Episode 53: Visiting with Lauren Wellbank and her story, “By The Numbers”
SSPP ep 53 LAUREN WELLBANK “By The Numbers”
Today’s guest shared her story onstage at Cedar Crest College in March of 2022 at the first That’s What She Said - Lehigh Valley. Lauren Wellbank spoke candidly and openly about her personal experience with domestic violence, using statistics to convey how widespread and terrifying unsuspecting life as a victim can become. Some of the things discussed in this episode could be difficult to hear or even triggering for some listeners. If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, you can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-806-799-7233 or by visiting their website at thehotline.org
ANNOUNCER 00:00 The following episode of The She Said Project Podcast will discuss one person’s experiences with domestic violence. Some of the things discussed in this episode could be difficult to hear or even triggering for some listeners.
00:23 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:42 I am just filled with gratitude today because I’m here in the studio with my friend Kerry. And we get to talk to amazing women and share stories here on The She Said Project Podcast. Thank you so much for coming along on this journey. I am your host Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project.
KERRY ROSSOW 01:00 I’m Kerry Rossow, your Co-Host and Co-Founder, Co-Gal pal, Co-...
JENETTE 01:04 You’re all the co’s! You got a lot of co-co. Co-co going on.
KERRY 01:06 I think that’s the thing I love most being the “co” with other amazing women. This is great. I’m so excited to be here.
JENETTE 01:12 It’s a sisterhood. It’s a partnership. We build relationships with all the women who appear on stage in That’s What She Said. And now we get to check in with them again and get to know even more about them and their lives here on the podcast.
JENETTE 01:08 Today, we have an awesome guest. And this is cool, because Lauren Wellbank, who’s here with us, joined us on stage not in Champaign or even in Illinois at all, she was on stage in the very first production in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. Can you believe it?
KERRY 01:23 That is amazing. And this show is kind of special for me because it was the first one I was unable to go to the show. And I really got to experience the show for the first time. I heard the stories the first time when they were on stage.
JENETTE 01:36 Yes
KERRY 01:36 I didn’t edit. I didn’t see them. And so it really, it landed differently. It was a very different experience than giggling like, “I know what the next line is!”
JENETTE 01:44 Right? And you’ve been behind the scenes literally since the beginning. Do you think this has the potential to go everywhere? That all women can get behind something like That’s What She Said, and bring it to life in their community?
KERRY 01:57 Well, it’s the old joke, but will it play in Peoria? And the thing is, is women everywhere have something to say, you know, through the project, we’ve been in a lot of places and we’ve gone around the world, we’ve been in very different cultures. I kind of feel silly even saying it like, like, not that we doubted it. But of course, like women are supporting women everywhere we go. Everywhere we go. Not in some places. Women were shocked. Like, wait, the common theme I hear is “no, no, no, no, I don’t have a story. I’m just a…” and then fill in the blank. “I’m just a mom, I’m just a teacher. I’m just a doctor. I’m just a…” that is like waving a red flag in front of me. Because I know, the second they say that, like, Oh, I better pour a glass of wine because something good is coming.
JENETTE 02:40 And you know, and I know, the power behind women sharing stories. And our guest today couldn’t be a better example of this. She shared a story that was challenging, difficult, hard, but so important. And she challenged us, she she she set the stage for us to to share her story even more. And so this I couldn’t be more excited to welcome her here with us today. So Lauren Wellbank, welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
LAUREN 03:12 Hi, thank you guys very much for having me. And thank you for allowing me to represent the Lehigh Valley.
JENETTE 03:17 I was in the audience that night. And I have to say how excited and proud I was to watch this mission grow and watch the women of another community come together in this unified way. How was the experience for you?
LAUREN 03:31 It was absolutely awesome. And I have to say we were all strangers before we got up on that stage together. And we, by the end of the night, we were hugging. We were crying. We were best friends. Talking about connecting afterwards, it was really, really, really great.
