Do Your Domestic Violence Survival Skills Measure Up?

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I sat on the stadium bleachers next to my boyfriend of six months on my birthday in the cool early November afternoon sun.  I had just finished performing the half time show with the color guard and marching band at our college football game. The week prior to my birthday had been amazing, it all started with me walking to my car after class, I opened the door to find a small stuffed story book bear dressed in a princess costume on the seat, along with a bottle of scented hand sanitizer, a skirt, and a note that said: “It is has been said that a birthday should be a week long affair. When you were born, you had a birthday suit on and after 20 years it has seen some wear and tear but it is still very young and beautiful. On your birthday you should receive something new to wear. Plus something to disinfect your hands after you touch me!!! This is the start of a week long birthday.”

Each day after that I had been showered with three gifts and a note, jewelry, clothes, other members of the story book bear collection and even a beautiful crocheted blanket with my name stitched in all my favorite colors.  It had been beautiful.  My boyfriend and I were sitting holding hands, and I expected no other gifts from him that day when all of the sudden his best friend walked up to me, kissed me on the cheek, and handed me a huge colored bouquet of flowers with tickets to Disney on Ice tucked into the leaves and walked away. I was stunned. I had no words; I simply turned to my boyfriend with a goofy grin on my face, kissed him and reveled in the attention of such a spectacle as I thanked him and bounced up and down in my seat.

My boyfriend knew how to make me feel special, there was one time where he woke me with a kiss and a red rose and a sweet note tied to the stem, saying: “The red rose is to compare your beauty to. The rose is a weed compared to your beauty.” He left me in bed and when I opened the door and walked out, there was another rose of a different color with an accompanying note on the floor, I picked it up and read it, and as I walked down the hall, I found another, and then one on each stair as I walked downstairs, each rose a different color with a note relating that color to me.

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I still have those notes in a scrapbook and dozens of other hand written notes my boyfriend, turned husband had given me over the years we had been together. We used to lay in bed together and tell each other our dreams, the kinds of cars we wanted to drive, the kinds of jobs we wanted to have, how our home would look and the toys we would one day own. We became pregnant and prepared for the birth of our baby together, he would rub my feet and rush to fulfill my crazy pregnancy cravings.  He rubbed and talked to my belly and we looked forward to the day our son would be born.

*****One year later******

I pulled my small Ford Escort into the empty, frozen parking lot and slowed to a stop in the stall closest to the door. As I shifted into park, I looked behind me at my one year old son in the back seat. I sighed deeply as I turned off the car, and didn’t allow myself to think as I climbed out into the light snowfall and headed straight for the trunk. I pulled out my only possessions, a diaper bag and a duffel bag stuffed with three days worth of clothes for myself and my son. I slung the bags over my shoulder as I shut the trunk and opened the back door. With the bags not allowing me to fully enter the back seat, I strained to reach the clasps and unbuckle my son and lift him out from the car seat. I successfully got him out of the car seat, shut the door and, careful not to slip, headed toward the building. It was a late Friday evening and Christmas was just three days away, I wasn’t even sure the building would still be open.

I hugged my baby in close to my chest to keep him from the cold and opened the swinging glass door. I shook my head and stomped my feet in the entryway to clear the snow and opened the second set of doors. The building was old and poorly lit. I hardly paid attention to details as I walked up to the front desk. I couldn’t feel my feet touching the floor. My breath was suspended in my chest. My thoughts were frozen in my head. I felt like none of this was real. I felt like time had completely stopped. I couldn’t look the receptionist in the eye as I stammered. ‘I need shelter.’ Tears began pouring out of my eyes. I couldn’t hold them in any longer. I had no control over my sobbing. That’s when everything became a complete blur. I imagine she called for someone and asked me for details. A woman soon appeared to escort me into a locked down elevator with her key card. Four floors later the doors opened into a small reception area and I realized no one knew where I was.

I was all action. No thoughts. No emotions. The intake worker motioned for me to sit. I sat my son on the couch next to me and handed him the small elephant teething ring. I was handed paperwork and the receptionist ran down the rules of the shelter. Even though my thoughts were empty, my head felt full. I didn’t take in the words she was telling me. I just answered questions and signed papers. I had never operated from such a mechanical place before. I ignored my phone and tried my best to focus on what was going on. The receptionist showed me the small playroom, and offered to watch after my son while he played there. I spoke to the director. Answered more questions. I spoke to a male therapist. Filled out more paperwork. The receptionist gave me a tour of the small shelter and showed me my room. I was exhausted by this point. I put my son down in the strange crib, and crawled into the twin bed in my strange room.

