Trigger warning: This story contains content about domestic violence and suicide. Please take care of yourself.
Domestic violence took a lot from “Kelly” – before she even knew it was domestic violence. She and her abuser were together for more than 10 years.
“I didn’t consider it domestic violence because I fought back and defended myself,” says Kelly. “Things got better. There was a while when things disappeared – but I was missing signs like his controlling ways.”
Despite all the times the police were called, Kelly never pressed charges, even when he strangled her. “We’d always had a rocky relationship and abuse and things, but I never wanted him to go to jail because I didn’t want to be the one to ruin his background,” she says.
When the relationship was over, Kelly closed on a house she had built. But she only lived in it for 17 months before she put it on the market. “I had worked super hard to get the house,” she says. “And that came to an end. I sold my house to get away from what followed me – the DV. Although it wasn’t physical at the time, it was the popping up and controlling type of things – even using current girlfriends to harass me so I wasn’t able to enjoy my house.” She moved to an apartment on the other side of the city thinking things would get better, but they followed her there, too.
One night last year, Kelly’s life was changed forever by a deadly domestic violence incident.
Kelly tried to go back to work less than a month later, but it was too much. “I was having panic attacks – I was almost passing out every day – so I had to give that job up,” she says. “It left me unable to pay my bills.” She didn’t know about the Violence Against Women Act, which provides housing protections for survivors. “When I finally reached out to try to figure it out, my apartment had already filed an eviction on me,” says Kelly. She had to pay two months of past-due rent, which was $1,900. “That kind of was the start of me not having anywhere to go,” she says. Kelly and her children went to a shelter.
“The room was so small,” she says. There were four beds for her and her three kids, but her youngest slept with her so they could use one bed for storage. They were there for two-and-a-half months.
“I was going through my grieving there,” says Kelly. “One night, I had made up my mind that I was going to commit suicide, and I was at peace with it. I didn’t feel angry, sad or hurt about it.” She was crying and couldn’t sleep. She decided she was going to drive her car into the White River. “My kids were asleep, and I just kind of looked at them and wondered if I should get them up and take them to my sister’s or if I should let them sleep,” she says. “Finally, something took over and I was able to go to sleep. I feel like if it weren’t for me getting tired, I wouldn’t be here. But when I woke up a few hours later, I felt different, so I think it was meant for me to go to sleep. Because if I had gotten them up and taken them to my sister’s, I would have gone through with it.”
When she looks back now, she says it’s scary and sad she was so comfortable with wanting to die. “I felt like that was the most peaceful thing at the time,” she says. “I try to think about how my children would feel – that they would feel like I feel if I wasn’t here.”
The family left the shelter and came to Coburn Place, where they have lived for a year. “It’s hard being here,” says Kelly. “I do feel like Coburn Place is a great program for people, but it’s just a reminder of what I’m going through. And I miss being able to be home – in my home – and I miss the life I had before everything.”
Kelly got to work finishing her high school credits. She had been attending classes, but they were on break when the incident happened, and she dropped out. “But I made a promise to my best friend that I would finish,” she says. “That’s what made me go back. That was my motivation.”
Not only did she graduate, but she also earned welding and pharmacy tech certifications and a 10-hour OSHA certification. She goes to Ivy Tech and is working on an additional welding certification.
Kelly says she uses school as a distraction. “Sometimes people will tell me I need to slow down,” she says. “I do things to stay busy, to keep my mind busy, to keep going because, without that, I don’t know what I would do. It’s hard to celebrate my accomplishments because I may be excited for a few minutes, then it’s like, ‘But what are you excited for?’ because the reality kind of comes back. That’s hard, and I’m trying to work on that.”
Kelly is working as a pharmacy tech and started training for a welding job. “I’ve always worked, and was off work almost two years,” she says. “I had a fear of going back just because it had been so long. I want a halfway normal life at least. It’s been a struggle. I went from feeling like I had everything to nothing. Even though I wasn’t rich, I was happy. Now I’m starting over.”
Kelly tries to participate in everything Coburn Place offers. She has a lawyer now to guide her through the court process, which has taken a lot of stress off her plate. She sees a therapist she loves. “I really enjoy the health and wellness program,” she says.
The whole family went to an overnight wellness retreat at Great Wolf Lodge with other survivors, which she says was good for her children. “After what I went through, my kids missed out on so much,” says Kelly. “They are used to being able to do things, but we hadn’t done anything. Coming to Coburn Place has opened up the start of them being a kid again. That’s helped a lot.”
She says her children are up and down. They haven’t had to change schools, and a lot of things at Coburn Place have brought them joy – like working the Lemonade Stand. “They like it here, but they also want to go ‘home,’” says Kelly. “My hope for them is that they can go back to a life that’s as normal as possible, that they’ll be OK in the long run. And that they get whatever help they may need. Because they’re grieving, too.”
Kelly wants to move out of Coburn Place, but she knows she can’t rush it. She still deals with depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping – including night terrors so real she will get up and check the news or text the person who was hurt in her dream.
“My biggest goal is to find my way back in life because after being knocked back for so long – it’s hard,” she says. “I had accomplished a lot on my own. I’d like to see myself in a house again. That’s always been a dream of mine for my kids to grow up in a house because I didn’t – I grew up in apartments. Of course, what I really want nobody on this earth can give me. I want time to go back, and I want things to be OK.”
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