I’m 42 years old and have endured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse since childhood. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I acknowledged what was happening to me and broke free from the chains of abuse.
My last abuser hit me for the first time while I was six months pregnant. I knew that it was the beginning of the end. Abuse comes in many forms, and I share a glimpse of my story to help you break free. There is a way out.
One day we went to the grocery store for a few things, and I left my phone in the car with him to avoid an argument or any accusations. When I returned, I noticed that some of the settings on my phone had been changed. I asked him if he had gone through my phone, which turned into a dispute. He went on to name-calling and then threw his fist to my mouth while he was still driving. It was so hard I thought my teeth had fallen out.
At the next red light, I jumped out of the car and wobbled into a fast-food restaurant. No one even noticed that I walked in. I stood there frozen in shock, and the bell of the restaurant door rang. I turned around, and there he was. He demanded that I not call the police, and he apologized. He said that we would both be arrested if I called the police because I started it.
I was pregnant and the only one maintaining the bills. I could not risk getting arrested, so I agreed not to call the police under the condition that we had to start therapy. I did not want my daughter to think it was ok for a man to hit a woman.
The next day I started researching family therapists and found three I liked. I scheduled an interview meeting with each of them, and together we decided on one. We scheduled a few talk therapy sessions, and a few weeks later, he disappeared.
While he was gone, I continued my therapy sessions. I couldn’t understand why he would leave me pregnant after being so desperate to come home from another state to help me. This pregnancy was very stressful on my back, and I started to have difficulties walking. I was hospitalized for three weeks because of a lack of water in the womb. I was put on bed rest at home and could not go back to work. Luckily, I had some savings set aside to help me pay my bills while on bed rest.
Then he returned with another excuse. Again I forgave him but didn’t let him move back in.
I asked that we continue therapy sessions, and during a session, he shared that he was bipolar. I had no idea how to deal with this, but I was willing to learn if it would improve our relationship. I learned that he refused medication for his bipolar episodes and self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. His drug of choice was cocaine and crack. This was hard for me to swallow.
How could I have been so blind to fall in love with an addict? I felt blindsided. I was trying to trust the process of his rehabilitation and was committed to making it work for the baby’s sake.
I delivered a healthy baby in May of 2010, and he fell in love instantly with his newborn child. He promised to take care of us and never to drink again. He continued working and giving me his entire paycheck and going to therapy sessions. He asked me to be a stay-at-home mom. My job was giving me a hard time about my request to pump at work, so I decided to take a leap of faith and quit my job.
Being a stay-at-home mom was the best job I ever had! I nursed every two hours and slept in-between. I read many parenting books to stay in the know about being a good mom. I wanted to be a better mom than my mom was. I wanted to give my child the world and all the love I lacked.
Then on a beautiful Friday summer evening when my daughter was only three months old, he didn’t come home from work. It was getting late, and I called, and there was no answer. I texted, but no response. The sun had just gone down when he started to walk up the stairs with a beer in his hand. I was upset and disappointed that he had broken the promise he made to me.
I felt scared and knew nothing good would come of this. I asked him to leave. I told him he could choose to drink but in life without me. This made him furious, and I became his punching bag. I went into the fetal position so he would not hit my face. When the hitting finally stopped, I could not see, my head was spinning, and I could not stand up. But I could hear my daughter crying.
I crawled to her and tried to get up, but I was so dizzy I could not stand. I did not know what to do or who to call for help. I was afraid. I called my adoptive mom, and she rushed to my apartment and told me to call the police. I also called my biological mother, and she was also on her way with my grandmother.
I was taken to the hospital, and they found lumps all over my head. I had a severe headache and a broken heart.
At the hospital, my biological mother asked why I had called the police. She questioned who would take care of me now? My grandmother asked me what I had done to deserve this and that I needed to learn how to respect my man.
My adopted mother was supportive and offered me a place to stay, but I denied her offer and went to stay the weekend with my biological mother. I wanted to mend our mother-daughter bond. The entire weekend they encouraged me to work things out with my abuser and continued to blame me for the situation. I was so stressed and tried to produce milk for my infant.
My cousin in VA told me to come down to stay with her until things settled down. While I was in VA, I did begin to look for work and thought of moving. Then I received a call from the CT courts that I needed to return to continue with the restraining order process; otherwise, the charges would drop. So, I returned to CT.
Then a few months later, he paid the rent, hoping that I would drop the charges and forgive him again. I was scared, and I knew he would hit me again. I began the care4kids process to look for childcare so I could go to work, but it was a 90-day waiting period to get approved. I could not get a job or go for an interview if I did not have childcare.
