I wrote a letter to a woman being abused, and now I feel kind of sick about it.

There's been a thing happening that makes me sick to my stomach, and it's been happening as a result of something we posted on Upworthy. Something that happened to me. Before I delve into it fully, you need to know: I'm a domestic abuse survivor. I left more than seven years ago, and the ways in which I've changed and my whole life has changed as a result of it are countless.

Years ago, when I lived in New York, I could hear my neighbor being, at the very least, verbally abused by her husband. I didn't know what to do to help, but I couldn't do nothing. I have always been a writer, so I wrote her a letter. I dropped it off when her husband wasn't home.

Fast-forward to four years later, and we're experimenting with some long form text at Upworthy to see if readers like it, so I decided to let my coworker publish said letter, which has long been dormant on my former website. The recipient has been kept anonymous, and the letter could be to anybody being abused.


The response was huge. Comments were filled with people wishing someone had given them a letter like that when they were in that situation and wanting to know what happened to the neighbor. There was a melange of other comments too, positive and negative.

But then the private messages started coming in. To me.

There was one from a man who said it described to a T the way his ex-wife had treated him; the experience left him emotionally scarred. There were multiple letters from women in varying types of abusive relationships. Many of them wanted to thank me because they finally realized they had to leave.

I felt punched in my gut. I feel it every time, because I care very much about victims becoming survivors and having a happy ending like I did. I responded to each of those messages, but the struggle to find the right balance of words weighed on me heavily. It was important to reinforce each person's sense of self and their right to be safe, respected, and happy. But I also had a huge responsibility not to bullshit them — to make sure they knew they were about to embark on the most dangerous leg of their journey.

You see, when abuse victims die at the hands of their abusers, it's most often when they leave.*

*This doesn't at all mean you shouldn't leave. But it does mean you should take whatever steps possible to protect yourself.

I can tell you from experience that if they make it out alive, they have months to years of emotional and physical recovery, all exacerbated to the extent that the abuser remains in their lives for the purpose of kids or shared assets. That's not even touching on the financial aspect of getting out of an abusive relationship.

What I'm saying is: There are seemingly insurmountable hills to climb.

If you're being abused, getting away from your abuser is definitely the endgame. But you should also have some straight talk about how many different ways from Sunday it will be difficult so you can prepare yourself as best as possible before you go.

Here are some things I did that you can try:

  • If you can save money and secure all the access/paperwork you need to any assets, shared or not, do it.
  • If you can have your escape plan aided by trusted friends, family, or even a police escort, do so.
  • If you can get in touch with a domestic violence resource locally, that's best.

But if you are in a dangerous emergency situation and you need to leave with kids in tow and/or the clothes on your back but no plan, getting out alive is better than not getting out at all.

Use an app like the one I'll link to below, or text a code phrase to someone you've arranged to be on high alert for you. You can take the other things step by step later, with the help of the aforementioned resources.

And if it takes you several tries to leave for good, there is no shame in that. There is nothing etched in stone saying that because you went back once or even five times that now it means you've gotta stay. This is hard stuff — actually, it's the challenge of your life. This hill is a Sisyphus-style hill. Sometimes the rock rolls back to the bottom and you start all over again.

I'll be straight with you: Despite my personal experience, I'm not a professional domestic violence counselor. I can't advise you on how to handle your particular exit strategy. But if you've found that flicker of spirit left inside of you that knows you deserve better than what you're living, then I have a responsibility to make sure you have a full picture.

Before I go take some antacid for the ulcer this critical matter is giving me, please know that I have a ton of resources and links for you down below. And those (besides having shared my own story a bit) are the best, most useful things I can give you. For anybody struggling to leave an abuser right now, let me leave you with this:

You have the most difficult (and dangerous!) time in front of you. But please keep faith in yourself that if you just keep going with your plan to leave and stay away, your life can become full and rich again, and the pain you experienced with this person will eventually be a distant memory. Your life will again be full of possibility! You have all my faith and strength behind you — just keep going.
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Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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