Author, speaker, and domestic violence survivor Lindsay Fischer first wrote and published the story of her survival and the aftermath using her pseudonym, Sarafina Bianco, in portions through her blog. After realizing her impact on others she published her memoir, “The House on Sunset”, under the pseudonym. On July 27, 2015 Fischer, again finding her courage and battling feelings of inauthenticity, re-released her book using her legal name. Still Standing now has the honor of sharing the interview we conducted with Fischer shortly after re-releasing her memoir. You can get Fischer’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-House-Sunset-Lindsay-Fischer-ebook/dp/B012EMBZ5A
*Please be advised that the content below may be distressing.*
Q: How did it feel to publish your book the first time, and then how did it feel to re-release the book under your true name?
When I released the book the first time it became very clear to me, because previous to that I had just been blogging and using Twitter to sort of connect with other people, that I was empowering so many other survivors by sharing my story – especially the darkest pieces of it. So I really thought it was important to issue it on a different media platform, if you will, so that’s how the book came about. Now, I wanted to use my pen name because at that time I had just finished trauma therapy, I was still sort of healing – actually I’m still healing so that’s not a fair statement – but I was still in a place where I did not feel safe enough to use my real name. Having said that, what happened when I released the book is I found more people who came to me, who messaged me through all the social medias thanking me for sharing my story. What I ended up finding is that I actually started to feel a little bit inauthentic because these people were sharing their stories with me and sharing their faces and I was not doing the same. And so as it grew bigger and I started to get a bigger following I started to feel more and more like to be genuine I needed to share myself. I also started to feel very empowered and safe in sharing my story, and so when the publisher picked it up and they asked if they could re-release it one of the stipulations that I gave was that we could do that, but under my real name because most people had known me for four years as Sarafina Bianco. It was a little bit risky in that I may lose some of my readership because they wouldn’t see that transition, but again to me it became one of those situations where I knew that standing on my own power and saying, “This is who I am” and showing my face and admitting it to everyone, to anyone who wanted to pick it up, was going to be a very big piece of my healing. I think 100 percent it has helped me feel so much stronger in who I am and what it’s become.
Q: Since you’ve re-released your book, how has that impacted you?
I think re-releasing the book, just in a broad sense, kind of gave me a little bit more of a passion for promoting it and putting it out there for whoever wanted to read it to read it. When you go through the process of writing in general – when you release a book there’s a honeymoon phase where it’s like the coolest moment, and then all of the sudden you realize you don’t have to work on it anymore. That it’s done and it’s out there and so there’s sort of this depression that sets in like “Well, what’s next?” So once you sort of navigate that, and it’s sort of a natural thing for almost every writer I think, or any writer I’ve ever talked to, but to be able to re-release it sort of gave me the opportunity to feel that passion again and to sort of put myself out into the world even further. But beyond that – as a survivor – to be able to stand up again and say, “Look, this happened to me and I don’t feel shame anymore because I’ve told my truth” has been an incredible gift. It happened the first time when I did it with my pen name, but to be able to put my true identity on it and say, “I’m not ashamed of this anymore” has been huge. It’s been a huge celebration for me. It’s wonderful.
Q: Can you give me a summary of some of the things you went through?
You know, like anybody who has experienced any kind of abuse (or at least in my experience) there’s a grooming period. So obviously an abuser is not going to be the bad guy straight off because if it was unhealthy from day nobody would stay in that situation. So there was a very big honeymoon phase; there was this grooming that I believed my abuser was everything that I possibly could have ever wanted. Once he had groomed me – sort of got me into a place of isolation that I didn’t see it as isolation at the time, but a place where he felt that he had full control over what I was going to do – that’s when the abuse started.
