My name is Michelle, and I’m a survivor of domestic violence. We’ve never met, but it’s because of you that I’m smiling when I write this today. Thanks to you, I am giving my family the safe, happy life we deserve. I want to share my story with you so that you will know the difference you have made in my life.
My home was a hard place for a kid to grow up. I witnessed violence from the time I was very small because my mom was trapped in an abusive relationship with my stepdad. When he got home each evening, my siblings and I would close the door to our room and bundle up together under the blankets to hide. I never knew when a laugh, a tear, or a single word would trigger violence, and I learned to hide my emotions.
When my stepdad started hitting us kids too, my mom left so that she could protect us. We ended up homeless for a while. My three siblings and I experienced many forms of abuse, but I didn’t tell anyone. It seemed like no one was looking out for me, and I felt more and more alone.
When I was 14, I met my first boyfriend, Adrian. At 18, he was the “cool older guy,” and I was so happy because I thought that we would take care of each other. When Adrian started acting controlling, I stayed because I was afraid of being alone again—I didn’t think I could expect any better. I told myself that things weren’t so bad: after all, he had never hit me.
When I became pregnant, my mom kicked me out of the house. At first, I was happy to move into a little studio apartment with Adrian. I hoped that we would give our baby the happy, stable childhood I had missed out on.
But as soon as I moved in, the abuse escalated. Adrian told me I had to make money to support us, so I dropped out of high school at 15. When I tried to leave the apartment, he followed me around the house yelling at me until I gave up, and he took away my phone so I couldn’t contact anyone. He took my paycheck every week and forced me to beg for cash for groceries and baby clothes. He refused to give me money for the laundromat, instead demanding that I wash our clothes by hand in the bathtub. Like my stepdad, he’d find excuses to blow up, and it was always my fault. Even though I was pregnant with our daughter, he began abusing me physically too. He kept me too exhausted, isolated, and afraid to leave.
Once my baby Lucy was born, I sometimes sneaked out to visit my family. Adrian always knew where to find me. When he would show up and make a scene, I went with him because I worried that he would hurt our daughter. But when Lucy turned one, I had enough. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up surrounded by fear and violence. I packed up some clothes and a diaper bag for Lucy, and we escaped.
When Adrian found out we were at my mother’s house, he broke down the front door. Lucy and I moved into a homeless shelter far outside the city. I hoped that Adrian would leave us alone if he could spend time with our daughter, so I brought her back to Boston every weekend. But one day when I arrived to pick up Lucy, Adrian wouldn’t give her back, and tried to get away on the subway. While Lucy wailed in his arms, he tried to shove me out of the train onto the platform. I worried I might never see Lucy again if he got away. He hit and cursed me, but I didn’t give up, and I didn’t back down.
The police arrested Adrian in the subway station. The very next day, I visited him in jail and told him that this was the last time he was ever going to see me. Afterwards, I went straight to the police station to file a restraining order against him. That week, Lucy and I moved into Casa Myrna’s Teen Parenting Program (TPP). It was the first home where I ever felt safe.
But domestic violence isn’t only physical, and neither are its effects. The abuse had shut me down emotionally. I felt worthless, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about what I was feeling or what I’d been through. The unconditional love and support that the families and advocates at TPP showed me and Lucy changed everything. The trust we shared allowed me to let my guard down enough to start recovering. They told me that I was worth something so many times that I started to believe it.
At TPP, I learned that I was a great mom, a good friend, an excellent cook, and a hard worker. I learned how abuse had affected me and how to build a healthy relationship, and that I deserve respect and care from others. I found a sense of peace through exploring my spirituality and a sense of purpose in studying for my GED.
Even after I failed my first GED exam, I refused to give up because I knew that my case manager Camila, my daughter, and my friends at TPP would never give up on me.
For a long time, I had hated showing emotions in front of other people. But the day I realized that I would have to move out of TPP soon, I cried in front of everyone. I worried that I couldn’t make it alone. But I told myself, “No, you can’t fall back down. You’re already up and you have to keep going.”
And that’s what I did. Five years after Lucy and I moved into our own apartment, we’re still living there. I’m earning straight As in my medical assistant program, and I recently got a promotion at the restaurant where I have worked for three years as a cook. In the next few years, once I’ve started working as a medical assistant, I want to go back to college to study social work so that I can become an advocate and work with other survivors. I know what they are going through because I’ve lived it, and I can tell them firsthand that the future can be so much brighter than they’re imagining now.
I have so much to be proud of, but I’m proudest of my daughter Lucy and how I’m raising her.
Lucy is a smart, sassy, and loving fourth grader who loves going to school, taking art and music classes, and playing with our cat and dog. She’s a social butterfly and shows off her singing and dancing every chance she gets. Together, we love to sing karaoke, make crafts, and visit my family, who spoil her rotten.
Even though I tease my family about the fuss they make over Lucy, I don’t really mind. I’m raising my daughter to know that she is priceless, and that she is never alone. Lucy wants to be a singer or a doctor, but she knows that all that matters to me is that she is safe and happy. She knows that it’s never okay for others to hit her or call her names. She isn’t afraid to tell me if someone hurts her. She feels safe standing up for herself because I’ve shown her that I will always be there for her, no matter what.
The love and support I experienced at TPP taught me that I was strong, smart, and brave enough build the life I live now. I’m passing that same love and support along to my daughter and to other survivors. Even though we have never met, you’re the one who made this possible. You ensured that Casa Myrna could be there for me and Lucy. You gave us a home. You gave us hope. You gave us the gift of starting over.
From my family to yours, all I can say is thank you. I hope your holidays are as happy as you have made ours.
With my warmest wishes,
P.S. If you don’t feel safe in your relationship, or if you’re worried about someone you know, please call the 24/7 SafeLink Hotline at 1-877-785-2020. You deserve love, respect, and safety, and you are never alone.