House of Ruth

Monica’s Story

Monica’s Story

28-year-old Monica* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). When Monica came to the DVSC she was dealing with a lot of difficult feelings around the recent removal of her children from her care. Her two children had been placed in a foster care setting after police were repeatedly called to her home as a result of violence between Monica and her current boyfriend. The two had always had frequent arguments over the course of their two-year relationship, but things escalated quickly with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Monica’s hours being cut at work, having to homeschool her children, and significant financial stressors.

Monica used the counseling services at the DVSC to process her feelings of sadness and regret at having placed her children in foster care, and worked with her counselor to explore the choices and decisions she had made and elements of the situation she could control, as well as finding compassion for herself at having been in a very difficult situation when the pandemic hit.

Over the course of six months, Monica was able to gain insight into patterns in her relationships that were not healthy, commit to refocusing on making healthier relationship choices, and stabilize her financial situation by accessing a variety of supportive services. Monica was also able to obtain a referral to a parenting class from her DVSC counselor, which she successfully completed, and now feels she has a toolkit of new strategies to help her be a more consistent parent.

*Name has been changed.

Anna’s Story

47-year-old Anna* first came to the House of Ruth Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) for help separating from a long-term abusive intimate partner. While she was able to separate from him within a few months, her subsequent work in therapy has focused on building up her sense of self after experiencing years of abuse.

Midway through the therapy work, however, the COVID-19 crisis hit and DVSC staff began working remotely. Despite this major challenge, Anna and her therapist didn’t miss a single therapy session, transitioning immediately to telehealth sessions and continuing their work. Interestingly, Anna has begun working on issues that she previously avoided discussing, such as anxiety in dating relationships, emotional regulation, childhood experiences, and her wishes to have a family of her own. As a result, she often remarks that she is no longer overwhelmed by her feelings like she used to be. Instead, she can experience feelings for what they are and let them inform her, rather than avoiding or suppressing them.

Anna often expressed surprise at the kind of therapy offered at the DVSC. In Anna’s own words: “I’m thankful for this kind of therapy…I initially thought this would be just action-oriented where you’d tell me what to do to get out of my relationship and that would be it. I had no idea I’d come out of it having a better sense of where I came from with the family stuff and also know how to deal with my emotions better. People I tell about this are always surprised!”

*Name has been changed.

May’s Story

24-year-old May* was referred to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) following a report of child endangerment due to the regular arguments that occurred between her and her children’s father. Although May recognized the court viewed her relationship as abusive and dangerous, May did not agree. She had a hard time getting to the DVSC, missing her first two intake appointments, and only attending after her CFSA case worker became involved.

At their sessions, May’s DVSC counselor was able to work with her to identify times when she and her children’s father functioned relatively better, or worse, without applying labels that created resistance to exploring the relationship dynamics. After reframing the situation, May was able to reflect more openly on things that she can do to support more seamless communication in her relationship with her children’s father.

With the progress May made in her DVSC sessions, the court was satisfied that moving forward, May would be less likely to expose her children to interactions they deemed unhealthy.

*Name has been changed.

Lena’s Story

In the wake of the holiday season, and in the midst of challenging times, Lena’s story is a real reminder about what a difference it makes to be surrounded by kindness.

Lena* and her four-year-old son live in House of Ruth’s supportive housing for mothers and children recovering from domestic violence. She says her first visit to House of Ruth just “felt so right.” She loved her apartment and remembers everyone was so welcoming.

Lena says House of Ruth is with her 100%. She does not have much family behind her, and family trauma has made past holidays hard. She doesn’t remember the last time someone gave her a Christmas present, but this year, she said House of Ruth made her feel like part of their family during the holidays. Lena said the festive food at Thanksgiving, the presents at Christmas, and the kindness surrounding her really “made my heart warm.”

Lena has goals and is committed to achieving them. She is working and saving money, making plans to move into her own apartment when the time is right. Next month she will receive her GED, and will enter the management program at her place of employment after obtaining her diploma. This accomplishment was realized while she managed working and caring for her young son. Lena’s son is in pre-kindergarten, and she coordinates overseeing his virtual learning, brings him to his paternal grandmother’s house in the afternoons, works, and manages to complete her own coursework. The pandemic brought changes to her work schedule — her hours have become less regular, and that has decreased the time she is able to spend with her son. This has made Lena very intentional about their time together, and she makes sure they have a chance to play and just have fun.

Lena is also prioritizing her mental health. She is going to counseling at House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center, and she also relies on our housing staff for caring support. Lena says thanks to House of Ruth, she “always has someone to talk to,” which is a big change in her life. If she is feeling overwhelmed with all that she has to manage, she can talk to staff without judgement, and count on encouraging words. She knows her case manager will always tell her, “you’ve got this!”

