Domestic violence survivor shares her journey to long-term healing

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Surviving domestic violence is no easy task but it’s possible. As we've listened to the voices of domestic violence, WGN spoke to one who looks back to help others look forward.

Rachel Caidor, director of the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline said they answer over 25,000 calls from survivors and their families per year.

“On a given day, we’ll hear everything from a mother of three needing to flee and us helping her safety plan for her exit,” she said. “We have to brainstorm with them about going through the couch for bus money.”

She said they have to work with them about whether they can get to a police station or a hospital where DHS can pick them up and get them to shelter.

The calm and resourceful voices at the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline are a comfort to the voices filled with fear on the other end of the line.

"Every time you see someone who was killed by their partner in the news you can’t help but wonder if they called the hotline once or twice and weren’t ready to take the referral,” she said. “We take our job very seriously because we have firsthand relationship to the lethality. I don’t know anyone who’s done this job for more than five years who doesn’t know someone who has been murdered by their abusive partner.”

Caidor said what they do is that they have hope that whatever resilience made a person call the hotline has carried them through the next steps.

Sara, a domestic violence survivor, said shes’ still on a journey, but she doesn’t want to live in terror anymore.

She said she got married at 18 and at that point, she said she was very desperate to feel loved and didn’t have a good understanding of what a healthy relationship should look like.

“It was abusive. I didn’t recognize that as being a problem,” she said. “My solution wasn’t to try to figure out how to leave. It was to figure out how I could be better so that I wouldn’t get hurt. I had very, very low self-worth.”

Sara was married for four and a half years. She had two little boys with a third on the way. But after a physical altercation with her husband, she lost her baby. She said that was her breaking point.

“I don’t even know how to put words to it,” she said. “When you hit rock bottom that hard, at that point I wouldn’t have cared if I got killed or how dangerous it was to leave. I didn’t care anymore. I paid too high a price.”

Instead of going home from the hospital, Sara chose to be homeless. She took her kids, ages 1 and 2, and escaped her relationship.

“I had nothing left to live for but them and keeping them safe,” she said.

At last count, there were 116 shelter beds in the city of Chicago. Forty percent of them are at the WINGS shelter.

“I think when people think shelters they think of something dark and dank,” Carline Theodore, Wings Shelter senior manager, said.

She said WINGS is a home where fleeing victims and their children can find a measure of dignity and comfort.

“Picture a family that comes in about midnight, they’re tired, they have nothing. Here we have different sized pampers, tooth paste, tooth brushes, a little feel good for the ladies scented lotion,” Theodore said.

After two months of bouncing around with her two children in tow, Sara found a spot at a WINGS shelter.

“I’ll never forget the day I came in there,” she said. “It was safe and it was peaceful and there was an abundance of food and diapers. There was a bedroom just for us. I just started crying. I felt like I was in heaven. So for the first time in a long time, I could let my mental guard down and rest for a minute.”

But there was little rest. With the support of the shelter staff, Sara seized the opportunity to rebuild her life. She worked full-time, enrolled at Harper College in the IT program and soon moved to transitional housing--a program that bridged her to her own, permanent home.

“We get our physical needs met we have a home and we’re able to provide for our families that’s really important and hard to get there but after that, it’s not the end of our journey I learned,” Sara said.

It’s one of the reasons Sara agreed to share her story with us and others who may be struggling now.

“If they don't know, they'll go back,” she said.

Emotional trauma often surfaces long after leaving an abusive relationship.

“After the survival mode ended, once I got stabilized, that's when it came up,” she said.

“I kind of had a breakdown during that time period and I got diagnosed with PTSD,” Sara said. “That was a tough part of the journey.”

For Sara, counseling was critical.

“It takes a lot of hard work and it takes time,” she said. “I had been gripped by that trauma. I really unpacked all of that stuff I had been carrying.”

She educated herself about healthy relationships and having boundaries. But one trait carried her through—hope.

“One of the biggest barriers to long term success is people having low self-worth and not having a sense of hope and thinking it’s not possible to have something better than what they have right now,” she said. “It really is possible to go on and have a fulfilling life even after being homeless being abused don’t accept that as a long term permanent placement.”

Sara said she is happy and has really good friendships. She said her kids are thriving and they are happy. She said she enjoys her life now.

“It’s a long journey but you don’t have to do it alone,” she said.

Resources for Domestic Violence

National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-7233
Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line
(877) 863-6338

WINGS Program
(847) 221-5680, 24-hour help line

South Suburban Family Shelter
24-hour hotline
(708) 335-3028

Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network

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