Let the Healing Begin

Actor-writer-director Jade Jenise Dixon on escaping an abusive relationship, and how writing a screenplay about her experiences transformed her life.

A few months ago, I was brutally hurled against a wall. My eyes closed, dreading what would follow, I felt fire-hot fingers grip my throat. Praying I was dreaming, I reluctantly opened my eyes. As my pupils struggled to register what was happening, a blurred image came into focus. Standing there in willful rage was the person who had just recently got down on one knee and promised to love me forever. However, at that moment, all I could feel from my ex was hate. I heard, “I DON’T WANT YOU.” I couldn’t breathe. The shock of the words ripped the breath from me. Then, just shy of fainting, I was flung onto the hardwood floor. As my partner hovered over me with a dogged determination to make me pay for uncovering lies and infidelity, my instinct to survive kicked in. I mustered up the strength, seemingly out of nowhere, to scramble to my feet. I whispered, “I can’t believe this is happening.” The response: “Oh, but it is.” The words spoken to me with deliberate, quiet intensity. That is when I was certain I had no idea who this person was that I was about to marry.

Why was my ex-fiancé so angry? Because I uncovered the truth, purely by accident. See, during production of one of my movies, I was too busy with the film to see exactly who this person was. I mean, sure, there were some signs, but it wasn’t until I wrapped production that I started to realize who I was with. It began with an argument about something that seemed small. One of those fights that most couples have, but resolve quickly. But this was not the case for us. Instead, I got a peek at the cruelty lurking in the fringes. As we tried to “talk it out,” the conversation started to go south. And the anger emerged: “Nobody loves you … your mother doesn’t love you … your father doesn’t love you … your sister doesn’t love you … your dog doesn’t even love you – look at him, he’s sitting by me while you are crying,” said my ex. I thought, “Really, not even my dog loves me?”

After several more of these occasions, I slipped into a depression. While my ex was at work, I stayed in bed. I ate when I wasn’t sleeping and gained more weight in a few months than I ever had in a few years.

Why didn’t you leave, you ask? Because verbal and emotional abuse aren’t always recognizable. Many people, including me, don’t even realize they are in an abusive relationship until it becomes physical.

I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t conceivable that my prince charming could morph into an emotional abuser. I didn’t believe it … or rather, I didn’t want to.

Despite being in denial, I did try to leave: I tried to leave when I was told that I “looked pathetic” for crying about a personal family situation. I tried to leave when I was attacked by a dog, required stitches and could not walk for weeks, and my ex threw my crutches at me because I wasn’t able to do things for myself. I tried to leave when my best friend passed away; whenever I mourned his death, or needed a shoulder to cry on, my ex told me that I was making everything about me. I tried to leave when I asked why the code on the phone had been changed; for the audacity of asking the question, I paid the price with so much verbal and emotional abuse that I finally accepted it: this was an abusive relationship.

Each time I tried to leave, I was asked to come back and always did because of the promise of couples counseling and marriage. In fact, I was proposed to while trying to leave on one of these occasions.

We tried couples counseling and I would get in trouble later for things I said in these sessions. Finally, it was clear: I was with a narcissist, an attorney who twisted things around to build a case against me. My ex would even go so far as reporting false incidents to law enforcement to try to build a case against me for future use. It was mind-boggling.

The way I found out my ex was cheating is a small part of Peony Park, the film I am writing about my life. A film that illustrates how I kept choosing the same type of partner … each meaner and more abusive than the one before. Until I finally chose someone with the least amount of empathy, who made me feel unlovable, who repeatedly rejected me just as the others had. It felt so familiar. And I thought it was all I deserved.

Working on the screenplay for Peony Park has been therapeutic in that it forced me to look at myself. The act of writing the script helped me recognize the void inside me that made me choose people who cannot love me. It gave me closure to chapters that I didn’t even know were still open. And it gave me the courage to silently send prayers of love and well-being to those I had subconsciously held grudges against, and to release negative energy I had been holding. It gave me gratitude for everything, including the pain, because it all helped me grow.

A strange thing happened the day after I finished my last draft. It was the most honest version of the script I had ever written. In previous drafts, fear had driven my desire to censor certain things, but I sensed that I was going to have to bleed on those pages if I wanted to make the movie that would not only change my life, but also change other people’s lives.

So, I dedicated 10 days of solitude to make the revisions. I hibernated for 10 days and had little contact with the outside world. I did not open the original script; I simply wrote scenes from my life that I had been apprehensive about revealing. I did not know where the scenes would fit in the script, if at all. The silence and isolation somehow gave me a sense of safety. I began to type both intimate and excruciatingly painful details of my life. I cried every day for 10 days as I wrote. I didn’t answer many calls or go out socially because my spirit couldn’t handle the energy of others; I had no energy to give.

On the eleventh day, I sent the script to the production companies, studios and investors that had requested it. I was proud of myself for getting it done, and was ready to start living again. I had been using paper plates and cups so I wouldn’t have dishes to wash, but there were a few pots and pans in the sink from cooking. So, I went into the kitchen and started washing them. It was quiet and the sun was shining in through the kitchen window. Suddenly, my hands started shaking. Thinking maybe my hands were tired, I stopped washing dishes and headed to the living room to sit down. But I suddenly became dizzy and could barely walk. Before long, I became disoriented and collapsed onto the couch. I called 911 from my cell phone. My dog barked feverishly as we waited for the ambulance. I was even more afraid because he knew something was wrong.

When the paramedics arrived, they took my vitals and said there was no sign of stroke or illness. They asked me if I had been under any stress. I said I couldn’t think of anything. They told me that it was likely stress-related and that I’d had a panic attack. Then it all made sense. In those 10 days, I had been reliving the most stressful parts of my life, and it had all been released. All the unforgivingness I had been holding in my body. The pain I’d been carrying from past relationships, the blaming of people who were doing the best they knew how. … The pain of the lovers who walked away, the lovers I’d walked away from, the scorn of childhood, the rejection of peers, siblings and caregivers, the broken engagements, the mistakes I’d made, the one that got away. … All released. It all needed to come out of me. And on that day, it did.

And now the real healing begins. Writing Peony Park helped me take responsibility for who I am. I can no longer blame anything on my childhood or outside forces. It’s time for me to examine me, love myself and live my life for me. I will no longer be influenced by what people think of me. I will not live life for others or by other’s standards. My life is mine. And I will live it authentically.

Jade Jenise Dixon is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, where she performed in local talent shows, plays and church events. She caught the directing bug in her teens and directed a rendition of the hit Broadway play For Colored Girls… before attending the University of Miami, where she was both a cheerleader for the football team and a passionate member of the UM acting conservatory, starring in and directing a production of The Scarlet Letter. After transferring to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she directed two further stage productions, Dixon moved to L.A. and made a splash with her appearance in the music video for “Separated” by Avant. In 2008, she wrote, produced, directed and starred in her first feature film, Truth Hall, which won several film festival awards and was in heavy rotation on the BET, Centric and Bounce TV Networks. She recently shot a pilot for a TV show of Truth Hall. Her second feature film as writer, producer, director and star, Dog Park, also won awards and is now available on DISH Network, Amazon and iTunes. Dixon is currently writing a deeply personal film about her life, currently entitled Peony Park.