Left Behind

A story written by the Mother of a Domestic Violence Survivor as she witnessed the aftermath of healing.

As evidence that Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention programs have done an incredible job educating society, our google world is full of articles, stories, photographs and just plain information galore once the subject is typed in the magical search bar but this story is meant to give you a bird’s eye view of the aftermath that takes place in the lives of those left behind.

I can remember once my child made the choice to get help, the cliché question was asked by nearly everyone who was able to get close enough to hear the answer.  “Why did you stay?”  It’s cliché for a reason.  Everyone who has never been in this type of situation can give you a thousand reasons to get out that are all filled with strength, determination, knowledge, personal belief, self-confidence and more but they usually can’t come up with one reason to stay so knowing that people do can be confusing and I think that once the question is asked, it is usually with a belief that the answer will come with an Ah-ha bullet that makes them immediately understand.   After hearing some of the answers, most will still be waiting for the Ah-ha bullet as it has been my experience that you won’t understand unless you have walked a mile in their shoes….. another cliché that fits perfectly.

I’m going to focus on an answer that is as clear as the nose on your face and yet, not given enough consideration.  I know the words that I’m about to put in writing are going to strike some in a very negative way so I want to ask the reader to please have an open mind while reading.  Allow yourself to visualize the reality that some of these people end up living with.  It might be easy to minimize the feelings of hunger when you have never gone more than a day without food.  It might be easy to dismiss how painful the cold can be if you haven’t had to endure freezing temperatures for days at a time with no real ability to find warmth for you or your children.  It’s probably going to be almost impossible for anyone to comprehend the thought that death might be the lesser of two evils for one who has never wished to die.

What happens to the family financially when their income is taken away?  The answer is obvious so why would this excuse be so hard to understand?  When we look into the numerous stories of how well the system did to “relieve” the victims of their undesirable situation it seems that the story ends there.  Everyone involved can take a deep breath – the battle is over!  Not quite!  For most, the battle has just begun.

There is a published study (https://www.nap.edu/read/18613/chapter/11#266)  that speaks mountains on the financial effects that are hurled upon these victims with deafening effects that might not take shape for months after everyone has chosen to be happy for an unforgiving outcome.  This study states that “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half of the fathers in state prisons report being the primary breadwinner in their family.”  When this equation is removed so abruptly, it is understandable that an economic hardship on the innocent will appear.  What is not understandable is how we, as society can be so blind to this consequence as we continue to ask “Why would you stay?”

From first-hand experience, my husband and I had the privilege to give my child solace for nearly a year as she adjusted to her decision to move on from a violent situation.  I gained a new level of respect for her financial situation as my husband and I tried to support her and my grandchildren at the same time we were supporting the remainder of our 6 children at home.  I continuously asked myself how in the hell was she going to manage financially on her own with these two boys when both my husband and I were struggling with our own two incomes.

For nearly a year, we looked into every ounce of support that could have been offered by outside sources.  Each and every day it seemed we ran into a new wall.  We moved her over 2,000 miles away into a different state.  This state hit us with waiting periods at every department we contacted.  They didn’t want to use their money to support an individual until they became a citizen of that state.  Understandable, but the state we took her from was not able to offer their services because she no longer resided in that state.  No problem, we would wait their mandatory time frame.  Our thought process was not to take advantage of the system.  My children were brought up just like I was with the belief that the welfare system was not there to take care of people, it was there to help people get back on their feet.  And to be honest, considering the amount of taxes I have paid, my husband has paid, my children’s father has paid, let alone how much taxes my daughter and her husband had already paid into the system, I believed then just as I believe now that it was OK for her to ask for the help – she deserved it!  But help would never come!  In order for her to qualify for financial aid, she had to be out from under my roof for a minimum amount of time too.  How in the hell was she supposed to do that first?  Once she was able to get established, her ethics, education and sheer will power would guarantee her a paycheck that would allow her to stay established but how do you move two children into an apartment in order to qualify for public assistance when you have absolutely no money coming in? This is a major reason why they stay and why it is so easy to go back!

I have told my story before and I know how many people would like to think that we missed something.  We must have been doing something wrong.  We didn’t talk to the right people.  This is not the case.  Our research and exhausting self-education of a somewhat broken system was extensive.  I walk around all of the time wondering how in the hell some people are on public assistance and am sometimes sickened by the length of time others have been able to stay on it since it was an impossible situation for us.

This brings us to a year later.  Still struggling and the healing has begun.  But not in the way I think the outside world would expect or prefer.  My daughter went through a grief process and mourned the loss of her entire past life.  Every piece of furniture she ever owned – gone.  Every hope and dream she carried for her family’s future – changed forever.  Years of personal belongings and treasures minimized to what could fit in the trunk of a small car.  It was a turbulent year filled with every stage of grief that she should have had.  But, there was also an undying love for a partner that her soul chose.  Again – society finds it easy to condemn her choices with no real empathy due to the fact that her situation is not common.  You cannot force someone to STOP loving someone else.  It’s easy for the majority to believe that hatred is an automatic emotion for negative behavior but believe me when I tell you IT IS NOT! I thank God, every day that her situation does not happen to the majority because I have 6 children – I DON’T WANT TO GO THROUGH THIS WITH ANY OTHERS!!  Her choice nearly 1 full year to the day was to move back to her home state and continue a life with “her soulmate.”

