‘I reacted instead of thinking’
Man charged with abuse finds new hope
[Editor’s note: This is the 10th and final installment in a multipart series about domestic violence. The following story may contain graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.]
Tackling domestic violence, which is a multifaceted issue, requires a multipronged solution and a team effort.
Several local organizations have been battling the problem for years, and they have seen success stories.
Among the organizations working to help victims and abusers are Haven of Hope, Blue Monarch, law enforcement agencies, the Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center, the court system and the probations office.
Solutions Education Center, offering certified batterer’s intervention classes in Tullahoma, has also provided essential resources in effort to reduce domestic violence in Coffee County.
Additionally, the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation plans to soon launch a new program of its own, which will also focus on curbing domestic violence.
Angel Gonzalez, 32, has been on probation for several months following a domestic violence charge.
The batterer’s intervention class offered by Solutions Education Center has helped Gonzalez understand the cause of his aggression and the damaging effects his violence has had on others.
Gonzalez now urges abusers to educate themselves on domestic violence issues, to find the root of their aggression and to stop the violence.
Gonzalez, who was born in Texas, has called Coffee County home for several years.
Abused as a child
“I had a very rough childhood,” Gonzalez said. “I got neglected a lot. My mother was a drug addict and she pretty much sold me and used me as a scapegoat to party. I raised my sisters and made sure they were fed and everything was good with them.”
As a child, Gonzalez and his five sisters witnesses and experienced violence.
“I have seen my mom get hit a lot and my sisters mistreated,” Gonzalez said. “I would always try to step in the middle and try to block the hurt they were feeling, but I would just get hurt too.”
“I wasn’t strong enough to protect them,” he said. “I was more scared for them. I can endure a lot of pain – I was taught to take it – but pain is not a good feeling for anybody.”
Growing up in such a rough environment taught him he needed to be strong and react quickly.
Over the years, however, the line between being strong to defend himself and acting aggressively began to blur.
Domestic violence charge
Gonzalez’s domestic violence charge stemmed from an argument with his girlfriend.
“I assaulted her,” he said. “It escalated really quickly, and I wasn’t considerate of how she was feeling. I was very selfish, and I reacted instead of thinking.”
Prior to learning how to examine his behavior, he was “just acting, acting, acting,” he said.
“Because in my childhood, that was always my response – you had to act quickly,” he said.
Thanks to the probation office and the batterer’s intervention class he completed at Solutions Education Center, Gonzalez learned to change his behavior and reactions.
“I was able to see my patterns and to stop and focus on everyone around me rather than myself,” he said.
“I have learned a lot,” Gonzalez said. “For starters, I have learned how to acknowledge my patterns and my behaviors, and to think about how others feel. It’s a wide variety of emotions and thoughts that go through someone’s mind to have them react a certain way.”
He now considers the effects of his actions before he acts, added Gonzalez.
“I know what triggers me and I immediately stop,” he said. “I’ve learned to sense an argument, when we’re having a conversation and we are strong opinion holders. We are both right but in a different perspective. I have learned to see things from a different perspective now. The class has helped me tremendously in doing that.”
Gonzalez also understands how victims feel.
“They are broken, and their emotions and goals are crushed,” he said. “They feel unloved and unwanted, and trust goes out of the window. They feel betrayed because [their abuser] is supposed to be their loved one, someone they’re supposed to trust. The victims also wonder if they did something wrong and experience self-blame and self-pity.”
Not only does Gonzalez strive to improve his behavior for the future, but he wants to mend relationships from the past.
“There were a few times, in a week span, I have tried to call and contact everybody I have been mean to,” Gonzalez said. “Or if somebody was mean to them, I apologized for that, too.”
While his life has often been marked by roughness, Gonzalez now focuses on positive aspects.
He plans to use his knowledge to show others with similar experiences that positive change is possible.
Gonzalez urges others to change for the sake of happier new generations.
“We have kids,” he said. “It’s a dangerous world out there already, and we are just adding to it. We are the leaders, we are the voice. And if we want to make a change, it starts with us.”
In addition to striving to improve his behavior, Gonzalez now motivates his children to take care of each other and to focus on love rather than on aggression.
Gonzalez teaches them what damaging behavior is and tells them they shouldn’t emulate those whose actions harm others.
“I tell my boys they don’t have to follow them, they don’t have to do what they are doing,” Gonzalez said. “They have a sister and they need to stick together. My son is 18 months now, and he knows he shouldn’t hit his sister. When she is crying he goes to bounce her, and it’s a beautiful thing. You have to start somewhere. It’s calming and soothing at home, and there is no loud talking, and that allows them to learn that is how you are supposed to react – calmly.”
Elena Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.