Tenaj Moody, founder of Light to Life, LLC, believes empowerment through education and awareness is a form of emotional support needed for domestic/dating violence survivors. After being in an abusive relationship at the age of 16, she has dedicated her time and efforts to young girls and boys who have experienced or are currently experiencing dating abuse. Check out our interview with this survivor.
EGL: Tell us about your previous relationship.
Tenaj Moody: Well, in that relationship, I was with that person for three years and the abuse didn’t start just as physical abuse. Everyone thinks, like, “Oh, you’re in an abusive relationship [so] thatautomatically means you’re getting hit on all the time.” There were different phases to it. Initially, when things started to become uncomfortable, it started with him addressing who I can talk to, and what I can wear and cannot wear, and really just controlling behaviors. A lot had to do with the psychological abuse with the control. So, for instance, I remember one time I was wearing shorts, and this was like in high school, and I was wearing shorts that were apparently too short for him. He was like, “You’re not going to school like that. You need to go home and change into some sweatpants.” And me being young and not really aware that that’s not okay, I was just kind of like, “Okay,” and I accepted that. And I went home and I changed. And that was kind of like the first starting point of when the abuse started to happen.
EGL: When did you begin to realize there was a cycle of abuse?
TM: I think one was when I couldn’t hang out with certain people or talk to certain people, and that was being controlled by my phone. So, for instance, I noticed, like, this was just crazy a little bit. A guy were to text my phone, and even if it was a guy friend, I’d get a text message, and it would be so simple like, “Hey, wassup, WYD?” And that would turn into a big fight because another guy texted my phone. From that, it grew to, “You can’t talk to this person.” And then when we would hang out with his friends that were guys, and I remember this one time one of his friends tried to hug me and he stopped his friend from hugging me and was like, “Don’t hug my girlfriend.” And at that point, I was a little taken back by it because I’m like, “What’s the big deal?” And that’s kinda when I started to think about, “Alright, this is starting to get really uncomfortable and I’m not okay with it.”
EGL: What was your initial reaction once the abuse began?
TM: I had to take a step back because to me, I didn’t see anything wrong with having male friendships. And he did. And that was one of the first warning signs in an abusive relationship, is that controlling aspect or someone telling you, you can’t talk to certain people orgoing through your phone without permission. Those things are warning signs that people don’t think about because they’re not aware. And I wasn’t at 16. That was one of the first warning signs. Those things started to get more repeated and more normalized throughout our relationship and because of that, you know, like anything, people are only going to keep going as far as you let them.
EGL: How did you break free from his physical and emotional abuse? What drove you to finally leave?
TM: I was tired of being tired. That’s what the case was. I was tired of going through this over and over again, I’m tired of just not feeling enough anymore. and so I’ll never forget the breaking point of the relationship. We got into a really big argument over me attending a therapy session. So background information on this was me and my mom would talk here and there, but not as often, but I know my mom knew kind of what was going on, so she set me up to see a therapist. I had gone to a therapy session and he picked me up, and he was asking me how therapy went [and] what did we talk about. I kind of just revealed to the therapist everything I had been going through emotionally within myself, certain things that no one really knewabout, and neither did he. If we’re just going to be true and direct here, I went through an eating disorder, suicide attempts, I was abusing drugs and alcohol. It was more so just focused on me, and I was telling him that it was nothing about him, that I really needed to get myself together because this isn’t the person I want to be. I was just unhappy. And he took offense to that. We were in the car, he was 6’2, I’m 5’2, and he punches me. I’m on the passenger side, so he did a side punch to the left side of my face. My face swelled up instantly because of how hard he hit me. I’m in the car hysterically crying, in shock, just not knowing what to do. And immediately, he goes intothis forgiving phase. He’d say, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that. I just got really upset when you told me you were going to therapy. I don’t want her to ruin our relationship.” That was like the first breaking point for me where I was kind of like I don’t want to be in this but I’m scared to leave this because I don’t know what he might do to me, or do to himself.
EGL: What was his reaction when you decided to leave?
TM: Everything kind of came out in the open after we were caught fighting outside out front of our apartment complex. We were fighting over another guy texting my phone, and this time, he threw my phone and I kind of had enough and tried fighting him back. We were on the ground fighting each other, I’m biting him to get off of me, doing whatever I can to get out of this fight. Finally, my mom and his dad heard what was going on outside. They came outside and had broken the fight up. In the midst of all of this, I had an asthma attack, the ambulance had to come. It was a mess. This was reported to the police and I didn’t say anything going on in our relationship because I didn’t want to get him in trouble because I still loved him. But on the end, it wasn’t mutual. The biggest breaking point was when we went to court and all of the charges were pressed against me, and he had taken pictures of the bite marks and saying that I was crazy and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was hitting him and biting him, and he had pictures to prove it. So he got away clean slate. I got away with things on my record that I have to do community service for and had to pay for fines. So, the breaking point for me was the realization I had in court when I realized this person doesn’t care about me nor do they respect me or even value my life. And because of that, it took the point for cops and court and fines and all of these things to really come into play for me to realize that this person isn’t who I want to be with.
EGL: Tell us about the organization you started.
TM: Light to Life I started in honor of my story to just continue living on. I started this organization in 2014 at Wesley College. I was one of the first programs on our campus to raise awareness about dating violence. The purpose was to raise awareness about this issue within young couples and to educate people on the warning signs are inabusive or unhealthy relationships, and to provide support and a network for people to feel connected and understood, and to have a safe place to go to if they wanted to talk about their relationships. Somewhere they can call a home. So I created that space with my program and our mission is to partner with different colleges and universities, raise awareness on college campuses through workshops and events, and also doing different programs and fundraisers and workshops in the community as well. The name comes from a Whitney Houston song called, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” And in the song, she says, “I didn’t know my own strength. I found my way out of the darkness. My light to life.” I was in a very dark spaceand I know a lot of people can feel that way if they’re in these type ofsituations. And my program I think does, it sheds light, and it brings people back to life again. [It’s been] going strong since 2014 and now I’m in Washington D.C. I’m partnering with Howard university and a lot of other great community organizations, and hosting fundraisers to raise awareness on dating violence, and to donate clothing to different shelter homes and other non-profit organizations.
EGL: Is there anything else you’d like to share to other domestic violence survivors?
TM: I want people to know that they’re never alone. One out of three women are experiencing some form of abuse, one out of four men have experienced some form of abuse in their lifetime, and so this is something that happens universal. Your voice should always be heard and it’s important because what it can do is help encourage other people to speak up and live in their truth.
By: Daion Stanford
Follow on IG: @LadyBossDai