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Domestic violence survivor tells her story

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The 24-hour hotline to the Family Crisis Center of East Texas is 1-800-828-7233. File Photo Illustration

The light at the end of the tunnel is ‘Sunshine’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a series on domestic violence. In this story, the domestic violence victim’s name was changed and certain details were left out to protect her identity.

By Cheril Vernon

Messenger Copy Editor

EAST TEXAS – At one point in her six-month relationship with her abusive live-in boyfriend, “Sunshine” didn’t know what to do. She even contemplated suicide a few times.

“I was tired of dealing with it. I didn’t feel like I had a way out of it,” Sunshine said during an interview with the Messenger this week about her domestic violence experience.

In her late 20s, Sunshine had moved in with her boyfriend before the abuse started, bringing her 7-year-old daughter with her. She was attending college classes, but she wasn’t working.

“He was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, most definitely. He was really nice when I met him. But three weeks after we started dating, he starting doing stuff and it was very surprising because he was a very sweet guy when I met him,” Sunshine recalled.

The abuse began verbally at first, with yelling, and she was constantly being monitored, as he was very jealous and possessive.

“The first time he hit me, it was jealousy,” Sunshine said. “I was in school at the time and I was on social media. I commented on one of the guy’s pictures and it set him off. He was always accusing me of dating other guys.”

That was the first time he hit her.

“He had a really bad temper. He wasn’t a very smart guy. He couldn’t talk things out like a normal person, though I tried to, but he wouldn’t listen,” Sunshine said. “He started hitting me and I tried to cover my face.”

In shock, Sunshine said she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have anyone to turn to. She had no money of her own, and she and her daughter needed a place to live.

As with most women who deal with an abusive partner for the first time, Sunshine believed him when he apologized for hitting her, telling her it wouldn’t happen again.

“He said he was sorry. I didn’t like it but I felt trapped. My daughter didn’t have a place to go. We had no place to go,” Sunshine said.

Sunshine said he wasn’t just jealous of guys in her class or guys she knew, he also was jealous of men in his own family.

“He was even jealous of his father and brothers when I was around them. He didn’t allow me to talk to them at family functions,” Sunshine said. “And that was the norm for his family.”

According to Sunshine, his brothers’ girlfriends were not allowed to talk to their brothers as well.

“They weren’t allowed to communicate with any males in the family except with their boyfriend,” Sunshine said.

She found out her boyfriend’s behavior was learned.

“He was abused as a child and I think that’s why he thought it was okay. He watched his dad beat his mom. They were drug users. In his family, that’s what they did, even though it was the wrong,” Sunshine said.

Eventually, the pattern of domestic violence began to escalate.

“If he felt like he wanted to slap me, he would slap me. There were times he was so mad he tried to choke me out. He would kick me. He would do anything he could to get his hands on me,” Sunshine said.

To make matters worse, her abuser also used drugs. And when he was using, the anger and the domestic violence followed.

“When he wasn’t on drugs he was nice,” Sunshine said.

As the constant abuse continued, people at school began to take notice.

“I had bruises on my whole body. I had bruises on my arms where he was always grabbing me. It didn’t really take long for the people at school to figure out what was going on,” Sunshine said. “And he called me all day long and I would be arguing with him and crying.”

At one point, the people at the school tried to help her, telling him she wasn’t there.

“He was the stalker type. He would sit outside my school. Once when I did try to leave him, he called the school threatening me. They didn’t want him to talk to me. They told him I dropped out, but that made him even more mad because he thought I was somewhere else with a guy,” Sunshine recalled. “I told him they are telling you that because they didn’t want you to harm me.”

Sunshine’s life was beginning to tumble.

“I went through a lot of depression. I have never been through anything like this. It was very hard,” Sunshine said.

When it dawned on Sunshine that not only was her life falling apart, but that it was having a serious affect on her daughter, she decided it was time to figure a way out.

“She saw a lot of it. When I realized it was affecting her, it became totally a different story. I just got tired of it,” Sunshine said. “I was through and I wanted to leave.”

Finding a Way Out

Sunshine didn’t have anywhere to go. The only person she could talk to about the situation was a cousin, though other people were starting to see the bruises on her body.

