Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Be Safe - Don't Wait - No One Deserves to Be Belittled, Berated, or Banged Around

I remember the emergency room nurse handing me the business card. Written on it were familiar words - SAAFE HOUSE, Women's Shelter. I knew of the SAAFE house, I had donated items there on occasion. It was a safe haven for women and their children in the midst of an abusive situation. I smiled and thanked her as I shoved the card into my back pocket. I wouldn't need them. I have a nice home and three children under the age of eight who deserve to stay in their stable surroundings.

My husband was arrested that evening on charges of domestic abuse for hitting me in the back of the head with his fist after an argument where I lost my temper threw his briefcase across the room and jumped on it repeatedly.

Lucky for me, I turned my head or it could have been my right eye embedded with plastic particles from my eyeglasses.

We had argued most of the afternoon about my desires for a divorce and the custody of our children. My husband is an alcoholic, a man of hot temper. It was later found that he was a drug user and most likely coming off some drug when he hit me. This finding was a shock for me, as drugs and alcohol are not part of my social circle. But, reasons don't matter. No one deserves to be hit.

Upon arriving home, my caller ID and answering machine had several noted messages from the local sheriff's department. Verbally abusive messages from my husband of his intent to harm me if I did not have him released from jail immediately.

By morning, my In-laws had made the necessary arrangements for his release. I spent one very scared day driving out of my rearview mirror feeling as if he were following me. I no longer felt safe. I had no family nearby and very little money. I had just started work as a medical assistant in a local doctor office. While I was at work, I felt safe, but once the girls were picked up from daycare the insecure feelings crept back in.

I never dreamed I would be calling a hotline number for a women's shelter. It was not an easy call to make, but a necessary one. The woman on the other end of the phone was very warm and understanding. She gave me directions to a gas station near the SAAFE house dormitory. Once there, I was to call for further directions.

By the time I packed my car with our clothes and very few precious toys the girls would not leave behind, we left our home. The drive was quiet. It was already dark outside. The girls were asleep in the backseat. I couldn't cry. I had been taught that crying isn't being brave and now I had to be brave for my children's sake.

I found the specified gas station without any trouble and phoned the shelter as directed. In order to ensure the safety of everyone staying in the shelter, I had to promise to keep their location secret. I agreed, and although the remaining directions were not difficult, I don’t believe I could have located them without their added directions. This gave me an instant feeling of security.

I had always pictured these shelters as being run down, dirty, and roach infested. To my surprise, I found a very clean and professionally run shelter.

The lady in the office appeared to be in her late fifties and fashionably dressed. She was very kind and understanding of my present situation. Upon arrival, she gave each of my children a stuffed animal. This aided in keeping them busy while I filled out the necessary papers and agreed to abide by their rules

One of the rules for statrying at the shelter was to agree to attend counseling sessions in-groups while your child(ren) played in the adjoining toy room. I was amazed at what abusive acts brought each of us to this shelter. Domestic abuse is the most common. This ranges from yelling to hitting. Yelling and name-calling paves the way to verbal abuse. Sexual abuse is also very common. People tend to think of sexual abuse in the form of rape only, but is goes beyond that. It is when bad touch goes to worse touch. Abuse is most often accompanied with threats and out of fear women, children, and even an occasion man feel they have no way out but to accept what their abuser gives.

Within the hour, we were led down a narrow hall, much like that of a motel, with room doors on either side. There was a large bulletin board on the far wall with newspaper clippings for jobs, mothers offering to watch your children while you work or just for a break, and flyers telling of upcoming counseling sessions.

Our room was small. Just enough space for the two bunk beds and a nine-drawer dresser. Luckily, the closet was spacious. It didn't matter how many beds there were. I knew the four of us would sleep together for added security. There was a small bathroom situated between our room and the room next door. At first, I felt a little uneasy sharing a bathroom with a complete stranger, but in no time at all we had settled into a routine.

There were roughly twenty people, including children, sharing this facility. My children enjoyed playing games and Barbie with the other children in the toy room. The toy room was a magnificent idea. This enclosed room was situated off the main living area and allowed children to be noisy without bothering a family who might be at dinner.

Each family was assigned a cabinet for their food and dishes. Part of settling in that first night included a trip to the kitchen and pantry where I was given food for my family. Each family agreed to clean up after themselves and a chore list was posted on the dining room wall showing each family's turn in cleaning the common area.

This was a very humbling experience. I had a hard time accepting the food I felt had been donated to the needy. I was still in denial to the fact that at that very moment my children and I were the needy. Thank you, Mom, for knowing that from so many miles away.

We stayed only three days. This was an experience I certainly didn't enjoy; however, I feel I can help those in need because I have been there. I know, I understand, and I care.

Today, divorced and solely supporting my children, I add to my grocery list, a bag of food to donate to a local shelter. This is my way of saying thanks because a shelter was there when my family needed a safe place to stay. 

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