As a child, Sarasota-based author and life coach Monica Medina saw her mother in an abusive relationship. Medina says she endured violence, aggression and mental health crisis at the hands of her stepfather, who was her mother’s abuser, for 15 years. She recalls several occasions when the police were called by concerned neighbors in her Chicago neighborhood. The hard part – her stepfather was a Chicago cop.
“Every time the cops were called, he would just show them his badge and put on a show,” says Medina. “He presented himself as a completely different person and the police believed him. Then it was chaos again.”
When Medina was 17, her mother had made plans to flee with Medina and her younger brother, who was 13 at the time. But according to Medina, her stepfather became aware of the plan and shortly after, her mother disappeared.
“My brother and I were met by aunts and uncles who told us that she was found in the trunk of a car and that she passed,” says Medina. “We were shocked but had no doubt that our stepfather was responsible for her death.”
Medina’s journey to finding peace through the grief of her mother’s death is detailed in her debut memoir. The Third Return. Medina, who says she never saw herself as an author, says the book‘s title comes from her mother’s third return to her abusive partner, a common phenomenon among victims of domestic violence.
The book also documents Medina’s rocky return to “normal” life, from beginning college to needing therapy after falling into a deep depression, and the grueling criminal investigation into her stepfather. All drove her to pursue a degree in psychology and later to become an advocate for women in abusive relationships.
After eight years of postponed and rescheduled court hearings, Medina’s stepfather was convicted of first-degree murder in 2017. He’s in prison now.
“It was so challenging to heal and process my mother’s death when I was constantly being blamed on it in court,” says Medina. “Every time I left, I relived the trauma I experienced as a child. It made me feel deeply for the victims who must do the same in bringing justice to their perpetrators.”
Many victims of domestic violence can find resources to help them move on after escaping an abusive relationship, but Medina says there is little support for family members of people killed by abusive partners.
“There are many books about survivor stories, but few about what happens if you don’t make it out alive, how it affects loved ones,” says Medina. “There are certainly no books about what children see and endure as a result of their parents’ abuse.”
Medina now owns a life-coaching business called You Beautiful Life, in which she helps women learn more about empowerment, self-care, and creating healthy boundaries — all qualities she says can help women get out of abusive relationships avoid and escape them.
The book was published last month and Medina has been giving talks in Venice hosted by non-profit organizations that help homeless women. She says she plans to work with Sarasota’s Women’s Resource Center and the Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center to share her story.
“When you’re suffering from domestic violence, it can be difficult to know who to turn to or how to start breaking free,” says Medina. “Start with what you know: that something is wrong and that you want to be happy. Take small steps towards that happiness every day.”
Medina says an important step is making contact. Don’t be afraid to tell a friend, colleague, therapist, or even a nice stranger that you need help.
“People want to help, and silence keeps you from doing so,” she says. “I know it seems impossible, especially when your partner is threatening your life, but there are so many resources ready to help and protect you.”
According to Medina, readers of The Third Return have told her that her story is harrowing but inspiring.
“This book is very raw,” she says. “I haven’t sugarcoated things – I want people to know the truth and therefore take an honest look at their own situation.”
The Third Return can be purchased through Medina’s website or Amazon. You can also find it at Barnes & Noble, 4010 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and 200 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota; at Bookstore1 Sarasota, 117 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota; or at The Island Bookshop, 206 W. Miami Ave., Venice.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or a threat of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) for help or go to thehotline.org to receive anonymous, confidential online chats in English and Spanish.