I remember the day Support Melissa popped up on my facebook feed. It was 2012, and just days before Melissa Dohme had become the victim of severe attack, an attempted homicide. Her FB page, which now has over 60K likes, was started in support of her. I was shocked to hear that something that horrific happened to someone in the town next to mine, the internet made it feel even closer to home. I didn't know Melissa. Not a lot of people know Melissa. We know of her. We know of her story of survival after being stabbed 32 times by her abusive ex-boyfriend, we know of how she flat-lined 4 times and then came back to life, we know of her advocacy, and then we know of her most recent engagement to her first responder.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Melissa for dinner, I was curious to know more. To listen to her story beyond just her trauma and her tragedy.
The moment Melissa walked up to the table in a black flowy summer dress and purple bag, I felt like meeting with an old friend I hadn't seen in years. She is radiant, well-kept and put together. When she speaks she smiles, and her smile is catching. Her eyes are big, that of an old soul.
Looking over the menu, she had trouble deciding and mentioned, almost as to apologize, that, "ever since my surgery I've been like this. My mom would tell me that I would stand in front of the fridge and just looked lost. I wouldn't really know what I was doing standing in front of the fridge. If I wanted something or not." I laughed, thinking that I do that now, without having gone through any sort of surgery. She was so open about talking about everything. We talked about her facial reconstructions and how her whole right side is paralyzed. "I notice it, she says, so it really bothers me", while showing me selfies she took of her side profiles. "Don't judge me." she mentions. "I used to always be known for my smile. That was what everyone complimented me on. So when all of this just happened and my face was literally drooping down it was really hard for me. I had to learn how to drink without everything dripping out of the side of my mouth. I also couldn't shut my eye on my own. They put a weight in, so it would shut. They removed it now, because the nerve finally started working, but not exactly how I wanted it to. In the beginning it wasn't doing anything at all, then one day it started twitching like crazy and every time I would chew my one eye would shut. Be really careful what you wish for, because you truly don't know" as she burst into laughter. "That's fixed now too, they had to inject botox to block the nerve from overreacting."
Melissa is currently undergoing a series of surgeries at the Boston Nerve Center through a special program from Survivors of Domestic Violence. Her most recent surgery involved borrowing a nerve from her back leg and grafting it in her face, with the hopes that it would bind to the muscle and do what it's supposed to do - give Melissa her full function of her face and her smile back.
We talked about life before her attack, how she remembered as a little kid always wanting to be the one to never cause any trouble for her parents (Melissa is one of three children, she has one older brother and sister). Knowing that she wanted to succeed and excel at everything to make life go as smoothly as possible. We talked briefly about her relationship with her abuser and how she was able to forgive and continue. The first thing she mentioned on forgiving him was the strong relationship she always had with her mother, "I was always a mama's girl", and that from the moment of consciousness in the hospital, her mother told her, "Now I was going to move forward. I wasn't going to be angry or bitter and she would read me PSALM 27. I really think that made the difference. I knew that I had no other option but to be strong and continue on this journey without fear in my heart. She kept reciting it to me over and over, 'The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour[a] me,it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.' I really think that made the difference".
She talked fondly of her fiancé, who is her escape from all of the emails and requests she gets from news channels all over the country wanting to hear her story of abuse and survival and is excited for a family getaway soon. "His family has land in Georgia in the middle of nowhere and so every once in awhile we get to go there and be alone, away from it all." I mentioned maybe they could finally take this moment to let it all sink in. "We never expected any of this to get so big. The way people found out about us to begin with was during my court hearings. The press took a picture of me holding hands with my mom and Cameron and someone asked who he was. So I told them, excitedly, because I was excited and I thought the story of how we met was crazy, they asked if they could write about it and when it came out it was the FRONT PAGE of the TBT (Tampa Bay Times), you know, the free newspaper that's EVERYWHERE?!"
Our conversation went from one topic to the other and went on for 4 hours. When we left the restaurant was closing and the parking lot was empty. There is so much to learn and know about a person that has gone through something as tragic and final as almost losing their life, but what really interests me is how she kept and keeps going. There is something honorable in sitting in the presence of someone who, after everything, can sit in front of you and have forgiven. Someone who has no desire to dwell on the past and is so excited and hopeful for the future.
Who is Melissa Dohme? She's a survivor yes, but I believe she's much more than that also. She is a friend, a daughter, a sister, a fiancé, a Domestic Violence advocate, a woman who through an unfortunate event became a soul greater than herself and who has a heart big enough to encompass all of it with grace and humility. She is forgiving and she is fierce. People are drawn to her, not only because of her trauma, but also because in her story there's so much hope, so much love, in a time where people seem to be striving on the hopeless and the heartbroken.
