by Jenna Mayo
(Epsilon Zeta chapter, Auburn University)
When I was in college, Alpha Chi Omega gave me such great opportunities to succeed in school and on campus. I had leadership positions on campus, was involved in social groups, sorority athletics, studied abroad in London, was on the Dean’s List, and nothing could stop me. I truly had it all, was living life to the fullest, and was prepared to take on the world. In 2006, I graduated from Auburn University and returned home from an amazing summer internship in NYC. I was starting a graduate “traineeship” with the Atlanta Braves when my life took a drastic turn.
Nothing could have prepared me to become a victim of domestic violence. I was the one in chapter saying, “that would never happen to me,” during those Alpha Chi Omega Foundation presentations. I was the one saying, “I am too strong to let someone like that in my life,” but I was wrong. I thought he would change. I thought he was a good person. But, his manipulation and control took over my realistic way of thinking. I thought that we were in love, because that is what he kept telling me. I was so close to the situation, I could not see what was happening.
The day of the accident was traumatic. I made the decision to get into his car, because I was afraid he would physically hurt me again, like he did many times before. I remember when he lost control of the car, and then waking up in what looked like a bomb had gone off. Parts of the car were scattered and there was blood all over me. We hit a tree and were facing oncoming traffic in a busy intersection in downtown Atlanta. I was able to get out of the car, and I kept asking for someone to call my parents and tell them, “I am sorry.” After the ambulance ride, the wait in the ER, and the hospital mixing up my X-rays and telling us that I might be paralyzed, the chaplain approached me. It was at that moment I recognized that I had to escape and could not go back to him. He was in ICU. I had broken my back, was severely bruised in many places from parts of the car, had seat belt burns, and a black eye from the airbag. After that accident, I remember looking into the mirror and not recognizing myself.
I wondered what had happened to me. How did I, a strong woman, let this go so far? If not for that accident, what else would have ended it? I questioned my own judgment and could not believe that I was so blind. At first, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and scared that people would not accept me, even my friends. I wondered who would want to date me after all of this? I was not only physically hurt, but also emotionally damaged. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and stages of post traumatic stress disorder. I had to go through months of physical therapy and counseling to learn cognitive skills, how to forgive, and how to trust people again. I soon came to the realization that although we cannot change people, we can change ourselves and our way of thinking.
Over time, I felt empowered. I filed a stalking order, got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit, and went to a local safe house and outpatient hospital to learn more about the psychology behind abusers. I decided to interview for an Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Specialist volunteer position and was selected. With the help of Alpha Chi Omega, I have spoken to hundreds of women about escaping domestic violence and how to help their sisters in these situations. Last year, with the help of the Atlanta-area alumnae chapter, Alpha Gamma Alpha, we raised over $4,000 for victims of domestic violence and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation.
Today, I am truly living out my dream of getting my master’s degree; working my dream job with ESPN; competing in triathlons; and most importantly, I am married to the love of my life! Eight years following our meeting at an Alpha Chi Omega event, we were reunited after my Alpha Chi Omega sister’s rehearsal dinner. Six months later, we got engaged! I know that without Alpha Chi Omega, my life would not be the same. We all have a special bond through Alpha Chi Omega, and I would like to encourage you all to love your sisters, forgive each other, follow your dreams, and take pride in being real, strong women. I hope that my story encourages you and proves that no matter where you are in life, your fairy tale can still come true!