The Secret Sisterhood of Single Mothers

I remember spending moments agonizing about everything I was losing through my divorce and becoming a single mother. The simple things I felt many others took for granted. A sign hanging outside my front door displaying the family surname; HAVING to work full time as I was now my only source of income; not being able to plan a vacation a moments notice (the custody papers state my ex has to have 30 days notice when I take my son out of state). It was those little things I would now never be able to do that once plagued my mind.

I thought about the fact that I have 53 adult relatives. Out of those 53, 40 are married. Out of my 40 married relatives, three of us have ever been divorced. Three. Out of those three, I alone am the only one still single.

Growing up in a Mormon family, the concept of being divorced, let alone a single woman living a thriving successful life is such a foreign idea that I spent years trying to force dating and force finding the right man. I tried to fit in to what was expected of me, and to what, seemed so easy for the rest of my family. My blood relatives. The people who I thought, were the most like me. I used to think ‘what do they get that I don’t’.

After spending so much time agonizing about the ‘could haves’ ‘what if’s’ and ‘should be’s’ I have finally come to peace with what is.

At this moment I am sitting in my bedroom while my best friend is having brain surgery. Our two twelve year old son’s have spent all day running around, playing video games, jumping on the trampoline, and just plain old having a good time. I took them to their soccer and basketball games this morning. I’ve fed them and asked them to do chores. It is all peaceful. My friend is in the hospital with her dad, boyfriend, and older son tending to what they need to. I am here for her, as a single friend. (We have spent time being single together).

This may be a dramatic example of how single mothers help each other, but it’s the example that really opened my eyes to what is. I have single mother friends who I have vacationed with, laughed with, cried with, tended to every day chores like grocery shopping and cleaning with, helped them move, a huge variety of activities I had thought I had lost in my divorce, but now see I always had, just in a different way.

There is a secret sisterhood of single mothers that exists that we may not even be aware of ourselves. This sisterhood provides much of what is lost from having that partner. Someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to admit your stresses and fears to. Someone to listen and suggest ways to budget money, parent our kids, or even date.

I feel blessed to see that sisterhood and be a part of something so beautiful.

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Then and Now, Coming Full Circle

then now

“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.

Okay, Open Your Eyes

“Should I close my eyes yet?” I asked as I heard him nearing the top of the stairs. He had been downstairs rummaging around in the basement for a few minutes. Excited to give me my Christmas present early. I was a little apprehensive because I hadn’t even bought his Christmas present yet.

“Yes close your eyes.” he said as he peered over the top of the half wall. A hint of mischievousness in his brown eyes.

“And put your arms down.”

I complied. Next thing I knew something large was placed on my lap. “Can I open them?” I inquired.

“Okay, open your eyes.” Came the reply.

I opened my eyes and peered at the large box sitting on my lap. I could see through the corner of my eyes that he was recording my reaction with his phone.

I had suspected what the gift was, and I was right. What I was wrong about was my reaction to the gift sitting on my lap. In imagining the moment, several possibilities of my reaction to the expensive gift now sitting on my lap ran through my mind from excitement to asking him to take the gift back. None of them were what actually happened.

“You gave me a TV.” I squeaked. I brushed my fingers across the cardboard box and couldn’t bring myself to look at him. “Thank you.” I said because that’s what you are supposed to say when someone gives you a gift.

“You’re welcome” he smiled. He stopped the recording and put the phone away. I still couldn’t look at him. “Are you gonna cry?”

I didn’t know. “No.” Came the immediate reply.

“Do I need to leave the room so you can cry?” He began to back away.

I peeked at him over the large box sitting on my lap and nodded slightly. “No.” Came the word.

I looked back at the box. So many thoughts and feelings had hit me at once that I wasn’t thinking or feeling anything at that moment.

“Why did you get me a TV?”  I whispered.

“Because it’s something you would never get yourself.”