JENETTE 03:49 You went on that stage with the mission, at least in my opinion, after watching you and hearing your story. You brought this story to life for a very specific reason, like you wanted to empower women share with us a little bit we’re gonna cut to the actual performance. But I think it’s valuable to hear in your own words, the story that you shared and why.
LAUREN 04:04 I shared my experience with domestic violence, because it is such a common thing that happens—estimated one in four women will experience it in their lifetime. And knowing how common it is after having gone through it, I was shocked by how little people talk about it. And when I eventually had to share my own story with other women. It was embarrassing, and it was painful. And I felt so much shame, which is part of why I stayed in the relationship for as long as I did. And I want to help other women not feel that way. And I feel like the more we talk about it, and the more we share our stories, the more permission and freedom it gives other victims to speak out and to escape.
JENETTE 04:47 Absolutely. By giving women permission to talk about the unthinkable, the the unfathomable, you know, we are trying to open up those lines of communication for women to be more authentic and be more honest with each other so that we can have those awkward conversations and help women know that A) they’re not alone, but B) if it’s possible to prevent one woman from experiencing something like domestic violence because they knew something going in, that’s powerful.
LAUREN 05:19 Absolutely. It’s so important. We talk about the red flags. And we talk about the really obvious stuff when we do talk about domestic violence, but we don’t talk about the pink flags. And if we have these conversations about the signs and what came first and how it doesn’t always start with a slap. I think it gives people, victims a little bit of a heads up that hey, this is this relationship isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t how it… love is supposed to feel. And if we arm people with that information, as soon as possible, we prevent truly horrific things from happening down the line, if they’re able to see it, and stop it before it even starts.
JENETTE 05:55 That’s exactly what you did in your performance, you armed women with the information. In fact, you talked about the flags, but you talked about the numbers. And so let’s go ahead and take a listen to your performance from that show. Because the numbers that you shared in your story, that was how you framed your experience. And it really opened up I think a lot of minds as to how common domestic violence is. And thank you for sharing because you had to be really brave to put it all out there. So let’s take a moment and listen to Lauren Wellbank, when she did perform on stage in That’s What She Said, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania in March of 2022 with her story, “By the Numbers.”
(Originally recorded on March 11, 2022 at Cedar Crest College, Allentown PA)
LAUREN 06:38 Hello. Hi, I’m Lauren Wellbank, and I’m here tonight to talk to you about domestic violence. I am going to drastically bring down the room and I apologize.
06:50 Did you know that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime? And of those women, one in four will be significantly injured during an attack. In fact, domestic violence is so common that it accounts for 15% of all violent crime in America. 15%. That’s a huge market share. Now to put that into perspective, I want you to look around this room right now. There’s about 250 people here tonight. We’re going to assume for this exercise that most of you are women. So using that math, that means that 60 people here tonight have been or will be victims at some point in their life. To put it another way, if it’s not you, it’s somebody you know. Now, I know this because I’m one of the four.
07:47 It’s very important to me that you understand how common my story is before I tell you, because I worry otherwise, you’re gonna listen to what I have to say, and you’re gonna say, “Oh, my God, that’s awful. But that could never happen to me. That could never happen to anybody that I know.”
08:05 I worry that you’re going to think that because that’s how I used to think before I became a statistic. I used to think of domestic violence—when I thought of it at all, which was rarely—as an “other people problem.” Not something that I ever needed to worry about. Not something that could ever happen to me. Especially not something that could happen in my relationship with Dan.