And that’s how it started. That’s the story of the first few hours after I left my abuser. So many people ask all the time ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ My question for those people is are you willing and ready to walk away from everything in your life? Your home? All of your possessions? Your comfort zone? Your life as you know it? That’s what it takes. Not only do you have to walk away from the things (which of course are replaceable), you have to figure out how you’re going to make it on your own. This is perhaps the biggest reason women don’t leave. Trying to figure out how to afford a place to stay, how you’re going to take care of your children yourself. The divorce process. The courts. The visitation schedule. Trusting a court professional who you have never met and knows nothing about you or your family to make decisions about your life like how often you get to see your own children, what possessions you get to keep, and has the power to order things like custody evaluations and court ordered therapy. To them you are just another number, and just another case. They don’t know you or your life, and yet they make decisions that will affect the rest of it. And there is the abusers family to take into consideration as well.

Often times the abusers family stands behind the abuser. This is hard for a couple of reasons. Often times the abusers family does whatever they can to support and back up the abuser. For me, my ex husband’s family had much more money and social influence than myself or my family. This lead to fear of the unknown, and fear of their influence. It lead to standing up to people I once loved and doing what I felt was the right thing for my son even when they disagreed. I remember one of the first exchanges I had with my ex husband. Emotions were high and we agreed to exchange our son in a neutral location. This meant I had no support system. We met in the parking lot of the local Child Protective Services location. I pulled into the parking lot to find, not only my ex husband, but his father and brother. I found myself confronted by three men who were all much larger and more powerful than me. I kept my composure and exchanged our 13 month old son in the frozen parking lot. And on the other hand, I lost the relationships I had with his entire family. Over the past four years I had gotten to know and built up beautiful relationships with his family, and walking away from my ex, not only did I loose my home, my husband, and my possessions, but I also lost an entire family. Why doesn’t she just leave? The question is ridiculously simple as compared to the complexity of the actual situation.

Leaving is an act of faith.

 

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So My Dad Helped You?

“Mom, why did you leave my dad, why!” My eight year old demanded of me yet again. It was not uncommon for him to ask me such a question, and I knew whatever I said would go back to his dad. We were driving home from the gym, it was dark and rain sprinkled the windshield as the wipers sloshed back and forth. I pursed my lips.

“Why”?!? he repeated.

My mind flashed back across the things I had told him, ‘you’re not old enough, I’ll tell you when you’re older’ resulted in him pressing me over and over until one night I was tired enough to give in and tell him the basics, that his dad did not know how to treat mommy right, that he would hold me down and not let me up and a few other things, and I prayed and prayed about it and felt that leaving was the best choice for me and for him. Ever since then, my sons inquiries changed to include ‘dad wasn’t holding you down, not all of his weight was on you, you could have gotten up.’ which was one of my ex’s favorite things to tell me, so I knew my son was telling his dad these conversations. I knew I needed to tell him what he needed to know in a kind and loving way.

When my son first began asking me he would say ‘Mom, why did you take me and run?’ My mind flashed back to the months right after I had left my ex, he had filed a protective order on behalf of our son, against me, and the order started off with his statement that I had ‘taken our son and ran.’ I knew that’s how he perceived it. That I was suffering from postpartum depression and that my actions were a result of that and my mother telling me what to do. He didn’t understand that I had told him several times he could not and should not treat me the way he was treating me, that those actions were abuse. It’s so interesting to me that people who have never experienced abuse often say ‘I would never let someone treat me like that.” Yet, when you are in that situation, when you feel your well-being, and your life is in danger, you would do just about anything to get the other person to settle down, to calm their actions. I told him, what he was doing was abuse, I told him it was not okay, I went to his parents, I prayed, I did everything I knew how to do, and none of it mattered. I still lived my life in secrets and fear.

Nearly eight years after leaving my ex though, I have a different viewpoint on what that experience was for me, my ex, and even my son. I know my ex was raised in an abusive home. I know his parents were also raised in abusive homes. I know that his parents suffered from just wanting to be loved and to do what is right, they are normal people, they want to live normal lives and have normal things. They are all kind and good-hearted people who are actively involved in their community and church, who love to help and to serve their fellow-man. They are just living out cycles they don’t know how to fix. And for me, it was a cycle I refused to have continued in my home and with my son, and that is why I left. I used to think ‘it’s okay, I can handle this, I can love him and teach him what love and a happy home is really like.’ I would put up with the days of abuse with that thought running through my head until my son was born. Until the day I was standing in the kitchen cooking dinner with my infant son playing in the bouncer while my husband played video games in the front room, my son began crying as I was tending a boiling pot and my husband saying from the front room ‘I know, I know, mommy doesn’t love you…’ when my husband would smack our 5 month olds hand for taking a beanie off his head to teach him he needed to keep the beanie on his head and that ‘daddy knew what was best for him’. When those things began happening I knew I could no longer stay in that home. And how could I tell my son all that? He loved his dad very much, and his dad really did do his best to take care of our son, I didn’t want to start a war, I didn’t want our son to think badly of his father, after all, I had been told by adult friends who grew up in divorced homes, to never speak badly of the other parent, and that as children grow up, they learn the truth on their own. I believe childhood should be a world of wonderment, magic, and discovery, I did not want to ruin that for my son. I knew he wanted a good, solid answer, and that ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older’ wasn’t cutting it anymore. So I told him the truth.

