Author: Melissa Barber
Happy First Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today we give thanks for Courage and its path to a mental, physical and emotional liberation.
Sometimes it is the hardest thing to find the courage to leave a bad situation to which we have gotten so accustomed. Recently, I was checking in on a relative to see how she was doing. She quickly replied that she was so overwhelmed and trying to stay level-headed. When I inquired more, she began to explain her plight. She told me that her boyfriend’s mother had recently physically and verbally attacked her in front of her one year old son; this same lady wanted her to get her things and get out of the apartment she had given them; although my relative had demanded that this woman no longer see her grandson, her boyfriend was sneaking behind her back to take the child to see the grandmother anyway. My relative even forwarded me the media post where this woman was repeatedly verbally assaulting her on display for the world to read. On top of all of the physical, mental and verbal abuse she was suffering, her uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis was progressively worsening such that she lost much of the strength and function in her hands and wrists.
My first reaction was to roll up on the boyfriend’s mother and give her a taste of her own medicine. (I’m always trying to stay saved but people be testing a sister’s nerves. She put her hands on my younger family member in the presence of a little baby!) My relative was understandably angry, hurt and disappointed that this older lady, who should have been mature, loving, and supportive, was completely behaving the opposite.
After hearing all the mess, in my calm voice I tried to comfort my relative and assure her that the abuse she had suffered was not okay and totally wrong. But then the rational, put-on-your-big-girl- panties voice showed up and asked the real question of her. “What are you going to do?” She talked about how she wanted to leave but was facing so many obstacles. She explained how she wanted to go in a corner and cry but couldn’t because her baby son was with her 24 hours a day and she had no break. My reply was, “go in the corner and cry your eyes out for as long as you need to, to get it all out. But, when you are done crying, you need to think about and act on what your next move is going to be.” I also let her know that she was not helpless or a victim unless she wanted to be. I told her, “Nobody can make you stay where you don’t want to be and nobody can make you do what you do not want to do! There are always options. The unknown is very scary but you have to believe that there is always something better than where you are right now. ” My relative was still making all the excuses in the world to stay, worrying about how her decision to leave would affect everybody else. I knew that there was not much I could do for her but be loving, supportive, and encourage her to love herself more than the abuse. I knew that when enough was really enough, she would find the same courage to leave like I did.
I was living in a very emotionally, psychologically and verbally abusive domestic situation for a long time too. I had convinced myself that there were no other options and made so many excuses to stay and just tolerate the verbal and psychological abuse. But, one day that abusive situation turned physically violent and I knew that I was done. (I could barely tolerate the verbal, psychological and emotional abuse; physical abuse was and is always my last straw!) I called the police and reported the incident and took the necessary measures to protect myself and my daughter.
I had applied for so many apartments but none of them had come through. I was even going to rent a room and that fell through at the last minute. The only option I had at the time was a homeless shelter. The idea of taking my daughter to a shelter was freaking me out because of all the stories of violence of which I heard. But, I knew that I would never allow myself or my daughter to be physically abused by anyone—so we were definitely not staying where we were–and I also wasn’t going to have my daughter living in the street. I cried in “my corner” for what seemed like hours as I prayed. I prayed so much throughout that night, I didn’t even sleep. Although I was terrified of not knowing what would happen next, the following day I filed a restraining order and started all of the legal proceedings to implement it. While everything was happening, I begged God to give us favor and to give me courage to face everything that would come with the experience.
I told myself that I would make one last ditch attempt to get a place but if it didn’t work out, the next day, when my daughter came home from school, we would go to Path to incorporate into a shelter. I fleeced God and asked to receive three specific signs before midnight to make sure that this was in His will for us. (The last sign came at 11:59pm that night!) I told God that after what I had just been through, I couldn’t stomach another degrading experience and would appreciate having a kind worker when I got to Path. I even asked God to shield Lilah from every harmful occurrence that could happen while we were in the shelter. (God did it!)
Going to Path was a very cold experience. There were so many people there that we waited at least 5 or 6 hours to be seen. Most of the workers in Path didn’t even look me in the eye; they treated me like another number. I remember asking one of the male workers, with silent tears running down my face, if he could look at me while he asked me questions. The final person who interviewed me was so kind; it was such a shock until I was reminded of my prayer the night before. That same night, while others were being turned away, Lilah and I got placement into a family shelter in Harlem and spent the next seven months there until we were able to get a place of our own.
The shelter system was no joke! It was an absolute mess. (You have to go to day 2 in the book of last year’s journey to learn about that experience.) But, in that level of crazy, I had found peace of mind and the courage to leave any and everything that did not serve me. I found the courage to love me more than the abuse. I found the courage to set boundaries that I would no longer EVER let anyone cross. I found courage to stop making excuses for other people’s horrific and dysfunctional behavior. I found courage to advocate for myself and others who were in my same situation. Most importantly, I found the courage to trust God and the words of promise that I was never forgotten or forsaken. I know now more than ever, I am never helpless. There are always options. I am never a victim, unless I choose to be. In the midst of all the fear of the unknown, I chose to fight for courage, my voice and my identity.
Today as we give thanks for courage, I highlight the organization Safe Horizons (Moving Victims from Crisis to Confidence – Safe Horizon), which has been helping people flee abusive situations and crime for over 40 years. Please donate so that you can help “victims of violence to move from crisis to confidence.” If you know someone in an abusive situation that wants and needs out, their 24-hour crisis hotline, 1-800-621-4673, can be accessed to get them to safety immediately.
Have a great Day of Thanks