Sunday, October 7, 2012

Domestic Violence Awareness Month Day 7

Remember if you or know someone in need of help and resources, call 1-800-799-7233,  1.800.787.3224 (TTY) or visit the website

 Within days of fleeing my abuser, we were out of harm’s way and living with my mother. Though it was supposed to be a temporary situation, it was not. Much to her obvious annoyance, my son and I stayed with her for about two years. It was also during this time, I realized how I was living in abusive situations long before I had been married.

My son, who had been classified as speech delayed a few years before, was not verbal at the time but he expressed his sadness and anger in other ways. He became aggressive towards me, my mother, and even her cat. He acted out violently whenever he could not get his way. His aggression only increased when his father failed to show up for their bi-weekly visitation schedule. In addition, on the handful of times he did, my son came home worse than before. He broke things as he tore apart the house. I knew he and I both needed help, but I had no idea even where to begin to look for it. 

I remember the call to 911. Two officers showed up and mockingly laughed at two women who “could not handle a six year old.” Mind you, my son may have been small in height, but he was strong. I was afraid. After this incident, my mother wanted us out. She suggested that we find somewhere else to live. “A shelter might better,” are the words I remember as we sat there on the front stoop.

After locating the programs that offered this type of assistance, I could not fathom moving into a place full of strangers, giving up the job I was on leave from, or even how I was going to raise my son alone. Prior to leaving his father for good, he had been the one “raising” our son, while I went to work. As this was, the arrangement he decided was best for us. It is not that I did know how to be a mother; I was never given a chance to be the mother I wanted to or could be while in this abusive relationship. My focus and concentration was warped.

During this time, the World Trade Center, Flight#93, and The Pentagon were destroyed by individuals who thought as my abuser did: act out violently when you cannot get your way. We are going to do anything to get in control of something controlling us.  In the wake of this devastation thousands died or were maimed, inflicted with health ailments, and for those who directly or indirectly survived: forever sad. I understood.

Another call to 911. This time six officers responded. The same two were also there. This time they were not laughing. We made our way into the ambulance enroute to the nearest hospital. I do not remember much of the time waiting which felt like forever, but my son was admitted onto the children’s psychiatric ward where he stayed for six weeks. He was the youngest one there. I was devastated.

In the days, I visited him they were trying at best. I felt as if I were in some kind of bad dream I could not awake from. The staff shared with me, how cooperative he was and could not possibly see the behaviors I had described to warrant his stay. Yet the doctors and social workers, placed blame me for my parenting skills. I should have been able to discipline and correct his errant ways on my own. He was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD which explained a lot of why he was behaving the way he did.  I just did not know that at the time. For more info check out this extensive site

Within a few short years, he went from living with developmental disabilities to now behavioral disabilities. This was too much for me to handle alone. I needed and wanted support at this time finding none in my immediate circle. The pressure for me to leave my mother’s apartment was mounting, not just from her, but now from my sister as well. Suddenly relatives and family friends were also joining the chorus. “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

The lack of family support did not deter me, from trying to find help. I eventually joined a support group and got into counseling. Unfortunately, the counselor who had “years of experience working with DV victims” and I clashed on me not informing his father about our son’s whereabouts. I felt that if I would have contacted him, the orders of protection I had against him could be voided, as there was a stipulation for us to have no communication by any means. I also thought it would be best that my son was out of harm’s way as he was often the target of his father’s abuse when I was not home. 

I did learn the hospital staff did reach out to him anyway, but was refused entry when he showed up as he was only permitted by court order to visit on Sundays. At least six Sundays came and went, and his father never bothered to visit or attempt to check in on how his son was faring. All that would be beneficial in later court proceedings, but in the moment, crushing to my son who could not understand. There was a time, I made a visit and was allowed to meet with him in his room as he earned that reward. We were sitting on his bed when put his hands around my neck. It was then I realized he witnessed everything his father did to me, even though I thought he was in the bathroom at the time. I immediately informed the nurse. She asked him, “Why are you doing this to your mother?” His reply, “I saw my fardder do it to my mudder.” To learn about how domestic violence effects children

I left there crying uncontrollably. The staff threatened me that if I did not come back, they would be placing a call to child protective services. The very same people who then had the power to remove children from homes that were exposed to domestic violence and I had avoided years before. I thought I was going to do one better. I would contact them myself.

I had very helpful caseworker explain what was available to us. It was not much, so when my son was discharged from the hospital, all we had were referrals to an outpatient mental health clinic. We went to the intake appointment. Each time, I shared what was happening was like reliving the abuse all over again. His behaviors were not improving. I was wilting away. Something had to be done.

I made a follow up call to the child protective worker and asked how I can make voluntary placement. I followed the steps and my son was now in their custody. This move, divided my mother, family and I even further. They did not agree with me, but did not offer suggestions on how to better the situation. It was a hard time being away from my son, but I kept all but one visit to the site to let him know I was still there for him.
It was at another court date, my abuser’s attorney motioned to the court a visitation arrangement. I was in the courtroom unrepresented and decided to ask for an attorney. Especially since, my son was no longer in my care, but in state’s custody. I shared everything with the attorney assigned to me who thought it be best we mention it when we came back from adjournment two months later as opposed to then. 

When the judge learned that my son was in foster care, she ordered a law guardian be placed on the case and my son return to court the next day. My son and his father reunited for all about five minutes. Hugging and laughing as if they had never been apart. The law guardian observed and reported his recommendations to the court. I lost custody and was ordered to attend supervised visitation and parenting classes. I had also been allowed to communicate with him over the phone three times a week. 

His father made those six months hell not just for me, but the son he claimed to love. It was worse than the grieving I experienced after burying my youngest son. His actions reminded me of the threat he made, “I will do something to hurt your heart.” The phone calls were supposed to be a half hour each time, but when he allowed me to get through it would be for only the last few minutes so my son and I never got to say much besides, “I love you.” When I would show up for visitation, I would find that the half hour I was permitted was scrutinized as staff recorded our interactions. I could not answer questions my son had, nor could I promise when and if we would reunite. What made it worse was that I had to walk the same path to the train to return home. I would notice that my son and his father would be watching us from the corner donut shop. Since there was an order of protection served against me at the judge’s suggestion from an earlier court date, I had to pretend I did not see my own son sitting there. I left visits feeling worse than going to them. I knew we would not be defeated.

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