Life is always full of fresh starts. Sometimes, we don’t always recognize the new beginnings. They just happen. Other times, we anticipate them and have time to be afraid of what is next. I just reached a new chapter in my life that has me both excited and nervous. After 11 1/2 years, I have made the decision to leave my job at the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter.
This job has been such a huge part of my life for so long. I have grown so much from when I first started working there. I remember coming in as a volunteer, ready to save the entire world at one time. Silly me! In all seriousness, I have eaten, breathed, and slept this job for a very long time. This has been my passion. When people ask if I work full time or part time, my response is normally, “Neither, I work most of the time.” Most of my friends and family see me with my phone firmly attached to me. Sometimes, it’s two phones. I have left events and holidays to attend to something at the shelter. It has been challenging and exciting and amazing! Nothing can ever compare to what I have learned at this job. When people ask what I do, they usually don’t quite know what to say at first. Their next response is, “That must be so rewarding.” I laugh inside a little. Working at a shelter, well, rewarding isn’t normally the word I would use. Sometimes, I have felt like I was living with a rebellious teenager. Sometimes, it was like I was watching someone run a marathon (I can cheer for them, but cannot get them to that finish line). Sometimes, it was like being in a room with 100 Dementors. What people don’t realize is that domestic violence does not come in one size or shape. Survivors do not come to us and cry and ask our suggestions and follow them to a tee. Nor do we expect that.
The people I have served for so many years are survivors. Some may be terrified of everything and others may be angry at the world and come across as mean. Survival skills come in all forms. But what always amazes me, is how these individuals have learned to overcome the traumas they have gone through. They have every right to be bitter and angry. I don’t normally take it personally when someone verbally attacks me. While directed at me, it’s usually not about me. But, there are days you just can’t leave that at work. Some individuals are just drowning and figuring out how to get out of a depression and they can’t seem to reach the surface. As an advocate, my job was to support the survivor in the choices he/she/they made. Sometimes, that came naturally. Other times, the support was there, but I had to walk away and just cringe. But as long as I was supportive and nonjudgmental, they knew that if they made wrong choices, they could always reach out for help and would never be made to feel less than the Wonder Women they are.
My daughter’s First Grade teacher used to have keys to success. The one that always stuck out in my head was “Failure leads to success.” Thanks Mr. Chandler. It’s true. We all make choices and fail sometimes. However, if my survivors fail, and know they can come to me and I won’t judge, they are not as afraid to try again. And they may have more failures. But with continued support, eventually, they find success. Sometimes the success comes faster, sometimes not. Patience.
I have learned all about taking things for granted in life. That my culture is not the only culture. Cultural sensitivity has become a huge part of my life. My clients have taught me so much in so many areas about this. I have learned that while faith may be a very cringeworthy topic of discussion to some, it is very important to me. While I do not get into faith discussions with my clients, I do find I ask about their faith. It’s an amazing way to connect and serve my clients in the best way possible. I can be mindful of set prayer times, dietary needs, connect with faith services a client may be comfortable with, and make sure the safety plans I offer conform with their beliefs. And I’ve learned that I take what we have in out first world country for granted. I have had clients that didn’t know what went into a refrigerator or how it worked. Working with LAWS has forced me to open my eyes and see the entire world, not just what was in my little bubble.
But what most people don’t know about LAWS, is that there are so many amazing people who have worked there and that still work there. It’s a group of the most amazing and supportive people. I went through major life changes, and I’m convinced LAWS had a lot to do with my survival. When I went through my separation and divorce, I went through the tool bag of survival skills I gave my clients. I could not be a hypocrite and give up, while encouraging my clients to accept the new life and rise from it. And my coworkers, well they were amazing. I was able to lean on them for support. I survived my divorce with flying colors and found that I had become my own Wonder Woman. Moving forward and working with clients, I was able to have so much more confidence when talking with them about surviving life changes. That gives some of them more confidence to make changes.
Moving forward, I will be continue to work with clients and providing assistance. I look forward to meeting new coworkers and meeting new clients who will teach me even more about myself. Change is hard, but necessary. I will always be grateful to everything LAWS gave me to be able to make all the changes in my life. And for raising me to be Wonder Woman.