Whether you meet her in person or by phone or—as is the norm during the global COVID-19 pandemic—by video conference, dance therapist and teacher Sybil Stanonis comes across as confident, passionate, full-of-energy and her zest for life is palpable.
But if you’d met her in 2014—or even 2015—she says, “You wouldn’t recognize me.”
She left an abusive relationship in 2014, with two young boys in tow. “There was verbal and mental abuse,” she says. “He took my phone. He kept me isolated—and supplied. I had an eating disorder, and I was an addict. He got me pills. I wanted to escape the relationship, but I had a mix of emotions: He was condoning my behavior and addiction, calling me an addict and still giving me pills. He was my hero at the time; he provided for us.”
Stanonis kept up appearances for those outside her home. “I painted the whole white-picket-fence scene. I made excuses. I talked about what a great provider he was.” She made excuses inside the home, too. “I’d made a million excuses for why I was crying or my eyes were red—’Oh, I’ve got something on my contact lenses again!’”
But when her younger son, at six-years-old, actually witnessed the abuse one night, she says, “I knew we had to leave. I didn’t even put our shoes on; we just went to my parents’ house.
I had no self-worth coming out of my marriage, but my kids come first, period. I was ready to fight for my kids.”
When she arrived at her parents, “There were no questions asked. But, of course, they knew,” she said.
Stanonis said she lived in a bit of a fog the following year, “I’d lived isolated and afraid for so long. I was still clouded, things were just becoming clear, and I was starting to figure things out. Then I had to begin to rebuild my self and sense of worth. Then I was able to step into the light.”
“My kids are my reason for that escape—and my recovery. I was a newly single mom, teaching dance in a studio and going to school. Being their mom—and eventually a business owner and a youth advisor with a local substance abuse prevention nonprofit—keeps me accountable for my decisions and recovery. I’m all they’ve got.
Now I have this story—it’s a little bit raw,” she said. “And I realize not everyone wants to share their story. But I want to help women who think they can’t. Because I know they can. I wish I could stand up and tell every woman, ‘You got this; you’re beautiful; you’re worth it.’”
Life is very different for Stanonis and her boys in 2020 than it was in 2014—for myriad reasons.
She wasn’t entirely sure how much her sons remembered, but her older boy remarked to her one day recently, “I couldn’t imagine being in that home during the quarantine. Thank you for making that decision.”
“I may not be on the other side of the rainbow,” Stanonis said. “But I’m safe. We’re safe. I got us out. I’m going to be happy to be alive. And I’m going to live my life.”
If you’re experiencing an abusive relationship, please research your local resources for help building a safety plan to reduce your abuser’s opportunity to hurt you or your family. If you’re in immediate danger, please call 911. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for a referral to your local resources.
We want to hear your story. Your story is my story. Help us empower other women by sharing your story.