What Can I Do to Help Her?

“I think my daughter is in a domestic violent relationship. What can I do to help her?”

“I’m sorry, but there is nothing you can do until she is ready for the help. Do you know if it’s physical?”

“Not that I know of yet. I think it’s just emotional right now. I don’t understand why she is putting up with this. This is not the daughter I raised.”

“You have no idea what life is like for her right now and what she is going through.”

When people find out that I work to help people who experience domestic violence, the most common question I get is ‘How can I help my sister, or daughter, or friend who is in a Domestic Violent relationship?’

And the answer is scary. The answer is: you can’t. The reason the answer is so scary is because it leaves the person asking in a vulnerable and powerless place.

It’s scary because you have to watch this person you love live in an unhealthy relationship. You have to watch them make choices you thought they would never make. You feel there is nothing you can say or do that will influence them in any way. And you become afraid that since they are making those choices you never thought they would make, that they will never make that choice to walk away. So what can you do?

Contact your Local Domestic Violence Shelter

Yes! Do this! How do you find it? Google is your friend!!! I have so many people ask me for the info of the local shelter. If you know someone who knows, reach out to them. If you don’t, Google knows!!! That’s it’s job. Use it.

The shelter can send you information. You can educate yourself on an exit plan (or download my free exit plan here).

The first and best thing you can do is educate yourself. When I finally left, it was unplanned. I saw an opportunity to leave and I took it. I was lucky. Since I had been given information, I had copies of all of my important documents and three days worth of clothes for myself and my son. I knew where the nearest women’s shelter was and I went there.

Be There For Her

I know it’s frustrating that your loved one doesn’t seem to listen. I know you feel helpless. I know those things can make you want to cut ties. It happens. Please be there for her. In the way she needs it. Be there as much as you can. Her abuser may do what he can to make sure she cuts ties with you. Please don’t let this happen. Be there and be ready for when she does leave.

Be Aware of How You Speak About Her Abuser to Her

Alright. I know this one sounds crazy, just go with me. The more you tell her that her abuser is a jerk or a horrible person, the more she will actually pull away from you. It’s hard to explain the mindset of someone in a Domestic Violent relationship, but here’s a small insight: she still loves her abuser, she wants to feel like she made the ‘right’ choice in choosing to be with him, she still has hope in their relationship.

Instead, change your language in how you talk to her. Draw her attention to the things he does that are abusive, not the way he is. The two need to be separated. When she is told he is a bad person, she will shut down and not listen because she does have evidence of him being a good person. When she is told his actions are not acceptable she is able to separate his actions from his person.

Give To A Shelter

Often times women and children walk into a shelter with absolutely nothing. And not only do they have to face becoming homeless and having zero possessions, they also have to face the legal side of restraining orders, custody battles, lawyers, and giving the power over who decides where their kids will go to a stranger (a judge) to decide for them. It’s scary as hell.

Anything that is donated gives these women and children at least one thing to hold onto and become their very own, which in a world where everything is taken away, feels invaluable. If you can’t help the one person you want to help, help the whole.

Be Patient

Above all else. Please be patient. Remember this is her journey. She will leave when and if it’s right for her. The more you can come from a place of patience and love, the less frustrated and upset you will be. This will help you be there for her when she is ready. This will help her have the one beacon of safety she can cling to. Be patient.

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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.

 

Then and Now, Coming Full Circle

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“I could come join you.” I pressed send on the text.

“You could stop by here for a bit. We are going till 5.”   came the reply.

I had just gotten off work and my boyfriend had been volunteering at the Spirit of Giving event at the local women’s shelter. I started driving toward the shelter. I turned on the radio and immersed myself in the music and the business of driving. No thoughts really in my head.

As I neared the shelter, out of nowhere, a full on panic attack suddenly raked my body. I hadn’t had a panic attack like that in years. I began sucking in air and talking to myself. Talking away the memories that began rushing, unbidden, into my head. Flashbacks. The Friday before Christmas. The end of the work day. The snow and ice on the roads. So much in common. I tried to push the thoughts away, but they would not budge. I knew I would just have to work through it. I was getting closer. I will be okay. I thought. It’s okay. This is good for me. I’m okay.

