October 12, 2017

How To Help a Friend Going Through a Legal Situation.

      I've certainly written my fair share of personal blog posts in the five+ years that I've had Southern Belle in Training. I've talked to y'all about faith, falling outs with high school friends, my first experience with a true broken heart, the ups and downs of my move to Vermont this year, and many other topics. But out of everything that I've ever written in the past years... this is the most important blog post, hands down. My words today are more important than any outfit that I'll ever wear, travel guide I'll curate, or broadcasting career advice I'll share.



Help a friend through legal court case



{Yes- this is one of the outfits that I wore to court. It felt empowering to later wear it on my blog, although at the time I didn't share the meaning behind the outfit! Photo by Deeana Kourtney Photography.}



      Almost a year and a half ago, my world was turned upside after the unthinkable happened, and I was the victim of a crime just a few weeks before graduating college. After much prayer and thought, and a decision that only I could make as the victim, I decided to move forward with pursuing legal action. This was a part of my daily life from April-October 2016 that I completely hid from the blog side of my life. And that in itself, was one of the hardest things that I've ever gone through. I absolutely adore blogging with my whole heart and soul, and although obviously I blog because it's both my passion and a business venture, I also do so because writing creatively is one of my favorite forms of stress relief. To be able to go through something so painful for so much of last year and not be able to process it through blogging, which is such a notable form of stress relief for me, was really hard. In December, to close out the end of the painful year, I finally shared an extremely vague blog post just to let everyone know that it hadn't been the easiest year. But I was, and still am, prevented to really talk about what I went through due to the confidentiality of the situation, which I'll dive into more later in this post. Anyways, the fact that I couldn't share such a big and painful part of my life with y'all last year made me feel like I was being re-victimized every single day.



      Today, exactly one year ago, the door to this very painful, awful, legal situation was CLOSED. I can't believe it's been a year. I wish I could tell you that it all goes away once it's "legally" over. But it doesn't. It does get better certainly, time is a great healer. So is relying on the Lord. But it never completely goes away. Sometimes I don't think about it for weeks, days, hours.... other nights it all comes back in vivid and intense flashbacks, and I cry myself to sleep. Those are the times when I'm happy to live alone in a far away state from where this happened. Vermont has certainly been healing on my heart.


     Anyways, before I get very off track here, the point of today's post wasn't to talk about how I've been in the past year, as I still can't really give details into the situation that I went through. (I did disclose in my December blog post that I was not a victim of rape or a sexual related crime, but that's all that I want to and really can say.) What I do want to talk about... is how to provide support to people going through legal situations. I was very naive before I went through one myself!! I was a goody-goody two shoes for most of college, and kind of naively always believed that if I was a "good girl" and "stayed out of trouble," bad things don't happen to careful people. I hate to admit this, but I also kind of believed that rape cases were the only types of crime situations that lead college girls to press charges. Well- I'm not a rape victim, and I still went through six months of hell last year for something completely unrelated.


     Research and hearing about other people going through similar things always makes me feel better- about anything in life! Before moving to Vermont to take my job, I looked up stories of other radio personalities who left big cities and moved to tiny markets to get their career off the ground. When I started blogging years ago, I read lots of posts from "bigger bloggers" sharing social media and blogging tips about how to gain a following and curate better content. So naturally when I was going through all of this last year, I kept doing research online, trying to find a story of someone who had been through a story similar to mine, and hopefully the story had a happy ending. I found nothing. There was lots of support on the internet for female sexual harassment, assault, and rape victims- which is great! I'm so glad that prosecution is becoming harsher for these crimes, and that these topics are becoming more talked about at universities. However as I mentioned- I wasn't a victim of one of these things. So most of these stories weren't relevant to me specifically. I felt so alone and almost hopeless as I would spend late nights on my computer, looking for someone, anyone, who had been through a similar situation, but I never found it.


     What I did find though, was peace about how I could eventually share part of the story here on the blog to help others. This is something that became startlingly clearer to me as the months and then year went on. I might not be able to share the details of my situation specifically with you all. But something that I can share is what it felt like to be a victim, and how that can be channeled into helping others. It started to dawn on me after awhile that legal situations really are a part of life. They're kind of like a cancer diagnosis, or a bad car accident. No one expects to deal with one, no one ever asks for one to happen to them or a loved one, but they still happen. Chances are- someone near and dear in your life will deal with a legal situation at some time or another. It could be a family member, a spouse, a friend, or even yourself. Circumstances for pressing charges vary between all types of crimes, but the emotions behind being a victim and dealing with a legal situation are still similar between most cases. I lost friendships over what I dealt with last year. I repeat- I lost friendships. Multiple. Plural. Let that sink in. At the same time, I also learned who my true friends were, and some of them showered me with incredible love and kindness, in addition to my parents of course, who supported me greatly during that time.



