Do you remember the first time you ever tasted soda? I do. I was a little girl, we were on vacation near the Jersey Shore, and I asked my parents if I could have a quarter for the soda pop machine. My brother had gotten a quarter, my sister was already drinking her favorite orange soda, and I sat staring at all the mouth-watering flavors in front of me while begging for that quarter. My dad gave in and handed me one, I pushed the button for grape soda, and it was everything I thought it would be and more. It was sweet and sticky and delicious! The can was gorgeous, a bright purple with an eye-catching design and all the right colors and shapes to attract my eye. I was hooked. Grape soda became an instant hit with me, and I was interested in no other flavor. I was loyal to this one brand, this one flavor, this one design. I stuck with grape soda every chance I had because it was all I ever wanted.

But then something changed. Puberty came on and my hips began to get wider and I started to gain weight. One summer day, probably three or four years later, I asked my mom what I could do to stop these changes. “Just give up soda,” she said casually, “and your clothes will fit again in no time.” WHAT? Give up soda? What was she talking about? The thing that was incredible and sweet and attractive to me was now bad for me and had changed me into something different? WHAT? How could something that seemed so good for me turn out to be bad for me? I never saw it coming.

I bet you’ve figured out by now that we’re not talking about soda right? But let’s go with it because it works and you’ll see why. We face these situations in life all the time. We find out that something we love, something that we may have thought was good for, us turns out not to be. So we basically have three choices: first, we can ignore the obvious and keep it in our lives. We understand when we make this choice that we are consciously going to turn into something that we were not when we began. This is difficult and I have a lot more to say about this, so stick with me. Second, we can cling to indecision (keep it or give it up?) and hope that something will change. Not making a decision is making a decision = deciding to do nothing is doing something. Maybe we will learn that soda is not bad for us? Maybe we can give up something else in our lives and make it work? Maybe, maybe, maybe. All the while we live the same pattern day after day, we are exhausted by our own lives because soda is still there and in the end, nothing changes. I’ll come back to this, too. Finally, we can decide to give up soda, change the situation, shake everything up and run like hell towards a change. This solution always being the best and most obvious choice, it is, of course, the hardest one to make because it takes the most courage, the most planning, the most energy, and the most effort. But what comes from this is the biggest payoff.

For now, I am only talking about choices: decide to live with a problem, decide to do nothing, or change your life and leave your problem in the dust.

My name is Susan Sparks and I am a twenty-year survivor of domestic abuse. You got it: Survivor Of Domestic Abuse. I use the analogy of SODA™ because it fits. When I first had soda it was sweet and amazing and everything I ever wanted it to be. Then things changed over time and I found out that it was hurting me and I had a decision to make. In my life, my once charming boyfriend of four years became my husband of sixteen years and slowly turned from my Prince Charming into a frog right before my eyes. Someone who had once seemed like my dream come true became my living nightmare. I went through all three decision-making processes. First, I decided to ignore the problem and thought I could live with it. Then I couldn’t decide what to do. And finally, after twenty years, I mustered the courage and strength to blow the lid off that damn can and I ran for my life. It wasn’t clean, it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t without injury, but I made it. I made it to the other side, and I’m here to talk about it and tell you what I did.

I’m going to share my story because I don’t want it to be yours, and if it is yours, then I want to help you get to the other side and avoid the many mistakes I made. I didn’t reach out for help, I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t use the incredible resources that were available to me everywhere I went. I was an abuser’s dream: scared, weak, and isolated. I want to give you strength. I want to let you know that you are not alone. I want you to have a plan before you decide to leave. With those three things you can get out safely.

Remember this: STRENGTH + SUPPORT + PLAN = FREEDOM. You can do this.

    Tomorrow the world will have a new acronym that they have never heard before, “SODA™ – Survivor of Domestic Abuse.” I hope it sticks, I hope it makes sense, and I hope it means something to someone. Because dredging up all of this pain, this hopelessness, and these fears have to mean something to someone or why am I doing this? I never planned to tell my story and really still don’t! Yet I sit here daily and type the words because I now consider it my full-time job to share my experiences in the hopes of validating yours, to collect the broken pieces of my past and mend them back together so I can walk into my own future, and to make sure that we all get out of this as soon – and as safely – as humanly possible.

Many of us have made it to the other side. We are here cheering you on because we know what you have been through. Use our strength to carry you through until you find your own again. You will. I promise. Get help, leave safely, and know that you are not alone.

Sincerely, Susan Sparks

Survivor of Domestic Abuse (SODA™)