08:29 The first time he hit me, we were in the car. It was a gorgeous, early spring day like we had at the beginning of the week. And we were on our way out to run some errands. I wanted to go to Home Depot and then come home and spend some time in the yard. Dan wanted to go see his friend, and then go to his parents for dinner. One minute, we’re in the car sitting there talking about our plans, each of us taking turns pleading our case. And the next minute I’m holding my bloody lip. I never even saw his hand. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. But in that moment, I thought that Dan was more surprised because he immediately started apologizing started telling me that he didn’t mean it, that he wasn’t trying to hurt me, that he didn’t realize how close I was, he was just goofing off. So I believed him. Because at that point I had no reason not to, right? We hadn’t been fighting. We hadn’t been yelling. He certainly didn’t seem angry enough to hit me.
09:39 The next time it happened I found myself looking up at Dan from our bedroom floor. That time we had been fighting. That time we had been yelling. And that time I knew that he was angry enough to mean it. Things went on like that for a little bit. We got stuck in this cycle of fighting, making up, and then he’d promised he was going to change, we’d fight, we’d make up, and then he’d promised he was going to change. It was like being on a merry go round, right? The scenery may change, but you always end up back where you started. Finally, it occurred to me that if I wanted to make it stop, I was going to have to get off the ride.
10:30 The first time I left Dan, and I say the first time because I have more numbers for you. On average, it takes a woman seven attempts to leave her abuser. Seven. The first time that I tried to leave Dan, he tried to kill me. I told him, I didn’t want to be with him anymore. And he dragged me, kicking and screaming through our house, took me in our bedroom, threw me down on the floor, got on top of me and began to strangle me. And I was terrified. I honestly believe that he was going to kill me. He didn’t, obviously, because I’m here.
10:30 I would give anything to be able to tell you that that’s where my story ended. But you know, that’s not true, because I just gave you the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. So while I can say that we did split up for a little while, eventually he was able to sucker me back in with those same promises of change. He told me that that had been the wake up call that he needed. He told me that he was a new man. He promised that he would never hurt me again. And I believed him, not because he was so convincing. But because I wanted to. I wanted to believe that he was capable of change. I wanted to believe that that had been our rock bottom, and that we couldn’t go any lower. I wanted to believe that it was possible to get back to the life we had before that day in the car. So he didn’t change, as I’m sure you can guess, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves back on that merry go round again.
12:14 They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. And that’s where I was, I was being an insane person. So finally, I decided it was time to make the insanity stop. The second time I left Dan, I called him on the phone because I had gotten smarter. And I told him that I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I’d love to say that that was the end of that. But obviously it wasn’t. And I have more numbers for you. One in seven women will be stalked by a partner in their life. One in seven. So 250 people here tonight. That’s roughly 35 of you. And if it’s not you, it’s somebody you now. So that’s what happened next. Dan started calling me on the phone, calling me at work. Then he started showing up places. The final straw was one night I was out at a restaurant with a friend. And as I was leaving, I walked out into the parking lot. And I saw Dan’s car parked two rows over. And I was terrified. Because no good can come from this right. So I raced my car as quickly as I could. I drove straight to my parents house. And I told them everything that had been going on. They convinced me to call the police. Shout out to my mom and dad. [applause]
13:47 And we had the absolute perfect police officer answer that call because he knew exactly what to say. He knew exactly what to tell me to do. He said I needed to get an attorney. And I needed to go to court and I needed to get something called a Protection from Abuse Order. It’s Pennsylvania’s version of a Restraining Order. So that’s what I did. Went to Court told my story. They issued me a two year order. For two years, Dan was supposed to be prohibited from having any contact with me. So what do you think? Did I see Dan again? Did I see Dan again? Of course I did. Of course I did. But not because Dan dared darken my doorstep.
14:31 Dan died. Yeah, Dan died and I saw him at his funeral. And I saw him as they lowered the casket into the ground. And I stood between his mother and his sister in law, and they cried, and I cried, because there was a lot of emotions that I was dealing with at that time. I had grief. I had guilt, and I had confusion. I had confusion because I had stayed with Dan for as long as I did, because he told me he would kill me if I left him, right, he had me convinced that the only way our relationship was ever going to end was if one of us was dead. And I thought it was going to be me.
