Southern Hospitality and Love

Facing Hope in Rome, Georgia

There was a lot of trauma that I went through as a child, an adolescent, and even as an adult.  The type of trauma that I experienced was the type that no child wants to experience, but I did not have a choice.  At the age of ten, one of my family members began to molest me and my sister.  The baby-sitter also took advantage of us.  Our mother went out on the town to search for methamphetamine.  We thought this type of behavior was normal.

This was my life.  This was my normal.

Everything was chaos in my life.  It was really a living hell.  Still to this day at the age of twenty-nine, I can remember the smell of things that were in the room and the sound of a squeaking ceiling fan.  I used to focus on things like those when I was being abused.  On the one hand, there is not any child that wants to be degraded by her mother, but on the other hand, I did not have a choice, and I thought this was normal.  All the types of abuse that an individual could possibly think of, such as physical, mental, emotional, and sexual, were happening to me.  Not only was I being abused by my mother and family members, but my mother was addicted to meth.  She was the mother to me and my sister that we thought she should be, because we thought every mother behaved as she did.  I didn’t think of myself as a victim of domestic violence.  I didn’t know any better.

One of the few happy memories I have as a child was going to my grandmother’s house and helping her bake chocolate chip cookies.  She always told me that, “We bake with love.”  I loved that about my grandmother.  In all the chaos, she was a source of stability.

At the age of thirteen, my sister and I began using meth.  My mother would get it for us, and then she would sit down and get high with us.  This was an everyday event with my mother. I don’t think she knew any other way to be.

High school was quickly approaching in just two more years.  Unlike most other kids that wish to graduate high school, for me that did not happen.  I chose to drop out of high school because I was pregnant and addicted meth.  I thought that was what I needed to be doing instead of going to school.  At first, I was excited, so I went to tell my mother the news because I thought she would be excited, too.  When I told her the news, she reacted more extremely than other mothers would when learning that her teenage daughter was pregnant.  She beat me so badly I went in to labor very early.  My son was born premature at one pound and five ounces.

Through time and healing, I can now understand the reason my mother kept doing meth.  It is so addictive.  I don’t think she knew any other way.

The happiest times I remember with my mother were when we were all high.  If we were not all high, everything became violent and the abuse was worse.  The only time I really remember spending with my mom was out on the streets looking for more meth, or either at home getting high with her.  There was no in-between.

When I reached the age of nineteen, I began dating and seeking a relationship.  I had no idea how to be in a healthy relationship.  None of my relationships my whole life, except with my grandmother, had ever been healthy.  My boyfriend was not the best of the best, either.  I am the type of person who trusts too easily.  He thought it was normal to just want to have sex with his girlfriend because we were in a relationship.  He’d pressure me and threaten me and beat me if I didn’t do what he said.  I still didn’t understand the abuse I’d endured and I still didn’t realize I was a victim of domestic violence until someone told me about Hospitality House for Women. I finally was tired of living my life high all the time and tangled up with so many abusive people, so I decided that I was going to try to get help.  I feared for my life.

When I entered this shelter, I felt like I was entering a prison.  I had to go through a metal door that locked and slammed behind me.  After I walked through the door, there were offices everywhere down this long hallway.  I knew that I wanted to stop my meth addiction and learn to make healthier decisions about who I allowed in my life, but visiting Hospitality House did not last long.  I decided to leave there and go back to my boyfriend and keep making the same decisions I had before.  I had no way of knowing that I would return to Hospitality House many times under similar circumstances, stuck in the ugly cycle of abuse.

I knew I should stop, but I craved meth.  The reason I loved this drug was because the high made me feel amazing.  I thought I would be the outcast if I did not smoke meth because this is what I saw as normal.  I’d been trained most of my life that this is all I deserved.  The horrific episodes I experienced while doing meth were what took me back to Hospitality House many times.  Every relationship I’d had was dangerous and kept me feeling stuck, like I didn’t deserve any better.  This was my life.  It always had been, but I prayed for something better. Sometimes I thought I would die in this cycle.

Even though this place was a little scary on the first visit, on all my subsequent visits I was greeted with open arms and love.  Looking past the offices and long hallways, it was a house.  It had comfortable living rooms and nice kitchens and it felt safe.  I learned to enjoy this love and even began to crave it, but at times the craving for meth would overtake me.

My sister did not make the best decisions, either.  We did what we thought was the typical thing to do.  We did not think that it was wrong.  I love my sister with all my heart.  I really think I love my sister more than she loves me.  There is a special bond and connection between us.  I think we are closer than most sisters.  I think that’s because we survived so much together and can’t share our stories with most people.  The scary part for me is that since I love her so much and I want to be with her, I tend to be tempted by her to continue to go get high with her like we have since we were thirteen years old.  I know it’s not healthy, but I don’t want to lose my sister. Even though our relationship has been dangerous and we have been abusive to each other, she’s family.

I later became pregnant with my second child.  After having him, I decided not to have any more children.  I tried my best to show my child love the way that Hospitality House had shown me love.  No matter how many times I messed up, they were always there to let me know that I had a place to call my home that would provide me understanding and show me the love that I was never shown as a child.  They gave me advice and helped me set goals and helped me realize that I can learn a new normal.  I am healing.

Now that I am twenty-nine, I have re-entered the Hospitality House to seek help once again.  My youngest child thinks that I am “visiting the doctor because mommy is addicted to cigarettes.”  I really want help this time!  I have been clean for six months now, and something has clicked in me that has made me come to a realization that there are better things in life to do than to get high all the time and endure emotional and physical abuse.  I think that click has been God.  There were many times I thought I was going to die, but I think God saved me through it all. Now I know I deserve more and that I have the right to demand more from the people I let in my life.

Here at the Hospitality House I feel very protected.  Every morning when I wake up, I thank God every for allowing me to be here and I am just thankful to wake up and see the sun shining.  There are still times when everything becomes quiet and I get a little nervous because I am used to the chaos.  In those moments, I am able to forgive my mom.

I hope that anyone who is a survivor of domestic violence finds Hospitality House for Women and lets the love of the staff and counselors guide them toward a better life.  It is never too late to seek help.  I have sought help several times, and because of the love and support at Hospitality House, I have been able to stay clean for six months now.  They have helped me set goals in a life full of hopelessness.  I know I’m worth more and that I deserve to be safe and happy.

When I leave Hospitality House, I want to have my own home, and once Christmas comes I would love to decorate my own Christmas tree with my youngest son.  I plan on baking Christmas cookies with him and passing down my grandmother’s tradition: “We bake with love.”  Not only are the cookies going to be made with love, but everything we cook will be made out of love.  I want to show my child the love that Hospitality House has shown to me.  I want to break those chains, break the cycle of violence.

I’m healing and learning from the past and know that I can find strength in confronting those old demons.  I’m not a victim anymore.  I am a survivor. Now, I’m working on a new normal.

– As told to Abbi Strawn, Student Writer

This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

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