I look back on the building blocks that may have allowed her heart and soul to make this decision.  I respect my daughter.  I raised her!  She is the tiniest of my children and yet her roar is the most destructive.  She is a strong woman who can back up her bark with a furious bite if need be.  I don’t know anyone who would describe her as anything but strong, confident, intelligent, etc.  Weakness is not in her DNA but, I have seen her beaten down and nearly destroyed, left to struggle for every breath she took for months as she tried to rebuild her life.  She was not recovering from broken pride or broken bones, she was trying to recover from a broken heart ~ which in the best of circumstances can take years to heal if healing ever takes place at all.  An invisible wound with the ache of an entire shattered body.  Suffering in the darkness alone because her strength as a woman would not allow the world to see the scars.  She took such courageous steps during her year with us.  She read book after book to gain knowledge in her situation and wanted to know everything she could learn about the effects of her situation on not only her, but her own children.  These were and still are her strongest building blocks!  Although she insists, and to this day can get very upset when she feels the need to defend it, she clearly states that she went back out of sheer love and the inability to live without him, but I am still haunted with the belief that she had no financial ability to see it any other way and unlike her husband who was receiving hours and hours of counseling and therapy as ordered by the state, she was unable to consider this option, also due to lack of financial ability.

I use the term “building blocks” as an analogy.  When our soul builds a wall – regardless of positive bricks or negative bricks, we do it one moment at a time. Each situation, each emotion allows us to create a mental reason for protection on whatever level is needed.  We are building these walls throughout our entire lives.  Some bricks are impenetrable, some bricks are made of sand and are only meant to be temporary so they are easily removed and replaced and some just fade away on their own.  In proper timing, our walls work exactly as they need to but what happens when the wall is demolished all at once and you are left to sit with the scattered pieces with no idea which blocks to reuse, which ones to toss out or more importantly, you are left with no real idea on which foundations are stable. I think that the first 4 – 6 months in my basement probably felt like a fog as she seemed to be trying to figure out what kind of future she would be able to provide my grandchildren.  I didn’t really see any major building blocks being set until the first time she had to send her two babies back to her home state for a month in order to comply with a court order for visitation.  Thankfully, this visit was paid for by my daughter’s mother in law but the future consequence of this reality seemed to hit her like a thousand sharp knives straight through the gut and the heart.  This would be another new fact that she had not yet realized.  And another answer to those irritating “Why” questions.  She would be financially responsible for transporting her children over 2,000 miles’ numerous times per year.  Really?  She couldn’t even afford bread for her table and now by law, THIS?  Do yourself a favor and check out the price of plane tickets across country!  This and the need to be away from your small children for weeks or months at a time due to the distance?  Under these specific circumstance, how could this be better?

Her life was evolving very slowly away from everything she had come to find normal in the worst of circumstance and now, she was finding that “the love of her life” had been doing very well and as third parties would testify was surpassing all expectations in the program that he had been admitted to and was soon to be released “a changed man!”.  He still loved her and she still loved him.  He still wanted her back and he definitely wanted his children close by and in turn, she was still depressed and very lonely, had no money as every penny (and more) she made was going to daycare, rent and food.  In her eyes, she was only digging a deeper hole with every breath she took.  In her eyes, she would never be enough for her children, not because she did not believe in herself or because she was afraid to be enough, but literally, given the potential – realistic wage (which was very good) would NEVER be enough.  She believed that a life back “home” was better than what she tried to create on her own and as badly as I wanted to disagree, there was no real argument other than telling her to hang on and let everything get worse so we could wait out the mandatory time frame in order to get the financial aid necessary to survive.  She had already been in her empty apartment for almost 2 months and her misery started to return.  In our eyes, it seemed that the moment her husband was released back into the free world and out of his required living arrangement where he was focusing on his anger issues and substance abuse habits, she made a decision that her only option was to go back home.  Although she was well on her way to learning how to live alone, she wanted him back.

As a mother, I found her choice terrifying and I was so angry that his family made is so financially easy to jump on the first flight they could find as the financial support had not been received for monthly living expenses in the form of child support.  I am just like the rest of the world that condemns harshly and finds change a nearly impossible task where this type of situation is concerned but the educated, rational side of me knows that although there are very few statistics to support the change required, change is always possible given the proper circumstance. (i.e. PROFESSIONAL HELP).  My daughter did not seem to run back blind.  She had been in contact with her husband’s church and his counselors and she believed that the proof was there that she was no longer in physical danger from a man who paid his debt to society and who repented for his past actions.

