It was right before Valentine’s Day, 2006 when I took my children to the Women and Children in Crisis Shelter. I hadn’t planned on going that night, but I was pretty sure I would have to someday. I just didn’t know when and then I received an unannounced visit from a concerned couple. They were the employers of my husband at the time. They had come from across the country to help me. I hardly knew them and I was humbled. I felt relieved that the secrets surrounding my life were finally being set free. It felt like they were unloading the crushing weight I had been silently carrying around for so long and it was an answer to my prayers.
I had spent months crying out to God for help. Often times it would be at night lying on my back staring at the ceiling in the dark. My prayer had turned into a mantra that I would silently speak in my mind or aloud when I was alone, “Just show me the way Lord! Please just show me how to leave with my children safely.” It was so hard to have hope then. I was praying for that too. My fear and anxiety had increased over the year due to the increase of violence in my home. The man I was married to was increasingly making decisions and comments that were very strange and concerning. I felt more unsafe than ever. I often slept in my clothes with my cell phone and car keys in my pockets. I never knew when an implosion would occur and his actions were becoming more erratic. The cycle of abuse was becoming more frequent. So when this couple arrived (who were a very neutral, third-party) I felt stronger, more hopeful, and very scared.
For years and during this time, I taught elementary school and took my children with me. It was our safe haven. Being with all the children there and soaking in their light and love helped me each day to be able to return to the darkness that enveloped my home and my life there. I was a better mom at school, less stressed, and less preoccupied. My own children would come in my classroom for snacks at recess or to help me after school. They saw me at my best there; a leader, a strong and smart woman, a happy person. It was the opposite at home. My degree and career blessed my family financially, but mostly emotionally at that time.
Then at the end of each school day, we would have to drive home and face the realities of our life there. The contrast between light and darkness was stark and the void between the two becoming greater each day. I remember having to think multiple times about everything I said and did in order to try and avoid his anger and rage that would follow. I never could control his emotions, even though I tried and was always blamed for them. If an implosion occurred or not, it was a game of chance.
I hated it when my children heard or saw any of it. I wished more than a thousand times that I would be the only one hurt by his words and actions. I used to beg him to stop in front of the girls. It didn’t stop him and my begging only made things worse. The worried and scared looks on their faces hurt me more than anything or anyone ever could. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I blamed myself for their pain. I knew I had to do something to protect them. If I couldn’t leave for myself, I needed to leave for them. I just didn’t know how to safely do it.
Then my new friends came. I believed they were an answer to my prayers. The men went to dinner to discuss business while his wife slipped me away to a local bookstore and told me everything. I remember feeling scared of what he would do if he knew that I was with her. She had to reassure me that he wouldn’t and didn’t know we were together. Then I sat and listened and she spoke the truth about his secrets and their concern for my safety and why they came to help me. My first reaction was relief and validation. Everything I had intuitively known and suspected was true. In fact, much worse. First, I felt relief and even uttered out loud, “I’m not crazy!” I had known the truth all along and whenever I had mentioned it or asked questions, I was slammed with his rage. His response was always the same. That I was making it all up and that I was crazy! I had heard him say it so much that I had started to believe it myself and so the words of this woman grounded and validated me. Her concern for my safety and that of my girls increased my own concern because now I knew that the horror of it all was very real and not a figment of my imagination.
Then the fear gripped me. I immediately became overwhelmed with thoughts of how angry he would become when he found out that I knew. Until now, his secrets had been controlled and contained. However, the less control he had of his life, the more he tried to control mine. The knowledge I had just received could ignite a bomb at home. I knew that the time had finally come. It was time to leave for the last time.
A year earlier my sister had given me a card. It was a contact number for The Women and Children in Crisis Center in our county. She didn’t say much. Just that she heard a seminar on Domestic Violence and they listed warning signs that identify a DV relationship. She handed it to me and said, “You need this.” Deep inside I must have realized that too because I hid it under the liner of my purse which I took everywhere. I pulled out the card that night and made the phone call.
I told the young girl on the crisis phone line my situation. I explained that I had three daughters and that I was fearful of my husband and what he would do to me now that I knew his secrets. I told her that I had people helping me. She told me to come as soon as possible and gave me an address of a location within a mile from the shelter. She instructed me to call her when I got there. She would give me the exact location but not until I was nearby and alone with just my girls.
After my first phone call, everything became a blur. I threw belongings for each of us into bags. We had so little time. The girls were a little confused because I couldn’t tell them much, but they were very cooperative. The older two knew what inevitably could happen and they also trusted the help we were now receiving. I know they were grateful for it too.
An overnight was quickly cancelled. School books scooped up. More clothes and blankets thrown in bags. I grabbed a binder of papers and personal documents and then just like that we were gone. Gone from our home that had turned into a place of anger, sadness, and fear. I had tried so hard and for so long to make it something different than what it had become until I realized I could never control his anger. After that gradual realization, I had lived for almost a year waiting for the opportunity to leave and provide a happy, safe life for my daughters. We had been finally blessed with the opportunity to leave safely. We left and never looked back.
I drove to the grocery store parking lot and again called the young volunteer as she had instructed earlier. I needed to know exactly how to get to the shelter now and the clock was ticking. I was anxious and checking the mirrors expecting him to show up any minute enraged by my actions.
She gave me the instructions and said I needed to follow them quickly. I hung up the phone. It was silent and dark and the girls and I were alone for the first time that night. It was like time stood still for just a moment before one of them spoke. “Mom, what’s going to happen next?” I realized that I didn’t know the answer to that question. The fear we felt was different now but it wasn’t as scary. It was the fear of the unknown mixed with more hope. What I did know is that things would be better and we would be helped and so I said, “Honey, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that we are all going to get the help that we need and we will have a place to stay that is safe. We are going to be OK”. Then I drove the short distance to the shelter. We were there in two minutes.
That night we knelt around the assortment of beds in the room we were assigned. I was so grateful we had a private room that night and that we didn’t need to share with strangers. We said family prayer together and we gave thanks. Our prayer was short and we were exhausted. The girls quickly fell asleep. I turned my phone off after calling my parents and letting them know that I was safe and in a safe place with the children. I had started receiving his threatening texts and phone calls and knew that they would go on throughout the night. So, I turned the phone off – the only existing connection I still had to him. I took out the battery, and packed it all away. Even though I was exhausted, I felt a little stronger knowing that I would never have look or listen to a threat again. I was done. It was over.
I would never be going back to that life again. I felt relief for the first time in years but I was also aware that I would have to battle hard to rebuild my life and find myself again. I had been on a train headed for a cliff begging for it to stop for many years, when all along I could never control it or ever stop it. When that realization was finally clear to me, and before the train plunged over the cliff and our lives were all destroyed, I jumped safely with my daughters into the unknown.
I could hear the girls quietly sleeping. Their rhythmic breathing around me and it was soothing. For the first time I could feel myself relaxing and tears filled my eyes and spilled out onto my pillow as I laid on my back praying in the dark, “Thank you for the shelter, Lord. Thank you for my friends. Please keep showing me the way and please, please give me the strength to follow it.”
This family photo was taken about a year and a half after our experience at the Women and Children in Crisis Center (Shelter). We were actively involved in the Aftercare Program they provided. In addition, my daughters were also participating in art therapy and counseling through a licensed child therapist. We were thriving and it was the happiest year of our lives up to that point. There is hope and healing available for families recovering from domestic violence!
For more information regarding domestic violence and resources available:
National Coalition against Domestic Violence
Need to find help or a shelter near you?
Story written by: Wendy Hullinger
You can follow Wendy on her blog A Blog for My Ancestors.
This story appeared first on Real Imprints.