Dallas, TX – I grew up with domestic violence. As a child, I witnessed my mother's escape from it, and as an adult, I lived with an abusive husband. My two children and I left him in 1996. It was our ninth time to leave. We first went to my sister's and slept on her floor. Then I went to a social service agency, and they told me about a shelter. I didn't think I would qualify because I wasn't black and blue like my mom always was when my dad beat her. But I felt the same as she did, shameful and worthless.
I remember seeing my father kick my mother in the stomach when she was six months pregnant. He gave her black eyes and broke her nose twice. He would beat my brother and me in front of each other and told us if we cried, he would beat us more.
When Mom left Daddy for the final time, she took us five children to stay at my aunt's. Aunt Rene's daughter and her three children were staying there, too, escaping from their abuser. I remember that Mom borrowed Aunt Rene's pistol. She was afraid of what Dad would do to us when he got out of jail. He did come, and Mom confronted him with the gun. He left, but I always wondered how our lives would have turned out if Mom had killed Dad that night.
At that time, my mother's only choice was to live in the projects in Houston. Her two sisters were married to abusive men, and we couldn't stay with our grandparents because Grandpa had molested Mom as a child, and she was afraid he would molest us. Eventually he did. She hadn't finished high school, so she worked full time at night and attended school full time during the day.
While my mother never sought any counseling, I, on the other hand, had the resources of a shelter and its services. When I went to the shelter, it provided a court advocate to escort me to court and help me obtain a protective order. We were given an apartment that was anonymous so that our abuser could not stalk us like he did the other eight times we left. There was daycare for my children.
Most importantly, the shelter helped me locate psychiatric help to overcome my depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as provided much needed counseling for myself and my daughters.
I had left my abuser so many times before and always returned because of money and fear. I didn't feel like my daughters deserved to have such a pathetic person for a mother. I wasn't there for them emotionally or financially. I felt like such a failure. I was ready to end my life.
It took me a long time to recognize that I was being abused. I didn't know that besides physical abuse, domestic violence is emotional abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, using the children, economic abuse, male privilege, coercion and threats.
The shelter I went to helped me gain control over my life. With their help, I went back to school and I am now a graphic designer. For the first time in my life, I feel more important than my abusers. I feel like I have a real chance to make it. My mother's journey from domestic violence ended with my journey. My daughters won't repeat the cycle of abuse. And that is the most precious gift anyone has ever given me.
Angela Hayden is a writer and artist in Dallas.