I am a Survivor...
I lay on the cold hard floor for what seemed like hours waiting for him to leave. I prayed that my three children were still in a deep slumber and didn’t hear me begging their father for my life as he wrapped his hands around my throat and threw me to the floor.
I finally heard the garage door slam and his truck start up. The rumble of that engine had always sent a sense of terror through my body as I would hear it tear into the driveway each evening as he returned from work. In that moment, I felt some relief when his truck ripped away, yet I had no idea how long until his return and knew in that moment that enough was enough. I wasn’t going to re-live that moment, ever again. I felt so powerless with his hands wrapped around my throat, taking my breath and life away, little by little.
It was my children that gave me the strength to peel myself up off that floor that night. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I struggled to pull my beaten and bruised body and heart off the floor, I was starting a new journey.
I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know if anyone would help me. I didn’t know if anyone would believe me. There was a whole world of unknowns out there. The fear was almost debilitating. I remembered a friend telling me of a shelter for “women like me.” I was hesitant to call the crisis line number my friend had given me because what could they possibly do to help me? How could someone even begin to understand why I had never left? Out of sheer desperation, I called. I had to do something; I knew he would be back soon.
“Crisis Line,” answered a voice on the other end of the line. I was terrified. What do I even say?
“I think I need help,” I said.
“Of course, can you please tell me about your situation,” a gentle voice replied. After I frantically explained 16 years of abuse in two minutes, the tender voice on the other end of the phone detailed a plan with me to meet her at a safe haven for me and my children.
It was 3:30 a.m. when I arrived at the shelter. There was an advocate waiting for my children and me. We were each embraced with a hug. She took the tiny hands of my children and guided them through a warm haven. She sat on the bed with my two youngest children and explained to them that she was mommy’s friend and this was her house. She helped me tuck each child into bed and with snuggled them until all their fears were remedied and they drifted off to sleep.
The advocate and I sat on the couch for hours talking about the last 16 years. I cried...she held my hand. She then tucked me into bed with my children and promised the team at River City Domestic Violence Center would tend to our every need after we got some much needed rest.
When I woke the next morning, it took me a moment to collect my thoughts. My first thought was that I had finally hit rock bottom--look at me; I’m in a shelter. Those daunting words of my friend came spiraling back through my mind, “a place for women like you.” I was walking down the hallway to the kitchen, overwhelmed with a thousand emotions and questioning if I had made the right decision by coming to this place. It was in that moment I encountered another woman. She warmly introduced herself and stated she was also an advocate with RCDVC. As she hugged me she asked if I got a good rest and told me how glad she was that my children and I were in their facility, safe. Moments later, my four children came wandering down the hallway.
It warmed my heart to see the advocate giggling and snuggling with my babies as she helped them get breakfast. She treated each of my children as if they were her very own. It had been years since I had seen my children at ease with their environment—she made them feel safe again. Every doubt that had started to enter my mind was now gone. I knew this place was where we needed to be. I looked around. It didn’t look like a shelter; it looked like a temporary home for me and my family. I was still unsure of what the words “women like you” meant, but at this point I was convinced this was a blessing for a “woman like me.”
After breakfast and many threatening text messages from my husband to come home, I decided I needed a protection order. One advocate sat with me for four hours completing the protection order paperwork while another advocate embraced my children. The protection order mandated that my husband had to remain 500 ft. from me at all times and could have no contact with me. It also mandated that he had the right to see our children and ordering us to use River City Family Connections to exchange our four babies.
I met with a member of the Family Connections Team. She sat with me and explained how supervised exchanges occurred. She explained that she would make all contacts with my husband to line up visitation and she would escort the children from me to their father without us having contact.
Family Connections quickly became another temporary home for my children. The staff greeted the kids with a hug at each exchange and made each of them feel important during their interactions.
It wasn’t long after we started exchanges that one of my daughters reported to me that she had been sexually assaulted by her father during their time together. This news wreaked havoc on my entire world. I felt worthless as a mother. The thoughts haunted me daily that if I would have just stayed with him I could have protected my daughter from this heinous act.