I told my son that his dad was not always nice to me, and that he did not always treat me the way I deserved to be treated, so after lots of prayer and meditation, I left, and after leaving, I knew it was my calling to help others experiencing domestic violence to make it through and to heal. I knew it was my calling to help the women and the children who were affected, and there was no other way for me to know that’s what I wanted to do, or that’s what I would do had I not experienced it myself. I knew I would not be able to understand how to help these other women if I had not been through the challenge of leaving, of running, of fearing, of court and custody battles and single parenting had I not gone through it myself. I told my son, someone had to teach me what all that was like, someone had to play that role for me, and it was his dad, I told my son that I am grateful for his dad for teaching me what I learned and that I could not have done it without him. ‘So, my dad helped you?’ my son exclaimed. “Yes,” I replied. “You’re dad helped me. And I am grateful to him for it.” Which for me is true. There is always a silver lining in each and every experience we go through, finding that silver lining and living by it makes life worth living.

Why not?

People Who Experience Abuse
1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner experiencing domestic violence. Why not start seeing it?

Children and Abuse
Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence also suffer abuse or neglect at high rates, are more likely to have health problems, including becoming sick more often, having frequent headaches or stomachaches, and being more tired and lethargic and children are more likely to intervene when they witness severe violence against a parent – which can place a child at great risk for injury or even death. Why not hear about it?

How Society is Affected
Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Survivors of domestic violence face high rates of depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety, flashbacks, and other emotional distress.
Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults. Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation. Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. Why not talk about it?

#voiceshavepower
I think the best thing about the video that has come out involving Ray and Janay Rice and the birth of the hash tag #WhyIStayed is that we are talking about domestic violence as a society, we are hearing about it and we are seeing what domestic violence is.

What Can You Do?
Often times people seem to think if we bring something into the light like this and talk about it, because it is a negative thing, that it will bring more of it into existence. Or people are shamed into speaking because of the harsh judgement of ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ As we talk about it, we can learn about it, we can teach about it, we can heal those who have experienced it, and we can prevent it from happening. Talk to your kids about domestic violence. Be a shining example to them of what a healthy relationship is. Better yourself. Find resources, read books, take classes. Learn healthy ways to handle your emotions. Throughout the month of October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month) I am posting one blog post a day, and I will post books, tools, tips and resources to help Domestic Violence become a thing of the past.

*statistics taken from
http://www.safehorizon.org/page/domestic-violence-statistics–facts-52.html

What now?

It’s been seven and a half years. Seven and a half years since I walked into a women’s shelter. Seven and a half years since I began the divorce process. Seven and a half years since my life changed forever and seven and a half years since I last experienced the abuse that once was so common in my life.

As I continue to share my past experiences, what my life was like, talk about the abuse that happened in my marriage and the process and legal battles of leaving my ex husband while retaining custody of our one year old son, people ask me ‘So, what’s it like now?’ ‘Are you worried about your son when he’s with his dad?’ ‘Is he still abusive?’ The answers to those questions may surprise you and things may not be quite how you think.

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‘What’s it like now?’
A lot has changed mostly because I have changed. My one year old is now eight and was recently baptized in the Mormon church. (Mormons baptize the members born into the church at eight years old). It was the first event both sides of my sons family would be together since he was blessed at two months old. And while the families may not agree with each other or really want anything to do with the other, we put our differences aside for him and it was a beautiful and pleasant experience.

My ex is remarried to a woman who has been in my sons life since he was three and while I don’t agree with everything they teach my son, she is a great parent and loves my son and treats him very well. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

I am dating an amazing man who lets me be me and helps me be a better person every day and I hope to be married one day soon (maybe with another baby or two).

I’m growing my business as a mentor, trainer and energy therapist while I still work my amazing government job and my son and I rent my parents basement while we look for a house of our own.

I have learned and healed so much in my life.

‘Are you worried about your son when he’s with his dad?’
In a word, no. My ex does the best job he can as a parent with what he knows. Sure he’s more strict than I like. Sure he teaches our son things that are different than what I teach him. Sure he does things that totally drive me crazy. I see those as good things. I see those as part of my sons plan here in this life.

