Many survivors find strength and healing in telling their stories to others. Their insight and inspiration can save lives. I struggled writing this piece because only a small handful of people know my story. In the end, you’ll know only part of it, but what I hope you take away from it is this: Domestic violence victims can come in all shapes and sizes. They aren’t always timid, quiet, and weak, as they are often stereotyped to be in movies and on TV. They might very well be a bit more like me; outspoken, confident, lighthearted and outgoing.
For less than 1 year, I was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by my then-partner. That short period of time changed me forever. Looking back, I realize now how brainwashed I was at the time, thinking that he loved me, that things would get better, that the bruises on my body and literally twisted joints — and more hurtful than even those, the awful mean things he said to me — were all my fault. My abuser often would leave guns out so I could see them and would on occasion hold a loaded gun to my head. He managed to convince me that I didn’t have the ability to care for my two children from a previous relationship so I signed over custody to family members. I now see this was a tactic to isolate me from everyone who cared about us. After becoming pregnant by this person and being assaulted to the point that my child was born 10 weeks early, I knew I needed to make a change for my baby. I had no idea which way to go.
A deputy whom I appreciate more than he will ever know got me in touch with The Haven for court advocacy and shelter, little did he know that one phone call would create a relationship that has spanned 11 years and would change my life forever.
The Haven saved my life. Not in a metaphorical way, but in a very literal way. If I didn’t reach out for help when I did, there is a very high chance I wouldn’t be alive today. My story is not something that I intend to keep hidden from the world anymore, I’m sharing this part of my life with the hope that my story will stick with you, such that more domestic violence victims can be saved by advocates who take the time to genuinely listen and ask questions.
To this day the smell of a particular cologne will send me into a sheer panic attack. It’s so crazy how trauma affects our brain. I often called the shelter even a year or two after exiting to chat with my advocates about something new and exciting going on or current struggles that I was experiencing on my journey. Eventually, I was awarded sole custody of my son, he has not seen our abuser in close to eight years. Even with that victory the support I found at The Haven never ended. I never heard, “Rachael you don’t need us anymore!” I finally found a place to turn, it felt great.
My boys are now 15, 13, and 11. They are well rounded and loving individuals who are growing up to be great men. I wouldn’t change a thing about our past as it has made us who we are, but as a family, we strive to end domestic violence in our community and on behalf of my family I would like to thank you all for helping The Haven to provide these life-altering services to people like me every day with your contributions.
-Rachael, program participant for over 11 years