15:16 I have one more number for you. And this one’s a doozy. A woman who has been strangled by her partner is 750% more likely to be killed by that partner. 750%. The moment that Dan put his hands on my neck, it became 750% more likely that he was going to murder me someday. And who knows? If he had lived, maybe he would have.
15:45 Now when I tell people about my experience with Dan, they respond in one of two ways. They either say, “Me too,” or they say, “I could never be with somebody like that. I would never let somebody treat me like that.” Honestly, I get the impulse because I had that same thought. It’s comforting to think that one in four women are out there choosing monsters, right? But they’re not. They’re women just like you. Only they fell in love with the wrong man. And by the time they realized that they were in danger, they were either too scared or too embarrassed to ask for help. They are professionals and they’re stay at home moms. They are college graduates and their high school dropouts. They are rich, they are poor, they are your family, they are friends, they are your neighbors. And when they are incredibly lucky, they are me standing up here tonight sharing my story, because I survived. [applause]
17:00 Now, there’s something I want you to do for me. First, I gave you math. Now I’m giving you homework, you guys are having a wild Friday night here. I want you to go home and I want you to share my story. I want you to tell your cousin, your co-worker, your cleaning lady, about the woman who got up on stage and talked about the worst thing that ever happened to her. And then I want you to say, “I never knew it was so common.” I want you to say, “I never knew it affected so many women,” I want you to say, “I hope you know that you can tell me anything.” I truly believe that we have the power to change these numbers. But first, we have to change the way we talk about them. Thank you. [applause]
KERRY 17:56 Well, so challenge accepted. Here we are.
JENETTE 18:00 You gave us homework, you gave us an assignment to share your story. And I got chills when I was listening to this again today in preparation for chatting with you. I’m like, Oh my gosh, like what an absolute opportunity for us to share her story with our audience on the podcast. And throughout The She Said Project. So I’m here, Captain.
KERRY 18:21 Reporting for duty, ma’am!
JENETTE 18:22 In all the best ways, what has it been like for you, since you shared that story live on stage in front of you know, a couple hundred of your closest friends?
LAUREN 18:30 It has been a high that I’m probably going to chase forever. It was a wonderful experience getting to be in that room and feel that camaraderie, and then eventually being able to share videos from that night with the people in my life who didn’t necessarily know the complete story of what had happened. So there was definitely a little bit of a reckoning that I had to deal with, between our mutual acquaintances who didn’t quite put two and two together when our relationship ended. And also family members who knew a little bit and said, “You know, I always wanted to know, but I never wanted to ask, and I’m glad that you’re telling this story because now we know.”
JENETTE 19:10 I think we were all a little floored when we heard about Dan’s demise for lack of a better term. And when you said did I see him again? Of course I did. It could have gone any which way. And that was that was definitely a turning point in the story. I don’t know if you’re comfortable sharing what did happen. But there was the sense of relief for you that the nightmare was over.
LAUREN 19:34 There was a sense of relief. And there was also a huge burden of guilt that I immediately felt because I felt like it was my fault that he had died. And what had happened was it was an accidental drug overdose. So I kind of carried that survivor’s guilt because if I had just stayed with him, maybe he wouldn’t have fallen into drugs so hard, if I had just stayed with him, maybe I would have been there and I would have been able to stop him. And there was just that, it’s very hard to reconcile the relief and the freedom that his death granted me. And that was a
JENETTE 20:21 There are so many layers right there to unpack.
LAUREN 20:23 Like an onion. [laughs]
JENETTE 20:25 Oh my gosh, right?
KERRY 20:26 It is. And I really love that there’s a video of you telling this story, because I think it’s so important. It’s so easy to think I don’t know someone, why didn’t they leave? Why didn’t, because it’s easier to believe somebody just keeps choosing this nightmare than it is to believe that somebody would be so abusive. And I think seeing someone, like if you don’t know, someone, let me introduce you. And or let me just shine light. Because you, you do know someone.
