Last month, Lisa Vogl, owner of Verona Collection, took the courageous step of sharing her story of abuse on Instagram (you can read it here). At our homes across the country, we’ve noticed that the majority of women we provide assistance to are fleeing domestic abuse. However, most domestic abuse survivors are unable to share their stories because not only is it difficult to relive the trauma, but it is also difficult to share such an intimate story with strangers, more so when there is such a real stigma around this issue. This is especially true if you are a public figure. Most of all, they are still extremely afraid of their abuser.
Abusive relationships unfortunately exist across various cultures, faiths and communities. Here is the story of a Muslim woman who went through it and came out stronger, Alhamdulillah!
Can you tell us about your marriage and the abuse?
I met my ex-husband on a Muslim marriage site. As a convert it wasn’t as easy to meet Muslim men. I thought I had found the perfect man. He prayed five times a day, even Sunnah prayers, gave charity, did lots of dawah (spread knowledge and awareness about Islam) and he even gave Khutbahs (sermons) at the mosque. Believe it or not, he would even give khutbahs about the importance of respecting our wives.
Six weeks into our marriage, the emotional abuse started. We were driving up to Connecticut to attend the ICNA convention where they had asked me to speak at the convert session. On the way, my husband and I got into an argument. Suddenly, as we were arguing, his screaming got louder and louder. He screamed louder than I had ever heard anyone scream, and he also started driving recklessly. I couldn’t understand what made him so mad. I usually never did. The emotional abuse continued with his temper and started to worsen with each fight. Then his controlling behaviour started to get more and more extreme. He wouldn’t believe me when I’d tell him I went grocery shopping or anywhere else. It escalated to physical abuse two months after the birth of our first child. This was about a year into our marriage. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was on the ground attempting to get up when he smacked me so hard I fell back down and blacked out for a moment. After that he didn’t talk to me for two days then suddenly came crying and begging for my forgiveness. I later learned this was the cycle of abuse. Strangely enough, it was only once this physical abuse started that it clicked in my head that I was in an abusive relationship. Over the course of our marriage I had been strangled, kicked, beaten with objects, had glass thrown at me, slapped and everything else in between.
There was also very intense financial abuse. He wanted to control all the finances, he would check every receipt for everything I’ve bought. He wanted to ensure his power and dominance over me in every way possible. Although he made upwards of $150,000 for most of the marriage, my spending was constantly monitored and criticized even though I would only be spending money on necessities for the home. The only treat I would buy for myself was my daily Starbucks coffee which often made him ballistic. I went through my first pregnancy and half of my second pregnancy without a bed to sleep on because he refused to spend money on a mattress. Instead I slept on a blowup bed. The only furniture we had in the home was furniture I purchased with my own money. I don’t even remember buying a single item of clothing with his money because of how much he controlled the spending. He wouldn’t spend a dime on the house, but would go make huge purchases for himself, like a $14,000 car for his new business. I remember getting physically abused once because I bought the expensive brand of toothpaste.
2. When and how did you decide to leave?
The realization that I needed to leave him started on the day he tried to strangle me. I was pregnant, hiding from him in the washroom with my two babies when he broke the door down, started beating me, dragged me to the bedroom and attempted to strangle me. I remembered reading that once they reach the point where the abuser strangles you, the chances of him killing you increase dramatically.
Soon after that I had a miscarriage in my third pregnancy due to the immense stress I was under living in such an abusive household. I drove myself to the hospital and I was bleeding profusely to the point that the hospital took me into emergency surgery immediately. That night as I lay in the hospital, I felt completely emotionless, like I had no more tears left to cry. I knew then that I had to leave. I questioned how I got here, but I realized that anyone could end up here. It doesn’t matter if you’re educated or what your background is.
But it wasn’t until a few weeks later when he was angry, grabbed my laptop and smashed it to the ground saying “May God curse Verona”. That’s when something inside me clicked, and I finally had the strength to leave.
3. Were you able to reach out for help? What was the response?
I went to a shelter once towards the end of my marriage. I had to give them a detailed account of the abuse I experienced, and ironically, all I could think was, “he isn’t going to find out I told you this, is he?”
People always ask, “why didn’t she leave?” They don’t realize how scared you are of what he’ll do to you. It takes over you mentally, emotionally to the point where fear controls you and you don’t know who to trust. I could have easily gone to my family who would have been there for me in a heartbeat; but, I was so brainwashed and filled with fear I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through that I resorted to going to a shelter instead.
