Success Stories at HAVEN
For more than 40 years, HAVEN has helped thousands of individuals and families create fresh beginnings and safer lives. Read some of HAVEN’s success stories below.
The word shame is thought to be derived from an older word meaning "to cover," as such, covering ones’ self, literally or figuratively. When I was being abused, I was too ashamed to let anyone know because I feared their judgment. I was embarrassed that I had made such a poor choice and I worried that I would be judged for not leaving him. See, I thought it was only me. That's what shame is.
What I came to learn is that I wasn't doing a very good job of hiding it. People could see that I had lost my spark and my heart had been broken. My once sassy, independent, confident, capable spirit was long gone.
Then the day came when the pain of staying was worse than the pain of leaving. So I packed up all my troubles and left. That moment, that freeing moment...was a fabulous feeling of liberation from the abusive oppression I had become accustomed to. Although I feared financial insecurity and the magnificent task of a complete makeover of my entire life, I did it anyway and HAVEN was a safe place for me to begin to recover and I learned strategies which I used to rebuild my life.
I learned that I am not alone. In fact, 1 in every 4 families experience domestic abuse. Statistics are great, but I prefer a visual. If I was in a room with a dozen people, THREE of them have been where I have been OR are currently where I WAS.
Those same statistics show that there is no cultural or economic divide. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor; it's STILL 1 in 4 families. But either way, you CAN leave. It's alright. Being abused is NEVER (ever) your fault. I have found it to be a fabulous life changing, life-GROWING experience to share my hope and strength and BRAVERY in setting myself free.
As a career woman who believes in God, some may say that my story is like millions of others; however, it is what I chose to do with what happened to me that makes mine a little different. My hope is that others will find their ‘over the rainbow’ life, free from violence, and experience what it means to be genuinely loved.
I was married to a man who was charming, funny and adventurous. Our wedding and honeymoon was like a fairytale. When we dated he said he adored me, even loved me, and lavished me with beautiful gifts and thoughtful gestures that continued into the marriage. Then his behavior towards me began to change, he became more agitated and yelled at me even when there were no disagreements. His behavior became so intense, from mean-spirited back to charming. Since domestic violence was not in the home that I grew up in, and my knowledge regarding it was limited, I didn’t know that I was right in the middle of a domestic violent marriage.
One evening after spending a day of fun together, the fairy tale ended. Because I did not follow his instructions on which way to drive home that evening, he burst into fury that eventually would last for hours. I knew then that it was time to leave the home, so I went to our spacious walk-in closet to pack, and it was there that I would be held against my will. I was attacked, brutally beaten, choked, and locked in there for hours.
Upon my release I ended up in the hospital where a HAVEN volunteer came to my bedside. I was embarrassed and had many feelings swirling about, including shame and guilt, yet she was compassionate and not judgmental towards me. It was then that I knew I wanted to help other victims in some way that would make them feel better too.
Since then, I volunteer my time and give donations to HAVEN. I went back to school to become a mental health therapist, specializing in domestic violence and sexual assault and then obtained a doctorate in ministry. I have seen others move from victim to survivor where they now live ‘over the rainbow.’ I am pleased to say that I am happily married to someone else, have a stronger faith in God, and know that there is hope and help from HAVEN.
Physical abuse started for me at a very early age. I witnessed my father beating my mother until I was 3 when she left him and became an abuser herself toward me.
I lived with a babysitter from age 4 to 7 who starved, tortured, and beat me. At age 9 a different babysitter molested me. At age 11 I ran away from home after being brutally beaten by my mother. Shortly afterward I attempted suicide for the first time. I was then forced to move in with my biological father. A year and a half later he molested me. I moved out at age 15. I got married and had my first child by 17. A day after giving birth my husband raped me. I was divorced by 18.
As I aged, I got into volatile relationships, continuing the "norm" I had experienced so far. These relationships beat me down more emotionally than physically. The emptiness that consumed me left me feeling depressed. I became an alcoholic and an addict, attempting suicide monthly, if not weekly.
It was difficult to get out of these dysfunctional relationships. I was afraid to be alone, fearing I couldn't make it on my own. I believed the lies that were told to me. I believed I deserved to be beaten and raped. I thought this life I was experiencing was as good as it was going to get.
I decided to move to Florida when I was 27, thinking I would leave the past behind me. Then I met a man. I thought he was different. He didn't hit me. He spoke of taking care of me, marriage, stability and love. All the things I longed for so deeply.
