House of Ruth

Desiree’s Story

Desiree’s Story

54-year-old Desiree* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by another social service agency in DC where she had been receiving counseling services. Desiree has a long history of abuse beginning early in her life, continuing through adolescence when she was placed with an abusive foster family after her mother died from a drug overdose, and into adulthood with several extremely violent intimate partner relationships. Despite a full year of working with her counselor at her previous agency, Desiree was still suffering from significant post-traumatic symptoms, was having to be hospitalized regularly, and was struggling to maintain her sobriety from alcohol and PCP.

When Desiree came to the DVSC she had little insight into her post-traumatic symptoms. She was referred to our expert counselors at DVSC specifically for help with managing extreme post-traumatic hyper-arousal and dissociation, an area of expertise that she could not receive from the counselor at her previous agency. Over the course of several months, Desiree’s counselor at the DVSC was able to provide education regarding the nature of traumatic hyper-arousal and dissociation, as well as some concrete coping strategies, that helped Desiree have a better understanding of what she was going through and begin to be able to manage her symptoms.

After 11 months of treatment at the DVSC, Desiree has reduced her need for emergency care and hospitalization from once every 6 weeks (before DVSC) to only once in the last 7 months. As a result of the specialized services that Desiree was able to access at the DVSC, she is now more able to fully engage in substance abuse treatment services and work with her AA/NA sponsor. This is enabling Desiree to better maintain her sobriety.

Desiree is also attending a day treatment program for trauma survivors, a setting that she was previously unable to tolerate. Despite her gains, the severity of Desiree’s trauma history and symptoms suggest she will benefit from ongoing therapy for years to come. In Desiree’s words, “It’s nice to know that for once someone isn’t going to try and get rid of me.”

*Name has been changed.

Tonya’s Story

36-year-old Tonya* came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) to address feelings of depression related to a recent miscarriage, along with concerns about her relationship with a highly physically and verbally abusive boyfriend. Like many clients who seek services at the DVSC, Tonya felt unable to discuss her circumstances with family or friends due to fear of criticism, judgment, and condemnation.

Throughout her therapy, Tonya consistently remarked that her trust in the therapist helped her “think through” her relationship difficulties. For example, with the therapist’s help, Tonya has spent time evaluating her boyfriend’s potential for violence and identifying ways to maintain her safety. She has also explored deeply-held negative beliefs about herself, and began cultivating more self-appreciation and acceptance.

Through her work with her DVSC therapist, Tonya has become increasingly able to confidently oppose her boyfriend’s threats and intimidation, specifically through the use of legal resources and law enforcement. In addition, she has made great strides in building a fulfilling life away from her boyfriend, by expanding her social support network, participating in organized athletic activities, securing a promotion in her career, and recently adopting a pet dog.

*Name has been changed.

Ashley’s Story

23 year-old Ashley* sought counseling at House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) after an incident with her then-boyfriend, an incident which she was having difficulty processing on her own. Ashley had no history of counseling and was, in her own words, “very bad” at emotional language. Ashley struggled with labeling and acknowledging her emotions, an issue which created many problems for her throughout her life, including stunted relationships and poor boundaries with others.

Over the course of her work at the DVSC, Ashley has been able to develop an emotional vocabulary and to recognize and label emotions as she experiences them. Using her new awareness, Ashley has also been able to examine past events and process them more productively.

Most recently, Ashley and her counselor have begun working through some highly traumatic events from her past that Ashley admits have gone unacknowledged in any meaningful way until this point in her life. She has formed a strong working bond with her DVSC counselor and attends her weekly sessions devotedly, despite acknowledging that she finds the process challenging and uncomfortable.

*Name has been changed.

Tina’s Story

28 year-old Tina* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency. When Tina came to the DVSC, her children had been out of her care for nearly 14 months. Her two children, ages three and four years old, had been placed in a foster care setting after an anonymous report led police to discover she had left them in her apartment unattended while they were sleeping. At the time, Tina had gone to meet the children’s father because he said he wanted to give her some things he had gotten for the children. Tina later discovered that he was the one who had called the police to report her absence.

Despite her anger, and the court’s concern that her interactions with their father jeopardized the well-being of the children, Tina struggled to limit her contact with him, and to complete the parenting classes and counseling required for her to regain custody of her children. However, once she connected with the DVSC, Tina was able to focus her energies on taking care of herself and completing the requirements to reunify with her children.

