Never Give Up Your Dreams
“It has been three years now since I first walked into the Shelter and asked for help, 3 long years of learning, 3 beautiful years of changing….I have learned that nobody can change another, all you can do is change yourself and never give up on your dreams. Two years ago I graduated with a dual degree….This year I landed a great job and got off cash assistance and last month I purchased a home for me and my children. It has been a long journey and without the support provided by the Shelterhouse I know I wouldn't be where I am now." -an excert from the story shared by a survivor of domestic violence during Survivor Speak 2012
After the Shelterhouse Christmas Party -a Mission Moment:
I was leading Santa Claus out of ShelterHouse when one of our little residents, a boy aged four, called out, “WAIT, SANTA, WAIT.” Santa turned to him and bent down. The little boy extended his arm out to Santa and gave him a cookie and said, “Santa, this is for you.” And then the boy extended his other hand and placed a carrot in Santa’s white glove and said “This is for Rudolph.” Of course Santa replied with a hearty “HO, HO, HO”, turned to leave as he waved goodbye stating “Santa loves you.”
The boy returned to his mother and was enveloped in her arms. (I am sure he was thinking that this is the coolest place on earth because Santa comes to “his” basement.) But what Santa didn’t get to see was his mother smiling, with tears in her eyes. This smile was the first I had seen on her face since she fled her very dangerous situation and entered Shelterhouse. As a client advocate, I will never tire of seeing women and children learn to navigate their lives without fear.
Everyone deserves to live without fear.
I was advised to leave the home immediately taking only what I needed in an overnight bag and I was given directions to drive to a concealed location. When I arrived, every door that I walked through locked behind me. I couldn't remember the last time that I had felt that safe.
-an excerpt from the story shared by a survivor of domestic violence during the Survivors Speak event
Just the Clothes on Our Backs
I went then with my four year old son and my six month old son with the clothes on our backs and spent my first night at the Shelterhouse. I had no idea that one night would turn into 90 days. For the first three days, I shook uncontrollably, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Then I met with my advocate, Jane, a strong, intelligent, well-educated, well-spoken woman, who asked: "What did I need?"
-an excerpt from the story shared by a survivor of domestic violence during the 2009 Survivors Speak event
My experience with Shelterhouse started when I was 13. When we ended up at Shelterhouse of Midland, I had two black eyes and my mother had a broken leg. Back then, the police, when they would show up, they didn’t cart him off and take him to jail and stop the violence. They told him to “Calm down. You need to leave and go cool down.” And then they also left. But he came back. So it didn’t help. But the Shelterhouse did.
~An excerpt from the story shared by a survivor of domestic violence during the 2009 Survivors Speak event
My Inner Bees
I lived in an abusive relationship for eight years. Not because I was stupid, and not even because I was still in love with him after so many years, but because I was so afraid to get out of it that I felt I couldn’t. It’s not easy to get out of a relationship like that, for so many crazy and legitimate reasons.
The crazy reasons? Humiliation. Fear of everyone thinking I was weak, or stupid, or an unfit partner or mother.
The legitimate reasons? I had been through quite a lot of severe abuse, and my world had become one based on reaction rather than action. In those eight years, I had guns pointed at me, I was shot at, choked, beaten with anything that could be held and swung, pushed through windows, held at knife point, locked outside barefoot in a nightgown while I was pregnant in the middle of winter, trapped for nearly three hours between the car and the house, locked in rooms, punched, slapped, kicked, thrown – you name it.
Beyond the physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, I was locked for periods of time in the house, in rooms. Those days were some of the loneliest I’ve ever felt. He had nailed our back door shut with two by fours, and had driven nails into a welcome mat which he placed nails-up at the bottom of the front porch. There were more two-by-fours nailed across the railings to keep people out. Every window in the house had blankets over them, nailed to the walls. Periodically, I was allowed to make phone calls to family in order to make sure they thought everything was OK.
I knew my situation was extreme, and that was what made me so fearful.
My journey to Shelterhouse begins with the last day of my abuse. It was the day after Christmas, 2005. I had hit that point where I felt I had nothing to lose. I wanted out so badly, but I also knew that he knew I wanted out – and that made the situation even more difficult – and dangerous. At that point I was not allowed access to keys or the cell phone. In fact, he knew I wanted out and had broken every land line phone we had.
But one morning, as he slept, I took a huge risk. I jimmied the cell phone from the front pocket of his jeans. Then I shoved it under the couch as far as I possibly could. Of course when he woke up, he looked for it. Broke the coffee table, our glass cabinet, a window – tossed me around a bit, but I just stuck to my story that I didn’t have it. Eventually he gave up, decided he needed more alcohol, and left in our vehicle. He had been released on his own recognizance from jail just weeks before on a malicious destruction of property charge, so I called 911 immediately and told them he was violating his bond by drinking, drinking and driving, no license, etc. I was so scared they wouldn’t come.
Finally, someone came to our door. To my surprise, he told me if my ex came back and we were fighting, he was going to take us both to jail and let the state sort out the situation with my children. I told him I was not fighting; I told him I called 911 because I wanted help. I reminded him that he was still out on the road drunk, violating his bond. Why couldn’t he just pull him over for those offenses? He said he would wait there at my house until he came back so he could get his statement and sort it out from there.
