Editor’s note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. World Health Organization statistics say 1 in 3 women will suffer some sort of domestic abuse in her lifetime, whether it’s emotional abuse or physical violence against her.
To spotlight the need for awareness and the reality that this is happening to your friends, family members and co-workers who might be trying their hardest to hide their shame, the Chronicle is telling the story of Christy, one woman who successfully got her life back after living a nightmare of abuse.
• • •
It was January 2019.
Christy’s longtime boyfriend, the father of her two children, picked her up from work — and then picked a fight with her.
“He accused me of infidelity,” Christy said, adding that his rage was fueled by his meth addiction.
He started driving erratically, and when Christy said, “Just take me home,” he punched her.
“I was bleeding,” she said. “My face was busted up and swollen, and he freaked out.”
On felony probation, he knew this would be a violation that would send him to prison.
“He threatened to kill us both,” Christy said. “He said he could make it look like an accident and that we should take the airboat out.”
Christy said she tried being his “ally,” calmly suggesting they just go home, figure things out.
When that didn’t work, she tried opening the car door to escape. That’s when he slammed on the brakes and she hit the dashboard — and then he started head-butting her.
“Before, when we were first together, he wasn’t like that,” Christy said. “But he had fallen into drugs, and I thought I could save him. I loved him — he was the father of my children.”
• • •
Eventually, he took her home and went to the store to get her some Tylenol.
She said she doesn’t remember too many of the details after that, like who called 911 or where her boyfriend disappeared to.
Because of the severity of her injuries, she ended up at a trauma center in Brandon.
“After several days the sheriff’s deputies found him,” she said. “He tested positive for meth and went to jail.”
The day she came home from the hospital, Christy thought, “It’s over. I can heal, and my kids and I can move on with our lives.”
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, sheriff’s deputies and someone from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) were waiting for her at her house.
“They said, ‘Do you have anybody you can trust that we can place your children with?’ They — my kids — had been in an environment where they could potentially get hurt. He was never (abusive) with them, and he didn’t even live with us. But the toxicity of the situation ... they wanted to make sure I was mentally OK to be a good parent.”
The kids went to live with a nearby relative, and for that she’s grateful.
Still, not being allowed to have her kids living with her was her “rude awakening,” she said, that things had gotten so out of control.
At first, she was angry and confused that her kids had been taken away from her.
She wondered, “Did that make me a bad parent?”
“On the outside, I was someone who was put together, I had a job, I was settled, but inside I was broken,” she said. “I had already started going to CASA (Citrus Abuse Shelter Association) because of abuse in my past, and now I had a parenting plan to complete so I could get my kids back. They gave me a year to complete it, and I did it in four months.
“It was a pain, and it was intrusive, and I made many trips to the courthouse, but I did it,” she said. “I slowly got my kids back — from a once a week visit with them to them staying overnight until finally it was over. They were home with me.”
Although she was never a resident at the shelter, she did attend groups and classes at CASA, which she said was part of her healing.
Carol Chodkowski, CASA childhood victim advocate, said 75-80% of the women who come to CASA for services do not enter the shelter.
“When Christy came to CASA and did the groups, she embraced everything and was a tremendous asset to have in group,” Chodkowski said. “She wasn’t afraid to share, and she wasn’t afraid to challenge some of the women.”
Christy said she has come to a place of healing and has no hate for the man who hurt her.
“I can’t heal and hate at the same time,” she said.
She said now she wants to help others heal.
“I want to be a voice, an advocate for others,” she said. “Abuse is so prevalent — one in three women. I fell hard, but I also had great people who helped me, and I think I can be a help to others, too.”