I began working at the Illinois Valley Safe House Alliance close to seven years ago. I came here after working as a drug and alcohol counselor for several years. As an A&D counselor, I worked with many women who had been sexually assaulted, raped, suffered child abuse, or suffered domestic violence. I too, had suffered all of those traumas in my own life, and had gone through my own ways of coping with the past. I had come a long way from being a drug addicted, depressed single mother to a healthier, happier college graduate and knew that the women that I worked with could get to a better place in their lives too.
When I read about an advocate position in the local paper, I immediately felt that it was the exact job that I wanted; to help lift someone up out of their pain and get on with their lives. As an A&D counselor, a large part of my job was punitive, I had to tell people that because they fell back on their coping mechanism, they used drugs or alcohol, they would lose something, be kicked out of the program, or otherwise receive some form of “punishment”. I had a difficult time with that. If the pain is still there, we want to cover it up somehow, and all of us don’t know how to cover our pain any other way. I liked the idea of working with someone to help them become healthy and safe in a non-judgmental way.
I had lived with an abusive husband, and I had lived with four abusive brothers. I thought I knew about domestic violence. After going through the training, what I found was that all I knew was how to blame the victim and what most of society believes about victims and domestic violence; that if she wanted to, she could leave, if she changed her behavior, he wouldn’t have to hit her, etc. I was so wrong. But I had the willingness to learn and accept new ways of thinking and knew what it felt like to be a victim of trauma.
Working at the Alliance I have seen so much pain and I have seen so many women who have lived with their trauma all their life. Some come to us at age 18 and some come to us at age 80. Some have money but most don’t. Some of the women we have worked with have been hit once; some have had multiple rapes and assaults. It doesn’t matter how far in the past your trauma is, it still affects you and it doesn’t matter how severe or minimal, it can stay with you and affect the way you live your life. The effect the trauma has on a person depends on whether or not you have someone to support you and tell you that it is not your fault, that you don’t deserve to be hurt and that you are believed.
Telling someone about the most painful times of our life can be very difficult so we treat all those who come through our doors with compassion and understanding. We try to give them a feeling of safety and hope. I know that even though women have suffered, and continue to suffer at the hands of abusive partners, husbands, fathers, and brothers, there is hope; there is safety; there can be a future without pain. It takes that first step; realizing that we can forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made in the past and that we deserve to live a happy, healthy life free from fear. This is why I do the work, to be there when someone takes that first step.