It took me four years to finally leave him for good. Four years of abuse, rape, being shared with his friends, humiliation, degradation, violence! I moved out, he broke in. I moved again, he would hide under my house. I moved back to Michigan, he drove up and took me back twice. I got a PPO against him and he violated it repeatedly. My employers installed video cameras for my safety. He would not leave me alone!
I felt I would never get away from him - that there was absolutely no escape. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. January 12, 2008 I shot myself in the head with a 38 sitting in my car outside our house.
I spent 26 days in the hospital, and went to a friend’s house to recover and heal. My stalker was still coming around begging me to come home. I knew I just couldn't. So I secretly got a U-Haul, packed up what was left of my belongings and drove back to Michigan and hid for a year.
I had serious self-esteem issues and very low self-worth. I found a therapist and began the long, rough, road to rebuilding my mind and mental health.
I've lived through so much, I survived and I am thriving. I hope other people will be inspired to do the same. Without therapy, the groups at HAVEN, and being a part of their Speakers Bureau I wouldn't be where I am today.
I'm no longer codependent. I work full-time, and I'm saving for a down payment on my own very first home. I am strong, as each and every one of us are. We can overcome anything.
Life changed in an instant for me in August of 1986. One night, when I was home alone, an intruder broke into my home through a rear bedroom window, hid in a closet, and waited quietly for me to wake up. That morning, as I passed by that closet, the door burst open, and a man wearing a nylon stocking over his head and holding a knife lunged towards me and pushed me to the ground. I thought that I was in the middle of a nightmare but couldn’t wake myself up. He tied my hands behind me and put a gag in my mouth before I even knew whether he was real or not.
At first I thought he was there to rob me, and I tried to lie still so he would take what he wanted and leave. It wasn’t until he started pulling off my clothes that I realized that he was there to rape me. I was terrified and felt absolutely powerless to stop him. I was sure that he would kill me, and shocked when he didn’t.
I reported the rape to the police department, but my attacker remained free and unidentified. In the following weeks, I was overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. I remembered that one of the police officers recommended that I call HAVEN.
When we have no visible injuries, friends and family don’t always understand the pain we are in and we have no one to talk to. At HAVEN, I joined a support group for victims of sexual violence and learned that I wasn’t alone. Rape is an act of terror that is so disturbing; its victims often suffer in silence rather than talk about the violation, humiliation, and fear.
HAVEN helped me to know that my thoughts and feelings were normal for someone who had lived through a rape, and that I wasn’t crazy. They educated me as to the motives of my attacker, and helped to answer many of my “Why?” questions. They gave me hope that one day I would be able to recover and feel joy again. It is impossible to magically take away the pain and suffering of someone who has been raped, but patiently listening to that person and pointing out her strengths can give her hope that tomorrow can be better than today.
Rita came to the shelter as a single woman who is legally blind. She had been in an abusive relationship for three years. Her partner often pushed and punched her during arguments and had recently pushed her off of the porch.
Rita openly stated all she really wanted was to be on her own and to support herself. Through her stay at the shelter, Rita sought medical attention, obtained a job and interviewed for transitional housing. The physical and emotional transformation that Rita displayed during her stay was also amazing. As her body healed, her self-esteem grew. She met with her counselor and shared how she felt like she was growing into a new woman.
Rita began feeling good about herself. She started wearing makeup and smiling more, and after 35 days, Rita left the shelter and moved into a transitional housing establishment called Amelia Agnes. She has remained in contact with staff and reports that she continues to do well and is enjoying her newfound independence.
Karen and Helen are separated by more than 40 years, but united in a common traumatic experience. During a four-month period, in 1995–1996, each woman was raped by the same man. Helen and Karen are living proof that rape is a crime that impacts women of all ages. But they are also something more: a testimony to the healing power of the relationships that emerge between rape survivors.
Karen and Helen first saw each other from across the room at their local police station, just months after they had been raped. They were brought together to view a lineup of suspects — their rapist was not among them, but it would be years before they actually spoke together. It is a little known fact that rape victims who have been assaulted by the same man cannot talk to one another until after the trial of their assailant, so as not to prejudice the case. For many years then, Karen and Helen’s interaction was limited to just their shared history.