My ex takes our son every time he’s supposed to and he always pays his child support on time. I get a chance to recharge my batteries while my son’s gone so I can be a better mom when he’s here. And my son is given the gift of seeing how different life can be and the beauty and love that still exists in that difference.

There are some negatives. There are things I don’t like about the situation. There are things my ex does that drive me crazy and that I don’t think are okay. (Teaching my son to call me by my name and his step mom as mommy for example). And I have chosen not to focus on those things (which is why I’m not naming more). I am choosing to hold a place for my ex being the amazing man I know he can be. I am choosing to believe my son is strong enough and smart enough to see the good and the bad in both his dad and myself and that he will be better for it.

‘Is he still abusive?’
Okay, I’m being honest here, you’re okay with that right? For some reason, this question is hard for me to answer.

Maybe it’s because this is a public blog and I know my ex and his entire family have found it and read it.

Maybe it’s because it’s just an emotional question for me.

Maybe it’s because it’s not a simple or cut and dry answer.

Abusive? Not so much. That’s more the wrong word. He’s still a little manipulative. He calls to talk to our son every day. (Which of course is fine). However when it’s his turn to have our son for long periods of time like summer vacation, he doesn’t always return the favor. I call to talk to our son and rarely get the opportunity. Certainly not every day.

He teaches our son to call me by my first name and his new wife ‘mommy’, my mom by her first name rather than grandma.

Which is all fine in the long run. Thankfully I’ve been able to learn my sons true nature and part of that for him, is his adaptability. When he’s with me he calls me mom, when he’s with his dad he calls me by my first name.

At one point the whole thing was a huge point of contention for me. And I let my ex know and his wife know and even our son know. I’ve learned this is a small thing and it’s better to let it go. Our son loves both his mom and dad very much and I don’t want to do anything that would make him think, hear or speak negatively about his dad.

My intention is that my son will see both the good and not so good traits of both parents, and that he will learn and decide what it is that he wants in his life. And take on the good traits we each possess and let go of the not so good. 

Journal Entry

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A few excerpts from the journal I kept while going through my 3 1/2 journey to divorce:

Nov 15, 2006 (six weeks before I left him the final time)

I’m sitting in the women’s shelter right now. I’m waiting to talk to someone to weigh my options. I think I’ve already mentally divorced my husband. It is just not in me anymore. I’m tired and if I don’t leave him soon I will break. I still have little doubts and thoughts and worries that pop up,  but I’m hoping this conversation will help. I know I’m not as in bad a situation as some of the women who come here, but I also know I’m not in as good a situation as my son and I deserve to be. I just want this to be over. And I am afraid to go through it all. But I know the Lord is with me.

January 14th 2007 (two weeks after leaving)

I have left my husband, and I have never been so scared and exhilarated at the same time. I’m ready to move on and start fresh, but there are several steps I have to take care of first.

I hurt. I want to scream and cry. I want to be held and comforted. I want to fast forward through time to a better, healthier place. But I know that going through all this is the better thing for me.

March 27, 2007 (the night before my first time in court)

I can’t sleep. I am on the verge of tears. I have gotten everything ready for mediation tomorrow. I am nervous and sick. I do feel the Lord with me and that all will be well, but I don’t know what to expect, and worry that I have not done enough or done it right. I can’t turn my mind off or bring myself to get ready for bed. It’s like if i don’t go to bed, tomorrow will never come and I won’t have to worry. I’m anxious to see what way this will go. My feelings are so jumbled they are like strings all knotted and tangled together. I don’t know how to begin explaining one without running into another.

May 24 2007 (my sons first extended weekend away from mommy)

I just sent my son off with his dad for Memorial Day weekend. It will be my first weekend away from my one year old son. My heart is slowly breaking. Is it right for a mother to be separated from her child in such a way? Everyday I ask myself if I’m making the right choice. Is leaving my husband really the best decision? And every day the answer is still yes. The only way my answer would change, is if he would change. Unfortunately he is being enabled and disillusioned into thinking he is right and I am wrong. Which really, that’s not even what this is about. If it were simply about who is making the correct choices in life or in our marriage, it would be something we could work through. It’s about the way a husband should treat his wife. It’s about the way a human being should treat another human being.

July 29, 2007 

I feel like I am floating down a river. Sometimes I flow easily and quietly along the way, others I am struggling just to keep my head above the surface.

Taking Responsibility: Why Being in a Domestic Violent situation was my fault

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“But you’re 20 years old and he’s the only boyfriend you’ve ever had.”

“And we’re getting married in a month. Everything will be fine.”

Yes I was young and naive, yes I knew nothing about relationships and yes, I was that 20 year old girl, marrying a 24 year old man I had only dated for just shy of a year, the only guy I had ever dated.

