VOICES: I want people in abusive relationships to know they deserve to be safe

There’s a moment at my college graduation that I’ll always remember.

I was walking across the stage to get my diploma, and for me the whole room fell silent and all I heard was my daughter saying “Mommy!”

I remember thinking that this was the proudest moment of my life.

I’m a survivor of domestic violence and there was a time in my life when I didn’t think I would get here.

After I left that relationship, I had very little self-confidence. I didn’t know what resources were available.

This was the reason that drove me to get my social work degree. Now I work at YWCA Dayton as a case manager and I can be that support for other survivors.

I now do regular outreach for YWCA Dayton to survivors at the St. Vincent De Paul emergency shelter and I’m proud that I can be a resource for people I meet.

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy and many of the clients I serve have faced judgement for returning to an abusive relationship. Sometimes don’t feel they have a choice, whether that’s for financial reasons, fear, children or other reasons of control.

Others believe things might change, only to experience more abuse. After an attack, there’s often a honeymoon period where the abuser promises they’ve changed, only to revert back to abusive behaviors.

In fact, one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when a person is trying to leave.

I’m able to stand with my clients and be an empathetic and non-judgmental resource, because I know it can be harder to leave than some people realize.

We need to believe survivors. We need to stand with survivors. And I’m proud to now be a source of that support and belief.

The big lesson that I had to learn was that abuse should not feel normal. Whether abuse is emotional, physical, or financial, it can often feel normal at the time, especially if this is something that has been normal over the generations in your family.

I want people to know that it is not normal. It is not OK. And I want people in abusive relationships to know they deserve to be safe.

I want people to know there’s hope and that their life can change.

I’ve experienced that change.

My daughter is now able to see what a safe and health relationship looks like with my husband. She’s been able to see as I pursued my school and career dreams.

Now I’m looking forward to one more surreal graduation moment as my family watches. I’ve just been accepted into my dream school of University of Michigan to pursue my Master’s Degree, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Paige Nickol is a YWCA Dayton case manager.

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