"No One Should Be Scared to Live Their Best Life"
Lizzy will be spending the holidays this year with her two daughters. The first time in over three years, safely in her own apartment she now calls home.
Gone are the days of isolation, lack of control over her finances, needing to gain permission to go to the store or to wear particular items of clothing - all classic signs of the coercive pattern of control present in domestic violence relationships.
Lizzy is a survivor, and she wants to use her voice to help others.
"You feel like trash on the street," Lizzy stated. "I didn't understand myself." Lizzy clearly recalls how her former partner's years of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse impacted her. Even forcing her to send her older daughter to live in with another relative, so she could be shielded from this toxic environment.
"I thought it would get better," Lizzy stated.
It is her inner strength, collaboration amongst three agencies and a well-timed call from an unexpected source which dramatically changed her life.
The apartment where Lizzy resided with her partner and young child was in deplorable conditions. An unannounced visit by the landlord found holes in the wall consistent with physical violence. He called the Child Abuse and Neglect Careline, concerned for Lizzy and her daughter.
"The landlord saved my life," stated Lizzy.
The landlord expressed his concerns to Lizzy and informed her of the call he made. "You are scared. Feel you will be judged and have no one to talk to," stated Lizzy.
Lizzy anticipated a visit from the Department of Children and Families. "I did not want to lose my kids," Lizzy stated. In fact, she contacted the 24-hour Careline on her own once she knew about the report being made. She advised the Social Worker that she was not safe and was willing to leave the home.
"You feel as if no one will understand," she stated.
The response Lizzy received was the opposite of what she anticipated. "They were there to help," Lizzy stated when referring to DCF Social Workers Melissa Guarneri, Liane Spremullo and Jessica Davis. "I did not feel judged." At one point, Lizzy remembered the Investigator telling her, "I know you are scared, we are not here to remove children. We are here to help."
"I felt drained and looked drained," Lizzy recalls. Intent on stopping the cycle, she embraced those in front of her.
Lizzy trusted the system.
The day of DCF's visit, Lizzy and her daughter left the home and found safety with a relative. They received support from the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport who assisted Lizzy in filing for a restraining order.
Lizzy spent a period of time at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford. She describes the women she met there as a "sisterhood." From their similar stories, long talks, and daily activities, she realized she was not alone in her experiences. "We still check up on each other," Lizzy stated.
Lizzy was then connected to Family and Children's Agency (FCA) Supportive Housing for Families Program. The program combines "housing assistance with intensive strength-based case management." The ultimate goal is for families to secure homes in safe and nurturing neighborhoods while providing their children with a stable and caring home environment.
Lizzy worked with Tiffany McCarthy, Director of Family Support at FCA.
"When you work with her you can truly see what resilience looks like and the power of a mother's love for her children. Lizzy took every opportunity that she was given to make positive changes for her and her daughters. She showed such bravery and strength in her journey from abuse to now as she creates a home for her daughters where they can all feel safe and thrive together. Lizzy wants her voice to be heard so others know they are not alone and there is hope that there is help available," stated Tiffany.
FCA assisted Lizzy in securing housing, furniture, and other necessities. Lizzy settled in with her young daughter.
The family was not yet complete nor was her work over.
In August, Lizzy's older daughter came back to live with her after they were separated for approximately three years. The family was together again - home for the holidays.
"I want my girls to see how strong I am," Lizzy stated. She talks to them, in an age-appropriate manner, about domestic violence. Violence is intergenerational as Lizzy herself experienced it as a child.
Lizzy is aware that her story will be sent to thousands of people to read. She hopes her voice can be heard by others, so they know they are not alone, the abusive way they are treated is not their fault and supports are available.
"No one should be scared to live their best life."
Note: The name has been changed in this story to protect the identity of the family involved.