What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Anonymous

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian background, I struggled through my childhood, teens, & early adult years to “do the right thing.” It seemed EVERY decision I made was the wrong one. This includes the man I chose to marry. 

He drank quite a bit, but when I told him that I didn’t drink because of my own mothers alcoholism, he said he understood and promised he would stop. And he did, at home at least. 
He would come home drunk and complain that the house wasn’t clean enough, dinner didn’t smell right, he didn’t get enough respect for bringing home a paycheck. What the heck had I been doing all day long? He complained that I was not helping him by bringing an extra income into the household. I offered to get a job, but he refused. He said we couldn’t afford the child care. 

After being together for ten years he hit me and my teen son for the first time. My son was holding his face, he sat up and looked at me, crying, and said, “Call the police!! Call the police!! You always said you’d never let him get away with hitting us.” I sat there stunned. I knew he was right and I had always said that, but reality hit me. I didn’t have a job. I was completely dependent upon my husband. I have four children … Two babies, and nowhere to go. I knew we would end up with fines, classes, children’s services, court … I knew the financial strain that would come with all of that wouldn’t help us at all. If anything, it would make it worse. I called the local domestic violence agency for my area. They explained to me that I had always been in a domestic violence relationship. I was surprised. I always thought that there had to be physical violence, I didn’t even really see how the verbal & emotional abuse was affecting me. 

I didn’t tell my friends or family that he had hit us because I was ashamed. To my surprise, my father called and asked to come talk to me the next day. He knew all about it as my husband had gone to see him after hitting us. My father wanted to make sure that I wasn’t “overreacting” and thinking about leaving my husband. I was immediately crushed and alone. I stayed and the violence escalated. I decided I needed to get a job if I wanted a chance of happiness. I often dreamed of life away from my husband, but my upbringing often wrestled with that dream. I tried to ensure that my children were as happy and healthy as they possibly could be and come to terms that this was my lot in life.  

The violence escalated. I finally took my children to a domestic violence shelter where I was met with my first challenge. Boys over 10 are not welcome. If I wanted a safe space, I needed to leave my son behind. I struggled so much with that decision as he needed a safe space a well. He finally told me to just go, he would stay with a friend.  I finally moved in to a shelter, dejected, scared, & heartbroken. The first thing they told me during intake was that I would not be allowed to leave or talk to anyone on the phone, including my son. They took us to a very nice bedroom and gave the children a puzzle.  We had to leave our door open for the first few days as they observed us, then we could close it for privacy. We weren’t allowed outside for the first week and after that only on their private yard.  We felt very much like the prisoner. 

The shelter set us up with one on one and group counseling sessions that were anything but healing. We listened to depressing stories of women who all agreed that they would eventually go back, as they really just had no other choice. We all had limited skills, little to no money, and no self esteem. The shelter brought a woman from social services in who was supposed to go over our skills with us and help us look for a job. She was the last straw for me. She told me that my chances of finding a job to support me and my children were slim to none and welfare wouldn’t supplement enough to sustain anything. She took all hope away in that conversation. I went back to my room feeling worse than before I saw her and closed my door. A few minutes later, someone opened and said that we all had to clean our rooms and open our doors. Miss Orange County was coming to see all of us. They had set up a party with drinks & appetizers in the living room. We were not welcome to that because television crews would be there to tape her visit to the shelter. We sat in our rooms, and listened to the party. Shortly after it started a procession came down the hallway. I could hear them coming and I so desperately wanted to close my door. I felt like a monkey in the zoo. I just wanted to protect my children from the humiliation we were about to face. They eventually reached our door, Miss Orange County smiled at me, said my name and handed me a box. Inside the box were a pair of bejewelled shoes. She said everyone needed a pair of pretty shoes and she went to the next room. I sat there looking at my stupid shoes, and cried. I decided to go back. If I am going to leave this relationship, it’s not going to be this way. I cannot hop from shelter to shelter and be humiliated by other people. 

I went home and it was better for a while. I got a job, which added stress as my husband was insecure about me being out in the world. I made friends, I quit attending church for a while, and I saved money. 

Things have become drastically worse, I am in the process of leaving as I write this. I don’t have near enough money to feel any sense of security, but I have enough to get where I need to go. I found an affordable roommate situation, unfortunately it is extremely far away from anything I know. I have no friends or family there. I am praying that I can find a job quickly so we don’t end up on the streets. I am scared, but hopeful at the moment. I rarely feel hope. 

I want you to know that leaving a domestic violence relationship is hard on many levels. Rarely is it because of love, more likely because we have nowhere else to go. We have no hope of anything getting better. We have no support, encouragement, guidance from others. 

I want you to know that leaving a domestic violence relationship is expensive. If we have been dependent on our partners, which most have, then we have no resources to get away. If children are involved it’s very scary to wonder if you can care for them on your own. I have enough to drive where I need to go and pay two months rent. Food is not included in my budget, I need to hit food banks until I find a job. 

I want you to know that women in shelters need more than your photo op to bring us a gift. We need you to come talk to us. Cry with us. Laugh with us. And guide us. We’re scared.