Umbrella is the local Domestic Violence Advocacy Program, it is where my mom went for help with at least two of her partners in my lifetime, and where I went for two of my abusive relationships.
The thing about domestic violence, is that it can run in the family. The cycle of abuse is passed down the family lines, and for many, it becomes their normal. Places like Umbrella help break that cycle. They offer resources and support to help end the domestic violence. And, they do it without judgement.
The first time my mom took my brother and I to Umbrella, was when my dad threatened to kill us. It wasn’t when he left us in bloody bruises. It wasn’t when he forced sex on her. It wasn’t when he threw a television set at my then 11 year old brother, who had just lost his father. It wasn’t when he would snap his belt off and take the metal buckle to our bare bottoms. It wasn’t when his rage filled the house with screams, and swears, and terror. It was when he had a gun, and had a plan.
The advocates at Umbrella did not turn us away because my mom didn’t leave sooner. They didn’t turn us away because it was too scary. They gave us support, and connected us with the proper resources.
Seventeen years later, I raced to Umbrella, where my mom and sister were filling out a restraining order on my mom’s then husband. My sister had just disclosed her father had been sexually abusing her for the past seven years. That was what made my mom seek help. It wasn’t when I disclosed the sexual abuse that happened to me. It wasn’t when he called her worthless, fat or ugly. It wasn’t when he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t when he kicked our sweet, aging golden retriever. It was when the fear overpowered her. It was when the police arrested him at his work. Umbrella didn’t turn her away because he had done it to her other daughter. They didn’t make her feel bad for the times she didn’t walk away. They gave her and my sister a safe place, and helped them through the hard days.
When I was 19 and my ex-boyfriend who bought a gun just to kill me with if I left him started stalking me, they opened their doors to me. I couldn’t tell my family what was happening, because even with the history, they wouldn’t have supported me. The advocates at Umbrella were who I knew I could talk to, and be guided in the safe direction.
When my now ex-husband was arrested for chocking me, Umbrella advocates took my panicked call when I found out he was released in the late hours of the night. I couldn’t meet with anyone at that time, because I didn’t have anywhere for my kids to go, so we made a plan to meet in the morning. She made sure I was safe, and asked me to make sure my doors and windows were locked, and asked me to call back if I needed to get there before the morning.
The next morning, they welcomed me, and helped me complete the paperwork for the restraining order. They didn’t judge me because it took me so long to call the police. They didn’t make me feel like a bad mom because I hadn’t left sooner. They listened and offered compassion.
Three years after this, my youngest daughter disclosed to me that her dad had been sexually abusing her. After hearing her story, my first call was to Umbrella. The advocate listened through my tears and hyperventilating. She told me she had to call DCYF, and gave me the number to call as well. I went in the next day to fill out another restraining order. They did not send me away because I dropped the last order. They understood he had bullied me into telling the court I no longer felt afraid. They didn’t judge me because I let him manipulate and continue to abuse me, and my children. They gave me a safe place to get help when my world fell apart.
Over, and over again. Mistake, after mistake, they never withheld services to me, or my mom. They understood the layers of abuse, power, and control. They offered compassion, and support when I needed it most. They did not blame me, even when I blamed myself.
Often, the advocates see people in the most traumatic times in their lives. Fearing for their safety, and even their lives. Their gentle approach, and welcoming environment helped save my mom’s life, my life, and my children’s lives.
When I was asked to lead the candlelight vigil/moment of silence at the Walk for Justice, I didn’t hesitate. I knew I wanted to offer my support, and compassion, as they had done so many times for me, my family, and the community.
Below is a copy of what I said last night at the Walk for Justice:
Just a few years ago, the thought that I would be killed by my abuser took over most everything else. The reminder came each time another beautiful soul lost their life to violence. I was pulled into their story, grieving lives I never met, because that could have been me. Our stories are powerful, and we each have one-if not ours-someone we love. I vow to use my voice for those that lost theirs-or have not yet been able to find theirs. I invite you to share yours- as little- or as much as you are comfortable-to free yourself, and help others. Let our voices be the change that breaks the cycle and bring awareness. Let us be a light in the darkness, because as long as we keep talking, and advocating, we keep the spark of awareness lit. Tonight let us remember those taken too soon from us, hold a safe space for the ones that haven’t left yet, and solidarity for the ones who have.
If you or someone you love need help, please reach out to your local domestic violence support center. Please don’t feel ashamed because you’ve been there before. Please don’t stay in an unsafe situation because you don’t think they will understand. Please go. Please ask questions. Please read pamphlets if you’re not ready to talk. They will understand. They will not turn you away. They have heard and seen so much, and they have answers and listening ears. They have compassion, and most of all, they have hope.
If you or
someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, and you are ready for help,
please reach out to a domestic violence program in your area.
Johnsbury, VT (802) 748-8645
Center at Burch House- Littleton (800) 774-0544
Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 228-7395
Hampshire’s Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline (866) 644-3574
National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233 or go to www.thehotline.org for live chat.