Life in a shelter for abused women is hard to explain.

The broken lives are scattered all around you in the shape of the other women and children that are staying in the same safe house as you are. It is somewhat like being in a college dormitory. Except nobody is laughing or smiling. Everybody is trying to piece back together whatever they can salvage out of the wreckage of the marriages or relationships they are leaving. The children have other children to play with that have gone through similar situations which is somehow comforting to them I believe. To know it is not just them that are going through this hell."- CH

 

 

 

 

 



I made my way from Naples, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia through two shelters for abused women. My traveling companions were my infant daughter and my three-year-old son. We left our home in the dark of night terrified that my husband would come home before we got through packing as much of our life into my car, only leaving enough room for the four of us.

I met my husband in 1980. He was everything that I wanted in a husband and I fell for him hard. Hard enough to stay with him for ten years of abuse. I was not physically abused at first but I was emotionally devastated and used to wish he would just hit me instead.

During my first pregnancy Mark withdrew from me completely by not talking to me. At all. No verbal communication. When he told me he wanted me to abort the pregnancy I left and came to live with my mother in Big Canoe until I was four months along. I moved back to Naples, Florida at this time. The next five months were pure hell. My husband went to work, didn't come home, didn't talk to me at all except to call me a stupid bitch. And I stayed with him; why I did this I may never understand.

When our son was born in December of 1981 things turned around for a bit but not for long. Pretty soon the old behavior was back along with alcohol becoming a big problem for our already messed up relationship. Five months later I was pregnant again, unexpectedly. I am not a fool, this pregnancy occurred even though I was using protection. Some forms of birth control don't work well after pregnancy due to changes in the woman's body. It just did not fit anymore. Enough said.



This pregnancy was not much different than the first. My husband continued to drink and use drugs and run around on me. I cannot begin to describe the pain of being pregnant while your husband has affair after affair. But I stayed, I think I was just determined that this marriage was going to last and my children would not come from a broken home like I had.

Nine months later my daughter was born, stillborn. I was so traumatized by this event that I wasn't aware of anything at this time other than pain that was worse than anything that I had experienced in my entire life. During this time I think that we just grew even further apart.



By this time the abuse was turning into the physical abuse you read about in the papers and hear about on the news. My next pregnancy I was shoved around and pushed down or ignored completely. I would imagine that by now, those of you that may be reading this must be wondering why I didn't grab my kids and run. When you come from a family where this type of behavior was the norm I think you are just wired differently. Growing up my mother was horribly abused by two stepfathers. To the extent that she even miscarried two pregnancies. My brother and I went to bed at night hearing our mother getting the crap beat out of her. Black eyes and excuses like I bumped into the kitchen cabinet were what was used to explain all of this. I tended to minimize my abuse by comparing it to my mothers abuse. My husband was not beating me as badly as my mother had been beat so I stayed, it was that simple. I was going to keep my family intact at any cost.



I finally got fed up and left my husband and went to visit with my father in New Jersey. I mistakenly believed that my absence would make my miserable excuse of a husband change him ways. Wrong.

The years went by and the abuse grew. I would periodically leave and hope that my absence would initiate a change in our relationship. It never happened. By this time my husband had begun to abuse cocaine. First in the powdered form, then he was using crack cocaine. He did not have a history of substance abuse other than marijuana and beer when I met him but once he discovered cocaine things spiraled downwards with a vengeance.

We owned our own home, we owned our own business and cocaine was taking all of that away from us. Cocaine induced psychosis became the norm and I was finally becoming unable to minimize this away. I was terrified. I begged, threatened, left multiple times, called the police… did everything I could to try and make this man see that he had a family that needed him.



Christmas of 1984 found me sitting in a rocking chair rocking my infant daughter. I was so terrified of what this man would be like if and when he got home that I finally got up the courage to leave. A few weeks earlier I had started going to the local mental health center and they had given me a phone number for ACT, (abuse counseling treatment) in Ft. Myers, Florida. I called them and made arrangements to meet with a police officer who would give me directions to a safe house. In less than one hour I had packed as much as possible of my life into my car. Clothes, kids toys, diapers… I made it out of there before he got home.





Life in a shelter for abused women is hard to explain. The broken lives are scattered all around you in the shape of the other women and children that are staying in the same safe house as you are. It is somewhat like being in a college dormitory. Except nobody is laughing or smiling. Everybody is trying to piece back together whatever they can salvage out of the wreckage of the marriages or relationships they are leaving. The children have other children to play with that have gone through similar situations which is somehow comforting to them I believe. To know it is not just them that are going through this hell.

My psychotic husband did manage to find us at the shelter one evening. The police were called, my three year old son to this day remembers that night and how painful it was for him as were were shipped to a different shelter because it was no longer safe for us or the other women and children to be in that safe house anymore.



Six years went by in a blur of pain and confusion. I was nothing if not tenacious in my hanging on to this train wreck of a marriage. I took him back on more than one occasion hoping against hope that things would work out. I worked hard to make things as normal for my children as possible. But we all know that children learn more from what they see than what they are told.

By this time I was in and out of counseling. And it paid off. One day I finally had enough. Enough. ENOUGH! And I left and didn't look back. It was 1990.

The years have gone by. I have learned to be self sufficient to a great degree. I am learning even more ways of being self reliant by being in the WADT class for micro-enterprise. The past is the past and I look forward to a beautiful future. I value myself and I don't accept any violence in my life, emotional or physical. I am a much stronger woman today, but there is still work to be done. Thanks to WADT it is within my grasp.

P.S. The ex-husband (and I say that PROUDLY) did come down for our daughters high school graduation this year. He stayed with our now married son. Before he left he gave us a blast from the past. He got drunk at our sons house, begged him to take him to go buy crack and threw up all over his deck…

Some things never change. But some things do! (Thanks Dr. Williams for the chance!!!)

-C.H December 8, 2003

Cheryl's Daughter finished was accepted into Vanderbilt University, on full scholarship), the first to graduate College from her household, Cheryl gained custody of her children and lives happily as a Small Business Owner. She is a people person,  an avid reader, beautiful inside and out...