From Victim to Survivor

Deborah Anderson first visited Safe Harbor as a client in crisis, fleeing a violent marriage with her 3-year-old daughter in tow.  Today, she is a volunteer, donor and advocate for our cause.  In this interview, Deborah shares her journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor, from receiving Safe Harbor services to providing them for others.

What led you to seek services from Safe Harbor?
Deborah:
I was led to seek services from Safe Harbor after my ex-husband of six years began physically abusing me. He had been controlling and verbally abusive before. He did not allow me to drive, and he was very jealous about my being in contact with other males, such as in class, or his own male friends. He was over-involved in my few jobs, and I ended up leaving them because of him and letters he wrote to my employers. He escalated to pushing me, once while I was holding our three-year old daughter, also kneeing me in the back, pinning me down and threatening to rape me, and pulling me back forcefully into our kitchen table. He threatened that if I went to the police, they would take away his guns, and then he would “really hurt me.” I had no one to turn to, as I had come to America from England, leaving all my family behind at age 18. I had moved straight from my mum’s house into his, and I had never lived alone. He ensured that I did not have any friends of my own. He was also a Licensed Master of Social Work, and when I did leave with our daughter, he tried to make me look as unstable as possible to those who knew us – telling people that I was a drunk, that I was depressed & mentally ill… the list goes on.

Yes – I stopped taking the abuse. One night he had kept me up all night during one of his episodes, and he finally went to bed around 5am. I called up a co-worker, and she picked me, my daughter, and our belongings up. My ex-husband knew where we were, so when I found out about Safe Harbor a few days later from a lawyer, I called for help immediately.

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The Map

by Samantha Tucker, Grants Manager, Safe Harbor

When I was 12, I was tired of being a tomboy and I wanted to be a cheerleader… to give bows and skirts a chance.  Tryouts were a several-day process of learning one chant and one cheer (those are apparently two very different things), then performing them in front of a judging panel.  Simple enough. 

I started out overconfident – after all, I was a gymnast and I could tumble across the floor like a rock skipping across water.  What more could it take?  But as the time drew closer my confidence lessened.  I suddenly felt less cute than the other girls, like I was wearing a costume.  I felt out of place.  I felt ill prepared.  My nerves hurt my stomach and I thought I might cry.

I walked into the gym and the panic intensified.  I froze.  There I stood, ponytailed girls chanting all around me, my feet stuck to the ground and my lips pressed closed.  It was awful.  How had I gone from an easygoing athletic girl to someone I’d never known myself to be?

Jennifer describes being a victim as being in many little pieces without knowledge of how to put the pieces back together.  What a powerful way to depict the experience.  Having worked at Safe Harbor for eight years, I’ve never heard it phrased this way but it very much resonates with me.  As I listened to her, I recalled that feeling from back when I was 12 years old – I’d known what I was capable of and what I needed to do.  But those feelings of inadequacy, of fear, of insecurity, and of panic were so much stronger.  They were completely debilitating. 

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Elizabeth’s Letter

By Michelle Hill, Safe Harbor Community Counselor

Forgiveness is a powerful means towards healing for victims of domestic violence, yet it is an extremely difficult process. After participating in months of Safe Harbor counseling to heal from the abuse she had suffered for five years from her husband, “Elizabeth” shared during a session that she felt like she needed to forgive her abuser. She told me that she felt that forgiveness was essential in order to recover from her past. Elizabeth did not want to deny or excuse the abuse or to release her abuser from his responsibility.  She wished simply to release herself from the pain of those traumatic experiences that continued to get in the way of her own happiness and peace.

Elizabeth and I talked about forgiveness and what it would mean for her. We discussed ways in which she might be able to reach a sense of forgiveness for her abuser. Elizabeth finds a lot of strength through writing, so I suggested that she write a letter to her abuser that she would never send to him. Through this letter, she could safely express herself to him, fully and honestly. She could write specifically about how he had hurt her, how he had changed her. Most importantly, though, she could express how she had recovered and how she, through forgiveness, would release the emotional grip he had had on her quality of life even after she had ended her relationship with him.

Two weeks later, Elizabeth brought the letter to our session. She read it out loud. She paused several times to take a breath, to cry, to let the memories release. When she was done she released the letter. The experiences she had written about and read about out loud no longer held her captive emotionally, physically, or spiritually. She was freed from the abuse in her past, empowering her to move forward with a sense of strength, peace, and joy in her future.

Below is a portion of Elizabeth’s letter that we are sharing with her permission.  We hope this letter will provide hope to other victims and survivors as they are seeking safety, support and healing along their journey. 

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