Category: Families Together

Melanie’s Journey

One Mom's Journey to Freedom

ACH's Families Together program helps Melanie find confidence in herself to be the mom she aspires to be for her son.

Research shows that it can take up to 7 attempts to leave before a survivor permanently leaves an abusive partner. The main reason women have a difficult time leaving is fear of where they will go or who they could turn to for help. Oftentimes their partner has isolated them from friends and family leading them to believe there is no other life to aspire to.

Melanie had been told by her abuser for years that no one loved or cared about her. Since childhood, she craved the love and support every child needs and deserves. She lost her mother to suicide and was neglected by her father. Seeking affirmation from men in relationships became what she chased after. It didn’t take long before she was mixed in with the wrong crowd, making poor decisions, and losing every ounce of self-worth she had in herself. She continued in the pattern of pursuing toxic, abusive relationships and drug use throughout high school and into her adult years.

When something has been rooted so deep within you, the habits seem nearly impossible to uproot, especially on your own.

Melanie reconnected with her high school boyfriend, Jacob. He showed her affection, told her he’d do anything for her, and wanted to take care of her. Having already broken all relationships with her family, she agreed to move to another state to be with him. She didn’t think there was anything in Texas for her anymore. After a short time into their relationship, the two lost their first child together before birth, which Melanie believed strengthened their bond together. Despite the present abuse, the heartache brought them closer and would sustain their relationship even longer.

Trapped With No Clear Way Out

Melanie would soon feel more alone than she could ever imagine. Jacob wouldn’t allow her to have a job, make friends, or have any sense of freedom. She was able to remain in contact with her sister, who continued to listen but given her past life choices, kept her at arm’s length.

Melanie had experienced narcissistic control and verbal and emotional abuse in her previous relationships, but the physical abuse continued to increase with Jacob’s growing drug use. Not having anywhere else to go or anyone else to turn to, she would endure the abuse day after day.

Every time she attempted to escape, Jacob wooed Melanie back. Each time, Melanie took inventory of her life and believed Jacob’s words, “No one else could possibly care about me. He’s the only one that loves me. This must be what love looks like.” With no other option or hope for a better life, Melanie always returned to captivity.

Then Melanie became pregnant again. The turmoil to leave remained, but now with a baby almost here, she couldn’t risk trying to leave and stepping into the unknown. The final month of her pregnancy was an absolute nightmare of torment and abuse. It was the worst she had ever experienced and continued after her son was born. “Jacob continued using drugs, the physical abuse worsened, and he would drive erratically with our son in the back. It was terrifying.”  

“I hadn’t been there for very long and didn’t know people very well, yet I really felt at home at that moment.”

-- Melanie, upon moving into Families Together

Relief came a month after her son was born. Jacob was finally arrested for giving Melanie black eyes. With the car in her name, Melanie made her way back to Texas. She secured temporary stays for her and her son with different nonprofits and organizations. Yet, in the midst of fear and continued lack of support, the temptation of past securities continued to haunt her. Melanie relapsed into her former drug use, severing any trust she had begun to build in her relationship with her family. She hated herself for it – again thinking very little of herself. Gazing at her son, she knew he needed better, if not for herself, she wanted more for him. Melanie committed to begin the slow process of cleaning herself up. She found organizations that would give her and her son a roof over their head and hope for another day. After a 30-day stay at A Better Tomorrow, she got connected to ACH’s Families Together program.

Families Together Became a Place to Call Home

Melanie remembers her and her son’s first month living at Families Together. The ACH team along with the other moms and their kids were making and decorating Halloween cookies. Melanie recalls seeing her son with icing all over his face when an ACH team member noticed, commented, and they all laughed together. A seemingly insignificant moment meant so much to Melanie, “I hadn’t been there for very long and didn’t know people very well, yet I really felt at home at that moment.” She felt embraced and supported.

The Families Together team encouraged Melanie to slow down and take some time to care for herself and her own healing. Family Care Specialist Sharla Hosford remembers her first impression of Melanie: “She was unsure of herself and what she was doing. She would beat down on herself. We wanted to help her see that she is worth it, has value, and is capable of accomplishing so many things.”

Melanie needed others to believe in her so she could learn to also believe in herself. She was very open and receptive to all the resources and help Families Together offered. She attended the weekly Nurture Group with the other moms where they supported each other, shared parenting advice, and learned from one another.

