulges me with, I always have, like, these crazy things planned. Like, we're going ziplining through the jungle, and we're going out on, you know, kayaks, and we're gonna go see this and that, and You know, people just think like, Oh my gosh, he's 11 years older than me. So he's 58 and here I am about to turn 40. And they're like, why are you doing all these wild and crazy things? I said, you know why? Because we'll still travel when we're older, but we're physically capable now. So why not? Why not? We're going to go to the casino. We're going to go dance. You know, he'll even go into the clubs with me at the resorts and I'm going to dance and we'll do karaoke, whatever. We're just living our life. Because you know what, when we're small, probably not 70 when we're 80 or whatever. We can go on cruises then. We might not be fully physically capable but I can sit at a buffet and watch a show and we will do that.

So it's never too late. You can always find some way to live your life and make your heart happy and we all deserve that. Every one of us.

Stephanie: Oh, that's so beautiful, Dana, and such a great, uh, place for us to, to wrap up today. I just, I'm, I'm so in awe of you and your courage and your bravery, um, and your resilience truly. Um, your, your story is, is a difficult one. And, and I, I look at you, I know the listeners can't see you, but I look at you and you're, you're bright and you're beautiful. And you're vibrant

Dana: all makeup.

Stephanie: ah, you and me both, but

Dana: Makeup and lighting. No, no. You know what? It's just, I think that your inner, your inner feelings really come out. I mean, when I was miserable and whatever, my, my skin was gray and I just, my facial expressions but when you're happy, it shows, it comes out.

Stephanie: It does, it does. Oh, Dana, thank you so much for being so generous with your story today. I'm, I'm really in awe of you.

Dana: Well, thank you. You don't need to be in awe of me though. I'm just sharing my story, but we're helping people relate and connect and hope and wish and, and they can have it too. So thank you so much for having me on.

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