When I left him 3 1/2 years later and began my journey staying in the women’s shelter with my then 12 month old son, I was told I was the victim, and I bought it. Hook, line and sinker. It was refreshing and easy to believe that everything that had happened was no fault of my own. That the way he treated me was because he was the jerk, he was the one at fault. Truth is, I had 100% of the responsibility for how I allowed him to treat me.

It was hard when my thoughts began to open to the idea, that maybe I’m not really a victim, it was so much easier to believe that life just happened to me, and so much harder to grasp that I had actually created the life I was living.

I think we are doing a disservice to every person we tell ‘you’re the victim here’. If we instead ponder ‘what did I do to get me where I am today?’, we begin to open our minds to the reality that we have the power and ability to actually create our own life. And if we don’t like it, we change it. We change our life by changing our self.

1. Love Yourself

As we begin to work on first  loving ourselves, forgiving ourselves, allowing ourselves to make mistakes and stop expecting so much of ourselves, our hearts soften toward ourselves and we are able to give love to others even better. How can we love and serve others, if we do not love ourselves? The biblical quote is even ‘love our neighbors, like unto ourselves’ do we really love ourselves?

Write yourself a love note. Tape it on the mirror and read it to yourself everyday.

2. Love your partner

I know the thoughts and turmoil you go through when you’re not in a healthy relationship. You love your partner, and yet you’re afraid of what they might do. You want others to think the best of both you and your partner, you don’t want to air dirty laundry. Take time to remind yourself that they are hurting too, when someone acts out in anger or violence, it is because they have a wounded child in them from their past. Remember that their innermost part if them self wants to be loved and wants to be a good person. I don’t belive any person is born into this life as a bad person. Loving them will help you forgive them, and forgiving them will help you heal.

3. Be Prepared to Leave

Just because you love yourself and you love and forgive your partner does not mean that you stay in a dysfunctional relationship. If you need to get out, then get out. You can love yourself and still get out. You can love them and still get out. In fact sometimes it is because of those things that you do leave. Staying in a broken relationship will be worse for both sides in the long run.

If you do choose to leave, have an escape plan, if possible have copies of important documents hidden away in your car or friends house or work, and have three days worth of clothes for yourself and your children (including diapers) have some food and water stashed away (including formula), try to hide away cash, and have a safe place to go to like a women’s shelter (I’m advocating for men’s shelters) or a friend’s house. Don’t hesitate to call the police if necessary. They will help you and it will be okay.

Take power over your life. Do not claim being a victim. You are a person who experienced abuse. Every person who does their part to stop the cycle of abuse in whatever way that is, helps with the bigger picture and world wide healing from and stopping of anger and hurt and dysfunction. May God and angels go with you.

Being Single and Being a Parent

There is one simple fact making single parenting difficult. And that simple fact is, you are single, and you are a parent. Okay this may be obvious, but here’s how it goes:

being single
So I know there are those few out there who are perfectly happy living a life without a partner, but for the most part, the majority of us want to find someone to be with. A partner to have and to hold, someone who makes us laugh and brightens our day with a small token of affection, someone to share life’s joys and challenges with, someone who puts the scissors away in the wrong place, someone who pushes all our buttons and someone who we love, learn, and grow with. That does not change after a divorce or separation, we still want those things. Of course there must be time taken to heal however, after that there is this whole brand new world if singledom.

So here you find yourself after a divorce once again in the dating world, getting asked out out to dinners, movies, bowling, dessert, a plethora of dates and sometimes having to say no, or schedule something a week out, or go home after the date earlier than you normally would, because you are also something else, and you are that first, a parent.

Being a single parent is a different and interesting world. There are some parents who have their kids always, some who are custodial parent (having their kids 3/4 time) or non custodial parent (having their kids 1/4 time), and still others who split kid time 50/50, and every imaginable combination in between.

being a parent
There is so much that goes on in the single parent world. Some parents take their kids with them every where, to singles parties and functions. For the most part, it works out well, the kids have other kids to play with, the parents spend time mingling with each other forming bonds and alliances, enjoying the sisterhood of single mothers and the brotherhood of single fathers with some good flirting mixed in.

Sometimes it is to the detriment of kids, being dragged to strange places to meet strange people, not receiving the time and attention they need from their parent as that parent talks and flirts with other adults, being kept out past bedtimes or through nap times, all for the sake of the parent having some much needed down time and adult time.

Being a single parent is exhausting, whether you are co-parenting or have no interaction with the other parent, you often still don’t have the support needed to truly offer what you think is in the best interest of your children because the other parent has their own idea of what they think is in the best interest of the children, or they act on their own personal interests. Or you lack the support all together.

being a single parent
I really believe there is a reason families have been structured with two loving parents, it is so much better for the kids and the parents, to have the love, support and solidarity that comes from a complete family unit.

