I was abused by my husband for over 20 years in every way possible--financial, emotional, physical, isolation and spiritual. I have had nearly every bone on my body broken, including my ribs, my ankle, my nose, shattered cheekbones, and a cracked breastbone.
The most common question I hear from people is, "Why didn't you just leave?" A perpetrator controls a victim by making them feel trapped, and afraid to leave. The most dangerous time for a victim is in trying to leave their abuser; many die trying.
One day it just felt like a switch came on. He was holding me against the wall, yelling in my face for the ten thousandth time. The difference this time is that he bored me. I waited for him to get done yelling and when he let me go, he said, "This isn't working. One of us is going to leave." I said so easily, "That's fine, I'll go."
This shocked him to the point he backed up and sat on the sofa. Confused. I'd never responded this way before. He said, "You're not taking the truck." I said, "I don't want it. I want nothing from you."
I took off every piece of jewelry he bought me, set it down on the coffee table in front of him and said, "Take it all."
I packed a bag with towels, toiletries, a few changes of clothes and walked out. I got in my Jeep and it felt like I breathed for the first time in 20 years. The air felt fresher. My life felt like it was finally starting.
This new life began with me sleeping in the back of my jeep by the river. I was ok. I worked the opening shift at the YMCA and told my supervisor what was happening. She allowed me to use the facility in the morning before work to shower and do laundry. But winter was coming on and it started snowing; that's when I knew I needed more help. A family member connected me with a family services agency in my county. They put me in shelter, and even after I got moved into my own tiny apartment, they continued checking on me for about a year.
I don't know what would've happened to me without shelter. I would not have gone back to my abuser, but I imagine I could have become very ill in the cold, and maybe given up out there in the woods. I DO know I honor this agency for the help they gave me by working as a Domestic Violence Community Advocate. I've never counted the number of clients I've served, but I know them by name, and keep in touch with many. I pray for us all each and every day. Without VAWA I may not be the person I am today. I may not have lived long enough to see my grandson. Without VAWA, I would not be able to help others to the extent I do today.