     This is all a very long way of saying, I wanted to use today's blog post to share some tips on how to help a friend (or someone else you're close to) who is going through a legal situation. Of course, I'm writing this post from the perspective of helping a victim/plaintiff, as that's the side of things that I've been on.



     1. Remind them that it's not their fault: This probably seems like a given... but if someone you know has been the victim of a crime and moves forward with a legal case, they will have to re-live the circumstances of what happened many, many times in months to come. I know that I personally tend to over-analyze everything, so being in a situation like this was terrible for my personality, and triggered a lot of anxiety as expected. Being a victim is exactly that, it's not your fault!! But it can be easy to let your mind play tricks on you and start thinking that you did something to deserve the situation that you're in. One of the best things that you can do as a support person to someone dealing with a legal situation is just to keep reminding them that it's not their fault. Bad things do happen to good people- it's a part of life (there's of course a faith explanation behind it too), but the bottom line is that if your friend or loved one is a victim, they didn't do anything to deserve being in that position, and reminding them of that really does help.


     2. Don't make guesses about the end result: This one is so, so, SO important, as a lot of well-meaning friends who were trying to be supportive did this, but it ended up making things emotionally much more detrimental for me for many months after to come (even somewhat now still).
     If someone you know is a victim of a crime and decides to follow through with legal action, that is a brave and admirable decision. It is GREAT to support them!! However, the absolute worst thing that you can do is start promising them end results. Again- I can't disclose a lot about my own situation, but I will say that I learned last year that the justice system isn't fair. I mean heck... sometimes murderers aren't even convicted (and that's something much more serious than what I went through). So many people that I knew when they found out I was taking legal action would say things insinuating that I would have a certain outcome solely because I decided to pursue legal action.... and guess what? I didn't get that outcome. At all. And that hurt a lot. I knew that all of my friends who made comments like this truly did mean well... but when person after person for months is telling you they think they know the story will have a happy ending.... but it doesn't.... it makes it worse. So support your friend, but don't promise results. You aren't their lawyer or district attorney, you probably know very little about the legal system (I still don't know that much even after going through it).


     3. Accept the confidentiality: For the same reason that I'm not disclosing a lot about what happened here on the blog, I also did the same with many people in my life. A lot of people that I knew last year when they found out that I was dealing with a serious situation wanted to ask questions to try and understand and support me, and while I so appreciated that, legal situations come with a lot of confidentiality attached. I couldn't just tell people all of the details about what was going on. If you're being a support to a victim and there's certain aspects to the legal situation that they can't tell you, it probably has nothing to do with you as a friend. Respect the fact that they can't disclose certain things, but still offer your support! Trust me- it will mean a lot to them!


    4. Realize different things can cause flashbacks / panic attacks: Whatever the circumstances were that caused your friend or loved one to be in a victim position in a legal situation... it probably wasn't a positive or happy situation. My situation definitely wasn't. I was and still am proud of myself for the healing that I've accomplished in the last year and a half, but that doesn't mean that I don't sometimes still get flashbacks to the incident itself, and painful memories in the legal process. Weird things can trigger these... hearing certain a song on the radio, seeing something on Facebook, eating a certain food, it's crazy. You can't predict when a flashback will hit. The worst panic attack that I had during this whole process was actually during the weekend of The Blog Societies conference in Charleston last summer, when a bunch of bloggers and myself were out at a bar to celebrate the last night of the conference. Something came over me and I thought I was going to by physically ill- I finally realized back in the hotel room that I'd been experiencing a panic attack. The best thing that you can do is support your friend in these instances, and offer love and a distraction.


     5. Buy or make them a thoughtful gift: As I'm hopefully stressing throughout this whole post, being a victim in a legal situation is a really awful situation to be in. Gifts happen to be my top love language, and if they're also a high love language for your friend or loved one, consider getting them something thoughtful around their court date. It doesn't have to be something huge or expensive, but just something small to let them know they will get through this, and you're thinking of them. The best example of this I have is what my roommate who I was living with last year, Ciera, bought me at this time last year. She and I had gone to Las Vegas the month before, and while shopping there I had debated buying a set of bath bombs, but ended up using the money for other things on the trip. Ciera went to LUSH in Charlotte and bought me some beautiful bath bombs so that I could treat myself to relaxing baths before and after court! It was the most thoughtful gift, and meant so much to me. Someone from my broadcasting school wrote me a long letter filled with bible verses for me to bring to court with me... this is the type of gift that costs nothing to make, but ended up being one of the most special at the time.