Finally, she made the call that changed her life. She called the Family Crisis Center of East Texas’ 24-hour hotline (1-800-828-7233).

Sunshine asked the crisis center hotline operator if she could come to the shelter, to escape the life she was living of domestic abuse, and the hotline operator told her yes, coordinating a way to get her to the shelter safely.

The Family Crisis Center of East Texas, which has offices in Lufkin and Nacogdoches, serves 10 counties, including Angelina, Houston, Nacogdoches, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby and Trinity.

“When I came to the shelter, I wasn’t sure if I could find a job in time, because they generally only let women stay 30 days. I didn’t know if they would have the resources to help me be sufficient,” Sunshine said. “I prayed about it, and I kept at it, putting in job applications, and something came up.”

Once domestic violence victims come to the women’s shelter, trained counselors’ help the women find ways to become self-sufficient, helping them find jobs and other resources they need. Once they obtain a job, the counselors are able to work with them to help finding housing.

It’s taken Sunshine two months to get to the point where she can say she is on the path of becoming independent.

“I came to set goals, look for a job and I finally found a job. I’m moving into an apartment in February,” Sunshine said proudly.

Internally, Sunshine said she has changed.

“I am getting my confidence back, not having someone being abusive to me. I am a totally different person, as far as my confidence. I got my life back. I don’t have anyone controlling me, I know I have rights,” Sunshine said.

The experience Sunshine and her daughter went through was traumatic, and the effects did not go away over night.

“For a long time, my daughter couldn’t sleep. Every time she went to sleep and heard a noise, she would wake up and scream. It took a long time before she could actually sleep,” Sunshine said.

But being around other women and children who have went through similar experiences while staying at the shelter has helped.

“It’s pretty much positive. The other women are going through the same thing. I could relate to them and talk to them,” Sunshine said. “It’s been great for my daughter. She enjoys being around the other kids. Everybody is pretty sweet and it’s a safe environment. She’s doing good now.”

While the women are in transition, looking for work or starting their job while staying at the shelter, the school district has the children dropped off at the shelter.

“I get off work at five, but she gets out of school at 3:20 (p.m.),” Sunshine said. “There are some ladies that are nice enough here to watch her until I get home. We do a care contract between the mother and the person agreeing to watch the child and the staff signs off on it. They want to see you succeed, so they watch her for me when I go to work.”

Of course, just because she left doesn’t mean that her domestic violence abuser didn’t try to find her.

“I had to get my number changed. Before I got it changed, he was trying to figure out where I was. I changed it so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore,” Sunshine said.

Because Sunshine worked with the crisis center’s counselors, setting goals and working toward making herself self-sufficient, Sunshine was able to extend her stay temporarily, and qualified for a $1,500 grant to help pay her rent.

“It helps so you have some time to save up some money so you won’t fall behind on your rent,” Sunshine said.

This will be the first time in eight years that she has lived on her own.

“It’s going to feel good. This will be the first time my daughter has had her own room. I know she is excited about that,” Sunshine said.

As far as other relationships, Sunshine is focusing on herself right now.

“Being in a relationship is the furthest thing from my mind. Men take a lot from you, more than what you think they take. Right now I am focusing on finding myself, getting myself together. Plus, it’s going to take a lot of time for me to trust again,” Sunshine said.

Advice for Others

Sunshine has advice for other women who may be facing similar circumstances dealing with domestic violence.

“First, pray about it, and give the situation to God. No matter how you are feeling, don’t let fear stop you from getting out. Just be strong because you can do it. We, women, are some powerful creatures,” Sunshine said. “If I did it, they can do it. I’m nobody special.”

Giving Thanks

Sunshine also gave thanks to the Family Crisis Center of East Texas for their support in changing her life for the better.

“I am very, very grateful. It is awesome that they have places like this where women can actually get out of bad situations, be safe and get ourselves together,” Sunshine said. “I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Getting Help

The Janelle Grump Family Crisis Center of East Texas (Women’s Shelter of East Texas, Inc.) is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the safety of women, children and men from family violence and sexual assault. Through education and community awareness, the center strives to provide emergency crisis and advocacy services.

The Crisis Center’s 24-hour hotline is 1-800-828-7233. For more information, visit www.familycrisiscenterofeasttexas.com or call 936-639-1681.