My abuse was first mental and emotional, then it became probably sexual and financial next, and then the physical violence started. There were times where he would force me to have sex with him or he would guilt me into having sex with him. He would force me to use drugs to then do sexual things to me or there were certain instances of physical violence where they just sort of seemed to come out of nowhere. The physical violence wasn’t necessarily the biggest part of my abuse, but it was what ended up getting me to leave just because it was sort of when I started to finally realize that he was dangerous. The week that I left he held a gun to my head and told me that he loved me so much that he could kill me. Then three days later he actually picked me up by the neck and threw me down a flight of stairs and choked me at the bottom. That was when I left. That was the day I knew that staying wasn’t necessarily keeping me safe anymore and that he was dangerous enough to where leaving wasn’t going to be anymore unsafe than, in my mind at that point, staying so I didn’t feel safe regardless and I knew I needed to get away from him.
Q: You said some of the violence did include sexual violence. As a survivor of sexual abuse in your relationship, can you elaborate more on that and share how that made you feel?
I think that sexual abuse or sexual violence is, especially in an intimate partner relationship, very difficult to sort of understand at first because society gives us these ideas of what sexual relationships should look like inside of a marriage or a long term relationship of any kind. I think once these things start to happen it’s very easy to sort of rationalize them at first and say, ‘Well maybe we weren’t have sex enough and he’s unhappy and so maybe I should be doing more’ or ‘Maybe this is just a fetish’. I know that sounds crazy, but when you’re in a relationship with somebody that you love and they start behaving in ways that don’t seem to connect with the person that you knew them as you start to really justify that behavior. It’s one of those situations where you’re like ‘there’s something going on with them and I want to help them so if it means that I have to sacrifice something that I’m uncomfortable with then I will do it if it’s going to make the situation better.’ By the time you realize that whatever behaviors that you’re participating in aren’t actually making it better, but he’s becoming more demanding or the expectation remains the same and you realize on some level that it is rape and you realize that this is not a positive thing, you become very stripped of your identity. It makes you question who you are and what your expectations were, or even what you believe to be a healthy normal relationship. It’s a very alienating, disempowering situation that, especially in one of those intimate areas of life, can shake you to your core and make you question who you are as a human and what you deserve.
Q: Can you share with me about your healing process?
When I left I was unaware that there were services available to survivors. Since my situation included financial abuse, my car was repossessed three days after I left and my house went into foreclosure proceedings within the month. It was a very traumatic time for me and I didn’t have money to go into therapy. Had I known about some of the services that were available for free to survivors from non-profits, I probably would have jumped at the chance much sooner than what I did. So I actually ended up trying to do things on my own for about a year and half. During that time is when I started blogging, because not many people in my life understood what I was going through. They assumed that my leaving should be the moment that everything started to sort of heal itself and that I should be celebrating and happy and everything should be coming back together. That wasn’t true. I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and body dysmorphic disorder and I didn’t know how to label those things. So when I left the aftermath was almost as painful as staying.
The blog became a place for me to really sort of share what was in my head. I didn’t anticipate that people were reading it. Then, as people started reading it, I realized that maybe sharing my story was empowering other people. Fortunately for me what happened is that somebody got a hold of my blog and showed it to one of their friends and this person reached out to me and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re aware of this – and I only am because my mom is also a survivor – but there are non-profits that will give you free therapy for having been through what you’ve been through. All you have to do is find them.’ So one Google search later I found a non-profit in St. Louis. I called them and I got in for an intake assessment. They put me on a waiting list, but that was part of the problem: there were so many people that needed these services the place that I found had a six month waiting list to actually get in to see anybody. It was two years before I got in to see anybody for trauma therapy, but then I spent three years total in the program. I actually graduated last July and still the healing process has continued. It’s something that you learn how to manage on your own outside of having somebody to talk to once a week because it’s a completely different type of life. Before I knew that I had somebody to talk to then leaving it was ‘okay you have to do this on your own’ so you really have to feel empowered and you have to find your internal strength and use the information that you found in therapy to sort of help you through that.