     6. Encourage them to go to counseling: I am so glad that so many important people in my life encouraged me to do this! Going through a legal situation is something serious, and even if you're able to love on your friend and be there for them, they've probably been through some sort of stress and trauma that is best processed with a professional. I went to counseling for about nine months related to this situation (as well as a few other things), and it was so helpful in terms of processing and moving on with my life, as well as preparing for my (literal) move to Vermont.



      7. Be down to CELEBRATE! Eventually, the situation will come to and end. It will probably take awhile, and be long and drawn out. (Felonies are usually longer than misdemeanors. The legal system doesn't usually move quickly!) But once it's over- it's OVER! And that's something to celebrate, irregardless of whether your friend received the outcome that they wanted or not. During the six months that I was involved in my situation, I was miserable most of the time. I threw myself into broadcasting school and my retail job. School, and dreaming of working full-time in radio, was my savior at this point in my life. I didn't want to do a lot with friends, and I certainly wasn't into going out and doing a lot of the stuff I used to do for fun in college anymore. A couple nights after everything ended last October, I planned a very special celebration with some dear friends. Some from college, my blogging bestie, and a couple from broadcasting school! My parents were still in Charlotte and took me to my favorite mall that day to buy me a new dress for that night. Then my friends and I had dessert and drinks at an upscale lounge in Uptown Charlotte. It was such a special night to remember, and a great way to close out one chapter of my life and begin a new one! If your friend's legal situation is coming to a close, if they're down, try and plan a celebration for them! Here's a few pictures from mine:









     I genuinely hope and pray that you and no one that you know has to be put in a position or a situation like I was last year! Every part of it sucked. I'm forever changed because of it. But, like I said earlier in the post, legal situations are apart of life. Chances are you will at some point, know someone in a position like this. So my hope is that I went through all of that last year to share this part of the story.... and that through these words, you might be able to offer helpful support to someone you love and care about.



    Thank you for reading, and thank you to all who followed my social media and read my blog last year. You all were my sunshine for much of 2016, possibly more than you'll ever know!



     God Bless,




     xoxo Annaliese
   


   





13 comments:

  1. I am so sorry you had to lose friendships over being the victim of a crime. I think sometimes people have difficulty empathizing with such a big grown up issue at a young age. I truly cannot imagine how stressful your legal battle and healing journey must have been. It is so wonderful you are using your experience to help others better support their friends.

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  2. Annaliese! I'm so sorry to hear that you had to go through all this, especially losing friends over it. I am so glad that you don't have to worry about it anymore! This was a great post to read because I have absolutely no experience with this. If I ever do have a friend or loved one in a legal battle, I'll definitely remember this post!

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  3. I would have never thought of some of the things that you mentioned, now I will definitely know how to support a friend if they ever have to go through something like this. You are so strong girly!

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  4. I am definitely coming to you for any tips. Thanks for all the great information!!

    xoxo, Paige
    www.midwesterncharmblog.com

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  5. Thanks for sharing about your experience! It's really empowering and inspiring to hear other women talk about how they were able to take care of and stand up for themselves, even though the process isn't always pretty. I'm so sorry that you've gone through such stress and pain. And I'm so glad to hear how resilient you are and that you were able to seek help and comfort through others. Keep healing and keep smiling!

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  6. Aww so sorry you had to experience this. Hope time will help heal.

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  7. Thanks for sharing this! Love the idea of buying them a gift, never would have thought about that.

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  8. This post has so much key advice! Gifts are such a great pick-me-up, and being there to listen and help in any way you can is important too.
    -Emily
    http://norepeatsorhesitations.com

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  9. This is such great advice for anyone going through a tough time or through legal troubles. It's so sad that you lost friends over it, but that just made room for new genuine ones! Glad it's all behind you now!

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  10. So sorry you had to lose a friend over that! You shared some really great advice

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  11. This is so important! This had happen to me! That as friend... I’m not sure want to do for the other person. You don’t want to do the wrong thing and make them feel bad. Also, in difficult moments you realize who are your true friends... in hindsight that’s good too.

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  12. Ugh I can't even imagine the stress and trauma that comes with taking legal action in a case. I'm sorry you lost friends. This is such a helpful post for people who haven't experienced the trauma of a legal battle but want to be there for friends who have!

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  13. I can only imagine how had of a time you went through -- and even to this day. Thank you for sharing your heart with us!
    xo, Lily
    Beauty With Lily

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