LAUREN 20:53 We almost protect ourselves, by thinking that women choose this, they decide to get into a relationship with a man like this, they pick the bad boy, quote unquote, bad boy, they allow this to continue. We almost have to think that way. Because if we don’t, then “Oh, my God, it could happen to us. It could happen to my sister, it could happen to my daughter.” It- I feel like it’s a self preservation mechanism where we say that happens. “Other people,” that’s not something that could happen to me.
KERRY 21:22 Or that it happens to a certain…
LAUREN 21:24 Yes. A certain demographic.
KERRY 21:25 You know that there’s this stereotype of the kind of woman that this is going to happen to. And then also on the flip side, the kind of man who’s going to do it hands down, every situation that I’ve known about that involves domestic violence. It was a super charmer, super charming, super. And I think that’s what made it difficult because you couldn’t marry the two worlds like wait, but this was like this great guy, like we had beer. And he was always so much fun. And always so kind and all the things so then when you hear the other side of this person, it’s really hard to accept.
LAUREN 21:57 Exactly, yep. Yeah. And it was the same thing with Dan. Everybody loved him. And even when I did start to share my story with some of our mutual friends, because we shared a life together; our my friends were his friends, we worked together, our co-workers were all close with us. And when I started, nobody wanted to believe it. Because not Dan, he’s a great guy. That’s definitely the stereotype. It has to be some gruff, mean, angry person. And that’s not how it always shakes out.
KERRY 22:26 And I have to say that when he revealed that he had passed, there was this other part of me that felt such grief for him, for his family. Nobody’s a 10 year old boy thinking, “when I grow up, that’s the guy I’m going to be” and thinking because of this culture that we create, of perpetuating it, enabling it, ignoring it, all the things that we do, these boys that grow into men aren’t getting help and and what what is happening, that we are raising these boys to grow up to be those men. And so it’s a loss. It’s not just a women’s issue. It’s one, it is a women’s issue, but it’s whose we aren’t beating each other up, you know, we have to come up with so there are just so many questions without answers. But I feel like it’s the unspoken part is, you know, what are we doing? How is this happening? Because they all seem to follow this same manual and they don’t even know each other, you know, start out Charmings give it a try with a push, with a look, with a how do they know this? So they go into school, somebody’s pulling them aside?
LAUREN 23:28 You know, the saying, “hurt people hurt people.” So it’s usually something that they have experienced, they’ve been put down, torn down, hurt in some way. And they mirror that experience back on the people in their lives.
KERRY 23:41 That’s terrible.
JENETTE 23:42 You mentioned that drugs were involved. How often are drugs or alcohol a component in that?
LAUREN 23:50 The instances are definitely high. And I have to say, I don’t think that it’s the substances that are creating the violence. It’s not having a beer and makes me want to punch a hole in the wall. It’s usually that the substances are like coping mechanisms for whatever the underlying mental health issue is, that causes abusers to abuse.
JENETTE 24:12 Yes. So Lauren, the floor is yours. If you could leave one message here for our listeners, what would it be?
LAUREN 24:21 My number one thing that I try and always say is that love shouldn’t hurt. Relationships are work, yes, but they shouldn’t hurt. And if somebody is causing you to feel pain, then that’s not love. That’s something else entirely. And unfortunately, the statistics don’t lie. It’s going to happen to an average of one in four women. So it’s going to happen to you or somebody you know, and the way that you talk about instances of domestic violence, whether it’s something you have witnessed yourself, some story that you’re telling I’m somebody that you saw, the way you have conversations about domestic violence, victims, and abusers, the victims that you’re speaking to hear that and they internalize whatever negative things that you say. And that could prevent somebody from asking for help, that could prevent somebody from telling you their story. You, your words have so much power, and you need to use them wisely. So whenever you talk about domestic violence in any way, it should be with that thought in mind that chances are somebody who’s listening to me right now has experienced it. And what kind of a message do I want to give them about their experience?