This July marks six years since I left my abuser and I can’t imagine what my life would have looked like without having the support of the community that I found online, but also the support of the non-profit that put me through trauma therapy. It was one of those things that when you’re recovering you still justify or feel guilt and things like ‘why don’t I feel better,’ ‘why isn’t this going away,’ ‘it doesn’t make sense I’ve made this good decision for myself but I’m still struggling’ pop up. There’s a struggle, an internal battle. Knowing how severe my symptoms were with PTSD, I can’t imagine that I would have truly gotten to this point as quickly as I have without the trauma therapy. I think it would have been a much longer journey. So I encourage those who have ever survived any sort of abuse to seek out those opportunities because they’re there because we need them and there’s nothing wrong with accepting help from somebody who is willing to give it to you in a healthy way. Non-profits like the one I went to are doing exactly that.
Q: The unique thing about Still Standing is what I call the “Accomplishments Twist.” A lot of people, when they tell their story, just simply tell their story and then forget to include that they’ve gotten up and out of bed every morning or they’ve found a new relationship that they’re comfortable in. You, for example, have written a book, released it once, and then rereleased it. So, can you tell me about your accomplishments since you’ve started to heal and are continuing to work on healing?
I feel very fortunate to have had some very amazing things happen in my life. Most of that was because I did the hard work upfront, but I think more as quickly as I could. I did get out of bed every day and I went back into teaching, which is one of the things he had pulled me out of in our relationship. So I went back into the classroom and I started teaching high school again. I had a full time career that could support me to where I could rebuild and pay off the debt that he had incurred throughout the relationship. Beyond that, I was also able to start dating again and find a healthy relationship with someone that has become my husband. We just got married last June. It was something I never anticipated. For three years of my recovery I refused to date and, again, going through therapy really helped me figure out ‘Are you going to do this alone forever? Because if that’s something you want to do that’s okay, but if you want to have a healthy relationship, you can find one.’ So, fortunately for me, I did and I wrote the book and I’ve also actually changed my career entirely. I left the classroom after rebuilding there and decided that advocacy work was so important to me that that was something I really wanted to start doing so I now do public speaking, I’ve done some trainings with local police departments to sort of give them perspective on who they’re walking into, what sort of responses are normal, and why we respond the way we do when they come in. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve been able to speak in front of hundreds of people and I was actually asked to audition for a TED talk. Life has sort of taken this amazing route for me and not only have I recovered, but now sharing my recovery might actually inspire other people and that has become my number one goal.
Q: If you could say a few words of encouragement to domestic violence survivors, sexual assault survivors – anybody who has been through any sort of abuse, what would you say?
First I would say that you’re not alone. I think after surviving something like that it is very difficult for us to understand that there are other people that do genuinely understand what we’ve been through and where we are. I think that that community [of survivors] is very supportive once you step into it. It is a scary step, but it’s also a very rewarding step to have people on your side that you can vent to, that can actually give you validation or perspective on where they’ve been. So step into that community and know that you’re not doing this on your own. But I also think that what’s most important is realizing that life after abuse can be better than it was before the abuse. That was one of the things that I really struggled with. I remember my first trauma therapy appointment. I sat down and she said, ‘Where do you want to be in six months?’ And my response to her was I wanted to be breathing. I had no idea what my life was going to look like. I thought it was changed forever. And while it has been, it has also become something that I never dreamed it could be. It has been an amazing experience and through recovering and really focusing on helping myself I was able to build a beautiful life out of something that was tragic. So I want people to know that that’s a possibility and that the world is not necessarily a scary place all of the time. There are bad things that happen, we have survived bad things, but we can turn that around just by healing ourselves.
You know it’s difficult to give advice because I know how difficult it is to accept advice, especially in a situation with an abuser because they tell you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing exactly when you’re supposed to be doing it. So well-meaning people come to you afterwards saying, ‘hey, you should do this or hey, you should do that,’ but you’re so sick of other people giving you what you should be doing that you will do whatever your brain tells you to do whether or not it’s a state of trauma or logic. So I know how difficult it is to accept advice, but that’s why mine is very simple. It’s focus on your recovery and know that you’re not alone.