- Female victims most commonly first experience domestic violence
-ages of 18-24 (38.6%)
-age 11-17 (22.4%)
-age 35-44 (6.8%)
-age 45+ (2.5%)
-Almost one out of five or 16.3% of murder victims in the U.S. were killed by an intimate partner
- Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families with 50% of all women who are homeless reporting that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness, according to The National Center on Family Homelessness.
(weirdly enough they didn't have a statistic for age 25 - 34. That was the category I fell in to)
I think it's important for me to start with why I chose to be without hearth and home.
Ending up in an abusive relationship wasn't a choice I made. No one chooses to end up with someone that hurts them. For me, it was like most. I started dating a nice guy, he was sweet, made me feel special and understood. Slowly, ever so slowly he made small changes to my life. So small that they were hardly noticeable. Even when I did take notice they were always easy to explain away. Until one day I had to explain away why he had hit me. But by then I was so far gone down the rabbit hole, I didn't recognize myself.
I feel as if every woman who is in an abusive relationship has that moment where they tell themselves to leave. They wrestle with the emotional and physical ramifications of taking off. Eventually, some leave and some stay, but all are changed in a way that is nearly impossible to explain.
I Call It "The Conversation" - The day after he had hit me for the first time I went about my everyday routine as if nothing had happened. I didn't even think about it until I was sitting on the T (Boston subway train) on my way to work. I remember having a full on conversation with myself. I told myself if I didn't walk away now I would never get out.... but I didn't walk away.
To this day I can not tell you why. We weren't married, we didn't have kids, I hadn't even been with him long enough to be mired in the relationship.
Some might think I stayed because he was a cop, but that wasn't it. Even though he was a cop I didn't feel threatened to stay. Isn't that kind of funny? He was physically abusive but I still managed to excuse it by telling myself that since he had never threatened to kill me, I was in no real danger. The real danger was reserved for those with guns to their heads, knives to their throats, knocked out teeth and bruised flesh.
Eventually, an opportunity presented itself that allowed me to get out. I didn't even think about whether I would end up in the same situation again or not. I just kept on moving. Years later I met another man who of course was a nice guy, a little awkward and not the most attractive but Jesus he tried hard.
But he was no different, and once again I was faced with a similar conversation. This time I had an actual answer, There were children, not enough money for me to live on my own and no family or real friends around for at least 100 miles. Where would I go, what would I do?
So I stayed but this time I had a plan. I worked on it, made phone calls and I waited until it was the right time to leave.
The day I left was a complete blur, it was so fast and so scary. But most of all, I will never forget the sigh I let out when I finally got to the shelter. I laid my head down on the pillow in the room me and the kids were given and realized that I never had to fear for mine or my children's safety again.
I could go on but I came here to talk about how it changed me.
Why am I thankful? - I learned many lessons while I was homeless, some I have packed away not able to recall on a conscious level but still reachable when the necessary occasion arises.
1. Homelessness Isn't What You Think It Is & You Are Just One Major Life Change Away From It
Unless you have been homeless you truly do not know what it means to be "homeless". I don't care if you're an advocate, have a relative who's been or is homeless, given money directly to those on the street or through an app. You will never know what it is like, it's not something you could even imagine.
The majority of us conjure pretty much the same image of a homeless person. Older, hunched over a shopping cart bursting with useless odds and ends that only they know the value of. Or maybe it's a drug addict standing on the side of the freeway exit with a homemade sign asking for charity. More often than not we don't even think about the homeless until we have no choice but to be confronted with them as we go about our daily lives. They are like an unwelcome reminder that this world isn't what we think it is.
It's far easier to boil the homeless population down to drug addicts, "crazy people", miscreants who refuse to work and those who have gotten there due to their own self induced misfortune. We know that this isn't true but it makes it easier to ignore them if we think we aren't them.
Here's the thing, you're wrong. You couldn't possibly be more wrong. Yes, all of the above reasons for their condition could be true if you were hell-bent of arguing the point, but it is so much more than that. There are too many big and small reasons as to why someone ends up homeless for anyone to think they have it all figured out. Until it happened to me, I thought I had the reasons for homelessness all wrapped up.
Before you tell yourself that I do not know what I am talking about simply because I went from my house to a shelter, therefore I was never technically homeless. You need to realize that you couldn't be more wrong, you could try but you would still be wrong. I left my home, all of my possessions, my neighbors and my community behind without any idea of where my children and I would end up. Battered Women's shelters are not resorts, no two are alike and some shouldn't be open, to begin with, but where there is a need there is someone to fulfill it.
Where I laid my head was not my own, the clothes on mine and my children's back were not our own. Even their toys were handed downs from some good Samaritan who had filled their kindness quota. I was at the mercy of the system, those who ran the shelter, the mandatory therapist I saw and scarily enough, the people I had run from.
There I was a smart, funny, loving and giving person reduced down to a statistic, a charity case literally begging and hoping for some unknown person to show me and kindness and donate. Even a donation of something as small as a Walkman so that I could have a Christmas present.A new doll so that my daughter could have a gift other than the one that someone else had decided they were done with and didn't want anymore.
I was not a drug addict, I had never taken a drug in my life. I wasn't an alcoholic down on my luck incapable of pulling myself together. I was simply a young woman who had done the unthinkable, I had believed in the goodness in someone. But here's the thing, even if I had been a drug addict, an alcoholic, a prostitute or teenage runaway, I hadn't stopped existing and I wouldn't have in some weird way earned someone else's ire.
