I wanted to write this to you because I wish someone had written it to me years ago.
Five years ago, two police officers and a CAS worker brought my two boys and I to Women In Crisis. My partner had lost his mind late one night and things went bad quickly. My four year old called 911 because my screams woke him up; by the time the police showed up my partner had broken my arm, three ribs and my nose. Needless to say, I was in pretty bad shape.
Pulling up in front of this massive brick house was scary and intimidating. How was I here? How had it come to this? The police kept telling me I had to go to the hospital but I was so scared, so confused and felt so guilty that my kids had witnessed this that I couldn’t bring myself to leave them with strangers so I could care for myself.= The police brought me to the door and rang the bell. The face that greeted me was a mix of welcome and sympathy…not pity and not disgust as I had expected. I was taken into an office with warm walls and a soft couch. My kids, who were exhausted from being woken in the middle of the night by chaos, were taken into the house to have a rest on the couch. I didn’t feel scared letting them out of my sight because for some strange reason these strangers made me feel safe. Safe was a feeling I hadn’t known for a very long time. The woman who spoke with us that first night had such a soft voice; it was like being in a dream. She spoke with both officers and the CAS worker and assured them that she would do everything she could to ensure I received medical attention and that my kids were safe. Once they had left it was just me and her. I was so nervous and sore and so very tired. With compassion, she convinced me that I really needed to go and get checked out. She told me how worried she was about me which was something that no one had done for me, if ever. She told me that my kids were safe here and that they would be well looked after while I got patched up. I went into the living room and found my four year old passed out on a couch and covered with a warm blanket. My two year old was cuddled on the worker’s lap fast asleep. I kissed them both and headed to the hospital in a cab.
When I got to the hospital, I found out that the shelter had called after I left to tell them I was coming. Instead of having to wait in the busy waiting room with others staring at me, I was brought into a private room where I could wait without being judged by others. When I returned to the shelter several hours later, my right arm in a half-cast and my face bandaged up and my emotions all over the place I was greeted by a new face. This startled me at first but this new face again greeted me with kindness and compassion and I immediately felt safe again. I was told that my kids had slept well on the couches and although they were frightened when they woke up in a strange place with strangers around them, they adjusted quickly and were playing in the playroom. I was reunited with my kids and quickly the million questions started to fly. It was overwhelming when my boys started to ask all those questions and ever more so when they started to ask me how their daddy was. I didn’t know what to say or if I could even talk through all the emotions that were flying through my head. At that moment, I felt a soft warm hand on my shoulder and kind words being spoken to my kids, answering all their questions without giving them more information then they could handle. My kids calmed down and started to play again. I can’t say how amazing it was to watch them play that morning, they were allowed to be themselves and for once I didn’t have to worry that they were being too loud or too messy…they were allowed to just be kids.
After a while we were brought upstairs to our room. This was the part I feared the most. I had visions of bunk beds and shared rooms and all the things you see in the movies but it wasn’t like that at all. My boys and I walked into this huge room, it had real beds and dressers and it was all ours. My kids of course were so excited about the new surroundings that they didn’t notice my obvious relief. The worker did and again this emotional display was met with kindness and compassion, not pity. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around this. The next few days were kind of a blur between paper work, getting used to a new routine, trying to figure out how to work around my injuries and telephone call after telephone call to all kinds of people. It was enough to make my head spin at times but through all the chaos and confusion the one constant was the workers. They were always there to talk to, to help and to support.