I was lucky enough to have a dear friend who was a single parent for much of the same time I was, and we vacationed together, went to events together, took our kids to the park together, we were able to offer that support to each other of giving our only child a playmate and each other that adult counterpart to talk to.

There is a solution for each single parent out there, a balance between the single life and the parent life. Remember to keep your kids needs and interests in mind, most especially that time with you. No matter what role you play as a parent in your own family, love yourself, be patient with yourself, know that you are doing the best you know how. Put your child first as much as possible, listen to their needs and wants, and ask for help; ask your extended family, ask your friends, ask your neighbors, ask your fellow church goers and religious leaders, ask angels, ask God or your Higher Power. The saying ‘it takes a village’ is as true today as ever.

The Shelter

I could feel the soft pull on my nipple and let down as my twelve month old suckled in the early morning hour, the soft yellow of the rising sun. I half dozed as he nuzzled in close, and I was cherishing this sweet bond between mother and son, enjoying the sweet flow of life in this moment I so rarely experience.

A knock rattled the wooden door, I lifted my head, “Time to get up…” sang a woman’s voice. I let my head drop back down to the pillow as thoughts ran quickly through my mind. I’m nursing my son, can’t I just have a moment of peace. I’ll get up soon, I’ll be a good girl, I’ll do what I am asked, just let me have this moment. “I’m nursing my son.” I called out. “We’ll be out in a minute.” I planned on weening him at twelve months, but when our world was suddenly turned upside down, us homeless and me a single mom, living together in a shelter with strange women and unknown children, our schedule dictated to us by some random third party who did not know us, our lives, or our circumstances; battling the justice system, all while terrified of what my then husband and father-in-law might do, the words of my father-in-laws threat constantly running through my mind, influencing all the decisions I was making I have worked for the city, I have worked for the county, I know all the judges and all the judges dirty laundry, if you leave my son again, you will not get custody of yours.” With all of that, I knew we could both use the comfort and normalcy nursing provided.

The Shelter
I finished nursing, but not before another knock rattled my door, this time with the woman coming in. There was no real privacy here. After dressing myself and my son from the limited clothing options I had and changing his diaper, we were out in the common area of the shelter. Shelter life was not quite what I expected, I remember walking in with visions of something like an elementary school cafeteria with cots set up in rows and public bathrooms. I expected meals to be served from the school kitchen on plastic trays with little milk cartons, the whole scene with a faded tonal quality. Instead there was a large open area divided into two sections, a living room with three couches set up in a ‘U’ and a large flat screen TV on the open end, we even had Dish network, and a dining room with two large tables and benches, there were three or four highchairs lining the back wall, satelliting out from the main living area were offices for the counselors, a play room with donated toys and movies, a large kitchen and pantry where we prepared our own meals, and five bedrooms each with their own bathrooms and the capacity to sleep 5-6 women and children.

Shelter Rules
We had to take turns doing daily chores, vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and moping, cleaning our bathrooms, and preparing the meals they told us to. They provided a washer, dryer, and laundry soap, I remember walking down the five flights of stairs into the dark unfinished basement where we did our laundry, the other women staying there told ghost stories about the creepy room, though I never saw anything. One evening the assigned meal was meat loaf, while I had seen my parents make it all growing up, I never had prepared it myself. I’m not sure why she was there, because she rarely was, but the director taught me how to make the meatloaf, it was a tender mercy to be standing there in the kitchen, cooking dinner together she felt like a mother figure to me and that brought me a small bit of peace in a then otherwise cold world.

There was a 9 o’clock curfew, if we weren’t in by 9 o’clock, with a few pre-approved exceptions we would be kicked out, period. One night, shortly after beginning my stay at the shelter, I found myself in the doctors office with my son at 8 pm I was lucky enough to have my mom and Grammy in the office with me, my son had just been diagnosed with RSV the nurses instructed me on how to give him a breathing treatment and had ordered a machine for me. It was miserable to stick the silicone mask in my one year old’s face as I held him tight and he cried and tried to get away. When I knew the appointment would get me back to the shelter past curfew, I called and told them what was going on, this was obviously and exception, and I had no problems getting back in when I showed up half an hour past curfew.

Shelter Living
We lived on the fourth floor, no one was allowed in except those of us staying there and a handful of counselors. It was that fact that brought me the most comfort, I knew my ex and his family had absolutely no access to me. There were legal advocates to help us file temporary custody papers, divorce decrees, and protective orders as needed, she was a liaison between us and the legal system, some thing I was particularly grateful for as I had absolutely no experience with the justice system. There was a daycare we were allowed to leave our children at free of charge for when we absolutely needed it. We had to take Domestic Violence, Self Esteem, and Parenting classes that would continue on after we left the shelter and optional one on one financial and sexual assault/abuse counseling available as well. We could only stay in the shelter for 30 days, then we were kicked out, we had the option of getting assisted living, and in order to be approved for that, we had to have a job and pass a drug test. That was my first and only experience being drug tested, and having a woman assigned to you to watch you pee was a little weird.