When their rapist was at last apprehended, years after Karen and Helen had been raped, they again crossed paths at the preliminary hearing during his trial. As Karen left the courtroom, she passed Helen, who was on her way in.
“Helen’s hand was balled into a fist, and she raised it in the air, like a victory symbol, and smiled at me. There was something triumphant about Helen. There still is. To have gone through what she went through, and to have that energy after being raped while in her eighties, that just amazed me,” says Karen.
Helen said simply, “What else is there to do? If we don’t go on living, [he] may as well have killed us. We need to keep going.”
In the years since their rapist was convicted, over long lunches, dinners and the occasional margarita, Karen and Helen have made up for lost time, learning to trust and talk to each other about rape, and so much more: their politics, their passions, their great love of fishing. These two women are, in Karen’s words, “mother and daughter by choice. We understand one another in a way no one else can.”
It’s a joyful bond, and a redemptive one — a singular and small mercy in the face of shared grief.
About six months before she sought shelter with her 18-month-old son Larry, Isabel had moved to Michigan from Florida to be with her husband, Larry’s father, in an attempt to make their relationship work. But it did not last long.
Isabel chose to leave Larry’s father because she wanted to provide better care for her son, who had been born prematurely and had several health issues that required surgery. She didn’t want to raise him in a place where his mom was hit all the time.
Isabel shared with us her fight to stay free of the drugs and alcohol she used when things at home became too difficult to handle. She sought the support of staff and other agencies to remain drug and alcohol free and to process the situation with her son.
Staff worked with Isabel to create a safety plan for her trip to the hospital for surgery and the difficult time that would lie ahead. Isabel was clearly determined to put her son and herself first and to keep her family safe. Larry’s surgery took place about three weeks into her stay and while he recovered at the hospital, Isabel spent her free time attending meetings and working on her relocation back to Florida, where her family and friends were. Isabel stayed with Larry until they could both return to the shelter, and she returned to us very excited about the progress that he had made.
One month, late at night, when Larry was strong enough to travel, Isabel and Larry relocated to Florida. Isabel recently reported that the family is doing well. Larry is walking and talking up a storm, her divorce is final and she and Larry are living in a safe home with Section 8 assistance.
Jennifer fell head over heels in love at 14. Like a lot of young girls, Jennifer felt she needed to do anything that she could to keep her first boyfriend happy. Although adamant about waiting to have sex until she was married, Jennifer was coerced into sexual situations and forced to engage in sexual activity.
While Jennifer understood that this was wrong, she never defined this unwanted sexual activity as sexual assault. Her definition of sexual assault had been formed by what she saw on television and consisted solely of stranger rape.
Jennifer stated, “At the time, I truly believed that rape was defined by a woman screaming for her life and physically fighting off her attacker. I did not consider the women such as myself who were too scared to scream out loud, but instead screamed inside.”
As a result of her trauma, Jennifer made poor relationship choices, had little self-worth and struggled with promiscuity. She continually found herself looking for love in the wrong places.
While in college, Jennifer sought counseling for the low self-esteem she continued to feel. At that time, she also decided to volunteer for HAVEN. During her volunteer training, Jennifer learned to identify herself as a sexual assault survivor.
For the first time, she felt validated. She realized she wasn’t alone and that she could use her training for personal healing. Jennifer has been sharing her story and helping girls and women feel empowered and safe ever since. Jennifer is passionate about her work for many reasons, but her passion primarily stems from the fact that she can see pieces of herself in the impressionable eyes of those she helps.
Reneé is 44 years old and is a survivor of domestic, sexual and stalking violence. Despite nearly being killed by her abuser — he broke all the blood vessels in her eyes, stabbed her twice in the stomach and arm, fractured her nose, and burned her with hot grease — Reneé’s most painful loss was that of the life of her unborn daughter, Summer Nichole. Reneé attributes her healing and recovery to her relationship with God and the opportunities to tell her story.
For Reneé, her motivation for speaking about the abuse she endured is to let women know that there is help, hope and a balm waiting for them. She is an advocate and speaker to women, men and teenagers at her church (Greater Grace Temple, Detroit, Michigan) and is a minister and speaker for the Sisters Against Abuse. Reneé plans to travel and share her story with women all over the world about domestic, sexual and stalking violence.
In a final testament to her strength and persistence, Reneé will be the recipient of a brand-new home built by Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County.According to Reneé, being the recipient of a brand-new house is only the beginning of the good things that await her.