While at Families Together, Melanie not only experienced mental and emotional healing, but practical steps toward growth and independence. She was able to find day care for her son so she could work, provide insurance coverage for her and her son, purchase a car, and save money to one day live on her own.

“I love empowering moms to believe in themselves again and helping each of them realize what it took to get here. They’ve been torn down for so long – we help to build them back up.”

-- Sharla Hosford, Family Care Specialist

One of the most significant ways Sharla and the rest of the team were present in supporting Melanie was in the rebuilding of her family relationships. They reminded her that things take time, the trust needed to be gained back, and to be encouraged by her growth. Melanie was growing – in her confidence, in her self-awareness, in her independence. In her humble wisdom, Melanie shares, “One of the main things I’ve learned is that things take time. You didn’t mess up everything up in one day – it was gradual. And it’s going to take even longer to fix those things and rebuild, especially relationships.” Melanie’s family saw her commit to ACH’s Family Together program for the entire year and a half, which was a new feat for her.

Melanie always prioritized the wellness of her son. He gave her boldness, hope, and confidence to seek change. They soon were able to move into their own apartment. A huge accomplishment.

Finally Finding Sustainable Freedom

It has been over a year since Melanie moved into her own apartment with her son and left ACH’s Families Together program. She not only finds freedom from her abuser, but the past that haunted her. She’s confident in herself, in what she and her son deserve, and strives for her dreams again. She’s going to school to one day become a counselor.

“I am really grateful for ACH. I feel like if I hadn’t been here, I don’t know where I would be.”

Being at ACH allowed Melanie the opportunity to get her feet under her, know her self-worth, and take back control of her life. ACH’s Families Together program has a great impact because of the care of employees like Sharla, who is passionate about helping moms and families: “I love empowering moms to believe in themselves again and helping each of them realize what it took to get here. They’ve been torn down for so long – we help to build them back up.”

Names changed to protect privacy.

*Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month? In Texas, 183 women were killed by a male intimate partner in 2020. 45% of those women were in the process or had made attempts to leave the relationship (Texas Council on Family Violence, 2020). On average, a victim will leave and return to the abuser 7 times before leaving that relationship permanently (The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2022).

What is Families Together?

ACH’s Families Together Program provides transitional housing for mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living. Families receive intensive case management and therapeutic services designed to help them heal from the trauma and victimization they’ve experienced while gaining the skills they need to promote long-term self-sufficiency and obtain stable housing.

Meet Abigail, Mother & Survivor

With the help of ACH’s Families Together program, Abigail has taken back control of her life after experiencing domestic violence.

You, your kids, and the clothes on your back. That’s all most mothers have when they are escaping a violent abuser.

In Texas, one in three women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence alone affects more than 12 million people each year and can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or income.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so do the challenges it brings. This year, it’s especially important to highlight intimate partner domestic violence as a growing issue in Dallas-Fort Worth. With more families feeling the stress of the pandemic, instances of abuse can arise or worsen. In 2020 alone, 19 adults and two unborn babies were killed in domestic violence homicides in Tarrant County.

Abigail experienced years of physical, and mental abuse from the father of her children before she was able to escape. And just when she was on the verge of independence, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed her recovery.

ACH’s Families Together program helped Abigail take back control of her life and put her on a better path for herself and her children.

What is Families Together?

Families Together provides transitional housing for single mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living.

This is Abigail's Story.

When Abigail first met her partner, Ben*, she already had a young daughter from teen pregnancy. Becoming a mother so young gave Abigail pride, determination, and a strong sense of independence.

After just a few years into their relationship, Ben started to become more controlling. Abigail mistook his actions as caring.

His jealousy led to him asking Abigail to quit her job and become a housewife.

“I thought he just wanted to take care of me, but it slowly started to become more and more of a pattern.”

Abigail soon wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Ben also took away her phone and social media, so she didn’t have a way to ask for help.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I was walking on eggshells every day,” she said. “He was becoming more and more controlling.”

With promises to change and be a better man, the two got engaged. However, Ben’s grip on Abigail intensified when she became pregnant with their son.

“Once I had my son, it started to become physical,” said Abigail.

With no family in Texas, Abigail had no one to turn to. She and Ben were living with his mother, who refused to help Abigail, even though she witnessed the abuse.

“I was under his eyes at all times. And not just under his eyes, his mom would tell him when I took too long at places,” said Abigail. “I felt like I was always being watched.”

Both Ben and Abigail grew up with abusive fathers. For their families, this was just their way of life. When Abigail confronted Ben’s mom, she would blame Abigail’s disobedience for the cause of the abuse.

