I'm going to share an experience with you today that I've never shared publicly before. I hesitate to share it because I know I'll be judged for it by some people, but I think it's worth sharing if there's a chance it will help someone. It happened over a decade ago. A few months after Lydia was born I moved in with my boyfriend. Lydia's dad had taken off when he found out I was pregnant, and I had dated someone else since before my pregnancy was even showing. I was still in a time period in my life when I routinely made not-so-great decisions. That's a discussion for another day, but for now, suffice it to say I could not do without a man in my life. This boyfriend liked Lydia a lot and was good with her, and during the day life was pretty good. It was at night when the trouble started, usually after Lydia had been put to bed for the night.
After polishing off his nightly 6-pack he would became unsettled and antagonistic. It scared me. He pushed me around just enough to frighten me but not do any real damage.He threatened me until I slept with him. He took my paychecks. Things got really freaky when he started telling me about a friend who owed him money and how he wanted to "do him in". Then he would look at me and wonder aloud what he was going to do with me now that I knew. That's when I started thinking about how I could leave. Bear in mind, he had my money. The final straw came one evening when I was getting read to put Lydia down for the night. She was lying on the bed on her back. I had walked away for a moment to get her p.j.'s and for reasons I can't remember now, my boyfriend came in and punched me hard in the stomach. \I doubled over and tried to catch my breath as I moved towards the bed. I stood for a moment beside the bed unable to breathe, and looked down to see Lydia staring at me and I swear, even at 6 months, there was concern in her eyes. Maybe I was willing to put up with someone hurting me, but once it impacted Lydia at all I drew the line. That's the night I left.
My first phone call was to a local domestic violence shelter I had found in the phonebook. They asked very few questions and gave me directions to a convenience store where I was to call them again from the pay phone if I was sure nobody had followed me. I did as I was instructed, and was given directions to the shelter. When I arrived I had to give them some sort of signal that I can’t remember now, and they’d come open the door for me.
A petite, curly headed woman let me inside the house and took me directly to an office. The place wasn’t fancy and the people who worked there were lowly (I mean that they were humble and without a whole lot of physical beauty). I sensed they were working there because they'd once been clients themselves. It was late and they brought me a bouncy seat to put Lydia in while I completed the paperwork. They asked very few questions about what had happened at that time. The other women in the house had various signs of physical abuse….black eyes, broken bones, etc. I wish I could describe the feeling in that place. It was hushed. I think you could feel relief sitting in the air. I know what God means now when he says “peace that passes understanding.” Peace was almost visible and tangible. Nobody talked about their reason for being there. Everyone pitched in with household chores and cooking. There was a huge tub of makeup with concealer to cover up black eyes and such. They counseled us on the signs of abuse. The kitchen and pantry were fully stocked with everything you could need to feed yourself or a baby. The first night Lydia slept with me and we had a roommate in the other bed. She was a very old woman and it broke my heart. I remember her a lot. I couldn’t picture myself, at that age, being so incredibly miserable. When I climbed into that soft bed with the mismatched blankets I snuggled Lydia up beside me and layed there so thankful that I had peace that night. I firmly believe that we shouldn’t look to our kids for comfort or companionship, but just for that one night I couldn’t help but be so thankful for this little life that I had kept safe. I knew it made little difference to her where we slept as long as she was with me.
When I got up the next morning, the work on rebuilding my life began. I had only brought clothes for Lydia because my time was so limited. I was allowed to go to the Salvation Army and pick out everything I needed for a job interview outfit as well as a few other things. I was assisted in filling out a victim’s compensation application that eventually landed me $1,000 from the government. I applied for several jobs and got one within a couple of days. Next I found an apartment manager who was willing to accept money from the shelter for my deposit. After that I was allowed to go back to the Salvation Army to pick out furniture, and they delivered it for me per an agreement with the shelter. There were so many agencies and people who were involved in getting me on my feet. It was really impressive. I treasure that first apartment I had on my own with Lydia.
I share this story because 1.) I want to encourage women who have a gut feeling they are being abused to listen to that voice. Don't make excuses and say that he just can't help it. Abusers pick and choose who they bully so they DO have control. Don't believe for a second that his behavior is your fault. The minute someone tells you they did something hurtful because of something YOU did, red flags should go up. 2.) I want you to know there is no shame in getting help. That shelter was the best thing that ever happened to me. They didn't doubt my stories. They loved on my daughter. They made sure I had the tools I needed to rebuild and they met my basic needs until I was able to do it on my own. I know some of you reading this have been through worse things for longer periods of time, but I know you can get out.
After I was on my own for awhile I started donating clothing and baby items to them. I wish I could have done more to repay them for what they did for me. I always remember that little home with fondness and sometimes wish I could go sleep there, just for the night, because of how safe and peaceful it was. I promise you that if you leave an abusive situation and you follow through on the things you need to do for yourself, you will NEVEr regret the decision to leave.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need advice or just need to talk to someone.