We have a special guest today! Jennie Helderman, author of As the Sycamore Grows (Summers Bridgewater Press), is here to talk about what most people keep a secret – abuse. Visit Jennie on the web at www.jenniehelderman.com.
The TV producer wanted bruises, something that would show. Ginger had none, not that day. She’d had nothing purple to show the preacher who told her to go back home. No red marks to show the policeman who, without visible evidence, couldn’t make an arrest.
Abuse, to some people, means black eyes, broken teeth, bald patches. But abuse takes many forms. Abuse is about control and some means of control are subtle. Who goes through the mail? Who makes money decisions? Who keeps the money? Intimidation, isolation, verbal abuse—these leave no telltale signs but their pain can be just as damaging as physical abuse and take longer to heal.
Ask Ginger McNeil, whose story is told in As the Sycamore Grows. Her husband slapped and shoved but isolation and economic abuse were his mainstays. She lived with him in a two-room cabin hidden behind a padlocked gate without power, a telephone, or even a mailbox. She made her own soap, canned chickens and cooked catfish soup on a wood stove to feed her children. Then he bought a Jet Ski—with his disability check. Even poverty can be a means of abuse when it allows one person to control another.
“Verbal abuse is insidious,” says Patricia Evans in The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Name calling, sarcasm, criticizing, teasing, withholding—all disregard or devalue a partner. They can diminish self-esteem and confidence to the point of brain-washing.
Again Ginger provides an example. She was religious. Her husband was not—until he discovered the power of the Lord as a means of control. By that time, he was able to convince her to pray to God through him.
Now Ginger knows the warning signs. She knows that abuse always escalates. Verbal abuse always precedes physical abuse.
Wounds to the heart and soul may not leave outward marks, but purple will come.
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Jennie Helderman broke the glass ceiling at age ten by becoming the first girl page in the Alabama State Legislature. That surge of girl power wouldn’t be the last time she saw a need to put women’s issues at the forefront. Years later, after she helped set up a crisis-call center in an old house, a cry for help at the other end of the phone line resounded in her head. That call was the catalyst; eventually, the empty bedrooms upstairs served as the community’s first shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
From there, Helderman began work with women’s issues and leadership, community development, public relations and communications, beginning in Gadsden, Alabama, and reaching to national levels. She has championed women’s and children’s issues and worked with child abuse victims. From 2000 until her term expired in 2006, she presided over the six-member board of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which serves 520,000 clients each month and oversees all family abuse issues in the state.
A 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee, Helderman coauthored two nonfiction books, Christmas Trivia and Hanukkah Trivia and writes profiles for magazines. Previously she chaired the editorial board of the 120,000 circulation alumnae magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma, The Key.
Her latest book is As the Sycamore Grows.
Helderman is married to a retired newspaper publisher; is the mother of two and grandmother of three; and has recently moved from Alabama to Atlanta. Her website address is www.jenniehelderman.com.