The moment he said the words, I knew it was true. I had just bought my house and was loving having my own place. The fact that I had day dreamed about having a house for myself and my son and I was finally doing it as a single mom. The fact that I was giving hope to other single moms because I owned my own home. The fact that at least once a day still four months after buying my house the thought I’m actually doing it, I have my own house. I can do this. ran through my head. The fact that I remember hearing somewhere that the best gift to give someone is a gift they would never buy for themselves. All these things and still I knew that buying a TV was at the bottom of the totem pole of things I wanted to buy for my house.

I nodded my head. It was the only response I could give as all those thoughts hit me at once.

I set the box down on the floor next to me as he sat beside me on the couch. I was panicking a little because I was worried that what I had in mind to buy him would not be good enough. Then the memories began to flood my mind. I bit the inside of my lip.

I remembered the day my ex and I went looking for a new car for me. I remember how I felt like I didn’t deserve a new car and I couldn’t have one. I remember how when he got a new car it was for him to drive and I wasn’t allowed to even back it out of the driveway. I remembered leaving my ex three days before Christmas and staying in the woman’s shelter with my then 12 month old son during the holidays and leaving all the gifts under the tree, including the scrap booking gift I knew my ex had gotten me that I had wanted really bad for so very long. I remembered the engagement ring my ex had given me, the tiny diamond and thin metal, meant to be a fashion ring. He hadn’t paid more than he would for a video game for himself.

Tears began to brim my eyes. I bit my lip harder.

I began to cry.

I buried my face in his chest. He just held me. “Why are you crying?” I couldn’t even answer him, the thoughts keep flashing  into my mind. I only cried harder. His husky moaned and came over to the huddled mess I had become. “Why are you crying?” I still could not bring the words to my lips. I cried harder. “You’re making me and Sammy worried.” he referenced the husky still standing next to us. And then he let me cry until I could talk.

I told him the memories that had flashed through my mind earlier. “And for some reason I tied the value of the gifts I have been given to my self-worth.” I ended the memory flash. Then I pointed to the TV, “And I’m worth that?” I choked out as more tears flooded out of my eyes and sobs filled my throat. I had no idea what he was thinking of the crying mess curled up on his lap. I felt ashamed for my outburst and I felt my tears would be seen as manipulation.

He held me as I cried. He let me get it all out. Then he did something unthinkable. He asked to see me. He asked me to look at him. I was a blubbering mess with hot tears and slimy snot and smeared makeup all over my face, the last thing I wanted was for him to see me like that. I slowly pulled my hands away. They were filled with snot. Everything in my being was fighting against this. “You’re not supposed to see me like this.” I complained.

“Why not.”

“Because I’m ugly.”

“You’re beautiful.”

I looked in his eyes skeptically. I could see he meant it. I cried harder.

“It’s okay to be vulnerable.” he continued. “I love seeing who you really are rather than you trying to hide it all the time.” I grabbed a tissue and mopped up my face and hands.

“I don’t want to be seen as weak.”

“Did you ever think you don’t have to be the strong one all the time? I know how hard Christmas time is for you and I know how hard receiving gifts is for you. Why do you think I started small with a camera and then moved up to a laptop from there?” He said listing the gifts he had given me over the few years we have been together.

I stared at him shocked that he even cared enough to ‘see’ me.

“You are worth a TV. You are worth so much more than that. You are worth marrying.”

I calmed down and just listened to him. He was saying the words I have longed to hear, the words I did not believe about myself. I knew as he spoke that I wasn’t ready for marriage, even though I wanted to be. I knew that if I couldn’t handle a TV as a Christmas gift that a proposal would be way over the top. I knew that no matter how much I wanted to have it and how much I wanted to be ready for that next step that I wasn’t. I knew what I had begun to suspect a while ago, that even though I said the words often that I wanted to get married, if he actually did ask me to marry him, my true answer would be no. Not yet. Despite my frustration that it has been 9 years since I left my abuser, I was still healing. There were deep and lasting wounds from both my marriage and my childhood that I need to work through first. And I knew somehow that this moment, this admitting to myself and to him that I was still afraid and not actually ready was a big piece to that healing. And it was okay to be exactly where I am on my journey.

Little did I know  when my boyfriend had told me to open my eyes, I would see much more than a TV on my lap. I would see that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to be imperfect, and it’s okay to just be.

Open your eyes.

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

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.

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.