Every inch closer to the shelter became more painful. The flashbacks became more frequent. I felt I was reliving that day. The baby in the back seat. The diaper bag. The feeling of fear, uncertainty, dread, terror. Knowing that I had to keep going, I pulled into the parking lot and the cries began to escape my lips. I breathed it in. You are okay. Everything will be fine. This is a good thing. This is therapy. It’s been 9 years. I knew it was a panic attack. I knew it would keep coming and the only way to get through it would be to go through it. Even though every fiber of my being wanted me to turn away, I parked my car. I cried as I climbed out. I began walking up the sidewalk and the flashbacks continued. I barely had enough sense to force myself to look calm. There were people around me. I partly didn’t want them to think I was there to seek shelter and I partly felt I needed to be an example and that if I broke down, it would give other women who may be leaving permission to break down. I felt standing outside the shelter was the time to be strong. I could break down later.

I breathed heavily and flashbacks came again. Christmas time. 9 years ago. The feelings, oh the feelings were crushing me. Breathe. I told myself breathe. All at once I was grateful for all I had gone through and all I had learned up till this point to be ready for this moment. I knew that I would make it through. I walked into the building and couldn’t even look at anybody. I completely avoided looking at the door that was once the door to where I had lived for 30 days.

I wasn’t sure exactly where to go, and knew that I couldn’t talk to the receptionist behind the glass to ask for direction. That would be too much to handle and I knew I would break down into sobs if I did talk to her. Just like I had 9 years ago. I walked past the receptionist and headed straight for the community room. I was in luck. I saw the girl who had become my friend as I occasionally volunteered for the shelter. She saw me and smiled and asked if I was there to volunteer. I muttered yes and her boyfriend took one look at me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t hiding it as well as I thought. I looked at him and shook my head. My friend looked at me, and I rushed to explain.

It was exactly nine years ago today that I had walked into that building with my then 12 month old son seeking shelter and reprieve from my abuser. Exactly nine years ago.The memories were rushing into my head and harder for me to handle than I had thought. But I wanted to be there. I needed to be there. I knew for me, this was a huge step in my healing process. I clenched my fist and could feel my fingernails dig into my palms. She expressed her concern and I assured her it was where I wanted to be. I went to go find my boyfriend to say hi before I started my shift. He was outside loading up cars with the gifts that the shelter was providing to the women who were either currently staying or had recently stayed at the shelter. Making sure their kids got a good Christmas. The second he saw me, he knew. I still explained a little while he hugged me and reassured me. I spent a few minutes with him. Helping. I knew I couldn’t go back in the building quite yet. When I was ready I reported to my post and got caught up in serving and helping others.

As the night was winding down, a volunteer was walking down the hall. She stopped at our table to rest. She had three bags full of gifts she was taking downstairs to the distribution hub. Without really thinking I volunteered to help her take the gifts downstairs. I grabbed one of the bags and walked down the hall, opening doors for her. She guided me to the door to go downstairs. I opened it and let her down first. When I stepped in to follow her, I stopped in my tracks. Behind the door I avoided looking at when I first got to the shelter was a set of stairs that looked just like these. I flashed back to walking up those stairs to get to the shelter. My well trained brain I have consciously taught for years to not give in to negative or hurtful thinking jumped immediately to It’s okay, you’re going down, not up, it might look the same, but it’s different. Then my brain deferred to it’s past programming. Yeah. The thought came. But remember walking down stairs like these to get to the basement to do the laundry? This is just like that. I only hesitated slightly as I pushed that thought away and reminded myself that that was then, and this is now. It’s nine years later and I’m serving others this time.