Our staff has had the privilege of watching Lena grow in self-awareness and confidence as she recognizes her own strength and finds her way to independence. We are honored to support Lena and her son on their journey.

*Name has been changed.

Sydney’s Story

32-year-old Sydney* first came to the House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) seeking counseling support after she separated from her violent husband. Because she was not an American citizen and wished to continue living in this country, she was required to submit an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services demonstrating she was a victim of marital abuse.

Sydney’s counselor contributed a detailed letter to this application that outlined instances of abuse in her marriage. Sydney also used her time in counseling at the DVSC to process her experiences in her marriage, and came to feel more settled and empowered about what happened to her and her decision to leave her abusive husband. Sydney had never experienced counseling before, and regularly told her counselor that their work together “set me free,” and that it had helped her to “build myself up from the inside.”

*Name has been changed. 

Brandi’s Story

40-year-old Brandi* came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) through a referral from local police for help in the immediate aftermath of a violent intimate partner relationship.

Because Brandi was experiencing extreme levels of stress when she first came to counseling, her counselor started by working with her to try and help Brandi feel safer, including in her own body. After a few months of counseling and when Brandi’s symptoms had settled, she began to try to make sense of her past relationship. To assist in her process, her DVSC counselor began employing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), an evidence-based therapy used to help survivors of trauma.

After a few EMDR sessions, Brandi reported that her memory of the “worst incident” in her relationship was not only more tolerable to think about, but her negative beliefs about herself had been largely replaced by more positive beliefs involving personal empowerment, resiliency, and creativity.

“Since I’ve come here,” Brandi told her counselor, “I feel much safer, and I’ve let go of a lot of my anger, which was holding me back. I’m happy to see me make progress.”

*Name has been changed.

Dana’s Story

47-year-old Dana* first came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) for help with depression and anxiety. After struggling with addiction for more than a decade, Dana has acknowledged that her early life trauma was a major factor in her mood management issues, and consequently her struggles with substance use.

Dana and her DVSC counselor began by exploring what it meant for her to show up and not avoid her emotions—either by ignoring them or self-medicating—as she had done for years. Dana made the commitment to avoid behaviors she knew were unhealthy, and used her counseling sessions to help identify and implement more positive coping strategies to manage her moods.

Counseling has allowed Dana to discuss and process her most challenging life experiences so that they have less hold over her. Dana has started to rebuild and reconnect with those who can support her in her quest for living a life where she can manage her difficulties and thrive.

*Name has been changed.

Katie’s Story

24-year-old Katie* began attending sessions with a counselor at the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) following a recent breakup. After Katie ended her abusive relationship, she still struggled with very low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority as a result of the abuse.

Katie was able to work with her counselor to process her negative feelings, and evaluate her tendency to disproportionately blame herself. With the help of her counselor, Katie came to realize and acknowledge she was not responsible for her partner’s abusive behavior. Katie was able to rebuild her confidence in herself by working to identify activities that reinforced her interests and helped her build a sense of accomplishment.

Currently, Katie is using her sessions at the DVSC to help her plan the next phase of her life, exploring career interests and furthering her education.

*Name has been changed.

Fiona’s Story

55-year-old Fiona* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) after 30 years of an abusive relationship with a man she had known all her life. Fiona initially expressed a great deal of reticence about coming to counseling, both because of cultural taboos around sharing her ‘business’ outside her family, and fear of addressing the extensive trauma she had endured.

Fiona and her DVSC counselor were able to construct initial treatment goals focusing on self-care and strategies for improving Fiona’s emotion regulation skills. They agreed to hold off on delving deeply into the details of Fiona’s abuse. Over time, with improved self-care and increased ability to self-soothe, Fiona felt more able to begin discussing her trauma history.

Using this approach gave Fiona time to develop rapport with her counselor, so it didn’t feel like she was sharing information with a stranger. Working collaboratively with clients to meet them where they are is a hallmark of the work counselors at the DVSC do every day. It is an integral part of helping clients to regain a sense of control and self-determination.

*Name has been changed.

Nancy’s Story

25-year-old Nancy* came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) following a violent physical incident with her boyfriend. She discovered that she had lost her way. She had become withdrawn from her friends and family, lost self-efficacy and belief in herself, and was having difficulty concentrating and being productive at work. She was also experiencing many physical symptoms as a result of the abuse in her relationship, which negatively impacted her overall well-being.

Counseling provided a safe and supportive place for Nancy to discuss and process what had happened in the relationship. Nancy’s counselor provided information about the effects of abuse, helped her challenge self-defeating thoughts, and worked with Nancy to rebuild her sense of her own self-worth.

With her counselor’s support, Nancy was able to re-engage in activities she previously enjoyed, rebuild a robust support system, and identify other longer term goals to help her progress toward larger life goals.

*Name has been changed.