“I knew that she would not protect me if anything happened,” Abigail said.

One evening after a fight became physical with Ben, Abigail tried to leave. Ben locked her in the garage and wouldn’t let her out.

“I went out through the garage and ran out, and he dragged me by my hair from the driveway back inside in broad daylight,” said Abigail. “That’s when I knew that this was going to end with me being killed.”

That’s when Abigail planned to make her escape. She would ask Ben for his phone so that she could pay bills online, and she would use that time to contact her friends on Facebook and ask for help. One friend had experienced abuse as well and told Abigail, “You don’t need to tell me what is going on. Just tell me when you need me to pick you up and I will be there.”

After their next explosive fight, Abigail took her kids and left to stay with her friend. However, it wasn’t long before Ben started to show up at her friend’s home and became physical once again.

Feeling unsafe in her own home, Abigail’s friend asked her to leave. Abigail and her kids were now homeless and living in her car. A counselor at her daughter’s school helped get them into a shelter, where she was connected to the ACH Families Together program.

Families Together Provides a Safe Space

When Abigail first entered Families Together, she was very anxious and felt hopeless. She was now a single mother of two children with no job and no plan.

“The staff at ACH were very welcoming, and they gave me the space I needed,” she said. “They didn’t make me feel overwhelmed.”

Abigail hit the road running on the path to recovery. She quickly started counseling, attending group sessions with other mothers, and began applying for benefits for her and her kids. She eventually got a job and finished her cosmetology degree.

“When Abigail entered our program, she was determined to make a change and make a better life for her kids,” said Sharla Hosford, Families Together Family Care Specialist. “She didn’t want her daughter to repeat the same cycle that she saw her go through.”

After entering the program, Abigail started to see changes in her daughter. Her daughter witnessed a lot of the abuse and understood what was happening. ACH started to provide counseling for her as well.

“I do believe that it is a cycle that has been broken. She was seeing the same things I was seeing and that is why I felt I needed to help her,” said Abigail. “I saw myself in her so many times and I knew I needed to get help for both of us.”

Overcoming Hurdles from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Abigail entered Families Together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which made getting a job increasingly difficult. At the time, only essential workers were being hired and there was a waitlist for rideshare and food delivery services.

On a whim, Abigail saw that a daycare center was hiring and applied. She got the job but every time there was a COVID-19 exposure the daycare was shut down and she had to apply for unemployment.

Only two months into the program, Abigail hit another bump in the road. She was driving on the highway with her two kids in the car when it caught on fire. This totaled her car and she had to save up even more to get another.

Then, when Abigail tested positive for COVID-19, the staff made sure she had everything she needed. They brought her a refrigerator and provided all her meals.

 COVID-19 also brought more loss to Abigail’s life. While in the program she lost three close friends to the virus. One of those, she didn’t find out about until Christmas morning.

“Staff in Families Together always knew what to say and how to calm me down,” said Abigail. “It was a scary time, but the staff was always there for me.”

Looking Ahead

Because of her strong motivation and hard work, Abigail was able to complete the Families Together program early and move into an apartment.

Although she does have a degree in Cosmetology, Families Together showed Abigail that she could help women with similar experiences. Today, she is in college, working to become a social worker.

Abigail also has dreams of writing a book about her experiences with domestic violence to help others who are going through it.

“When she left ACH, she was empowered,” said Sharla.

Abigail’s Message to Mothers

Abigail is still close to the staff at Families Together and is very thankful for the help she and her children received. For her, the most beneficial part of Families Together is time—the time they give you to save money and work to rebuild their life.

“Being able to have that time to process while they are here in a safe environment and look at what they went through and address that trauma and heal from that trauma and learn to recognize red flags,” said Sharla, “They see who they are and what they can do and go from there.”

For other mothers or partners who are experiencing domestic violence, Abigail said to listen to others when they are seeing the signs and expressing concern. If no one is expressing concern, ask questions to others about what you are experiencing. “Is this normal?”

“An outside perspective can be a really big help,” said Abigail. “They can be what prevents your family from having to plan your funeral.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please do not hesitate to contact ACH at 817-335-4673. (Call 9-1-1 for emergencies.) To learn more about ACH’s Families Together program, visit ACHservices.org/Families-Together.  

If you would like to support ACH in our fight against domestic violence, please visit ACHservices.org/get-involved/give-now/

*Name has been changed.