womens shelter September Burton

My First Night in a Women’s Shelter

What is a Women’s Shelter and Who Can Stay at a Women’s Shelter?

I remember the first time someone told me that I needed to get to a safe house–I thought, there’s no way a safe house or women’s shelter is going to let me stay. I don’t fit the profile, he didn’t beat me so bad I ended up in the hospital. A women’s shelter is not for me. They’re not going to take me.

Besides, I thought, women’s shelters are for staying for a night or 2. I’m being stalked, I need long-term safety and protection.

Thank God this person was persistent and said to me “You’ll think more clearly when you feel safe”.

It still took several more terrifying incidents but I finally went. I had sought a protective order but couldn’t make it to the hearing because my babies were sick on the day of the hearing. Because they were sick and I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend the hearing, I had decided to ask someone to come inspect the chandelier that he had messed with when he was in the house.

Later, I would learn (from the Mosaic Threat Assessment) that seeking protective orders in a situation like mine, actually makes things more dangerous for the victim. And since he had entered the home, violating the temporary protective order, this is a sign that a piece of paper was never going to deter him at all, the only thing it did was piss him off and put me in more danger.

What I learned while I was at my first shelter was that women’s shelters are for women who are in danger. There is no profile. There is no race, social class, or anything else. If you’re in danger, call the shelter. They’ll help you. At the very least, you get an empathetic ear and some resources.

What is it like in a women’s shelter

That first night, I was a wreck but the woman who checked me in was quite possibly the most empathetic person I’ve ever met. She listened without judgment, allowed me to feel heard, seen, and understood, and every response was filled with compassion and a true desire to help. She was someone I will never forget and I will always be grateful for having met.

After she checked me in she took me into the safe house to show me around and show me my room. I must’ve looked very apprehensive and emotionally beat down because there was a woman, another resident, sitting at the dining room table who looked at me as we approached and she said “don’t worry, sweetie. The first night’s the hardest”.

It was already late when I arrived at the shelter, after 11:00pm so I was tired and just wanted a safe bed to sleep in. The woman who checked me in walked with me to my room, gave me some sheets and a pillow and said good night. I made my bed and laid down on the top bunk. The mattress was so old and worn that I could feel the coils coming through, as though there was nothing but a piece of cloth between them and my body, but I didn’t care. I was safe and that was all that mattered. I drifted off to sleep and slept amazingly well for the first time in many weeks.

One of the first things I noticed the next day, about the other residents, and the energy in the shelter, is that it feels as though everyone is there for each other. We all knew that anyone who was there was going through hell. There was an empathy and a compassion that radiated off of every resident and advocate. However, no one tries to push you to tell your story. No one even asks why you’re there. One woman had a busted lip with stitches and a black eye, so it was obvious that she had just been beat, but I showed no outward scars. My emotional space was respected and even treated with reverence. I liked that. I didn’t want to talk about my story then. I wanted to pretend my life was normal. I wasn’t ready to face my trauma yet. And that was okay.

Where are the books?

The next day I was out in the common area and I noticed some things that I found incredibly disturbing. There was a bookshelf for kids but there were no books for moms. No books on how to avoid abusive relationships in the future. No books on how to become a financially independent woman. No books on personal growth and development. No books to teach women how to build themselves up so they don’t fall victim to abusers again. Why? It was as if the shelter was saying to women “come here. We’ll keep you safe while you’re here. But as for when you leave, we don’t really know how to help you not have to come back.

There are books such as the 48 Laws of Power that male prison inmates read. Why aren’t women in shelters reading that same book? (It’s a great one, btw).

There are books like Prince Charming Isn’t Coming and The Courage to be Rich. If women were financially independent domestic violence would plummet. So, every shelter in the country should be focused on teaching women how to be financially independent.

My abuser HATED it when I had Prince Charming Isn’t Coming sitting on my nightstand. Looking back now, the look on his face when he saw that is hilarious. He was enraged on the inside. But only because he’s an abuser and his biggest form of control is financial.

Another Question I Had Was Where are the weights?

Why are we not teaching women to get physically stronger? Women who are in shelters need to be being encouraged to get stronger in every way. One of the things I did when my abuser started stalking was to hire a self-defense instructor. I paid for 20 weeks of private self-defense lessons because I wanted to be able to defend myself when he came after me. What was amazing to me about that was how easy it was, once I had been taught the techniques, to get out of the holds my abuser would put me in.

My instructor was 4 inches taller and about 60 pounds bigger than my abuser and it was nothing for me to get out of these holds when we practiced, and after only a single lesson! If only I had been taught these techniques sooner I would’ve been able to get out from under my abuser so fast, even though he was twice my size.

This instructor whom I hired, was also frustrated with the women’s shelter because he had tried to get them to allow him to give the residents lessons but they wouldn’t allow him to. Why? Why aren’t women being taught how to defend ourselves and get away? This doesn’t make any sense.

Where is the focus on strengthening the individual women?

And what about strengthening the mindset of women? Where are books on personal empowerment? Another great book on power that I read was by Gene Simmons, the lead singer of Kiss, entitled On Power. It’s a fantastic book. And books are being written every day by powerful women too. Michelle Obama wrote Becoming. There should be bookshelves in these shelters that are overflowing with these types of books. Let’s teach women how to find and embrace their own power so they stop allowing men to overpower them.

Women Who Have Been Through Hell and Healed Become the Strongest

In another post I’ll talk about the magic that I experienced while healing with other women. That experience was more in the second shelter that I stayed in though so I’ll end this post with one final thought–from my experience, the women who have been through the greatest hell are the ones who come out the other side the strongest. We have to teach women what it means to be strong–mentally, spiritually, physically, and financially. Abusers will not be able to abuse when women find power in themselves.

Here’s to strong women–may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.

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