We dropped the gifts off in the basement. My boyfriend had moved down here to help prepare the packages. I greeted him, and after a few short minutes decided to return to my post. I turned, alone this time, to go up the stairs. I took a few steps toward the door and stopped. I breathed. I tapped my toe on the floor. I began walking again. As I took each step up, I began hyperventilating again. The feelings came back. The thoughts returned. Fear. Uncertainty. Dread. Terror. I forced myself to keep going. Once I reached the top, just a short one flight of stairs, I sucked in deep breaths and the anxiety was fully upon me. I walked toward the community room. The hall was empty and the event was winding down. I quickly stepped down a side hall and saw an empty large cardboard box against the wall. I hid behind it and sank to the floor as I began sobbing uncontrollably. Three parts because of the panic attack and the memories and feelings flooding my body and one part because I was disappointed in myself for breaking down. I let myself cry though, just for a little while. I half expected I was loud enough that someone would come check on me. I was able to cry in peace. I stood up and wiped away my tears and met up with everyone who was finishing up the volunteer effort. It was just one short hour of my time volunteering, but it was nine years worth of heartache and anxiety that had flooded my body. And I knew it was good I had finally come full circle and I knew I was ready to step forward and and do my part to help more women.

7 Pillars to Healing From Domestic Violence Introduction

7 Pillars HalfI woke up Christmas morning to what was perhaps one of the most horrible days of my life. I could feel the fear coursing through my veins and pumping into my heart, all I wanted was to take my 12 month old back to the shelter where I knew we would be safe. I rolled out of my sisters bed that we had shared that night and checked on my son. I honestly don’t even remember much more of that morning. I’m guessing we opened gifts and ate breakfast, although I do remember there wasn’t much for me or my son. Our Christmas was all wrapped up underneath the tree at my house, the one place I wanted to be the least. I decided to stay at my parents house that night rather than the women’s shelter I had checked in to 3 days earlier, after all, it was Christmas. I remember most how frightened I was that night that my then husband or father in law would find out where I was. I had visions of them breaking in through my sisters window in the middle of the night and taking my son from me. I had parked blocks away down a small forgotten street and carried my son through all the snow in an effort to keep them from knowing where I was. All I wanted to do was to get back to the safety of that shelter. There was a part of me that thought about my then husband, sitting in our house, all alone, with the Christmas tree and all our Christmas presents. My heart ached for him, a little. Still, I knew I was making the right choice and that going back was not an option. I had to turn off my emotions in a sense, and instead focus on survival. I couldn’t dwell on those thoughts or worry about him, not any more. My safety and future as well as that of my son were at stake.

I packed everything up and drove back to the women’s shelter. I walked up the four flights of stairs and in to the empty shelter, my son and I were the only ones who were currently seeking shelter. It was quiet and lonely. There was at least one intake worker at the shelter at all times, a woman could come seeking shelter at any moment, it wasn’t just a Monday through Friday type of deal. She asked where I had been, and I explained that I had stayed at my parents house for Christmas Eve. She berated me telling me that I could be kicked out for not coming back to the shelter before curfew the previous night. I fumbled around in my head and remembered checking in and being told of the 9 o’clock curfew. I honestly just thought that if I wasn’t back by curfew time, that I would have to stay somewhere else that night, I didn’t realize being gone past curfew was grounds for being kicked out. Luckily, she forgave me my misunderstanding and I was allowed to stay. She brought me several age appropriate toys that had been donated by complete strangers. She explained that usually the kids at the shelter only get one toy each for Christmas, but since my son and I were the only ones there, she gave us a few more. She asked if I wanted to wrap them. I don’t know if I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit or if it was just because my son was 12 months old and I figured unwrapping gifts wouldn’t be such a big deal to him. I declined and took the toys out of their packaging and gave them to my son. It was shortly after that that more women some alone, and some with children began to check in to the shelter.

