Watching Season 14, Episode 9 of 'Grey's Anatomy' as an Abuse Survivor


A recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” titled “1-800-799-7233,” focused on the return of Dr. Jo Wilson’s estranged husband. There have been hints and brief discussions in previous episodes that this man was abusive, but never had the show shown the extent of why Jo ran and changed her name to light — never had the show focused on domestic violence with such intensity. As a diehard Grey’s fan, survivor of an abusive relationship and someone who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder, I found the episode was both amazing and incredibly difficult to watch all at the same time.

Here’s a list of what made the episode both amazing but also still has me shaking:

1. The convincing acting and writing for Dr. Paul Stadler (Matthew Morrison):

You could feel the intelligent, convincing, manipulative man that Dr. Paul Stadler was just by looking at him. Every time he spoke to Jo, and even when he talked to others at the hospital, I found myself reliving moments of a past I’ve tried so hard to burn from my memory. I found myself questioning his motives with every move he made during the episode. There was so much insight you could gain if you knew how to read his body language, his expressive face, his eyes. I found myself wanting to both scream at him and hide from him all at the same time. I could see so much of my ex in everything Stadler said or did, and even though my ex has been removed from my life for over 10 years, I’m scared to go out today for fear that somehow he will be there, just like Stadler was suddenly there in front of Jo.

2. The emotions and reactions of Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington):

Much like you could read so much from the acting Morrison did as Dr. Stadler, Luddington really played the role of an abuse victim to the max. The dissociation when he first started talking to her, the panic attack shortly after, the way she seemed frozen with fear… it was so completely accurate to my experience. I had a flashback to those mornings on the school bus where I’d hold my breath as we pulled up to my ex’s house and desperately hope he wasn’t riding the bus that day… then the way I just froze when he walked up the stairs and his eyes met mine and he shined that sinister grin at me. I also noticed all of the reactions and body language of Jo when they were signing the divorce papers: she had her hands on the table, then suddenly moved them when he came to the table, she hesitated to take the pen from Stadler, she quickly signed, then turned her face away from him. The fear was so thick you could just feel it, see it, smell it.

3. The protection, love, and emotional support from Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo):

The only thing that makes an abusive relationship even worse than the abuse itself is not having anyone who believes you or supports you. My ex was so good at manipulation and acting that he was able to convince everyone I was lying and “crazy” — even my closest friends at the time, leaving me alone with only him. It’s such a scary place to be alone in something so harmful, so toxic. In this episode, though, it was so amazing to see Meredith step up and vow to protect Jo. She held her while she cried, she stayed with her while the divorce papers were signed and took charge of the papers to ensure they would be executed, and she even called (though it was fake because the phones were still off) security when Stadler came back to get his last dig in regarding Jo’s attempt to save the new victim. It’s these types of friends and support that help victims become survivors. I’m so thankful they showed that in the episode and felt it really helped keep Jo strong.

Thankfully my ex has been out of my life for over a decade, and I’ve managed to recently start speaking out more about that dark part of my past. It is hard with trauma because many of us just want to close the door to that part of our past and never relive the emotions since they are often intense, conflicting and painful. I’m learning that my borderline personality disorder makes processing those emotions even more difficult, as they are incredibly intense, and it also explains why my PTSD can be so debilitating at times. I’ve survived suicide attempts and have scars from phases of self-harm that I tried to use to cope with the pain of the abuse.

I think people often shy away from showing these more heavy, difficult topics, but I’m glad to see  “Grey’s Anatomy” was not only willing to dive into domestic abuse, but they were able to do it beautifully and with amazing accuracy. I highly encourage people to watch season 14, episode 9, but I will warm my fellow survivors out there to make sure you are prepared and safe before you watch. The emotions will be intense.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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