I learned the importance of being self-sufficient from an early age. Both of my parents had substance abuse issues, so it was up to me to take care of myself and carve my path in life. Through my determination, I felt that I could handle anything that came my way, even marrying someone who exhibited warning signs that should have turned me away. The day before my wedding, my future mother-in-law and I went to buy some final items, while we were in the car she turned to me and asked me if I was sure that I wanted to go through with this. The question shocked me, and I asked her why she felt I should reconsider. She said because my son will make you cry. At the time, I felt that regardless of the circumstances that I would make this relationship work, after all, my will and determination had carried me this far through life, so I would not let this stop me now because I was in love and I wanted this relationship to work. I did not realize the weight of her warning and its foretelling of future events to come.
One thing I grasped about substance abuse is that no matter who is under its influence, they all can switch between a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Whether it was my mother abusing drugs or my now husband abusing alcohol, the consequences were the same. Yet, in their periods of sobriety, I always held on to the hope for change but was still left with disappointment. When I was pregnant with our child, he would take our only vehicle and leave our home for days as he went on alcohol binges while being utterly callous to the fact I was stranded in our home. Even after our child was born, his behavior did not change; instead, it became worse. There was one day we were arguing, and he backed me into a corner of our home. My fight or flight response kicked in, and I pushed him back so I could get away, but he quickly grabbed me and attempted to throw me through the wall. I could not threaten him with calling the police because I was terrified with the prospect of being on my own trying to raise our child by myself, so I resigned myself to letting the incident pass. However, once I went back to school, the altercations only began to escalate further.
Shortly after I started classes, my husband and I argued in the kitchen while I was doing the dishes, and he threw me down to the ground, and I hit the counter as I fell and was left in so much pain afterward. The next day in class, I could hardly concentrate through the pain of my injuries I had to request that my instructor let me leave the lesson early. The irony of this time was that not long after this incident, my husband entered a period of sobriety, and his behavior started to improve. He was able to find a new job working as a doorman at a night club, and for a few months, it seemed that so many of his behaviors were starting to right themselves. However, being around the night club scene only served to tempt him back down the path of substance abuse. Not only did he begin drinking again, but he started to abuse drugs as well. Yet, the final discovery of his infidelity was what pushed me to the edge, mentally and emotionally.
One weekend I woke up to realize that my husband had not come home from his shift at work. I kept trying to call him only to have my calls ignored, and then the worry and anxiety began to mount in my head. He finally returned the next morning, and I immediately confronted him about his affair to which he responded by throwing me to the ground and tearing my clothes off, saying that I wasn’t going anywhere and I would not be the one to leave him. This incident petrified me. I did not want it to escalate as our child was sleeping in the next room, and I did not want him to see what was happening. After I challenged my husband in this way, he started to display even more controlling behavior in my life. It began with him escorting me to and from work and making regular calls to my work desk to check on my whereabouts. The calls became increasingly aggressive, and one morning he called while he was under the influence and was cussing and yelling at me so loud over the phone that my co-workers were able to hear his every word.
One of my co-workers had left her husband recently and told me about Empowerhouse and their services and said I should call to see how they could help me with my situation. I appreciated her concern, but I felt that I had everything under control and that I could rebuild this relationship even if it appeared broken beyond repair. After work that day, I went inside the house and saw my husband asleep on the couch. I quietly tried to get to the bedroom without waking him up and angering him, but before I could, he had quickly grabbed me from behind. My terrified son quickly ran outdoors to get away from our altercation as my husband held me down and proceeded to beat me into the ground. It took me all my strength to shout for someone to call 911 and hope that one of my neighbors would hear me and come to my aid. Miraculously, it was at this moment that my dog broke out of his crate and bit my husband to stop his attack, and my husband quickly got up to collect his things and fled the house.
Once I secured the dog and reassured my son, I ran to one of my neighbor’s homes and called 911. When I spoke with dispatch, they told me that officers had already been alerted and were on the way because the rest of my neighbors had called 911 as they thought I was being killed. When the deputies arrived, they quickly took photos of all the bruises and marks on my body along with the damages in my home. I told them that my husband had fled, and I had no idea where he had gone, which was a terrifying prospect for me as I had no idea if he would return to hurt me again. However, reports started surfacing that he was in a different city binging on alcohol and evading law enforcement. Even during this time that he was being pursued, he would regularly call me to harass me and cuss at me. The police did manage to arrest him; however, he was released a short while after on unsecured bond. It was at this time that I decided to get a protective order and file charges against him.
When I went to court, I ran into Empowerhouse advocate, La’Tanja, who did her very best to convince me to come to the Empowerhouse shelter and to give her a call. I appreciated her efforts and held on to the Empowerhouse number as my last resort. Shortly after this time, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the courts were shut down. Yet, my husband’s public defender still called me asking for me to recant the photos I had submitted of the violence my husband had committed against me. It seems my husband had been telling his version of the events to say that I was blocking him, and he had to push me out of the way to leave our house. To add further stress to this situation, we were evicted from our home, and my son and I were left with no alternatives but to go and stay with a friend. Unfortunately, she would only allow me to stay for a few days, and that news crumbled my resolve. I had nowhere to turn and no one to help me get back on my feet, so I turned to the only resource I could, which was Empowerhouse.
As I sat in the driveway and thought about what I was going to do, I realized I had nothing left to lose except for my son. I vividly remember calling the Empowerhouse office and speaking with Sylvia, who stayed on the phone with me for an hour and a half while I cried and tried to explain to her my current circumstances that had led me to make this call. In the past, I had always hesitated to make the call because I had felt that mainstream media representations of domestic violence shelters were akin to being in a jail or institution. The uncertainty and fear of what going into shelter represented terrified me, and the decision was incredibly overwhelming. Still, I realized that reaching the point where I could not find a new path for myself and my son was more terrifying than going into the shelter.
I was quickly brought into the Empowerhouse shelter and was grateful for the shelter staff member, Octavia, who made the intake process easier on my son and me. She gave me a tour of the facility, and I was so impressed that my son and I would have our own suite and how clean, and well-maintained our accommodations were. What I appreciated the most, though, was the sense of structure and the rules they have in place to protect all the shelter residents, which gave me so much peace of mind and comfort in being able to stay there with my son. In fact, I liked the sense of structure so much that I still use some of the shelter rules in my home to this day. I came to realize that my stereotype of what a shelter was in no way compared to how excellent the Empowerhouse shelter and staff are to all of their residents.
When my stay at the shelter was coming to an end, I started working with the Housing Advocate, Daphne, to get into the Housing Program and find an apartment for my son and I. I was nervous about the process, but Daphne was an excellent advocate and made you feel like you are in control, and she is there to guide you through the process. After I was able to secure an apartment, Daphne continued to check in with me often and to provide assistance for my son and I. Through her support and the help given by all the Empowerhouse advocates I worked with, I have been able to stand on my own two feet now and provide for myself and my son. I recently qualified for an FHA loan and will soon be able to purchase my own home. Every day, I look at all that I have been able to accomplish from furnishing my apartment, to finally affording health insurance, and now having money saved for retirement. I realize that while I have not been able to control everything that has happened to me in life, I have a strong vision of what I can do and achieve. Empowerhouse helped me to reclaim my vision and rekindle my confidence in pursuing my goals. If I have come this far, the sky is the limit with what I can do in the future, and I will always look for that silver lining.
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.
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