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'This is the First Time I’ve Actually Faced It”

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Donna swept through the door of the Stamford shelter, smiling and greeting everyone in the room as though they had been friends for years rather than for just three short weeks. Her two-year-old son, Zach, also laughed and waved when he spotted his friend Brian and bounced up and down to be released from his stroller. The two toddlers immediately re-engaged, communicating in toddler-speak and oblivious to the adults around them.

Tall and regal-looking, Donna exuded a self-confidence and openness not often associated with new residents at the battered women’s shelter; women whose lives first have been shattered, often for years, by those who are supposed to love them and then turned upside down when they are forced to flee.

But while she was forthcoming about her past, it soon became clear that Donna’s self-confidence was newly found and very much a product of the insight and support she had gained since moving into the shelter with Zach and her six-year-old daughter.

“This is the first time I’ve actually faced it,” Donna said of her 20-year relationship with her abuser, a man she described as intelligent, charming and extremely manipulative.

Donna grew up in a nearby town and worked for a local business for a number of years before giving birth to her first child (she has two older children, not in the shelter).  It was the eventual realization that her children, three of whom are boys, would likely grow up to emulate their father’s abusive behavior that motivated her to leave. Fleeing to another state, and then back to Connecticut, she learned about DVCC from a social worker at another agency.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Donna said. “My daughter is in school, I feel safe at night and I know where my next meal is going to come from. I finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.”

The shelter staff, Donna said, has been her primary source of strength.

“They assist you, but don’t baby and coddle you. They guide you, but you have to do the work. They make you be proactive in your life instead of just reacting,” she said.

According to Donna, it is both the big things and the small touches that have made her feel she came to the right place: from the staff’s skill in helping with practical everyday matters and providing supportive counseling to the bag of toiletries they gave her when she arrived; from the camaraderie with other residents to being able to cook a meal in the newly-renovated kitchen; from having a secure environment in which to plan a new start to knowing her daughter is happy in school.

Shelter residents who avail themselves of DVCC services discover that there is a wide network of help within the DVCC family – help in the courts with restraining orders and other civil legal matters, help with housing, ongoing counseling support for them and their children and groups to join for peer support.

Donna is very much looking forward to finding a job, starting divorce proceedings and moving into her own place. The shelter, meanwhile, is where she is building the confidence, self-awareness and practical skills to move in that direction.