My mom would not help, and my adopted mom was working. I began to sell all my belongings to ensure the rent would get paid. I used all my savings and 401K to cover the bills until nothing was left. I ended up moving in with a friend for three months while I continued to try to find childcare and work.
Then my friend told me I had until the end of the month to move out; otherwise, her landlord would increase the rent, which I could not afford to pay. My mother owned a 3-family home, and her basement was empty, and she was looking for a tenant. I asked her if I could live there. I offered to pay $500 of the rent, give her my food stamps, and cook for her. She crossed her arms and told me to figure it out. According to her, I had a man who still wanted to care for his family.
I had nowhere to go, no job, and no childcare. My only option was to live in my car.
I called one of my best friends who worked for DCF and asked her what would happen if they found out I was living in my car with the baby. She advised me to find a shelter, or they would take my daughter away. A vehicle was unacceptable living conditions for a baby. She advised me to go to DSS and tell them I was homeless.
I considered going back to him, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t in love with him anymore, and I was afraid of him.
I went to DSS and told them I needed help finding somewhere to live. They said I had to go to the housing authority. I spoke with a social worker, and I told her my situation and showed her that I was on the waitlist for Greenwich housing and asked if she could please move me up on the list. She said there was nothing she could do for me since I was a Bridgeport resident. I had to go to the Bridgeport DSS for help.
After a lot of driving and waiting, I told the lady at the Bridgeport office that I was homeless with my infant and needed help. She said, “I think the social worker went home, but I will try.” A woman with an angel pin came to the door and asked if I could come back tomorrow since it was almost time for her to go. I told her I would be sleeping in my car with the baby.
She took me into her office and said let us see where we can find for you and your baby to stay tonight. She gave me the phone, and I dialed shelter after shelter, and each one told me they did not have space for me and added me to their waiting list, and told me to call again tomorrow.
After many rejected calls, I couldn’t talk anymore. I was holding back the tears. Fear started to set in. I’d been vulnerable enough to walk into this facility to tell them I was homeless. I had no money and no family support and was afraid they would take my baby away. I was desperately trying to break the cycle of abuse.
When I thought there was nowhere else to turn, the social worker said, “I know of a place. I think you may be too old but let’s call and see what they say.” She called the Malta House. She looked at me and smiled and nodded her head yes as she spoke. I stood up in praise and began to sing “How Great is Our God” so loudly that others came to her office. I continued to sing in praise with tears rolling down my face while she wrote the list of all I needed before Monday morning.
I had no idea what the Malta House was, only that it was a shelter. The only thing I could think of was the movie “Pursuit of Happiness” with Will Smith. I remembered in the movie that they had to leave early in the morning and be in line by 5 p.m. to make sure they had a bed. I held my head high and took the next step because I was prepared to do whatever it took to keep my baby safe and by my side. I left DSS, telling them I would be staying with a friend, but really I would be sleeping in the car for the next three days.
The Malta House was a safe haven for my child and me. I lived there for 22 months, and during this time there, I was given daily parenting and self-help classes. I continued my education and pursued a Medical Billing Certificate. I thought this would complement my Associates in Business while I sought to work from home.
I continued my therapy sessions and learned that I was in a cycle of abuse. I learned that when a child is abused, the child grows up thinking abuse is normal and accepts this behavior from others. This is what was happening to me.
I had to first accept it, call it by its name, and then make changes. First, by setting boundaries and learning what healthy relationships look like. I started to love myself. I’ve been living independently for almost 12 years and still making daily changes toward breaking the cycle of abuse.
During the first couple of years, I was blessed to be self-employed with my regained independence. I continued my education and earned a Bachelor’s in Behavioral science because I wanted to understand people and the reason for their behaviors. I also thought all my life experiences would help me be a wise counselor and offer therapy sessions to women. If you or a loved one is seeking help to leave an abusive situation, please seek help.
Malta House left an imprint in my heart and a desire to replicate such a worthy cause. Malta House is the only home in CT that offers long-term wrap-around services to a single homeless mother with only 15 beds.
Malta House was a retreat, a place where I was able to set my foundation and become an independent mother. It is a place where I can start again, learn to love myself and my child, and put my goals and priorities. Trust me, there is a way out.
Laila is a mom and a survivor of many forms of abuse. Her first abuser was her mom, and she learned as a young child what she didn’t want to become. As she continued through life’s journey, she endured other forms of abuse, but always knew it wasn’t right. God’s hand was in each storm as he placed the right people at the right time to help her overcome life’s challenges. She is familiar with many resources that can support you and wants to offer you a safe place to talk if you or someone you know may need a way out.