This is the personal story of a recent graduate from the transitional housing program at the Women’s Resource Center.
I grew up in a home where I was taught that the role of a woman was to be a mother and a wife. Men were in charge of the family, and the women, whether right or wrong, were always wrong. After graduating from high school, I married at the age of nineteen. During this marriage, my main goal was to raise my children and please my husband. My husband soon learned how to manipulate me by taking advantage of the fact that I wanted to be a good wife. After five years into the relationship, he started cheating on me on a regular basis. Believing that I had to make this marriage work, I stayed with him for a total of ten years. The marriage progressively got worse, leaving me no solution but to leave. Following that divorce, I ended up in two other marriages. The second one became emotionally abusive. I was kept as a prisoner in my own home. I was not allowed to have friends, call or talk to family members or even go to the store without my husband with me. That relationship ended when my husband went to jail for throwing me down the stairs.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson. However, I did not know how to tell whether a man was abusive or not. When I would meet a man I even thought that some of the traits of an abusive man (jealousy, over-possessive, etc.) were signs that he actually cared for me. I also had no self-esteem so when things got bad I would blame myself. Once again I was in an abusive relationship. This marriage was the worst; I was abused mentally, physically, sexually, and financially. It was like living in hell. During this time of my life, I lived in the town that I grew up in. I had many good friends there who helped me to get out of the relationship and into a safe house. The last time that my husband beat me up, the police took him to jail. My sister took my kids for two days while my friends helped me to pack up my belongings and contact a shelter. The bishop of my church then drove me and my children to the shelter. The beginning of a new existence and a whole new perspective on life had just been opened up for me.
The first month I stayed at the Women’s Resource Center’s shelter for abused women. The only thing that I knew about shelters is what I had seen on television. I thought that only crazy people stayed at shelters, and I was afraid of how I would be treated. It was extremely scary, yet for the first time in years I felt safe. I was encircled by other women who had live through the same kind of experiences that I had gone through. Extensive counseling, group meetings and one-on-one case management became part of all of our daily routines. After the thirty days were up, I moved into transitional housing. This is a place of security and growth.
Upon moving in to transitional housing, I was assigned a case manager and a counselor. My case manager helped me learn budgeting, scheduling and other daily life skills. My counselor helped me to understand and learn things about my self. After time and several months of counseling, I began to gain back my self-esteem. Through counseling, we worked on my personal fears and situations in life that helped me to build my self-esteem. Every Tuesday night all the women attend a domestic violence (D.V.) support group. At the D.V. group meetings, my counselor taught us all the red flags of violence, helping us to gain knowledge and become conscious of the dangers of an abuser. Signs of over-possessiveness, jealousy and other similar signs that may be mistaken for “he loves me” are a few of the red flags. During these meeting, women shared their fears and experiences with each other, developing empowerment and friendships. The experiences we shared may be different one from the other, yet were similar in many ways. Knowing what each one of us has been through helps us to understand that we are not alone. One of the aspects that we were taught at these meetings is that we are not victims, but instead survivors. All of these support systems became the fountain of my development for a brighter and greater future.
The transitional house that I moved into is like a community of its own. I was given a two bedroom apartment upstairs where fifteen other families reside. The upstairs portion of the building was like a whole separate world divided from the outside. We became a close unity; worries and uncertainties that anyone had subsided as each person here supported the other. If someone became interested in a certain guy friend, each one of us would automatically look for signs of red flags. For example, one of the girls where we lived met a handsome man from her school who had asked her out to dinner and the movies. After dating him for a couple of weeks, he became possessive of her. He would call her night and day, questioning where she had been and what she was doing. This is most definitely one of the red flags, a warning sign that the person had tendencies of being abusive. When my friend would talk to me or to any of the other women where I lived, we would let her know that we felt this man was not safe because the signals of a future abusive man were present. Later, my friend did break up with this guy and when she did, she found out he head a record of abuse with his ex-wife.
Being single mothers, going to school to develop careers, attending counseling, case management and domestic violence support groups were what we all shared. Often during our free time-when we had free time-the mothers got together and took the kids to the beach or park for a picnic. As the children played, we confided in each other the struggles and strengths that we endured as we sought a better life. We discussed how our lives now have meaning and purpose. Instead of living in a world of fear, we now had become able to believe in our selves. Knowledge that we are able to make it on our own without abuse, is a strong source of strength. Encouragement, to gain a career and the ability to do so was enforced at the program, helping us to gain power. Although, it may be hard to accomplish all the requirements that we had to do, the end results came with excellent rewards.
The children at the transitional housing also attend support groups and counseling. The children learn the same values that are taught to the mothers. Self-esteem is reinforced with positive affirmations; this is a highly important value that a person requires to be self-sufficient in life. Instead of thinking we are stupid for making mistakes; we realize that we can learn from our mistakes. Instead of feeling like victims; we understand we are survivors. We become conscious of our good qualities, as a replacement for focusing on our faults. The children who live here acted as if they were brothers and sisters. I believe this is because of the similarities of the families as well as the fact that we lived in close knit apartments. During the summer time, there were many field trips for the families such as Magic Mountain, New Adventure, Belmont Park, and many more.
Each woman who moves into this building is like a wilted flower that blossoms into a beautiful rose. Being in an abusive situation makes it hard to fit into society, to belong anywhere except in the secluded world of negativity. Women come into the program full of despair and deprived of self-esteem. A sense of security, positive enforcement and encouragement are strengthened as they progress in the program. When it is time to move back out into the real world, these women will be able to fit into society successfully. After completion of the program, along with the graduation of school, each woman leaves with confidence that they can make it in the world. Along with that confidence, they now have the knowledge needed to prevent them from ending up in a future abusive relationship. By the time that graduation from the program approaches, each and every woman has confidence in herself that she can make it on her own and live free of abuse.