COURAGE TO ESCAPE
(And the COURAGE to DEAL with the AFTERMATH)
This blog post is dedicated to all those who took the risk of leaving a situation of abuse and those who are contemplating escaping from one. Whether you are a teenager who found a way to leave your home due to sexual, physical or emotional abuse and trauma or a spouse in a domestic violence situation or a victim of clergy abuse in any religious organization, I commend you for taking the steps needed to survive, to take care of yourself, and to have the courage to escape. If you are thinking of leaving a situation of abuse and trauma, the courage to escape is a necessary ingredient. Remember, you are worthy of freedom, peace and joy!
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was in her late 40’s when she left one country ten years ago (2006) to protect her daughter, Megan. Yes, this is my story. The focus today is not on those early years after leaving my abusive husband and Megan’s abusive father.
Today I want to share with you my journey into homelessness after my trial for custodial interference and my journey ending my homelessness. This segment of my road is quite similar to many, many other people (especially women and teenagers after they leave a financially-secure and an abusive environment). Many victims hesitate to leave or do not leave the abusive situation due to fears over financial security. If you do not have family or friends to support you, financial instability may be a reality. The reality of being without a home, basic shelter, can be daunting. People do free themselves from homelessness as well as from situations of abuse and/or torture.
Let me set up the scene. The trial for custodial interference is over. The charges are eventually dismissed. Megan, my daughter, is living with the perpetrator, her father. Megan and I have resumed our connection via the telephone. Several months have passed. Now it is the summer of 2010. The time has come for me to leave the safety of the convent where I have been residing as a guest. I do not want to stay in Spokane, WA. It is time to begin a new life elsewhere. The day to leave the nest is now.
I find a place to stay in another city in another state and a job possibility. Off I fly via the bus! My stay is unproductive in a material sense. No job is found. A generous person offers me a place to stay which is closer to the city and where buses are more accessible. Job search continues. No job is found. There is an option to cat and house-sit in Idaho for the winter. Knowing the other option is possible street homelessness, I choose to travel to Idaho.
Off to Idaho, I travel via bus! The situation in Idaho looks promising until a family emergency affects the couple who are going to vacation in Hawaii. Their adult daughter deals with serious alcohol issues and ends up in the same house I am temporarily residing. Not only might I house-sit the cat, but I shall be sharing a house with an emotionally distraught person who may or may not be able and willing to deal with her possible alcohol addiction. (She is attempting to get on a waiting list for an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program).
I am a recovering alcoholic. I know how difficult it is to face addiction or alcoholism. Alcohol was plentiful in this household and suddenly putting a simple lock on a cabinet or a door is not going to prevent someone from imbibing who is not ready to stop. It became apparent to me that my own sobriety was at risk. I was dealing with the custody loss of my daughter, starting a new life for myself with only a suitcase, suffering from PTSD and suicidal brainwashing caused by my ex-husband (the perpetrator), dealing with extreme sorrow and grief for all my losses, and, most important to me, worried about the safety and well-being of my daughter.
My sobriety is very important to me. Once I obtained it, I never took it for granted (and I still don’t). The choice became clear to me. Leave the safety of a physical building (a house) and possibly drink again or once again leave the area. This time I had nowhere to go; and, I knew street homelessness was a distinct possibility. I took the chance …..
Once again, I rode the buses to Colorado – the same state I had traveled to months earlier. I am a person who likes to research. The names and locations of various shelters were already known to me from my first visit to Colorado. I had not needed to use them then because two strangers or friends of friends had given me shelter for a few months.
As I arrived in this city again – alone, desperate and scared – I reached out to an acquaintance that I had met when I attended training to be a hospice volunteer when I was in Colorado the first time. My request of her was that she would keep my suitcase at her house. She said yes. After choosing a shelter from my list, I needed to take city transportation to get there.
During my previous months in this area, I had talked to others here and there that were or had been homeless. They told me stories of transients being beaten by people who did not like homeless human beings. One transient told me, kindly, that women age much quicker on the streets. He encouraged me to do all things possible not to be street homeless. Stories of shelters not being safe existed and were common.
On my earlier job searching trek in this city, I found a day shelter for women. It was a wonderful place. This day shelter provided me with a hot lunch or a cold lunch to go. It had a computer room, phone banks, resource information, showers, and more. My mail could be sent there. Having a mailing address is vital especially when you are job searching. Each person at this day shelter, whether volunteer or employee, treated me with kindness and respect. When someone is in this precarious life situation, the sense of isolation and shame is intense. Being treated as a human being worthy of compassion helped the desperation and isolation to lessen for short moments in time.
Each day I would spend hours at an employment center which provided computers and job leads as well as walking the streets looking for signs saying businesses were hiring. My resume was ready. I was determined to find employment.
This trip though – I did not have shelter and where would I spend the night was utmost in my mind. Here I was – standing – ready to take the bus to an unknown women’s shelter that sounded the best to me and where I had the best chance of actually getting a bed for the night. Many shelters have a random lottery each day. Either you are “lucky” and have a bed for the night or you are not.