In the four weeks I was there, I was the one who stayed the longest. Women and and children checked in and out of the shelter, some there for their second, third, or fourth stay. I remember sitting in a classroom full of other abused women, we were being taught what domestic violence was, how the cycle worked, how to recognize it, and how to avoid getting into another domestic violent relationship. I remember the teacher talking and my mind wandered. I was thinking ‘This is never where I thought I would end up. This is never how I thought my life would be. Now I’m going to be divorced and a single mom. My dreams of being a stay at home mom with several children running around are over. What am I going to do with my life? Who is ever going to want me? I have nothing. I have three days worth of clothes for me and my son. I’m considered homeless. This is never where I thought I would end up. What am I going to do now?’ Immediately the answer rushed into my head, and it was this answer that got me through some of the darkest moments, it is this answer that I think of on nearly a daily basis and drives much of what I do to this day. I heard a voice say ‘Brandy, you are going to be alright. You are going to make it through, and you are going to come back and teach other women what you have learned.’ 

Since that day, I have invested nearly a decade of my life, and thousands of dollars in to learning everything I could so I could truly help others, and I am continuing to do so. The 7 Pillars to Healing from Domestic Violence covers the 7 types of abuse, and how to heal from each one. I am continuing to expand on these 7 pillars and will be releasing an in depth program soon.

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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.

Be Quiet!

“He’s calling! Turn off the radio! Everyone, Be Quiet!!!” I shouted to my Sisters, Mom, and Grammy as my cell phone trilled. An instant silence over took the mini van as they obeyed. I flipped open the small device, “Hello” I muttered into speaker. “Hi, I got off early, I’m on my way home.” the sentence shot fear deep into my bones and back out and began crawling on my skin. I tried my best to carry on a normal conversation with my husband not wanting to tip him off to the fact I wasn’t home.

It was Friday, December 22nd, I had recently turned 24, and I had spent the day taking my 12 month old son to see my Grammy who was visiting us in Utah from Arizona for the month. We had enjoyed the day together and were driving back from a movie with my two sisters. I quickly ended the phone conversation and expressed my urgency to get to my mom’s house and drive my son and myself to my home before my husband got there. He had gotten off work early that Friday as a Christmas surprise. I went from expecting him home in a few hours to a few minutes. I knew he would be furious I had left the house, especially so I could spend time with my family.

As I began driving my car home with my son buckled in the back, my phone began ringing. I looked at my husbands name on the caller ID, took a deep breath, and answered the phone, knowing that would be the less painful option. “Hello?” “Where are you?!” Snapped into my ear. I admitted to spending time with my family and was immediately rewarded with a barrage of yelled words simply meant to make me feel guilty and inflict pain.

I had been married to this man for just over three and a half years. Our twelve month old son was unplanned, and I remember the fear that gripped me when I learned I was expecting, normally a time of excitement and rejoicing for most expectant mothers, for me I could feel the shackles clamp tighter around my ankles and wrists and the rope tighten around my neck. A divorce with a child involved would be much more complicated.

The more and more he continued to verbally berate me and the closer and closer I got to my home, the less and less I wanted to be there. I placated him, and was able to get him off the phone, escaping from the verbal abuse. Fear and adrenaline coursing through my veins, I pulled into the driveway of the place I least wanted to be. My own home. I immediately pulled back out and drove away.

I didn’t know where I was going, only that I wasn’t ready to walk into my front door to a fuming husband. My mind began racing, thinking of places I could go. I was ready. I glanced at the clock it was nearly 5 pm on Friday, Christmas only three days away. Would a law firm be open? Could I file for divorce right now? I kept driving, not knowing were I was going, only that I had to get away.

I found my car pulling into the parking lot of the local woman’s shelter. I had been in contact with the shelter, knowing that I would soon be leaving my husband, I just didn’t think it would be today. When I first went to the shelter, it was for information, I knew enough that I had a small bag packed with three days worth of clothes for my son and me, copies of important documents, and a small package of diapers in my trunk.

I turned off my car, pulled the small duffle bag from my trunk, unbuckled my son from his car seat, hunched against the cold air and walked across the snowy parking lot to the entrance.

The building was old with thin carpet and 90’s decor. The layer of plastic wood looking laminate covering the reception desk was chipping away. There was a young girl standing behind it packing up to go home.