Sorting it out could mean many things…was I going to jail? Would I lose my kids? Would they let him go? And if they did…then what?
While we were talking, another law enforcement officer radioed that she had pulled him over and was taking him in for DUI, open alcohol, and bond violation… I said, “I need to have someone get my vehicle…” He said, “Just give me the keys and I’ll take care of it – they’re right outside.”
And in fact, they were – less than 50 feet from my driveway.
Fifty feet may not seem like a lot, but it was enough for me. I took it and ran with it. By New Year’s Day, I had a restraining order, emergency custody of my children, put cameras to record on three sides of my home, and had moved his possessions to a storage facility.
One day, two years later, as I was trying to do the many thousand daily things it takes to work full-time and raise my children on my own; trying to seem – like I do every day – like I have it all together, I realized I had been living my life since that day like someone was going to rip my life away from me. I was working every day like I might lose my job tomorrow, mothering my kids like I might not have them the next day, constantly standing poised on the tippy toes of expecting my life to implode.
It was then that I got involved with Shelterhouse. I thought it might help someone else if I could share my experience and offer suggestions to help them through their situation. Instead, it helped me realize that by running as fast and as far away from that last day as I have been, I had stuffed all the emotions I felt deep down, hoping I could run away from them too. It helped me realize that the person I really needed to help was myself.
I can’t say that it was easy at first. In fact, it was as if those memories inside me were a hive full of bees. Every so often I would cough one up, and although it hurt, once it was out, it would – like any bee – fly away.
I realized as well that my older children had their own hives of bees to contend with. I remember when my son was in second grade, the school would call almost every day to tell me my son was intentionally getting himself in trouble so he had to stay inside for recess. For months, I watched the pattern, but didn’t really know what to do about it. I learned there was a therapist at Shelterhouse who provided services to children who had witnessed abuse, so I made an appointment and took my son. I remember her asking him, “So why do you get yourself in trouble when you know you’ll have to stay inside? Do you want to stay inside for some reason?” He said to her, “I just feel safe inside in the classroom or the Principal’s office.” She responded, “So you don’t feel safe outside?” He looked at her and said, “No, I’m scared because I think my dad might be driving around looking at me.”
It had taken her approximately 15 minutes to unravel a mystery I’d been trying to solve for six months.
Somewhere near the beginning of my involvement with Shelterhouse, Jan told me that there was a gift somewhere in my story.
A gift? Really? I had a very hard time wrapping my head around the thought that I could find any gift in those years of abuse.
Slowly, however, I have realized that she is right – the gift the honey from those bees inside – is perspective, the realization that in my race to get as far away as I can to escape my past, sometimes I forget to stop and enjoy the life that I have.
The gift is being able to take myself off auto-pilot and let life come, rather than plow my way through it just to get one more day out from those ugly years. It is the realization that no matter how bad of a day I’ve had, it’s still my best day ever compared to my life before I got out of that abusive relationship.
Just knowing that fact, and having Shelterhouse there to lend support to me and to my children during our most difficult moments, has made it easier for me to greet each morning with less anticipation that I will be stung that day by one of my inner bees. Instead, I am able to wake up and see a tree of low-slung peaches – ripe and mine for the plucking.
I want to thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. And – more than that – thank you so much for supporting Shelterhouse and the difference they make in the lives of people like me. ~A Shelterhouse Client
Right Beside Me
I will never forget the day that my eyes were opened to the value of the work that Shelterhouse does for people in our community. A while back, I was participating in a volunteer project for Shelterhouse. I hadn't been a volunteer for that long, and as most of my work was "behind the scenes" sort of stuff and more "business-y" in nature, I was not a volunteer that interacted with our clients regularly. During this particular day, another volunteer and I were in a local restaurant doing some prep work for an upcoming Shelterhouse event. Some of the waiters and waitresses noticed us working, and one of the waiters asked what we were doing. I explained that we were volunteers, and that we were helping to prepare for an upcoming event. A waitress standing next to me asked what organization we were working for, and I told her we volunteered for Shelterhouse. She got quiet. I couldn't exactly read her facial expression and wondered if she had ever heard of Shelterhouse. Being ever eager to share what Shelterhouse does, I explained to her that Shelterhouse was a non-profit organization that helped victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She just sort of nodded. I figured, well, maybe she's not really that interested.
Not thirty seconds later, she turned to me. "I was helped by Shelterhouse," she explained. She went on to share how she had come to Shelterhouse for safety and to get her life back on track. She named a particular Shelterhouse employees that had been so helpful to her, and I watch her face shine with gratitude as she further explained how she was now working (at this restaurant) and she and children were in a much better place because of the help she had received from Shelterhouse.
I was overcome with emotion. This woman sharing her story really renewed my sense of gratefulness that we have Shelterhouse in our community and made my work as a volunteer all that much more meaningful to me. This woman, who I didn't even know, was evidence standing right beside me that while violence doesn't discriminate, victory over violence can be attained. - ~A Shelterhouse Volunteer