It’s something all parents hope to hear their children say. “I had an ideal life. I had loving parents and a wonderful childhood.” That was the distorted view of a young child, whom I will call Keandra, to protect her identity. That is how Keandra felt during the first few years of her life, while growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana years ago. But that was before her young life turned horribly heartbreaking.
Keandra is an adult now, a mother of six, and she and her children have been living at Sheltering Wings, an emergency shelter for abused women and children in Danville, Indiana, for more than a year. It’s a place, that she says, saved her life. But what happened? And how did she get here?
The Impact and Horror of Child Abuse
It started long before her childhood ended. Someone shattered Keandra’s idyllic view and her innocence, as well as her sister’s. She says it was a man they loved more than any other – her father. “We didn’t know it wasn’t right because it was our father. We believed that it was right,” recalls Keandra. “I was eight years old. I always felt that the way somebody loves you – is to molest you.”
Keandra says her father molested her and her sister for years and, over time, they knew – something was wrong. At age 12, Keandra found her voice, empowered to take a stand against her father’s abuse. “My dad left because I was forced to tell the truth about unspeakable acts against me and my sister. I never told because, to me, he was my dad, I loved him and couldn’t see no wrong in him. I was a daddy’s girl.”
Just imagine the pain and the wounds of a little girl whose father sexually abused her and how that tragic act shaped the rest of her life. “I kind of felt worthless like, if my own father could do this to me, a man who says he loves me, what could someone else do to me,” says Keandra, her voice heavy with sorrow, the violation etched on her soul. “I just accepted that sex is the way that men loved me.”
How Abuse Impacts Relationships Throughout Life
With that childhood experience marring her hope and her perspective, she trudged forward into a bleak future. Keandra looked for love in all the wrong places. First with a man 14 years her senior, when she was barely 14 years old. “I got pregnant at age 14. At the time I didn’t know that was statutory rape. I had no clue. He gave me everything I wanted and needed, so I felt like he was different than my dad. It didn’t register that I was being sexually abused by him until I was pregnant and when the police came to my house.” Her mother had Keandra’s 28-year-old abuser arrested and prosecuted.
But the pain didn’t stop. Nor did the cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction that often follows abuse left untreated. Nowhere to turn. No real support system. No counseling. Keandra says, “When I was younger, it was like I was screaming for help and nobody could see that I was being molested.”
Keandra found solace from the haunting memories in only one true thing – the innocence of her children, the innocence she had lost. She admits that she had children, in part, to soak up the love she lost in a dysfunctional household, long ago. “I felt like there’s somebody who loves me, if no one else does. I had kids with the idea that, the more people who loved me, that was all that mattered.”
Keandra’s low self-esteem kept her on a collision course with abusive men, the wounded child inside still believing that was all she deserved. Sadly… it was all that she knew. And, she says her last boyfriend played on that vulnerability.
“I felt like me opening up to him about the past was a way he could control me,” says Keandra. “He was verbally abusive. He would call me a whore or he would tell me that I deserved what I got as a child because I don’t listen.” And, sometimes, the abuse turned physical. “He choked me a couple of times,” she states dispassionately, unaware of some startling research on domestic violence:
Studies show that when men choke their partners they are 10 times more likely to eventually kill them.
The Life-Threatening Hopelessness of Abuse
Although Keandra didn’t die at the hands of her boyfriend, she was so despondent in the relationship that she tried to die…on her own… by an overdose of medication. “I wrote a suicide note to my son telling him to get his sisters out of the house and that I love him and that I couldn’t live in fear anymore,” she soberly recounts.
“Earlier that day I had called every shelter, every last one in Indianapolis, and all of them were full. So, I felt like, if I was going to die, I was going to die at the hands of myself.” The tears start dropping like a waterfall, as Keandra relives that day when she literally gave up on life.
She says she took many pills, but somehow, miraculously survived. And she made a call to one more shelter, a call that changed her family’s life. “I called Sheltering Wings. I said I need help, I need help. If I don’t get help, I’m not gonna make it.”
Abuse Victims Are Not Alone
Sheltering Wings opened its doors to Keandra and her children. “We literally came with the clothes on our back,” she remembers. But they had each other. They had love. And, they had faith. Keandra believes God directed them to this place, a domestic abuse shelter that was built on a Christ-centered philosophy – extending the love and compassion of Jesus Christ to women and children.
“Sheltering Wings has shown me so much love that I never got growing up, so everything that I do is not only for my kids. It is for them because they believe in me,” says Keandra. She and her children have received a home, a haven and hope. Sheltering Wings offers families like Keandra’s counseling, job training, education, childcare, parenting skills, stress management, legal advocacy, friendship and more. The shelter’s mission is to empower women, promoting independence and stability, so that they never return to abuse again.
Keandra refuses to return to her debilitating past. Sheltering Wings has completely altered the course of her life. “I’m not scared to go out the door. I’m not scared to watch my kids go to the park or the swimming pool. I don’t look over my shoulder anymore.”
Freedom from Abuse and Fear
Imagine that. A life with no more fear, after years of living with abuse and believing that fear was simply a part of her fate – forever. “We’re free! We’re free!” Keandra sobs softly, the relief that she and her children are safe…palpable. “And we’re loved. These people here (at Sheltering Wings) don’t give up on you… I now know the meaning of true love, family and what my God can do for me. They believed in me when no one else would. ”
This shelter and its staff also helped Keandra love herself again. “I’m stronger. I realize that I’m worth more than what my past allowed me to be.”
Keandra has gone back to school. She plans, some day, to be an advocate for other abused women. And she wants them to know that they are not alone. That they can get out. That there are life-saving places, like Sheltering Wings.
“God has these angels who are just waiting to save women like me… The words “Thank You” will never be enough,” says Keandra.
How do you ever truly thank someone for rescuing you and your children from a devastating cycle of abuse? You pay it forward, urging other abuse victims to find their shelter from the storm and live a life – transformed.
Where to Turn for Help from Abuse
If you are in an abusive relationship in Central Indiana, call the Connect2Help phone line by dialing 211. If you are in immediate danger, wherever you live, call 911.
Nationwide, if you need to start talking to trained advocates to get advice, including how to leave safely, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. There are no fees, no names and no judgment. Just a phone call that can help you and your family find freedom from abuse.
You are not alone. There are resources to help you. And, you deserve to be loved and respected. Shatter the Silence.
Angela Cain is an Emmy award-winning former television news anchor/reporter and community and public affairs director. She launched a blog and a small communications business to help inspire people to focus on “what matters most” in this beautiful life we’ve been given. Angela’s blog shares people’s stories, expert interviews and compelling content about “what matters most,” including our passions and purpose, family, relationships, health, self-improvement, careers and community. Angela Cain Communications helps tell the story of “what matters most” to businesses, including nonprofits, through blogs, videos, PR, media and community relations.