By Lisa Smith, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
In the year leading up to graduate school, I was lucky enough to land an Americorps position at a local agency that provides shelter, food, and financial assistance (among other services) to those in need in my community. It was a deeply rewarding and challenging position that helped me understand the struggles faced in my community and showed me the deep wells of courage that countless individuals wield in the face of poverty and hardship on a daily basis.
When I think of the courage I witnessed during my time at that agency, the face of one woman in particular surfaces to the forefront of my mind. I was working the front desk when she came in, and I remember smiling and asking the standard “What can we help you with today?” greeting. I will never forget her face as she said, “Everything. I need help with everything.”
She explained that she had just fled her home state in order to escape an abusive relationship, arriving at this agency with the clothes on her back, her car, and a few items she had packed away. I now know that many stories of escape are not as dramatic as leaving everything behind and fleeing in the night, but this was her story. I remember how many emotions I saw in her eyes, all at once. Fear, anger, sadness, pride. She had the demeanor of someone that has just made a long anticipated leap into cold water below. Shock, exhilaration, fear. What lies beneath and ahead unknown and frightening.
She had been middle to upper class in the life that she had left behind and wound up at an agency designed to help those in poverty. While disbelief of her current circumstances seemed to wash over her, relief was just behind it. We were able to connect her with resources and, though the road ahead loomed long and arduous, she seemed lighter as she gained control over her own life again, one day at a time.
There were other women that I would encounter during my time there with similar stories, and many others that were taking different strategies and approaches to cope with and survive in an abusive relationship. One thing that all of these women had in common though, was fierce, fierce courage.
I still think about these women and wonder how they are doing, especially since I’ve learned more about intimate partner violence in graduate school. As I learned about abusive dynamics and how complicated it can be to extract yourself from the web of isolation and abuse, my respect and admiration for the strength of any person who has escaped or is currently experiencing domestic violence has grown deeper and broader. And for those that have found a path forward, a way out, or even just a way to survive each day - what bravery, what triumph.
Lisa Smith is a current graduate student at UNCG studying couple and family counseling.