I was at a crossroads in my life. On one side were the abuse, neglect, and pain that I had known from my family and my partner, all of which were all too familiar weights pulling me back into a toxic cycle. On the other were the opportunity to heal, to carve a new life for myself, and to face everything from my past that was holding me back. I chose the path with the greatest challenge: completely rebuilding my life. However, I knew I would not walk this path alone because of Empowerhouse and all the support and advocacy they provided to me and to other survivors of domestic violence.
I was raised in a household where my biological father wasn’t around, which caused me a lot of emotional insecurity. I never grew up neglected of the materialistic or basic needs as a child; I lived in a beautiful home full of beautiful things but the perceived beauty from the outside looking in was nothing in comparison to the inside looking out.
I witnessed and experienced violence on a constant basis at a young age. My mother and stepfather were physically and emotionally abusive towards each other and they, in turn, lashed out at me. The innocence I had rotted away.
I also experienced sexual abuse as a child, which was made worse by the fact that neither of my parents believed me when I told them. Instead, they showered me with insults and scorn to the point where my stepfather even suggested that I should kill myself, so I tried. At this point, I had no choice but to leave my home and I became homeless. Being rejected by my own family put me in such a vulnerable position, and the person I thought I could turn to, my boyfriend, ended up taking advantage of my situation and plunged me further into the cycle of abuse.
My boyfriend assumed total power and control over me and every aspect of my life. He would take my money and spend it on drugs and alcohol. I was strangled for speaking too loudly almost every night, fighting for my life just to breathe. I was in so much fear that I would urinate on myself. My lips were constantly inflamed from pillows being violently rubbed across my face from suffocation. He would also not allow me to eat meals and he would only give me the scraps from his plate. I became so malnourished that my clothes would just hang off of my body, and I was reduced to 90 pounds. Self harm was the only control I felt I had over my body.
I knew I was in dire straits and I tried to leave so many times. He would even threaten to take his own life if I left. The last time almost cost me my life. After a heated argument, I left and he followed me down the street and proceeded to pull me, kick me, punch me, and slap me. He then grabbed me by my hair and threw me in the trunk of his car, holding some of my braids in his hands which he had torn out of my head.
I was lucky because the neighbors called the police who came and had him arrested, I was then taken to the Emergency Department for treatment.
In the aftermath, I was staying in the psychiatric facility to address my PTSD and depression, and my case manager there referred me to Empowerhouse. Monica, the Empowerhouse Advocate, came to meet me and told me about the services Empowerhouse offers. She said that the abuse was not my fault and that I deserved better. When Monica performed the shelter assessment for me, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief knowing what my next steps were instead of being faced with uncertainty again. The Empowerhouse Shelter was truly a haven because it was so clean, spacious, beautiful, and they had advocates who provided support groups and job assistance. At first, I would barricade myself in the room and make a little fort with the blankets to feel more secure. They checked on me regularly, but gently, and with such consideration. Eventually, I started to come out of my room and I began to meet other people. Rose and Ashley were so helpful and overall I could not believe how nice the shelter was. They didn’t just have sheets; they were beautiful, with polka dots and stripes. They cared about me and I achieved many great things while in the Shelter. I gained 15 pounds and was finally at a healthy weight because they provided me with nutritious food. I created a resume, obtained a full time job, and completed Clinical Partial Outpatient Treatment. I was very young and with that progress and feeling of invincibility, I believed I could make it on my own so one day I left the Empowerhouse Shelter and did not return.
I fell back into the cycle of violence and entered into another abusive relationship where I was physically and emotionally assaulted. I also turned to drugs and alcohol this time and fell into an addiction. I became homeless again and resorted to staying with different friends until one day I was in an unsafe situation in a local motel and I realized I had to get out and find safety. I had no place to turn. Yet, I remembered that there was one place in my life where I did feel completely safe and cared for and realized I could turn to them. Even though it was a year later, I still reached out to Empowerhouse. I couldn’t believe it; Monica answered the phone. Monica said she remembered me and shared with me something I had shared from my past. I knew she remembered me and I felt immediately at ease. She performed the shelter assessment over the phone and I was soon taken into the Empowerhouse domestic violence shelter again. This time, I was determined to choose the best path for myself so that I could build a better future.
During my second stay in Shelter, I gave my life to Christ, found a church home, and received a donated car from the local church. I met the amazing Daphne from Empowerhouse and she helped me enter into Empowerhouse’s Housing Support services to find a new, safe home. I struggled with fears of living alone surrounded by strangers, but Monica arranged to have a door chain installed. Every time I see that chain I feel safer and more secure thanks to Monica. I also faced hurdles such as going to see a psychiatrist and taking medication. I got to a point where I felt in my heart it was time for me to detach myself from anti- depressants and anxiety medications. I knew that the blessings Jesus was raining down in my life and my security were strong enough to keep me uplifted. I no longer take medication. Every morning now I take a dose of joy and power. My trained professional therapist is now Jesus. Monica was not only understanding and supportive in my beliefs but she even went the extra mile to write out a coping skills and emergency contacts if I were to ever need a listening ear or help.
All the support and assistance Empowerhouse and their advocates have provided to me has allowed me to overcome so many barriers in my life. The God I serve has taught me forgiveness. I realize that “hurt people, hurt people” and in order for me to heal my own wounds, I needed to understand that my abusers were also people who suffered from the same cycle of violence in their lives. However, I chose to break free of that cycle and am proud of the accomplishments that I have made with the support of Empowerhouse. I am now pursuing my Nursing Degree thanks to WISP (Women’s Independent Scholarship Program). I applied for WISP with the help of the RGI employment specialist and the Empowerhouse advocates who sponsored me. The grant goes to Empowerhouse and they spend it on the living expenses I choose, which allows me to focus on school. I work for my Dean and feel like I have worth now. I also continue to live on my own and take care of myself. My journey is truly one that has undergone many shifts and changes, but the one constant has always been one of the greatest gifts God has sent me, the Empowerhouse team who have stood by me the whole way and have given me the tools I needed to believe in myself and have the confidence to take back my life. I am not only courageous but EMPOWERED.
If you know someone who needs help, remember: it is all about the first step. You are not alone. There is help and support available by calling the Empowerhouse 24/7 Hotline number: 540-373-9373.
Help a Mother like Jessica overcome domestic violence and get back on her feet by making a donation today.