Tornado Warning, a Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life by Elin Stebbins Waldal is the beautifully told storyof her own survival of horrific domestic violence as a teenager. The author uses journal entries from those years to paint a picture for us of how easily someone can slide into an abusive situation, be stripped of her own power, and feel too helpless, worthless, and ashamed to be able to extricate herself from the situation. In between journal entries are present reflections on what happened. These reflections show us a woman who, though not completely unaffected, has done a tremendous amount of healing, learning, and growing. We also see a mother who is fiercely determined not to let her own daughter have the same experience, and who has taught her sons well.
Elin Stebbins Waldal is a writer and a speaker on the subjects of teen dating violence and domestic violence. She founded “Girls kNOw More“, an organization dedicated to inspiring confidence and self-esteem in school-aged girls. She is also a State Action Leader (California) for the Love Is Not Abuse Coalition. Waldal says on her website that the Coalition “advocates for legislation that will require teen dating abuse curriculum in all middle schools, high schools and colleges.” Her book is a Moms Choice Awards® Gold Recipient for 2011 in the Adult Book category.
This is a book that all parents should read, then hand to their teenagers – girls and boys – to read, especially those teenagers who are at the age where they are on the edge of dating. Rather than get “preachy” about signs and statistics, she simply shows us how it happens. Although she uses journal entries from her teenage years, the language she uses isn’t overflowing with teenage words and phrases, trying to be cool and appeal to teenaged readers. As an adult reader it makes reading the journal entries easier and for teenagers it won’t seem forced. It’s authentic and easy to connect with, regardless of the age of the reader. The author doesn’t hold back, either. Occasionally, the journal entries are detailed, but not too graphic. She also briefly addresses her painful decision to remove herself and her young son from a verbally abusive marriage as the effects of the verbal abuse were beginning to take their toll on her and her child. Visit the “Tornado Warning” section of her website to see a video, read excerpts from “now” and “then“, and to get a reading group guide.
One of the things that I really appreciated about this book is that this is not a story of a girl who was abandoned or abused at home. She did not grow up in abject poverty. She grew up in a fairly affluent area of the country. Her story shatters any preconceived ideas that this doesn’t happen in “nice” families or that it only happens to “bad” girls. That’s another reason her story is so relatable.
I also loved that we see her own thought processes when it comes to why she took so long to leave. It is so easy for people who have never been in a situation like that to judge and say, “Why didn’t you just leave?” or “Why didn’t you just tell someone?” For the abused, it’s not that simple. An abusive person will crawl up into your head and whittle it down into a nub, where you begin to believe it is your fault or that you somehow deserve it. There are times when an abuser can be so sweet, even helpless or almost child-like, and if you are the kind of person who tries to find the good in others, you wind up trying desperately to save that good person inside, even to your own detriment. It makes it very difficult to recognize when it’s time to go and the need to protect that person’s reputation (so nobody will judge him when it’s all better, of course) becomes greater than your own need to protect yourself. An abusive person will never admit he (or she) is abusive – sometimes they simply don’t believe their behavior is abusive – and will put all of the blame back onto the victim. This is all masterfully illustrated in Tornado Warning.
There are a lot of red flags in a relationship where abuse is on the horizon, but we often don’t realize that’s what we’re looking at or the abuser flat out accuses the victims of being overly-sensitive and they begin to question their own sanity. Please look HERE for some early warning signs, dating safety tips, and safety planning for teens. It is crucial that teens know this before getting into a relationship. Do not allow someone to tell you that you are being overly sensitive! You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach or those hairs that stand up on your neck? That odd sense of confusion between what someone is telling you and what you know to be true? Those are your instincts, and God gave us instincts for a reason. When you begin to believe that about yourself, that you’re too sensitive or that you can’t take a joke, you stop listening to your gut.
Everybody knows domestic violence and teen dating violence happens, and everybody knows it will never happen to them. Not one person in this country who has experienced it ever woke up and decided to become victims of violence or to accept that it would eventually happen to them. That’s why this book is so important: it highlights how easily it can happen to anyone. The author twice uses a pair of shoes as a metaphor to illustrate this point and she does it simply and brilliantly.
Even if you decide not to read this book (but you will!), please visit the author’s website for more information on the subject of teen dating violence and domestic violence. As much as I thought I was educated on the subject, I learned a lot. For starters, I learned that most deaths occur within 72 hours of a breakup. That sent shivers down my spine. It explains why women are so afraid to leave. I also learned that before actually breaking up, the victim needs to have a safety plan.
Something I’ve learned about my own history with abuse (not domestic violence, see Why I Care if you need a refresher) is that the first thing you have to do is forgive yourself. I never understood that, quite frankly. I figured I’m not the one who did anything wrong, so what could I possibly have to be forgiven for, especially by myself? In any abuse situation victims are made to believe it is their fault. You spend months, years, a lifetime blaming yourself, hating yourself, putting yourself down, believing you are stupid or worthless because you “allowed” it to happen. And that is what you have to forgive yourself for – not for being at fault, because you are not – but for being mean to yourself and believing that you were or that you could have stopped it or changed it, when you were powerless to do so. This is a point the author of Tornado Warning drives home beautifully and, whatever you’ve been loathing yourself for, domestic violence or otherwise, it is very validating and reassuring to hear it from another survivor.
Even though it about kills me to know that anyone could come to the point where saying this is even necessary, one of my favorite lines in the book is, “I am alive … I am alive … I am me and I am alive.” So poignant.
I will end this post with two things. First, if you are a the mother of a teenaged girl or you are a teenaged girl in my life, guess what you’re all getting for Christmas from me! Second, I want to leave you with this quote from the postscript in Tornado Warning:
I think I was nudged awake by the silenced girl of my youth, and if I hold very still I can hear her voice reverberate across the water. In a tune as pure as a first snowfall I hear her sing to me that she is safe in the basin of a harbor. She is no longer silent.
I am not silent.
I am home. I have my voice.
Every survivor of abuse has a voice, whether you realize it or not. Unfortunately, that voice is often stolen and it is up to us to find it, take it back, and use it again. I’m so glad Elin Stebbins Waldal found hers!
Tornado Warning, a Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life can be purchased HERE on the author’s website, HERE at Amazon.com, and HERE through Barnes and Noble. An electronic version is also available for the Kindle and the Nook Book.