On reflecting with her counselor, Tina realized it was her lifelong history of abusive relationships, and fear of parenting on her own, that kept her tied to her children’s father. By working with her DVSC counselor, Tina was able to break down the process of completing the court-ordered services into manageable goals, and create specific strategies for staying on track. Tina was also able to see increasingly how her children’s father had sabotaged her efforts to parent, work, and further her education by constantly creating ‘fires’ for her to put out. As a result, Tina and her counselor developed some concrete strategies for helping her to take care of herself and her children first, and their father secondarily, if at all.

Tina’s gains came quickly, after only six months working with her counselor, she was able to set and continue supporting stronger boundaries, and allow her to allocate her resources in a way that would be most beneficial to her and her children in the long run.

*Name has been changed.

Shannon’s Story

Shannon* came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) in August of 2015 seeking counseling in order to determine what action she should take with her marriage. Shannon’s husband of five years had become increasingly emotionally, verbally and recently physically abusive. They had a four year old daughter together. Shannon was very unsure of whether or not she wanted to leave her husband, as she feared he would become violent and she would be unable to protect herself. She was also uncertain how she would be able to support herself and her daughter without his financial and parental help, as she had no family in DC.

Over the course of her work at the DVSC, Shannon decided that she would leave the marriage after a violent outburst from her husband while the family were out of the country on vacation. Shannon left their vacation early with their daughter to come home, filed a protective order, and had her husband served upon his return. Shannon went through the court proceedings of divorce, accessing legal resources in the community, and took on a second job to offset the financial stress of separating from her husband (who refused to pay child support).

Through her counseling sessions at the Support Center, Shannon had learned how to enforce boundaries with her ex-husband, which greatly improved her quality of life. She also decided that she needed to be near family and have a stronger support system close by. In order to do this, Shannon successfully navigated mediation with her abusive ex-husband to have the custody agreement revised, finding and obtaining a new job (which required new licensure) while in DC, and securing housing for her and her daughter.

Shannon has successfully separated entirely from her abuser, and was able to advance her career and move back to her hometown, which had always been a goal she never thought was possible.

*Name has been changed.

Jeanne’s Story

Jeanne*, age 27, came to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) shortly after a violent encounter with her husband, during which she sustained an injury requiring several stitches. Subsequently Jeanne separated from her husband and secured a protection order.

Like many other clients who seek services at the DVSC, Jeanne experienced her husband as dramatically changing his behavior after marriage, turning from a more or less gentle person into an erratic, controlling, and abusive one. Jeanne has also come to therapy to determine if she wants to try and reunify with her husband and repair her marriage. Jeanne feels unsure of her own decision-making ability, given that she did not see any ‘warning signs’ before her marriage. She wonders what changed, if she could have done anything differently, and if she might have overreacted to her husband’s behavior.

Jeanne continues to work with her DVSC counselor to gain some understanding of the events that unfolded in her relationship, to grieve what she has lost, and find validation and support as she tries to regain her footing and decide what is in her best interests moving forward.

*Name has been changed.

Deborah’s Story

32-year old Deborah* came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) after spending eight years in an abusive relationship. Deborah was working, and had been employed steadily for the past two years while living in a rented room in a house owned by a family friend.

Deborah had tried several times to leave the abusive relationship, but always ended up returning to her partner. In her mind, Deborah knew the relationship was toxic, it had kept her from pursuing goals she had for herself, and she saw the abuse was becoming more physical. Although the abuse had been primarily verbal and emotional in the early days of their relationship, the most recent incident resulted in Deborah being choked to unconsciousness. Deborah was afraid for her life but was still unable to leave the relationship.

In working with her counselor at the DVSC, Deborah began to explore the emotional factors that kept her in, and made her keep going back, to this relationship. She is working on tolerating difficult emotional states such as loneliness, self-doubt, and anxiety rather than acting on them immediately. She is learning to soothe herself rather than look outside herself to feel better, and is able to strategize and problem solve when difficult emotional situations arise.

Deborah is now able to limit her contact with her partner to phone calls and text messages, and is now able to avoid putting herself in physically dangerous situations. In addition to these changes, Deborah has noticed the quality of her other relationships with friends and family has improved, as she is able to be in better control of her emotional self. Deborah has accomplished this over the course of eight months of weekly individual counseling.

Deborah is continuing to work with her DVSC counselor to see if she can eliminate abusive relationships entirely from her life. Now that she is spending less of her energy dealing with abuse or with being caught up in a swirl of her own feelings, Deborah is thinking she would like to return to school and pick up where she feels she went off course almost nine years ago when she first met her abuser.

