I always believed I could do anything. I was an outspoken social activist from five generations of activists. My favorite quote is “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” and I have eight acts of civil disobedience on my record to prove it.

My Instagram account shows how I see the world differently. A Southern California surfer girl displaced to the desert and now a Phoenix resident for 25 years, I have been married three times and I have two daughters. The first two marriages ended in domestic abuse. 

I now realize that domestic violence ran in my first husband’s family. I made excuses for the black eye and bruises: “A baseball hit me during a game,” and “I slipped on a rock while hiking.” We had a 2-year-old daughter and I was concerned for her safety. It took a year for the divorce to finalize. 

I remarried and moved back to California. The abuse showed up again, this time psychological. Promise of forgiveness, a move back to Phoenix for a fresh start, but old habits resurfaced. I made the decision to leave and filed for divorce. 

I could support myself and my daughters financially, not something all survivors can do.

In 2004, I met Steve. He was different — gentle and kind, consistent and supportive. We fell in love, married and became a blended family of four. Life was perfect. It was Steve who helped me overcome my issues of flinching when a hand came near my face.

A family friend skated with Desert Dolls Roller Derby and we quickly became fans. That led us to serving as non-skating track officials with our own skating names: Steve as Space Cowboy because he was Honeywell’s senior quality engineer for the space station and shuttle, while I became Sister Mary Discipline — Order of the Bad Habits.

When a skater was physically abused by her boyfriend, her Facebook posting prompted other skaters to come forward as domestic violence survivors. One woman joined roller derby to justify the bruises of her abuser. It  took another eight times before leaving her abuser, but when she was ready, skaters were there to move her out and get her to a safe place. Statistics tell us that one in four women will experience domestic violence. In roller derby, it’s more like one in two. However, I use it as an opportunity to offer support and counsel to skaters who need it.

Currently, I work as the grants manager for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. I chose the nonprofit for its reputation and services. My life and career have touched so many of the areas that are a focus for JFCS; I’m able to write funding proposals for the “Shelter Without Walls” program through the lens of a domestic violence survivor.

On May 30, 2018, suddenly and unexpectedly, I lost my husband. If it wasn’t for my support systems of roller derby, my JFCS work family, friends and immediate family, I’m not sure what I would have done. As I work through the pain of losing Steve, the need to be open to new possibilities and adopt a flexible approach to life’s journey is important. Steve encouraged me to tell my story. Our love was and is a novel, forever bookmarked. The story’s not over. There is more work to do.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which highlights the struggles of victims and celebrates the steps taken to independence. The signs of an abusive relationship are not always obvious. Domestic violence is about controlling someone’s mind and emotions as much as hurting their body.

I hope the below information will be helpful.


Signs of abuse:


• Extreme jealousy, possessiveness

• Unpredictability

• Bad temper

• Cruelty to animals

• Verbal abuse

• Extremely controlling behavior

• Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships

• Forced sex or disregard of partner’s unwillingness to have sex

• Sabotage of birth control methods or refusal to honor agreed upon methods

• Blaming the victim for anything bad  

• Sabotage or obstruction of the victim’s ability to work or attend school

• Control of all the finances

• Abuse of other family members, children

• Accusations of the victim flirting with others or having an affair

• Control of what the victim wears and how they act

• Demeaning the victim, privately or publicly

• Humiliation of the victim in front of others

• Harassment of the victim at work JN


Alexis Smith-Schallenberger is a grants manager for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. If you know of or suspect any victims, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline immediately at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

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