When this information was revealed to me, the staff of River City Domestic Violence Center and River City Family Connections united as one to ensure my family we would be cared for. The teams of these two agencies helped me file the appropriate reports and had my daughter examined by a forensic interviewer. This team help me navigate through every up and down I struggled through for over four years. During this time, it was ordered that my husband could only see our children under the supervision of the Family Connections team.
Though it is beyond my understanding, my daughter was not entirely fearful of her father after he made her vulnerable to him. She carried on seeing him during visitations. She would have moments of weakness where she would become emotional because, in her young mind, she simply could not understand why we were all living this way. In those moments of weakness, I truly depended on the staff of Family Connections to embrace her and find the words to give her the peace that an angry mother full of rage could not provide. The staff held my daughter as she cried after her visits with her father and seemed to take on every emotion she was feeling. It was like a bond I had never witnessed…my daughter felt safe.
My ex-husband and father to my children is completely out of all of our lives now. The void he left in our family has been filled with the new family we inherited on that night so long ago, as I lay on that cold hard floor.
Expressions of Gratitude
How Would You Respond?
Every day at River City Domestic Violence Center is about reaching out to victims of domestic violence and taking strides to make homes in our community safer; as a community we all play a role in this critical endeavor. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Have you ever considered how you might respond if you witnessed an act of domestic violence upon a stranger or if someone you love is being abused?
At some point in our lives, we have all been in that uncertain position where we see or hear something scary—our gut tells us it’s not right and something bad is happening. As humans, often, in these situations it’s easier to walk away, not ask questions, and not get involved in something that is “none of our business”. But isn’t it “our business” to take care of others in a day, to be a voice for those who do not have a voice, to reach out a warm embrace in another’s darkest hour… aren’t these actions necessary to maintain good and hope in all of our lives?
Every day, I encounter a new victim of domestic violence in our community. Every day I hear stories of heart ache and pain… brutal assaults of the heart and body. Buried in all these stories is loneliness- a victim who feels she/he has been abandoned by those she/he loves and abandoned by the world because she/he “allows” this cycle of abuse to continue to occur(in the eyes of others). As a society, we find ourselves abandoning things we cannot always understand.
There are many factors why we don’t get involved when we see someone, anyone, struggling with domestic violence- maybe we just assume someone else will help, we don’t know what to do or say, we are fearful there may be consequences. We weigh out every possibly question of what may happen if we get involved. A more important question is “what may happen if we don’t get involved?”. By getting involved you may be saving a precious life.
I was out in this community we all call our home, one day, shopping and trying on clothes. As I entered the fitting room of a local business, I encountered another woman. She was on her cell phone frantically telling what sounded like an angry male on the other end that she had to go and she promised him she would be home by 8pm that evening. She hung up the phone and walked to her fitting room. She not once made eye contact and was very visibly shaken. I asked her “How are you?” As she looked up at me… she had a very visible black eye that she had tried to conceal by looking at the ground during our interactions. In that moment, I could have done many of different things… but I reach out and touch her arm and asked her 3 very important words… “Are you ok”? She started to cry… and said “Yes, I’m fine”. She then walked away. As I left the fitting rooms, I approached her again and explained to her that I can see that she is visibly frightened. I explained to her that I only wanted her to know if she ever feels alone, scared for her safety or needs someone to talk to there is help. I told her if she ever reached a moment that she was ready to talk about her struggles there are advocates at River City Domestic Violence Center that can help- they can be her pillar of strength, they can just listen, they can lend support and hold her hand in her darkest hour without judgement. She didn’t say a word… just looked at the ground and walked away.
A few weeks later, I received a call on the crisis line from a woman who said she had a brief encounter with a woman who promised her our agency would help. I invited her to come to the Center so we could talk. As I opened the door, I immediately recognized the woman from the fitting room at the local business. She instantly started to cry and said “you are the woman from the store!” She and I worked together over the years. She is now a survivor of domestic abuse.
When I encountered this broken woman in the store-was I terrified, for a million reasons to approach her? Absolutely! Although I was scared, I realized in that moment that we were both scared but for very different reasons. She was scared for her LIFE. We, at River City, encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, be bold, be safe… but reach out to those in need. You may be saving a life. We have a very strong philosophy within the walls of our agency , that being :“Be the change you want to see in the world”- Mother Teresa. Help us let victims of domestic violence know they are not alone.
How can you help:
Desiree Warren- Johnson