BREWER, Maine — Even though Sharon Field knew her boyfriend — a longtime family friend she had known since she was 10 — was a violent person with a criminal history, she thought her love would change him.
“I was convinced I would make him better,” she told a group of women gathered on Tuesday at the Bangor Area Recovery Network, known as the BARN. Instead, she ended up killing him in self-defense.
She said she learned the hard way that domestic violence and alcohol don’t mix, but she stressed to the group that no matter how bad things get, recovery is possible.
“You do not have to stay a victim,” Field said.
The BARN held its first Domestic Violence Awareness Day on Tuesday to highlight the link between domestic violence and substance abuse, which is a factor in about 85 percent of the family fight calls Brewer police Cpl. Amy Nickerson said she deals with. Nickerson sat on a panel with Alison Weiss from Spruce Run, Alexandra Turallo from Rape Crisis Services, and Jim LaPierre, a local counselor.
Field dated her boyfriend for a couple of years, and he used that time to “trap” her in a controlling and then violent relationship that ended on a day in May 1992 when he twice “choked me to the point of unconsciousness,” in a Guilford apartment they shared, she said.
When she woke up the second time, he had a hunting knife at her throat and threatened to kill her and her kids, she said.
In an act of self-defense, “I stabbed him and he died,” Field said.
The attorney general’s office decided not to file charges against her.
“The very next day, I picked up a drink,” Field said. “All it [did] is stuff everything down.”
Field tried to drown her feelings but eventually turned to LaPierre from Higher Ground Services, who helped her with her post-traumatic stress and alcohol dependency.
“I have my life, thanks to him,” said Field, volunteer coordinator at the BARN. “Had I not sought recovery, sought the resources around me after that incident, I would be another drunk on the street.”
Domestic violence is best understood as a pattern of abusive behaviors used to exert power and control over a partner, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Batterers use of a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner, it says.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency states that two-thirds of domestic violence incidents involve alcohol, and that most of the violence is reported late at night.
Nickerson talked about the law and how officers have to respond when it comes to domestic violence, which involves “any unwanted physical contact.”
Weiss said domestic violence abuse can be “physical, verbal or sexual” and usually follows a progressively worsening pattern.
Turallo talked about options for those who are sexually assaulted, stressing confidentiality, and LaPierre spoke passionately about being safe.
“One in four women are going to experience an act of extreme violence by an intimate partner” in their lifetimes, he said. “The ratio for men is one to seven, and worst of all, one in 15 children will bear witness to violence.”
Tina Saucier spoke to the group and recalled her father’s drunken rampages in her youth, and her choice as an adult to pick a spouse who was just like him.
“I grew up in it,” the Bangor-area resident said, recalling hearing her dad’s truck come down the road late at night after he’d been drinking, and the ruckus he would cause yelling and swearing and ordering her mother around.
She later started drinking to dull her own pain, just like Field, and is in recovery. A counselor later explained to Saucier that her parents had imprinted their behaviors on her and as a result, “my partner was just like my dad.”
Saucier eventually left her abuser and said she stood up to speak on Tuesday to encourage others to seek help.
“I pray I help someone in this room,” she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.