Early days of abuse, clarity emerges over time
There is no replacement for the stability that can be found with family. Creating that bond and sharing children with your partner leaves an unforgettable mark on your life. Unfortunately, that force kept me in my relationship even while my partner was subjecting me to verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. However, abuse is not always at its worst during the beginning of a relationship. It is built up slowly over time until you are forced to decide whether to stay or leave. What began as cruel and hurtful language turned to controlling behaviors, like telling me what outfits I could and could not wear, and finally escalated to violence. This slow buildup made it even more difficult for me to leave my partner as we had been together for six years and shared two sons. How could I face the guilt of taking my children away from their father and splitting our family? As the abuse continued and progressively worsened as my partner’s drinking increased, I kept his behavior a secret from my friends and family and buried it deep within me.
Yet, despite all the emotions and uncertainties, the determination to leave my partner arose when I realized I was pregnant, and I had to protect this new life inside of me. At this point, I decided that I needed to make a change in my life and my children’s lives, and I was prepared to own all the outcomes that I would face.
I planned my escape for an evening when my partner would not be home, so my children and I could quickly pack our belongings and leave our home. I had heard of Empowerhouse and their services for survivors of domestic violence, so I knew that as I was fleeing, I needed to call them straight away before my partner found me.
The call for help
The Empowerhouse Advocate, Daphne, answered my call and quickly arranged to have me and my children picked up and taken to the Empowerhouse Shelter. At the time, so many thoughts were running through my head. Would I be allowed to stay in the Shelter even though I’m pregnant? What will I do about housing for the future? Am I doing the right thing by leaving my partner and taking our children away from him? Is my partner looking for me? Daphne comforted me and assured me that I would not be denied any Empowerhouse services because I was pregnant, and I started to feel a sense of calm and resolution in my decision to leave. However, those feelings soon disappeared when my partner began repeatedly contacting me.
Self-doubt and his continued relentless control tactics
My partner called me every day while I was in the Empowerhouse Shelter to plead with me to return to him and our home. His words were filled with empty promises of how he would change his behavior towards me and do better for our children. These pleas struck me deep in my heart, where I still had all of my doubts regarding whether I was making the right decision to leave this relationship, and I decided to return to him and give him a chance to redeem himself.
The cycle repeated even more viciously
Yet, the very day I returned, his anger and resentment towards me returned with even more force, and he brutally assaulted me leaving my body covered with bruises, all while yelling at me and telling me how no one else would ever be in a relationship with me because I had children. After the assault, I felt so defeated because I knew then that I should not have returned to him. Immediately I became worried. Would Empowerhouse re-admit me into their Shelter? I knew I needed to plan my second escape. I called Daphne once more. She was very consoling and understanding of all my decisions that got me to this point, and she quickly proceeded to get me back into the Empowerhouse Shelter.
After being taken into Shelter a second time, I knew I needed to refocus myself on my future and what kind of example I wanted to set for my children.
Empowerhouse support and big changes
I worked with Daphne and Rose, the Shelter Director, to seek guidance and develop a plan to get work to support myself and my children. Rose was always very direct and upfront with me about what I needed to do in order to get my life back on track, but her honesty was always filled with compassion for my situation. Rose helped me work with Daphne to enter the Empowerhouse housing services that paid for a home where we could live while we made the transition to leave abuse for good. Together, she and Daphne directed me to the Rappahannock Goodwill Industries Education/Employment Specialist, Maureen, who helped me map out the key steps I needed to take to receive further education, to update my resume and fill out job applications. With her help, I was able to apply for my FAFSA and enter the WISP (Women’s Independent Scholarship Program) program that is for domestic violence survivors through a domestic violence program’s administration. The WISP program helped pay my bills while I was in school.
Great accomplishments against great odds
I earned my Accounting Degree, which was a bittersweet moment because I had stayed up countless nights studying and doing homework for six classes at a time to reach this point, but I still faced self-doubt. Thankfully, all of the advocates I worked with at Empowerhouse never ceased in their encouragement; and their support bolstered my confidence to continue on this path I created for myself. Maureen especially took the time always to reinforce how qualified I was for these accolades and how much I deserved all that I had accomplished. That support helped me to get on the bus every day to head to my job interviews, stay up late into the night searching for new openings and, finally, be able to find the perfect job that suited my needs.
Giving back and remembering the changes that come from the Empowerhouse support groups
While I have achieved great success, I still remember the many women I met during Empowerhouse Support Groups that were in the same living situation as I was. I have a strong desire to be that helpful person women can confide in if they are going through the same experiences. I recall not only the fear I felt in seeing how many people were in the same situation and reliving their traumas, but also the relief found in knowing that I was not the only one suffering from this; and that is a feeling I want to share with others who are living with domestic violence.
I want all women to know that they can break the cycle and achieve lasting change in their lives when they find their inspiration to leave and claim it for themselves. I took my inspiration from my children because I wanted them to see me building this new life through my pain instead of letting myself drown in it, and that I had the fortitude to not give up on them or myself. Now I get to wake up in my own home every day, and I thank God for Empowerhouse and the support and opportunities they provided to my children and me because I was able to persevere, re-discover my confidence, and be resolute in my determination to not fail for my family.
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 Grace overcome domestic violence and get back on her feet by making a donation today.