The Other Women
When I walked into the shelter, my son and I were the only ones staying there, the first woman to join us was older, in her 50’s or so, she had left her abuser several times before. I was blessed enough to have a car, and after my ex canceled my sell phone service, my Grammy gave cash to buy a new cell phone, the woman knew I was going to get a phone, and asked if she could come along and visit her bank while we were out, I drove to a mall far away from the one my ex and I had frequented, when I took her to the drive through for her bank, she found her accounts had all been frozen, she had no access to money and shortly after returned to her abuser again.

Another girl had two children, and pre-teen boy and a four year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome the mother had little time and attention for her daughter, as she was so wrapped up in everything else going on, I stepping in as I could, and I now understand her come from as my son falls somewhere in the behavioral needs spectrum.

One girl, somewhere in her 30’s I remember as being super cute and nice, I even let her borrow my shoes, then had to claim them back after she cut herself and they kicked her out for drug use.

A mother came in for one night with her five children, the children were frightened and unsure of everything going on, I remember talking to one of the daughters about anything that didn’t have to do with the shelter to help comfort her, that family was out the next day as the mother had taken legal measures to kick her abuser out of the family home.

There were many more who came and went in the 3 weeks I stayed there. I was surprised how many women had been in the shelter before, and come back several times. We would put all our children to bed and sit up on those three couches in the living room with the TV off talking about our lives, children, and abusers. There were woman who had it far worse than I had, I was the only one with a car, steady job (even though it was seasonal and I was furloughed, I knew I would begin work again soon), I had a strong support system of family, friends, and angels. Some women had no hope of living a life on their own, believing they didn’t have the skills to do so. Some women had been beaten so bad they had had hospital stays, one had been locked in her house with her children whenever her abuser left with absolutely no access to the outside world. I remember being told I was beautiful and tearing up over it, it had been so long since I had heard those words and I had forgot I was. It was humbling and frightening to hear each others stories, but we lifted each other and buoyed each other up, we were all we had.

Shelter Classes
For me, it was in the classes that I began to find hope and faith again. I didn’t think I really needed them at first, I thought I was above them, and as I continued to go, I began a journey of self improvement that has not stopped in the seven years since I left. I remember sitting in the Domestic Violence class as the teacher was speaking and letting my mind wander, I was pondering the fact I never thought I would be where I currently was, I never thought I’d be a single mother leaving an abusive marriage, I realized there was a long road a head of me, and my life had taken a complete 180 degree turn, and I didn’t know where to go from here, anything was possible, it was then I had a thought come to me, Everything will be okay, you are going to get through this, and you are going to come back and teach other women what you learned. It was four years later that I found a company that teaches how to be a trainer and a mentor, I knew this was the start to my journey as a teacher to help these women, and I have taught in several locations, including the very shelter I once stayed at.

All in all, I am truly grateful for the shelter experience, it opened my eyes to the truth of the world by taking off my rose colored glasses, it gave me a safe place for myself and my son. The shelter taught me lessons I could have learned no other way and set me on a new and invigorating life path, I won’t trade that for the world.

Twice the Work Part 1

Where have I been? Have I disappeared from the blog world? It feels that way to me. And for good reason. I have found myself working two jobs for the last three months. And despite leaving my house at 5:30 am and getting home between 6:30 and 7:00pm, losing time with my son, missing out on fun social activities being constantly on the move, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, I have enjoyed this experience and learned Four lessons I could not have learned otherwise.

The Jobs:

My day job is as a government worker. It’s clerical, and very cushy. I’ve worked there for the last 11 years and am so very grateful for it. The promotions I have had, the people I have met, and the experiences I’ve been a part of have all been times of great learning and blessings.

My second job I picked up out of necessity. I wasn’t brilliant in my money choices and found myself with extra debt I needed to pay off ASAP. My best friend owns a daycare center, I gave her a call, she was short staffed and could use my help, I started working there three days later.

The Lessons:

1- Play More

I remember when I had the one job, I would come home, and to be honest, (I am embarrassed to admit this) I would not always be willing or excited to play with my son. I was tired and worn out. I would sit and watch a movie with him, or sit and read to him, but to physically interact with my only child, I was not always super excited to play his juvenile games.

