As a child, Sarasota author and life coach Monica Medina witnessed her mother live in an abusive relationship. For 15 years, Medina says, she endured violence, aggression and mental health crises at the hands of her stepfather, her mother's abuser. She recalls several occasions when police were called by worried neighbors in her Chicago neighborhood. The hard part—her stepfather was a Chicago police officer.
"Every time the cops were called, he would just flash his badge at them and put on a show," says Medina. "He would present as a totally different person, and the police believed him. Then, it was back to the chaos."
By the time Medina was 17, her mother had made plans to escape with Medina and her younger brother, who was then 13. But, according to Medina, her stepfather became aware of the plan and, shortly after, her mother went missing.
"My brother and I were sat down by aunts and uncles who told us she had been found in the trunk of a car and that she'd passed," says Medina. "We were in shock, but had no doubt in our hearts 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 considered herself an author, says the book's title comes from her mother's third return to her abusive partner, a common phenomenon with domestic violence victims.
The book also documents Medina's rocky return to a "normal" life, from beginning college to requiring therapy after falling into a deep depression, and the grueling criminal investigation against her stepfather. All pushed her toward a degree in psychology and, later, toward becoming 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 is now in prison.
"It was so challenging to heal and process my mother's death when I was constantly drawn back to it in court," says Medina. "Each time I went, I relived the trauma I experienced as a child. It made me feel deeply for the victims who have to do the same when serving justice to their abusers."
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 the loved ones are affected," says Medina. "There are certainly no books about what the children see and endure as a result of their parent's abuse."
Medina now owns a life coaching business called You Beautiful Life, at which she helps women learn about empowerment, self care and creating healthy boundaries—all qualities she says can help women avoid and escape abusive relationships.
The book was released last month, and Medina has held speaking events in Venice hosted by nonprofits 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.
"If you find yourself suffering domestic abuse, it can be difficult to know where to turn or how to begin freeing yourself," says Medina. "Start with what you know: That something is wrong and that you want to be happy. Take little steps day by day toward that happiness."
Medina says one important step is reaching out. Do not be afraid to tell a friend, a co-worker, a therapist or even a kind stranger that you need help.
"People want to help, and staying quiet keeps you from that," she says. "I know it seems impossible, especially if 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 didn't sugarcoat things—I want people to know the truth and therefore take an honest look at their own situations."
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 Bookstore1Sarasota, 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 the threat of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at (800) 799-SAFE (7233), or go to thehotline.org for anonymous, confidential online chats, available in English and Spanish.