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Telling Stories

On Friday morning, we had the privilege of meeting with Bobby Rettew to make plans for our first Safe Harbor video project.  As a videographer and journalist, Bobby is helping us to realize that making a video about Safe Harbor is much more than listing information about our mission and services.  It is about telling stories.

What does it look like to tell the stories Safe Harbor?  We’re not used to telling our stories, but it’s not because we don’t have them.  On the contrary, Safe Harbor is filled with stories…stories that remain forever in our hearts and memories…stories that may sometimes keep us awake at night…stories that often bring us to tears with sadness or laughter, sometimes both.  Safe Harbor has a million stories – stories of victims and survivors, mothers and children, brothers and sisters, volunteers and generous donors…the list goes on and on.

But, for the most part, our protocol is to lock up our stories and throw away the key.  For us, the stories are sacred, and confidentiality is such an important part of the work that we do.  We want to protect the stories, because we want to protect the people behind the stories as well:

  • The mother who came to the shelter with her 2-day-old infant straight from the hospital, healing from the bruises left from her husband’s fists at the same time that she healed from childbirth. 
  • The volunteer who answers our crisis line – when she fled from her violent relationship 35 years ago, there was no crisis line for her to call.
  • The 12-year-old boy who came to Safe Harbor with his mom after throwing rocks at his step-father, trying to prevent him from pushing her to the ground again.
  • The high school student who came up to our teen educator after she had completed a presentation about dating abuse in his class – he asked, “If someone grows up watching his dad beat his mom, does that mean that he is going to grow up to become an abuser, too?”
  • The woman who came to Safe Harbor 2 years ago with no self esteem and a hopeless outlook on life.  Today, she is working in her dream job and living in a home of her own.
  • The brother & sister who came with their mom to the shelter, struggling with nightmares and flashbacks and anxiety due to the violence they had experienced at home.  Now, they laugh and play and sleep soundly every night.

These stories mold us and change us, helping us to constantly look at the world through a new lens and with a fresh perspective.  And, perhaps for the first time, we are realizing that these stories are not just our stories.  They are not just the stories of the people who shared them with us.  They are your stories, too.  They are the stories of our community.  They are the stories of those victims of domestic violence and children witnessing violence who haven’t had a chance to tell their story yet. 