I was at the shelter for two months when my partner came back into the picture. I was at the mall with the boys when we ran into him; the boys were overjoyed to see their dad and I was scared to death. I agreed to have lunch with him. How could I not with my boys looking at me with such hope? We spent two hours talking over lunch. He apologized over and over. He had started counselling and anger management and he now understood himself and how to control his anger. He promised me he was a changed man. I didn’t quite believe him and he said he understood that and would do whatever it took to get his family back. Over the next three weeks we spent more and more time together, sometimes as a family and sometimes just the two of us. Eventually he talked me into going back home, but I had a problem. How was I going to tell these women, who had cared for me while I recovered from the horrific injuries my partner had given me, that I was returning to him? How could I face them? How? It turned out that it wasn’t me that had to start that conversation. One afternoon I got called to the office. When I sat down, the worker looked at me and asked how I was doing. I said “fine.” She then asked me the question I had been dreading. Did I plan on going home? I didn’t know how to answer this question. I was so scared that I would be letting her down or that she would be disappointed in me if I told her I was. She just smiled at me when I didn’t answer and explained to me that if going home was what I wanted to do that she would support my decision. She told me that this was my life to live and that she wasn’t judging my choice but just wanted to help me do things safely. She asked me if I was open to doing some safety planning with her before I left. I can’t explain the feeling I had right at that moment; it was a combination of relief and wonder; never before had I been able to make a decision that wasn’t criticized in some way. We spent the next hour going over a safety plan for me and my kids and just before I left the office she gave me the best gift anyone could ever have given me…She told me that if something happened and moving back in with my partner didn’t work that she wanted me to know I could come back here and that there would always be room for me and my kids. I had an out if I needed one and that made me feel the safest I have ever felt.
My boys and I packed up our stuff and left that afternoon. Sadly this is not a Cinderella story. My partner wasn’t my prince charming and we didn’t ride off into the sunset together. Six months later my partner lost his job due to cutbacks. Things started getting bad quickly. At first it was just little things, but it didn’t take long for those little things to grow into big things and all of a sudden my life was worse then it had been before. The night I left it wasn’t by choice, it was by ambulance. My partner came home drunk and decided that, this was the night that all the world’s troubles were my fault. The beating I took that night was horrible but the worst part was when my five year old tried to stop his dad and ended up with a broken arm for his trouble. All I really remember about that night is the screaming, the blood and the hopeless feeling of watching your child be hurt. I can honestly say that this night could have easily broken me….but it didn’t.
After the hospital and the police had finished what they needed to do we were brought to the shelter. I felt shame, intense and profound shame and guilt because in my mind I had done this to myself and my kids. I had been free and I went back; this was because of me and I could barely look at myself in the mirror I was so ashamed. When I walked through the front door that I was so familiar with I was not met with contempt as I expected, nor was I reprimanded. Instead, I was hugged and welcomed back as if I had never left. My kids lit up when we walked through those doors. It was almost as though they knew that this meant they were safe; I could see the weight lift off of their tiny shoulders. Once again I couldn’t describe the feeling of freedom and relief I had at that moment.
We were shown to the same room we had left such a short time ago. Again the next few days were a blur but they weren’t overwhelming because I knew I wasn’t alone. This stay was different because I now knew what I was leaving behind and the wonderful things that awaited me. I worked with the workers and listened to what they had to say. I read the books they suggested and got in touch with the people they thought would best help me and my boys work on all the horrible things we had just been through. The first time I went to court was a terrifying day. I hadn’t seen my ex since the night he had almost killed me and had hurt my son. I had a horrible mixture of fear and anger in my stomach but there was a solid hand on my shoulder offering support and comfort. Even in court I wasn’t alone.
This time my boys and I stayed three months in the shelter. In those three months we healed, not just our bodies but our hearts. We learned to trust each other and my boys learned to trust me when I said that we weren’t going back. In those three months I saw my children blossom. They were no longer afraid to be kids. They weren’t afraid, period. They helped find a place for me and my boys that was safe and all ours. I had support in place for when I had to go to the lawyers or court. I didn’t have to face that alone and although it’s a very long process I no longer feel scared because I’m not doing it on my own. I can hold my head high now. I’ve learned so much and have come so far and I have the amazing women at the shelter to thank for that. I know that it was me that did the work but it was them that gave me the strength and courage to do it. My advice for women that are thinking of leaving their abuser, call the shelter or go in and talk to them. You won’t be treated with anything but respect and you will be given the wonderful gift of support and knowing that you aren’t alone. They didn’t judge me; they didn’t get upset with me for returning and they weren’t upset when I came back. They just helped. Without their help I wouldn’t be here today because my partner would have killed me.
Alive and Free