In our conversation she mentioned that she used to always think, "Why me?" and then she met another survivor and they decided to change that to, " WHY NOT ME?"
Melissa's conviction is that no matter what you always have a choice. There is a time to feel sorry for yourself and then there is a time to keep going, succeed and excel, something she decided she was going to do when she was just a little girl.
With that mindset and some faith, she not only rebuilt a life worth living, she became an example that this too is for you.
10 Questions for Melissa Dohme:
DOB and Sign: January 10th: Capricorn
Your favorite feature according to yourself: I love that my eyes are green but also the determination and drive I have to push forward and reach my next goal.
If you could share a cup of coffee with anyone who would it be and why? Taylor Swift. I have loved her since early high school and her music got me though so many tough times as a teen. She writes her songs about things that are going on in her life and since we are similar ages--it always matched up to mine. Her grace, kindness, fun-loving attitude and global success are inspiring. She helps so many and stands up to empower young women. It's always been a dream of mine to meet her.
What makes you feel good inside and out? When someone tells me I have inspired them. Laughing and spending time with my fiance, Cameron. Watching the sunset on the beach. Snuggling with my sweet pitbull, Dixie. Sunflower fields. Listening to country music. Wearing cowboy boots. Having girls time with my mom, sister and granny. Praying. Yoga! :)
What is the most exciting thing you've done in your life so far? I backpacked Europe for 6 weeks when I was 20 years old. A couple friends and I traveled through England, France, Italy, Scotland & Ireland. The trip opened my eyes so much to the world and other cultures...I also learned a lot about myself during this time. It truly changed my life! I also went skydiving once :) which was very exciting and I'm hoping to go again someday.
What is THE ultimate quote you life your live by if you could only choose one? "If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!"
Tell us about a challenging time in your life: On January 24th, 2012 I found myself surrounded with family, covered in bandages, connected to machines, with tubes down my throat, praying and thanking God for saving my life. Hours before this moment I was lying alone in the road outside my home, covered in blood, taking what I thought would be my last breath. I had just been viciously attacked, beaten, and stabbed 32 times in my face, neck, arms, and hands by my abusive ex-boyfriend. I broke up with him 3 months prior because of the abuse but he returned with tears of guilt, deceit, and manipulation to convince me to meet him outside my mom's house. I was completely uneducated on the danger I was in and was hoping his promise to leave me alone forever was true. Surviving the attack was only part of the challenge. I had to learn how to live again, accept what happened, and somehow move on from this tragedy. The months of recovery were the hardest in my life but I knew I was saved for a special reason. Following that horrific night, I felt the conviction to speak out, become an advocate, and create change.
If someone is going through the same thing right now what would you tell them? You are worthy of real love. You deserve to be respected and valued in your relationship. Love shouldn't ever be scary or hurtful. If you are currently being abused, I beg you to break your silence and safely end the relationship. It will only get worse as time goes on and you cannot change your abuser no matter how hard you try or think you will. After ending the relationship, there is no reason to meet with that person ever again--it is extremely dangerous and when a majority of homicides occur. Abuse is NEVER your fault, and you are not to blame for the pain you have endured. I promise you there are better days ahead. You are beautiful and don't ever let another person convince you otherwise. I would suggest seeking counseling and finding ways to connect with survivors who have gone through similar situations. Speak out and share your story to help inspire others who may be suffering in silence. You are unstoppable, you can overcome adversity and turn tragedy into triumph. Take each day as it comes, you will have good and bad days but always try your best and remember no one is perfect. Set small goals and celebrate each victory. Find what makes your soul happy, and do that. You must learn to love yourself and never give up on your dreams.
Something you wish people knew about survivors and domestic violence? It is not the victims fault and the blame game truly needs to stop. There is so much involved, it is happening everywhere and people need to be educated on this issue that is wreaking havoc on our generation.
Through your tragedy what was the biggest lesson you've learned? Don't sweat the small stuff, problems that seem big at the time are very small in the bigger picture of life. Situations are temporary...just keep pushing forward and it too will pass. Let things go. When your life is almost taken from you, you learn to appreciate everyday as a new blessing and embrace happiness.
Kate Berlin, Founder of The Purple(dot)Yoga project has a simple mission -to spread awareness for Domestic Violence through the practice of yoga- all while having fun. After experiencing two abusive relationships, she realized that sometimes it's not always as easy as "just leaving" and yoga became her saving grace. She is a mother and if she needed to choose one thing to teach her daughters it would be to live fearlessly.