Through this project, we are learning how to tell our stories.  They will remain safe and confidential and sacred.  But, hopefully, these stories will impact our community, open our eyes, and call us to work together for change.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I am so very glad you are telling stories. I know for a fact that telling my story out loud to a group of my peers saved a girl from a relationship that was very violent. She heard my story when it was still fresh it was my first night back at work. She came to me about 6 months later and gave me a hug and said thank you for telling your story I am out and free now, luckily before I married him.
    My Story:
    I had been married for about 4 years before the first baby was born. That time in my life was happy. Then he began to give into the pressures of being a new dad. Alcohol became his new friend then that led to all kinds of Drug Abuse… I was oblivious or in denial. We had been married 6 years when the 2nd child was born. Everything made him mad. He began to throw things and there was not a wall in the house that had not been patched by him the day after. I felt like I was in Hell. I hated him and I hated my life. When the truth about the drugs and alcohol came to light I was confused, hurt, and torn about what to do. I felt like I was trapped in our marriage. I felt that I needed him, needed the money he made, and needed the physical affection he showed me every time we made up, which by now was 2-3 times a week. I rationalized it… “You don’t get married to get divorced. The children need to grow up with their father, and he doesn’t intend to do it, it is only the drugs and alcohol.” I had sort of reached a limit gave and ultimatum, “If you don’t clean up get sober I am leaving!” He actually went to the leader of our church and went to rehab. Then he got a better job and started helping at home, it was nice, sweet and felt similar to those first 4 years. I had now been married 8 years and baby number 3 came, I called him my angel. We moved to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood and I thought I had it all. Then, the drinking began again and so did the throwing things and punching the walls. I rationalized it once again, “It is only alcohol, not the illegal drugs, and he doesn’t know that he is hurting me because all the violence is only at the walls.” The children and I began to sleep together in the queen size bed; he had been sleeping in his own twin bed for a while. I was too scared to let the kids out of my sight. It was violent and scary almost every night but; “only at the walls”. I had become a shell of the person that had married him 10 years earlier. I had no friends, my family did not talk to me much, and at work nobody knew the “real” me. I never did anything to my hair and I had gained over 40 lbs.; I hated myself. The children had become friends with the kids across the street and their mother tried to be my friend, but she could tell I was holding something back. She also got tired of me putting her off because I had to clean the house so that he wouldn’t get mad. Her husband tried to reach out to my husband too. So one summer in June we decided to go camping together with camp sites side by side; that was the first time he choked me. Since a tent has no walls to hit a knife was used to slash the tent into little pieces. The neighbors saw it all, and I made excuses. Within a day of getting home he choked me again. It was as if the invisible boundary protecting me had been removed. Then every week after that he either hit, choked, or threatened me with a knife. I still had not had enough, I still made excuses. The September after the camping trip he just decided to quit his job for no apparent reason other than to just quit. I was scared that I would have to provide and knew I couldn’t do it good enough, another reason to beat me. I was wrong, I made a way, I found extra hours to work and was able to keep all the bills paid as well as all of his alcohol bought. This was a secret blessing, it showed me I could do it on my own and it started a fire in me that made me want to find a way to leave; but I had to be careful. I started to save and hoped I could work it out. Just a few months later in December, on his Birthday, he had way too much to drink, a binge that should have killed him. We had gone out to dinner and when we got home the yelling and beating began. It was like none of the others, this time I think he meant to kill me. He used a sword, he collected them, but it was not sharpened. He stripped me so that I was bare chested in front of my children (2 of them boys). He threw a knife at me the table still has the mark that was the place the blade landed. He choked me and he beat my head against the floor until I passed out. I was cut, I was hurt, and I was bruised. This “fight” lasted 2 hours. I was kneeling on the floor begging for my life when I realized I needed to beg God. I prayed like I had never prayed before I prayed out loud. He told me God wouldn’t listen to a stupid girl like me, he then sat down and stopped. He got sleepy and laid on our couch. I found my keys; he had taken them from me during the fight. My daughter only 8 at the time had dressed herself and her brothers to go outside when she heard the noise stop she came out and said “We are leaving right, MOMMY?” I said “yes” and got them outside. He heard the noise and he said “Will you be back soon?” Luckily this had been a pattern, He would get mad, mess things up, and I would pack the kids up and stay away for an hour or so. He trusted me to return, but this time I had finally had enough and I wanted to leave. I drove to a nearby gas station and called 911. He was arrested and the policemen were kind and helpful, however, they said that I should not stay at the house because it was not safe to be there. I got some things and left, I went to my sister’s house. The next day I called the school to explain and I asked to speak to the guidance counselor because I knew I needed to keep them safe. I told her a brief version of the story. She recommended Safe Harbor, so I called the hotline and went immediately. It was the hardest yet the best 8 weeks of my life. They helped me help myself. All three of my children were able to learn the new habit of sleeping in their own bed. The nightmares and flashbacks were nightly. The littlest who was 2 had turned back into a nonverbal, non-walking baby. The middle child attempted suicide once. We were a mess. In February I went back to my house, all cleaned up by my church family and all the holes patched by my neighbor. Counseling continued for a long time, over a year, and changing the way we felt took a lot of time, patience and tears. I filed for divorce and was granted it within 6 months of filing. Now life is well, normal. The children don’t have nightmares or suicidal thoughts and neither do I. We all laugh and smile every single day. I am happily remarried to the kindest sweetest man and now realize what a relationship should be. Truly the happiest I have ever been. I am free, I am happy and I am Alive.
    As for him, he plead guilty to CDV high and aggravated and was sentenced for 10 years. He was released after 1 year and 1 month and given 5 years’ probation. He sees his children supervised.

    1. Heather –
      Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and with others through this blog. It is heart-wrenching and powerful, and I hope it will bring awareness and hope to many.

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