JENETTE 25:42 Lauren, how did you come to this conclusion in your own journey? The very first thing you said was love shouldn’t hurt. You stayed, you didn’t run away right away. Obviously, there was a, you know, a learning curve, or a period of discovery, like what was your turning point?
LAUREN 26:00 So there was just one day I woke up, and I didn’t want to live that way anymore, I didn’t want to be afraid, I knew that one of us was going to die. And I finally decided that I didn’t want it to be me, I wanted to get out. And I almost had to make peace with the idea that in leaving, I could speed up the timeline and cause him to kill me. But it was just I couldn’t live that way anymore. I wanted to be the kind of person who could go hang out with my sister or her could call a friend and just go do something instead of dealing with jealousy and anger and being accused of all kinds of wild stuff that Dan just used to come up with off the top of his head. I just didn’t want to live that way anymore.
JENETTE 26:43 I’m so glad you didn’t become that other statistic that is far too common as well. But my goodness, where are you at in your life today? Are you in a place of healing? Are you still dealing? Where do you find your peace?
LAUREN 26:55 I find my peace in sharing my story. Honestly, I was never planning on telling my story. And then there was, I’m a professional writer. And there was something in the news that kind of upset me. And I wrote an article about it, a personal essay for Huffington Post. And I hadn’t even planned on really sending it, it was just an idea I had and I typed this up. And I talked to my husband and I talked to my parents and said, “I don’t know, I think this was just a cathartic thing where I’m gonna write it up and then just forget it if I ever put it down on paper and move on with my life.” And they encouraged me to send it in and I did, and getting to share my story and then being contacted by other survivors and family members of people who didn’t survive and getting to connect with them and have conversations and just let people know you’re not alone. Like this was a truly horrific thing that I went through. And I feel like by sharing my story, talking about it, advocating, doing stuff like this, it almost gives it purpose and it makes it something, pain with a point, like it makes it something that I had to endure. But now it’s helping now it’s doing something that serves a purpose.
KERRY 28:09 Wow. Well, we are so glad you did and thank you for sharing not just on our stage but but continuing to say your story out loud to everybody and spreading that and hopefully making making somebody aware of this is I have to tell you, like I’ve rambled in this podcast more than I’ve rambled ever because it’s so mind boggling. I just keep like, bad. Like I just keep wanting to just say like, bad bad this is bad. And I there are no smooth ways to say, thank you for sharing your story. And like the heartfelt like, I’m so sorry that, you know, these circumstances brought you to us. But I’m so glad that we know you.
LAUREN 28:49Well, thank you, I appreciate it. And I really appreciate being given the platform and the opportunity to share this with all of your listeners too.
JENETTE 28:58 And we certainly believe in the power of sharing stories, woman to woman, person to person and beyond. We hope that our listeners have taken this nugget and now it’s your turn. It is your turn to go share Lauren’s story, you have homework, and continue this conversation and make sure that the women you care about know how to keep themselves safe.
JENETTE 29:17 So thank you for joining us here on the podcast. I’m always blown away by how much I learn and how much I feel connecting with the women from our stage and the women in our lives. Over and out, Kerry Rossow I gotta go there like it’s time thank you.
KERRY 29:32 Over and out.
ANNOUNCER 29:49 If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, you can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-806-799-7233 or by visiting their website at thehotline.org
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 31:31 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Some of the things discussed in this episode could be difficult to hear or even triggering for some listeners. If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, you can find help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-806-799-7233 or by visiting their website at thehotline.org.
This episode's guest shared her story onstage at Cedar Crest College in March of 2022 at the first That's What She Said at Lehigh Valley. Lauren Wellbank shared candidly and openly about her personal experience with domestic violence, using statistics to convey how widespread and terrifying unsuspecting life as a victim can become.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.