*Name has been changed.

Jasmine’s Story

Jasmine* is a 47 year-old mother of four with an extensive history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, dating back to early childhood, as well as having experienced violence in the community where she lived and struggling with severe mental illness.

When Jasmine first came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC), she was struggling to fulfill all of her commitments to the Child and Family Services Agency in order to reunify with her son, and was having great difficulty tending to her daughter, who was frequently hospitalized for her mental health needs.

During her sessions at the DVSC, Jasmine reported that her son’s father was frequently abusive and violent towards her and all her children. Jasmine sought counseling to assist her in understanding the circumstances which resulted in her son’s removal, to develop better coping skills for the emotional distress she experienced due to her trauma history, to acquire more effective and healthier parenting strategies, and to maintain and prioritize the safety of her children and herself.

Working consistently in therapy toward these goals, Jasmine has accomplished a tremendous amount. She has worked hard to enforce boundaries with her son’s father, including obtaining a Civil Protection Order, reporting violations, and renewing the order when necessary. While Jasmine struggled with this in the beginning, she has now changed her phone number and moved her residence entirely to enforce the separation between them.

As of last fall, Jasmine’s son, after four years in foster care, has reunified with his mother and siblings at home. Jasmine’s oldest daughter has stabilized and attends a day school for young adults with special needs. Jasmine herself reports that, with supportive services, she has been able to make better parenting decisions regarding her children. Jasmine says she and her family finally feel safe.

*Names have been changed.

Harriet’s Story

45 year old Harriet* was referred to the Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) by a previous counselor in private practice who “could not break through Harriet’s defensive” behaviors. When Harriet began seeing her counselor at the DVSC, she initially identified reconciling with her husband of eight months as her goal.

In the beginning stages of her work, Harriet was actively attempting to get her husband to join her in couples counseling, but also worked with her DVSC counselor to change some things about the marriage that were bothersome to her, including that she was paying for all of her husband’s expenses despite the fact they were living apart, frequently tolerated verbal tirades when she was not immediately available to him, and often curtailed her activities to avoid accusations and threats prompted by his jealousy.

Harriet found that when she began to end conversations with him when he was yelling and calling her names that she felt better. She also realized that she felt supported and empowered when she spent time with her friends and doing activities she enjoyed, even if it bothered her husband. Though it took Harriet a while to fully acknowledge that her marriage was abusive, she was able to bolster her support system and improve her well-being. When she was ready, without any pressure by her DVSC counselor, Harriet contacted an attorney to begin the process of formally dissolving her marriage.

After several months of seeing her DVSC counselor, Harriet will now tell you, with no small degree of astonishment, “I can’t believe I couldn’t see what was happening to me.” Harriet credits the patience of her DVSC counselor, who guided her through her own process of discovery, with her new insight. Harriet is now actively working to understand why she did not initially realize some of her husband’s behavior was problematic by exploring her core beliefs about marriage, based on what she witnessed in her family growing up, and by reflecting also on her beliefs about what it means if she is not in a relationship. Harriet is considering dating again once her divorce is finalized but says that she’ll take it slow.

*Names have been changed.

Allison’s Story

Allison* initially came to House of Ruth’s Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC) because she was concerned about the impact living with her long-term abusive partner and father of her children was having on her and her two daughters. Allison acknowledged that there were times that she and her daughters felt fearful of Allison’s partner, when he was verbally abusive and kept Allison from sleeping, or disrupted her daughters while working on their homework. Allison felt that her self-esteem, and that of her daughters, was being negatively affected by the abuse.

Despite this, Allison felt unable to separate from her partner and worked with her DVSC counselor for three months to explore the obstacles to separating, both emotional and logistical, and to identify and implement some strategies to improve the quality of life for her and her daughters. Several months later, Allison returned to counseling following an incident in which her partner threatened to kill Allison and her daughters.

Allison has since left her partner, moved in with her mother, and filed a Civil Protection Order (CPO). Allison also reported that criminal charges against her partner were pending. Allison has already obtained an attorney to support her as she pursued full legal custody of her daughters. Allison credits the work done in therapy as being instrumental in helping her take quick action to protect herself and her daughters.

In Allison’s words, “I wasn’t ready before, but coming to counseling helped me know what to do when the time was right.” Allison continued in counseling the second time around for 8 more months until her she had secured permanent custody of her daughters and moved into her own apartment.

*Names have been changed.

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