Dedeker’s Story

“That’s been the gold mine in all of this for me: directly being able to connect with other people who are going through something similar and offer any tiny bit of hope and encouragement.”

Dedeker Winston is an author, relationship coach, podcast host, and survivor of intimate partner violence.

When the abuse began, Dedeker was overseas staying temporarily with one of her partners, who started showing abusive behavior. (Dedeker practices polyamory, a form of non-monogamy in which someone has more than one romantic or sexual partner with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved.) A lack of resources and reporting options made Dedeker feel that she couldn’t get help, and the abuse lasted for five months.

Dedeker also felt ashamed about the abuse and was afraid that the stigma about polyamory would make it impossible for others to understand or for her to get help.

“When I was still in the relationship, there were so many times I got so close to telling someone what was going on. I had this memory of being curled up on the couch with my mom on the phone and was so close to telling her. But I felt like I was going to be dropping a bomb and just exploding my life.”

Once Dedeker returned to the U.S, she confided in a therapist about the abuse.

“I didn’t know at the time, but I really needed someone to tell me it’s okay to break up with him.”

She then confided in her mother, who also survived an abusive relationship.

“At the time, she was the only person I knew who’d experienced it. I just needed to hear from someone else that what happened was not okay.”

When Dedeker told her other partners, they had mixed responses. While both were supportive, it also brought up difficult feelings.

“There was a sense of betrayal that I’d kept this hidden.”

Her partners, however, reached out to one another and were able to brainstorm together on strategies to support her. This kind of support network, Dedeker says, was integral to her healing.

“It’s always so scary to leave a relationship, but having that love and affection and stability there was just huge. That’s why it’s so ironic that people think of non-monogamous relationships as being unstable—my experience has always been exactly the opposite.”

After leaving the relationship and coming forward about the abuse, Dedeker didn’t yet feel the effects of the abuse.

“I was floating on a high of being out of the relationship.”

 

 

It wasn’t until six months later that she began to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dedeker hit a low point in her experience with the effects of PTSD, and strugged with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“It was a first for me to hit that emotional low. I knew I needed to do something and get some help.”

After having mixed experiences while looking for a therapist who was both trauma-informed and understanding of non-monogamy, Dedeker found a practitioner of somatic experiencing therapy, which she found beneficial to her healing.

“Finally being able to address what was going on in my body helped to free my voice to be able to talk about what happened.”

Dedeker’s advice to other survivors of intimate partner violence is to trust your gut.

“I wish I could have told myself, and had my younger self truly believe it, that it’s worth it to speak up when you’re first feeling like something is off. If you can tell someone you trust, who will hold you in a compassionate way, it’s worth it.”

Dedeker advises partners of survivors to have open arms.

“Hold them physically or emotionally, on a good day, a bad day, a confusing day; meet them where they’re at.”

She also encourages “compassionate curiosity.”

“Be willing to listen, to ask what is helpful to your partner, to find out what you could do differently next time a trigger comes up.”

She says it’s okay to not know what to do at first—“We aren’t given a script for this”—but that it’s important to seek an outside education and learn more.

Dedeker also finds healing in her own work. As a relationship coach and somatic experiencing practitioner in training, Dedeker has channeled her own experience into better supporting clients in abusive relationships.

“I found for the first time that sharing my own experience was something that could help my clients.”

Her work on her book and podcast also shifted after surviving abuse.

“How can I talk about being any kind of authority on relationship advice while I’m in an abusive relationship? How can I own up to having been in an abusive relationship while trying to be an expert on healthy communication?’”

Being open about her experience, however, allows Dedeker to be even more accessible and beneficial to others.

“My work before was about empowering people, especially women, that they could choose the kind of relationship they wanted to have. Empowering people to choose good relationships and leave behind bad ones.”

“What I want on a T-shirt or maybe my gravestone is the phrase ‘no jerk is worth it.’ You are worth so much more. Every single person is worth so much more than putting up with abusive behavior.”

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