I stood and sat paralyzed as a deer in the headlights. Shelters scared me. Maybe I should sleep outside somewhere and not go to a shelter. Either situation provoked extreme fear inside of me. Even though Megan and I spent a few weeks in Spokane at a mother/children shelter, I had the opportunity to see the place first and to meet the director. I knew it was okay. This unknown women only shelter in a city I did not know terrified me.
To actually accept and make the leap that I was, indeed, alone and homeless, that I had no place to go, that I had no friends or family to offer me shelter (because I could not stay in Spokane or Idaho), and to feel worthless as a mother and as a person paralyzed me. My life was a failure, I felt, especially as a mother. I failed to protect my daughter. My worry for Megan was immense. I did not have a job or an income. I did not have resources to visit her across the country. I had nothing to offer my daughter. The only thing I could do to help her was to pray and to send love to her which I did always.
It was not until I healed further that I could reconcile the fact that I had done all I could to protect my daughter. Time and time again, our court systems give the abusing parent custody of the child or children. The emotional pain caused to the children and to the non-abusing parent is intense, deep and long-lasting. Words do not describe the PAIN. (See: http://nowayoutbutone.com/) The survivor guilt I felt was strong. I would have given my life to protect my daughter. Knowing Megan was living with her father (the perpetrator, the abuser) stabbed me deeply in my heart which was broken into a thousand tiny pieces at that time. Accepting my vulnerability and need for shelter and food was difficult, to say the least.
I finally made a phone call to a trusted person. This person listened with compassion. I was trying to talk myself into staying on the streets all night. This person gently encouraged me to go to the shelter. So, I went.
The women’s shelter provided me a meal and a bed. The place was filled with women with courage. The next morning, all the women leave to begin another day of living this precarious life in our society. If memory serves me correctly, I spent two nights in this shelter. Although I did not feel safe, I was probably safer than being on the streets all night.
The acquaintance who held my suitcase offered me a couch in her home. What a blessing! Knowing where I could lay my head each night gave me more energy to use on job hunting each day. After a couple of weeks in her home, she was having out-of-town guests arriving; and, I would need to leave temporarily. She emailed coworkers and asked if someone would put me up for a week, I think.
Lo and behold, a person offered me a room in her home in a nearby city. Once again, I took buses to this new location. The room in this woman’s home became my shelter for around the next nine months. In that time, I found a job as a barista. The job did not pay much, but I was working! The woman became my friend whom I am meeting today as I write this post! As I lived in her home, I was able to help her paint her house as she prepared to rent it. When her home was ready, I once again found myself with no shelter. The rents in this area are extremely high; and, my job paid very little in comparison. A third stranger in this area, this time through a church, offered me a room in her home. I stayed there until I was able to find a room to rent at a price I could afford.
Divine Providence protected me and guided me along my path. Everywhere I looked in the past years, others (strangers and friends) reached out to provide shelter, financial support, compassion, encouragement, and prayers. I would not have made it if it was not for those who supported and helped me throughout these years.
A therapist was found through the networking of a trusted person. This therapist retired. A second therapist was brought into my realm. Neurofeedback and talk therapy helped tremendously. PTSD lessened. Suicidal brainwashing lessened dramatically most likely due to the non-linear, non-invasive neurofeedback (See: http://www.boulderneurofeedback.com/ ). I participated in a WINGS Foundation support group. I began to share my story in other scenarios starting with a group of graduate students of psychology at Naropa University. Life coaching to support other survivors of abuse became an option. I have wanted to serve and help others in need for years now. Here I am today!
The spiritual aspects of my journey were (and are) of utmost importance. I would not have survived if it was not for my belief in God and a higher purpose.
My story is not unique – unfortunately. There are many teenagers, young adults, and older men and women struggling with possible homelessness and with actual homelessness (after suffering trauma and abuse whether from war or from another human being in their household of origin or later in life).
I wondered at various times why I survived and healed as much as I have. Why was I able to hold on to my sobriety during these years? My compassion and my heart goes out to those still using alcohol and drugs. My heart goes out to all of you who are still in domestic violence and abusive situations of all types.
My heart is filled with compassion for those who had the courage to escape situations of abuse and/or torture. Whether you are residing in a shelter now or at a friend’s home or on a stranger’s couch or on the streets sleeping on a bench or sleeping on the roof of a building in order to avoid a “camping ticket” – I have compassion and love for you. Please do the best you can to take gentle care of yourself. You are worthy of shelter and food and love. Life, in many cases, does improve. I wish that for you.
The despair I felt during many moments of my life did not kill me – literally or figuratively. It is amazing what individuals can survive.
I wish that each of you stay safe.
As a human being on this earth, a writer/blogger, survivor, a past homeless person, and as a life coach, I would like to support you on your journey. Whether that support is through life coaching, writing a post that resonates within you, or through my sending Light and Love to you through prayer and meditation — I am willing and eager to be of service!
Please, take gentle care of yourself today and always!!