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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?
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.

What were some things that helped you in your journey from victim to survivor?
Deborah: We stayed at Safe Harbor for three weeks. It was a safe place to call home while we rearranged our lives. I found an apartment, passed my driver’s test and got a car. My new friends at work were very helpful, and I was fortunate to have a sympathetic female supervisor who listened to me, and was understanding about hearings and lawyer appointments. One of the most useful things to me, though, was the counseling that Safe Harbor offered. I took part first in group counseling, then later in some individual counseling with Carrie (Safe Harbor Counselor). Carrie helped to keep me feeling sane throughout the whole messy divorce and the business of trying to stake out a life of my own, on my own. 

What have been some of your accomplishments since your time at Safe Harbor?
Deborah: In December, I finished a Bachelor of Human Services program at Anderson University, finishing with a 4.0 GPA. I am currently toying with the ideas of going back to work, or continuing on to complete a Master’s Degree. I also completed my first Ultra Marathon in December (very slowly). I did 50k in just over 12 hours. One thing this year that has made me really proud though, is that I’ve been able to stay home with my seven-year-old to home-school her, and to enjoy seeing my new baby (now almost two) grow up. I remarried in 2010, and one thing I am really proud of is having a good marriage, and that my daughters can see that. My seven-year old was just 3 when I left her father, and she had already learnt that “mummies have to be sad, and daddies have to be mad.” She doesn’t think that any more.

Explain what you do as a volunteer advocate at Safe Harbor.
Mostly, I take calls from victims in crisis. Sometimes they just want counseling and are not quite ready to leave the relationship yet. Other times, more frequently, they are ready to leave and need a safe place to stay. Oftentimes, just having a friendly, understanding voice on the other end of the phone seems to help a lot. My husband and I are also donors.

What else would you like to share with others about your journey from victim to survivor, from Safe Harbor client to Safe Harbor volunteer/donor/advocate?
Deborah: The progression from victim to survivor, and from Safe Harbor client to Safe Harbor volunteer/donor/advocate has been a very natural progression for me. Before being a victim of domestic violence, I didn’t really realize what a problem it was, or have much of an understanding about how hard it could be to leave, especially with children. I feel very grateful for everything that Safe Harbor has done for me and my daughter. I want to give something back. I feel like my experience of abuse makes me a stronger advocate as I understand what it is like to be in that situation.

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