In my second job I suddenly found myself immersed in a room full of 2-4 year old, all demanding my attention and wanting to play. It didn’t matter that I was exhausted, I was working for my best friend, I wasn’t going to let her down.

I had to fight off feelings of guilt and disappointment in myself. Here I was playing and spending time with other people’s kids when I should be home with my own. I decided not to let the negative thinking get to me, and instead focus on when I would only be working the one job and how I would change things and spend more time playing with my son.

2- Be Grateful

I spent a lot of time being exposed to so many different families and people and got insight into how their lives are built. So many children with divorced parents, some with single and dating parents, some with step parents, some with parents in jail, some with parents who passed away, some with military parents away on assignment, some who were being raised by grandparents, aunts & uncles or adoptive parents. It has been a wide awakening to me, and I see so many kids who are struggling, and yet surviving. They don’t always understand their circumstances and rarely have control over them and I see a lot of scared kids.

I also see a lot of love. No matter what their circumstance, I see adults in these kids lives who do their best to show this kids love even though it may be imperfect circumstances, love still exists

I have spent much time feeling guilty for my sons life circumstances. I did not intend to be a single mom. I remember as I was growing up there being times I wanted my mom and times I wanted my dad, and I could go be with whichever whenever, my son doesn’t have that.

I have begun to remind myself to think of and be grateful for what he does have. In my home, he has a loving mom, grandparents and an aunt, in his dads home, he has a loving dad and step mom.

Life is never perfect. Circumstances aren’t always as we plan them. Love fills in the gaps, imperfect people carry us through and God and His angels open doors we cannot see on our own.

You Are Getting Divorced?!?!?!?

Oh my gosh, I can’t believe she is getting a divorce. Ugh. Anybody can be married to anybody else if they just work on it. There has to be more she can do to make her marriage work. I doubt she is doing everything she can possibly do to make it work. I just know she is giving up. my 19 year old self thought as my coworker walked by. The news of her newly divorced status rumors of the work place. And I meant it. I judged her harshly without even knowing the reason or truth behind the separation. Without even bothering to ask, to care, or give her the benefit of the doubt.

Six years ago today I found myself walking into a woman’s shelter, and walking out on my husband for good. I felt it was the best option for both myself and my 12 month old son. I ate my 19 year old words as I began the long divorce process.

I went from living in my own home, having a house to entertain, to decorate, to make my own, to staying in a women’s shelter for three weeks, with a dozen of other women and their children coming and going, and then renting my parents basement.

I went from being married, and having a companion, a person to share my life, dreams, and hopes with, my challenges, stresses, and difficulties, a partner to get through the ups and downs of daily life with to going it all alone mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. Being the only one to put my son to bed, or take care of him even when I’m sick or tired or don’t feel like it.

I have made the choice for myself to only have sex within the bounds of marriage, and loosing that part of life has also been a challenge. I do miss the love and intimacy that comes from a sexual relationship with my husband.

And yet, my life is happier and better now than it would have been had I stayed. I sometimes wonder what my life would be had I stayed. How many children would I have? What kind of relationship would they and I have with my family? What kind of job would I have? Where would I be living? What car would I be driving? What kind of abuse would I be experiencing? What state would my marriage be in? That alternate universe I am grateful I can do no more but daydream about.

The lessons and things I have learned because of my divorce and the healing process are painful, beautiful, educational, and irreplaceable. It is a journey I would have never placed myself in, and a journey I am forever grateful I have had.

I love listening to podcasts at work, especially Joel Osteen I want to share a quote from it with you that gave me hope:

“In life we all experience times of loss or have situations where it feels like something has been taken from us. Sometimes it is because of other people’s choices. Other times, it is because of our own choices.

God is a God of restoration. With powerful scriptures such as Joel 2:25 “I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten…” And Psalm 66:12 “We wet through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance,” you will feel hope knowing nothing in life is ever wasted. God can make up lost time. He will bring you out better off than you were before if you trust Him and develop a restoration mentality.”

Year later when I left my husband, my 19 year old thoughts echoed back to me in the form of words from another concerned person. “Are you sure you did everything you could? Don’t you thin you could have tried a little harder?” I did do all I could I tried harder and longer than I needed to. I made the right choice for myself, and my son.

My story is not over. There is still so much for me to do, I do want to be married again, to the right man, in the right time. I want to help others who have gone through or are going through divorce and/or domestic violence. I pray I will continue to learn the lessons I need to learn, and help the people I need to help right now as a single mom. Sometimes I feel I need to be at a certain station in life before I can make a difference, then I am reminded it doesn’t matter where I am or what I do and don’t have, I can be a blessing in other people’s lives now. And so can you.

I urge you to share your own story, teach others the lessons you have learned. Reach out to those who stand in need. There is much you can do, right now, as you are, to help others.