I had learned that the saying "there by the grace of God goes I" was a truer statement than I had ever realized. I was no different than any other homeless person. I too had found myself caught up in the cycle, the longer I was on the wheel the harder it was to get off. I know for a fact if I too had stayed too long, become too accustomed to the devaluation that was thrown at me on a daily basis I would stop trying to get out. The only difference between a woman in an abusive relationship and a homeless person on the streets was, I was intimately acquainted with my oppressor. They were no more interested in learning my humanity than are the people who sit in judgment of our homeless population. The looks and the comments that they receive on a daily basis are so similar to the ones that I would get that they're interchangeable.
I will be forever grateful and protective of what I have, I will never take what I have for granted. Because I know how close I am to losing it all again. Money, intelligence, work title, marital status, your electric car none of these things can stop the tide when disaster rolls through your life. The ability to decide what socks to put on, what time to go to bed, even when to eat are simple pleasures that until I had lost them I never realized how important they were.
Do not hold on tightly to something that was never truly yours, to begin with. Instead, appreciate what you have at that moment.
2. Who You Are And Who You Become, Are Up To You
It is so easy to let go and lean into the skid, never trying to right yourself. There are so many things in this world we have absolutely no control over. If you are a POC or a Woman you have been aware of this fact your whole life. But this is an especially bitter lesson for people who have wandered through life never questioning their place. Sadly, these are the people who are most likely to lack the will to fight when they have lost their way.
You can stay mired in the muck, lamenting the dire situation you have found yourself in or you can take a look around and realize that life is constantly moving and NOTHING stays the same. This means you too do not have to stay the same. We get so deeply entrenched in the idea that the only significant change we can make must be large. This is a false concept that can leave you stagnant for years.
I remember when I was little, probably 11 or 12 and a friend of my fathers told me that no matter what I always had a choice. I vehemently disagreed and challenged him telling him that if someone had a gun to my head, I had lost the ability to choose. He shook his head, looked at me and said: "You can still choose to die quietly or screaming."
At that time I didn't understand what he meant and I blew it off. But once I was faced with a major life-altering moment, I got it. Even if I could not change the trajectory of my life at that moment I could still choose how I addressed it.
Do not ever let what is happening at that moment; good or bad to define you. Because when you do you allow a situation to make your choices. Once you have done that, you no longer own your own narrative and you are at the whim of someone else's choices.
I chose to stand in the middle of dumpster fire and fight my way to the top. It was one small painful step at a time but they were my steps and my tiny everyday choices that brought me out of a dire moment in my life.
3. Not Everyone Can Be Saved - Or Wants To Be - Do Not Lose Yourself In The Rescue Attempt
I met some amazing people, but mostly amazing Women. I never thought that I would be able to laugh or carve out some semblance of normalcy in my situation. But these women were my strength. Each of us fighting for something better. I will always be grateful for the lessons that they taught me.
With that said, there were also Women who there was no saving. All of the late nights and conversations were not going to stop them from going back to their awful situation.
There are two Women, in particular, that stick out in my mind.
One woman was turning tricks to keep her boyfriend/pimp from getting "sick". What that means is, if he didn't have drugs he would start to go through withdrawals hence the "sick". She had lost her kids, lost her home and eventually, she couldn't take the abuse anymore and left. She was on the track to getting her kids back. She put in the work, went to all our required meetings but it wasn't enough to stop her from calling him one night. I remember waking up the next day and finding out from one of the workers at the shelter that she had left. They wouldn't give us any other details but we knew where she had gone. No matter how heartbroken we were, we knew there was nothing we could do. If we had tried we were putting ourselves and our families at risk.
The other young lady had also left everything behind, including her kids. She had a brief window to get out safely and that moment of rescue did not include taking her children. She had tried to make sure they were safe with her family but there was no guarantee. It was about a week into her being there that she told us what had made her leave. Her husband had dragged her to the basement put a gun in her mouth and told her to pray. So she did, but all she could pray for was her children; who was going to take care of them when she was murdered. Her husband had controlled everything, she didn't have a job, her credit cards were in his name, her car was in his name, the house was his. He had met her when he was in his mid-twenties and she was about 15, he was all she had ever known. She had been so brave to leave but between the loss of her kids and the loss of everything in her life she couldn't take it. She knew it wouldn't get better but she didn't see any other way. So she slipped out in the middle of the day and never came back.
I could have tried to find a way to save them, we all could have, but sometimes when you help a drowning person you end up being the one who pays the price.
Being the hero is a wonderful feeling but some many times when we leap in to save the day we never notice the devastation that we leave behind.
Lead when it's your time, help those who ask for it, but most of all remember that you can never make a change until you have saved yourself first.
WHO I AM NOW
There are lasting scars that I will never recover from. I can choose to focus on them and mire myself in the pain that was created or I can keep trying to find a way to see something good in what some would call a tragic situation.
I have never been a fan of the helpless, tragic female trope. Even at my lowest, my weakest I busted my ass to find a way to improve my situation. Did I always succeed? Do I walk through my everyday life smelling the flowers, feeling the breeze and thanking the universe for another day? To all of these questions - NO but I'm always trying.
I do walk around knowing that when the big things hit. The really large, absolutely tragic life ending moments that seem to annihilate most, I have not and will not submit. In those moments I am actually my strongest, I do not second guess, I do not hesitate to take action, it is in those moments when I decide that I will be everything I knew I was.