I heard success story after success story for an entire year.  They were real success stories and they should be believed.  They were rebuilding their credit.  They were spending time as a family and my grandchildren seemed to prosper. Of course, I also heard issue after issue just like with any relationship.  Her Father, her step-Father and I were of course nervous with every confrontation but we were there to support and to stay in constant communication.  I was proud of my daughter for continuing her approach to wellness and I was in support of my son in law as he did the same.  I had to watch my daughter go through hell all alone when she tried to live near my husband and I nearly a year before and no matter what I tried, there was nothing I could do to provide her comfort.  Only time would have healed her wounds if they were willing to heal over.  In her situation, the wounds were going to continue to open each and every time she thought of the life that she wanted.  I understood that.  My heart broke over and over as I prayed for comfort that never came.  The poverty that her and my grandchildren endured without my son in law even then was gut wrenching and truth is, with each and every negative situation that I witnessed when they were back together, not once did she seem miserable.  Not once.  She still states that this is better than 2015.  – Yet, another glimpse into “Why”.

It has been over 2 years since she moved in with us. Throughout this time, there were many ups and downs and many new experiences filled with growth, adversity and change.  There are now 3 grandchildren being raised by this beautiful soul who has held on to her integrity and her heart through numerous life challenges.  Life seemed to be slowly but surely moving in the right direction and she seemed to be optimistic of her future.  A completely different set of life trials hit her in the face once again threatening my grandchildren’s happiness.  Although she insists that physical violence is in her past, a new predator in the form of mental illness seemed to arise out of the ashes as her and her husband continued to venture through the inevitable healing process.   A predator that could have been lying in wait for years and could have possibly played an enormous part in the initial problems.  It seems we are now back to the same place under different circumstances but this time, she is very well aware of “the alternative”.   She has walked through the pits of hell and she will be damned to not give up without a fight and I believe, although exhausted and broken feels entirely up to the challenge.

I find myself with a smerky smile as I just realized – literally as I was typing – the sickening fact that it did seem a bit easier for her to get some financial help this time.  It’s been about 6 weeks since her husband was taken into custody and since then, she has not seen a paycheck.  She and her children have felt hunger.  If the church hadn’t stepped in, they would be close and possibly are still close to eviction.  They have had their utilities shut off due to non-payment and they will be repossessing her vehicle very soon if things don’t change and the financial nightmare has once again begun but just as the States needed it, this time, we are not there to help. Wow!

My daughter wants the world to believe that her current situation is based on “healing”.  It is a fact that the stages of a healing wound will show visual evidence of getting worse just as the healing process starts.  A black eye looks drastically worse about a day after the initial impact and still tends to change from black/blue to yellow before the eye will ever look normal. A cut into the skin will scab over and tighten causing an irritating itch and if not continually cared for may lose its scab causing blood from the same “old” wound until the scab forms again.  A wound this deep can take much longer for permanent adhesion to take place and even when it does, you are left with a visible scar.  Domestic Violence is a serious situation and studies show that those who perpetrate these crimes have some serious issues.  No matter who you are, these issues WILL take time to fix and when fixing any issue, it would not be uncommon to find underlining issues that are just as important to repair.  This is what my daughter wants you to understand.  In her words is a letter she wrote to the Judge hoping she could help him understand.

I find myself perplexed as to their current situation.  It’s not the same but I myself seem to be bound by assumptions and judgement from the past.  If I am to believe what I am being told by the one person who sees it all first hand, then this time, there has been a huge injustice based on the same judgmental feelings. If this is just an inevitable path to healing that needs to be taken, then the victim has been victimized once again by taking the bread winner out of the equation.  A puzzle cannot be completed if even one piece is missing.  Two years ago, my daughter’s entire family was set on a path, part by requirement, part by ambition and part by sheer will to survive.  There were strict rules to follow and catastrophic lessons to learn.  To my knowledge, the fix was not given a time limit and I don’t believe that anyone could possibly know exactly how long a “fix” like this would take.  Poverty is not the cure and its long-term health risks (both physical and mental) on wives and their children should undoubtedly be considered by the states before an individual is taken into custody and forced to lose possibly the only income a family may have.

There is no doubt in my mind that the fear of financial hardship is the number one reason victims stay victims – regardless of what they are victim of.  If asking for help has such devastating consequences for the majority, why in the hell would they get out?

I know my daughter is strong enough to make it through this fight regardless of the outcome.  If she chooses to keep her family together, it will stay together regardless of the fight.  If she chooses to take on this world alone with 3 beautiful children knowing that she will need support from outside sources, then she will succeed alone.  She is a lion although most see a kitty cat.  She will be the best thing that ever happened to her husband if he elects to continue his wellness or she will be the worst possible loss because she is one in a million.  I know her trials and tribulations were meant for her although I don’t know why yet.  Maybe she will be meant to influence others by sharing her experiences one day?  Regardless, I trust in her entirely.  I believe her entirely and I adore her entirely!

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