Tia Parker (left) and Tawanda Clark say being kind to yourself is key when facing traumatic experiences. (Courtesy photo)

By Mylika Scatliffe,
AFRO Women’s Health Writer

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience; emotional shock following a stressful event or physical injury.” 

Relationship trauma is abusive behavior between intimate partners, and can grow out of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that occurs during a relationship. It can result in long term psychological and physical effects. Just as traumatic experiences and their effects are varied, so are methods of coping and healing.

Tia Parker, Tawanda Clark, and Hope Lee are family. Parker and Clark are sisters, and Lee is their cousin. Parker’s book, “I’ve Got a River: A Collection of Poetry” is a deeply personal collection with a section dedicated to past relationships, titled “Mirror of My Heart.” The women use a podcast of the same title to discuss their experiences with relationship trauma, and their individual journeys of healing.  

“I Used to Love Him” is Clark’s favorite piece from her sister’s collection of poetry. Parker introduces the podcast by reciting the poem that inspired the episode.  At the conclusion of “I Used to Love Him,” Clark states sardonically “I used to love him… but now I don’t,” a reference to the popular Lauryn Hill cult classic, “Ex-Factor.” 

Relationship trauma is defined as abusive behavior between intimate partners. (Photo by Tobe Mokolo on Unsplash.com)

Clark recently divorced her ex-husband after a 20-year marriage.  She candidly discussed issues in their marriage including his habitual infidelity which included fathering a child with another woman fairly early in their marriage.  Still, she wouldn’t leave the marriage for another 15 or 16 years. 

“I know it doesn’t make much sense now looking back, but I’d bought my house and didn’t want to leave it, and after everything that happened in our marriage, I felt he owed me. So, I stayed.”

It took seven years for Parker to write about her relationship with her son’s father.  She could not write it until she was absolutely certain she was 100 percent over him- after all, she had been with him from ages 20 to 25 and gave birth to their son when she was 21-years-old.  

They’d been friends for years before the relationship became romantic, but after their son was born he subjected Parker to verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.

Parker now realizes that low self-esteem and her tendency to “love VERY hard” kept her in this and other relationships longer too long.

While Parker remained in the relationship with her son’s father while he was imprisoned for violently assaulting her, she credits God with transforming her during her time away from him. She joined the Empowerment Temple church in Baltimore, started writing and performing her poetry, and connected with like-minded, similarly talented people. She ended the relationship with her son’s father for good once he was released from prison.  

The podcast with Lee was of an entirely different, and heart wrenching nature.  “From a Mother’s Heart” was written in honor of Lee and her son, Nickalas, who succumbed to an asthma attack almost nine years ago at age 23. 

Lee described receiving a phone call at 4 a.m. on July 23, 2013, that her son was in an ambulance and being raced to the hospital with severe breathing difficulty.

Then came the call informing her that he didn’t survive.  

Lee’s life quickly spiraled. She was full of anger and looking for someone to blame for Nicklas’ death, so she hired an attorney to pull his medical records.  She intended to sue the ambulance driver because she believed he took his time responding because there had been numerous previous calls to her son’s address.  Once his medical records revealed there was no one to blame, Lee proceeded to blame herself. “I felt like I should have been there. A mother is supposed to protect her son,” she tearfully recalled.   

Lee began to use alcohol to cope and eventually attempted suicide. 

Though they all have individual paths, the ladies agree there is no “easy” button.  

Therapy, particularly letting go of the stigma surrounding mental health, has played a major part for all three ladies in addressing and getting to the root of their trauma, particularly for Clark and Lee.  

Therapy helped Lee realize she had unresolved issues and anger to unpack. Once her son died, she turned all her negative emotions inward.

“I finally realized I had this proverbial suitcase full of issues that needed to be unpacked one-by-one,” she said. 

Clark discussed with some chagrin, how she always had good self-esteem which slowly eroded during her marriage. She started to feel unattractive and make less effort with her appearance. 

Emotionally and financially stressed, she began to experience physical ailments including severe nosebleeds, unexplained stomach pains, heart palpitations, all of which disappeared once the marriage ended.  Thinking back, she can see now that she was almost dying for her marriage.  

Now, she has regular sessions with a therapist and enjoys new things in life – taking her first international vacation after applying and receiving her first passport.

Clark realized she does not want another relationship or marriage because she stated emphatically, “I want to keep my peace of mind. Peace is better than sex, money, and food.  You hear people say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but my grass is a gorgeous green and it’s not fake.”

“When you hear me say ‘I used to love him but now I don’t’, the words themselves may not seem like a big deal,” said Clark, “but when I speak them they’re full of power- power I didn’t have for 20 years because I didn’t take it.”

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