During my time at the shelter he wouldn’t stop calling me, apologizing and promising that it would never happen again. Eventually I gave in and told him I’d give him one more chance. I went back home. Soon after, I had the miscarriage, and then weeks later I left for good.
Otherwise, I had a really hard time reaching out to others for help. I was very private about what was happening to me because all I could think was I love this man and I truly hoped that things would change. I knew if I told my family for example, they would never forgive him, even if I did. In your mind you want to go back, you want to be with your husband, you just want things to be normal. So you don’t want to go to someone you know personally, but to strangers who won’t judge you and your situation. As a convert I also didn’t want to reiterate stereotypes about Islam and Muslims.
We did go to imams for advice and all we got was that I had to be patient because he was going through his own difficulties, and that my husband needs to read more Qur’an and pray more. Only one imam told me that I needed to leave. Everything was about being patient. When I finally made the decision to leave, I reached out to close friends of mine who helped get me out of the house and took me into their home. They helped me restart my life in Orlando. I had a lot of close friends who also helped me through my healing journey. Talking about it over and over again to people is very healing. It’s painful to relive those horrible memories, but it helps me let it out. And every time I open up, it gets just a little more easier.
4. How was running a business in the middle of all this? How did you do it?
I started Verona Collection a few months before I left. It wasn’t just about a being a successful business. Alhamdulilah, I really couldn’t imagine it growing as fast and as big as it did. It gave me something positive to do with my life and it gave me motivation to succeed. It was not for myself but for my children. It was my positive outlet and my escape during the abuse. I needed to have something of my own, to be successful at something, and to do something to empower other women. That’s my goal with Verona Collection.
5. What advice would you give to someone experiencing abuse?
This is not how your story ends. There is a way out. You don’t have to be going through this, this is not what you deserve. Right now it may seem like you don’t want to or can’t live without him, but once you leave that environment you will realize how happy you can be. You don’t experience true happiness until you have the freedom to make your own choices, to be your own person, and not to have your every move controlled or to be afraid.
6. What advice would you give to friends or family of someone they suspect is experiencing abuse?
It is your business. I wish someone would have stood up for me. You are so broken down mentally, you have nothing left in you. You have no strength to even ask for help. Especially as Muslims, we’re constantly told to be patient, but our religion also teaches us to stand up against oppression, not to keep enduring it. Enduring abuse and being patient is not what our religion teaches us. But you also have to be careful with how you approach the survivor because you don’t want her abuser to find out and cause more harm to her.
7. Do you have any contact with him?
It’s challenging because I know this is someone I can never fully trust. He often uses the children as a means of control and to try and hurt me. It’s hard because even though people think “oh thank God you’re out of it”, the reality is I am out of it physically, but until my children are 18, he’s still in our lives, and I have to deal with him in some capacity. It’s much better of course, but I still have to deal with a lot of stress from him.
8. How did you come to the realization that you need to share your story?
The first time I went back to Dallas since I left, everywhere I went, I was triggered by the memories of what he had done to me. For example, when I went to the mall, all I could think about was the time he left me pregnant and with my 9-month-old, stranded and with no way of getting home. Those memories kept popping up everywhere I went and I felt like it was my responsibility to speak out so I decided to go public. I felt that there were so many women going through this but it’s not spoken about, it’s just swept under the rug.
9. How has your experience been since you left?
You realize you have a lot of healing to do. You think you’re healed once you leave and get settled, but then you realize you aren’t. It takes time to heal, but you need to accept that and work through the emotions. For months, I would have flashbacks when I would be cooking for example and would remember when he shoved my head into the wall. You realize it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be broken. I realized I’m not the one who should be ashamed, he should be ashamed, he’s the perpetrator. That’s one of the reasons I decided to speak out. It was the realization that it was not my fault, and it’s not the fault of any women that experiences abuse.
10. Any final comments?
I wish there was more awareness and education in the Muslim community about domestic violence, especially for the men in power and with influence, who tell women to be patient. They need to be educated on how to handle these situations. When a man hears from another man “do not oppress her”, it has more weight, unfortunately. We need to lose the mentality that divorce is the ultimate sin, because him punching her is much worse. I also wish there was more education around the resources and services available to women, because I didn’t know what to do or where to go at the time.