I bravely walked up to her and the words, “I need shelter.” tumbled out of my mouth. The action of admitting this was tumultuous, tears began pouring out of my eyes, a flood emotions rushed out of my heart down each of my limbs and back again, my brain began spinning as I imagined where I would be taken. In my mind, I saw cots lining a gymnasium, a soup kitchen, public bathrooms, no showers, no fun, no toys, everything was tinted grey in my mind. I was leaving a home for that?

The young receptionist picked up the phone and began whatever the process to get me admitted. I sat down on the maroon fabric cushioned metal chair with my son on my knee, and tried to hold back the tears.

Soon I was taken up to the top floor, the intake worker sat with me in her tiny office as I began to fill out paper work rating the type and severity of abuse I had been going through. It was so weird to be writing it down on paper and filing out a questionnaire. My recently walking son was wobbling around dropping and picking up a small plush elephant toy, he had no idea how his life was about to change.

I was blessed, and the workers there were sweet and kind, the counselor stayed after her shift to give me a tour make sure I was going to be okay. The shelter was much more homey than I had imagined. There was a large open room that was separated into two parts: a living room area with a big screen satellite TV and large, comfy couches, and a dining room area with a large table that could seat about 12 people and three high chairs. Satelliting out from that room was the intake room and a couple of offices for the therapists, then a small playroom with toys and books and movies, a large kitchen with a fridge and a pantry stock piled with food, and five separate bedrooms. Three of the bedrooms had two sets of bunk beds, a single twin bed, and a full bathroom, and two of them had cribs in lieu of one of the sets of bunk beds I chose one with a crib.

I spent an hour or so talking to the counselor, she explained the rules, the chores, the expectations, the curfew (9pm and if I wasn’t back in by then, with the exception of working a job, I’d be kicked out), and briefly talked to me about my situation. I was at that time, the only woman staying in the shelter, but with the holidays approaching, they were expecting more. Then the counselor left, rushing home to begin the Christmas weekend with her family. It had been explained to me there was an intake worker there 24/7, answering calls on the hotline and helping any women who might show up, other than that, it was just me and my son in a big, empty, strange place.

Meanwhile, my husband had no clue where I had gone, all he had known was that I hadn’t shown up to our home with my son. After I hadn’t been answering my cell phone, he began calling my family and friends to try tracking me down, no one knew where I was. My family and friends were not allowed to have my cell phone number, otherwise, I’m sure there would have been missed calls from them as well. I knew I had to bite the bullet and tell my husband I wasn’t coming home.

I flipped open my cell phone and dialed his number. I wasn’t as afraid of him as normal, I had been blessed with comfort and peace and I knew that he would not find us here, and even if he did, I knew there were security measures to keep him out. When he answered I did not tell my husband where we were, only that we were safe and not coming home and then I hung up the phone, I did not have to listen to him screaming and spewing pain and guilt on me anymore.

I called my parents next, and told them where I was and what had transpired. They offered for me to stay with them, and I explained my fears of my husband coming and physically taking my son away from me. I had left my ex once before when our son was just two months old, and upon returning my father in law invited me to his house, took me into a room alone and told me this, “I have worked for the county, and I have worked for the city, I know all of the judges, and all of the judges dirty laundry, if you EVER leave my son again, you WILL NOT get custody of yours.” I was doing what I felt would keep me and my son safe.

As my son continued to play, I text my three closest friends and told them what I had done and they all offered their support, love, and encouragement. I made dinner for us both, fed and bathed my son, then put him to bed in the strange crib. He fell asleep quickly, I stayed up for a short while, flipping through the channels, but my mind was racing. Christmas was just three days away, I had walked away from my home, my tree, and the presents that were lying beneath it. My only possessions being my car, and three days worth of clothes for my son and me.

I went into the bedroom and knelt in prayer. I poured my heart out to The Lord, told him my fears, and asked for help and strength to get through the upcoming weeks. I knew that a divorce from my husband would not be a simple and easy process. I climbed into the bed and looked out the window. The white Mormon temple was lit up across the street, its brightness and warmth glowing in the black winter sky, the sight brought me comfort and peace. I cuddled into the blankets and cried myself to sleep.