“You Can’t Change What You Refuse to Confront”

I can’t believe we have made it to the end of May! A few weeks ago, I proudly watched my oldest son, Tony graduate Kindergarten. I didn’t expect the intense emotions that came with it, but these boys have been through so much, probably more than your average adult in their lifetimes!

I sat with Jake during the ceremony and noticed Tony searching the audience. When he saw Jake and I, he waved, smiling big- ear to ear.

I gave him a thumbs up (it’s a thing between us that we do). He gave me two thumbs up! I tried to stop the tears running down my cheek, but it was too late. I thought about how far both boys had come within a year. Not only are they exceeding academically, but they both have life in them again.

The foster family is currently out of the state attending a family members wedding, so I drove them to respite care, where they will temporarily stay for about a week. I was able to walk the boys up to their room and help them get ready for bed.

I could tell that they had a lot of anxiety, like me, about going to a strangers home.

During our car ride, Tony asked, “Can you pick us up for a visit while we are there? Can we see you?” I observed Jake holding his puppy, Jadoe, with a tight grip. I did my best to reassure them, and told them that I would be back to pick them up for our visit on Sunday.

You just never know. I’ve heard horror stories, and while I try my best to put them out of my mind, I think as a mother, that’s just impossible.

Instantly, I felt they were going to be okay. My intuition, my gut.  They were excited, laughing, and checking out the playroom when I left.

It has taken a lot of time to build back their trust. The last thing that I ever wanted is for them to feel abandoned. I know that feeling all to well.

I did what I had to, in order to keep them safe. I kept my promise- I have been by their side through the entirety of our journey.

I remember when I saw Tony and Jake for the first time after being released from the hospital last summer. Of course, they were both excited to see me, but I noticed Tony had emotionally shut-down. He was almost robotic. He didn’t cry and barely showed any emotion.

As a defense mechanism, he numbed his emotions.

This would go on for some time, and then, it wouldn’t be long before he would wrap his little arms tightly around my neck.

Mama, he would say, I missed you. I prayed for you every night before bed.”

I hugged him close and made him look me in the eyes. Through tears, I said, “Tony, I prayed for you and Jake every day, every night. I love you both with all of my heart. This was by far the hardest decision I had to make, but I did it to keep you guys safe. I never left you. I’m not leaving you now, or ever. We will get through everything together, like we always have. We are going to be okay. We are safe now.” 

I didn’t know what the outcome of my decision would be. I didn’t know what to expect. I never imagined the impact this would have on my relationship with the boys. Our bond has strengthened and this has been a major year of growth for all of us.

I didn’t realize just how life-changing my choice would end up being.

Almost a year ago to the day, my abuser was reaching out to me from the Athens-Clarke County Jail. He had several people follow, intimidate, and threaten my children and I. I was on my own for the first time, placed in an apartment by Project Safe.

We were on our feet, and I was doing the best that I could. I tried to make it work, I really, really tried. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. I was exhausted, I needed help.

Over the course of several days, and after many prayers, God told me what I had to do, in order to survive. It took an enormous amount of courage to walk my two boys, ages 4 and 5 at the time, to the police station. I was all they had.

I couldn’t take care of myself, much less them at the time. I was boiling water to give them warm baths. I walked for miles to job interviews, both boys in tow. I felt as though I had done everything I could. We walked miles to church in the blazing heat of summer. I remember one Sunday practically collapsing in the front yard. There was a big pasture out front. I was sweaty and hadn’t had a shower in weeks.

I literally fell to the ground, and started praying aloud, with Tony and Jake. With tears streaming down my face, I walked to the front doors. A lady grabbed my arm and started praying, immediately. She knew just by looking at me, that something was terribly wrong. She offered us a ride and gave me her phone number in case I needed anything.

Recently, the boys brought up a memory to me from last summer. “Mama, I’m glad you have a car now to get groceries. We don’t have to walk so far in the rain anymore.” Tony was referring to our trip to Kroger in the middle of the night. Jake on my shoulders, I trudged along the sidewalks. Carrying several bags, one busted open and food went everywhere.

Thunder, lightening, and so much rain, all at once. The bottom just fell out of the sky. There wasn’t a dry spot on any of us. We did what we could to preserve what food we had just purchased.

I recall finding a church. The boys were exhausted. We all had sores on our feet. We were soaking wet. They were scared and with each BOOM, they would hold me tighter and tighter.

We ran through the church yard and found a bench. During the thunderstorm, we huddled closely together under an awning.

Eventually, the boys fell asleep on the bench in my arms.

Somehow that night, we made it home in one piece. I’m not sure how, but we did.

Father’s Day of 2017, I let go and let God. All I had left at this point was my faith. I was knocked down to my knees, and made the ultimate sacrifice to give my children a better life, to make sure they would be safe.

I had to let them go, the very thing I was afraid of doing, was the only thing that could save us.

Nearly a year later, I am preparing for the boys return home. We will begin to extend our Sunday visits to 8 hours, and within the next week or so, we will hopefully begin overnight visits.

At the conclusion of my DFCS case, I can begin divorce proceedings against my abuser that was initiated back in July 2017.

I have learned a lot about myself within the past year. I am applying what I have learned in all aspects of my life. I realize now, that regardless of how much it hurts, it was and still is, necessary to face my past in order to move on to my future.

Through therapy and group sessions, I have accepted where I have been.

It’s going to take time to rebuild the relationships that suffered over the course of the seven-years in mental and at times, physical captivity.

The biggest of all, my relationship with my daughters.

A quote I ran across earlier this morning, “You can’t change what you refuse to confront“,  hit hard.

I am slowly rummaging through the debris left by the devastating effects of domestic violence.

I broke the cycle, but it cost me greatly. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

I have faith that in time, we will be a family again.