Why we exist – A survivor’s story

By Waterlily, as told to and written by David Owens-Callan

“Make sure you have a bag packed and ready to go. At all times”. This was Waterlily’s advice to anyone currently experiencing domestic violence. She had her bag packed for one year before her husband did something that was so heinous, she knew her only option was to leave.

The relationship started like many others. They were good friends for a long time and she found herself becoming charmed by his intelligence, family values, and trusting eyes – “I thought I could trust him and that he would be a good father to our children”. After they married and had children, however, his anger issues came to the fore. It did not take much for him to lose control, and he would take his rage out on Waterlily. “He could not control his anger. After he would beat me, he would beg and plead for forgiveness. I truly loved and wanted to help him. I even suggested counseling, but he did not want to change and I felt there was nothing I could do other than just forgive him”.

Over time he became more and more unsatisfied and, consequently, the beatings became more frequent and brutal. Waterlily lost nearly all of her respect for him and knew that one day she would leave him, but she could not quite bring herself to escape or to call the police. “I wanted my children to have something to aspire to. I wanted them to grow up to be smart like him so I did not want to damage his life.” During all of this, in the face of such torturous emotional and physical trauma, Waterlily demonstrated awe-inspiring poise, self-control, and logic. She had her bag packed, ready to go. It contained all of their important papers – birth certificates, passports, legal documents – some clothes, and her life savings. “Whenever he would give me cash to take the children somewhere, I would always keep a little bit and save it. I could not have left without knowing I had some savings. How else would you survive?”

On a cold, dark night in the middle of winter, it finally happened. “I had to make a life or death decision, I couldn’t be in that house any longer. At that moment I realized he no longer cared about the children and my physical or emotional health. Hope is good to have, but one day you realized that the situation will not change.” And so, the seven month pregnant warrior picked up her pre-packed bag, gathered the children and headed into the unknown.

She found a domestic violence center that would house her and her children, but the culmination of years of abuse had worn her down.

“I was broken. I did not know how to cope with life. I felt like I had failed my children and they were here because of me.”

But in times of true despair, strength comes from the most unexpected places. Her older children had experienced an abusive household for their entire lives, they knew what she had suffered through and were ready to protect her now, just as she had protected them.

“At my lowest point, I did not think that I could go on. And then, my oldest child turned to me and said “The important thing is that we are safe and that we are together””.

That simple but powerful statement gave Waterlily to strength to keep fighting, for herself and her family. She sought counseling and slowly regained her confidence and drive to achieve her dreams.

“I had always wanted to be a journalist. But he only wanted me to be a mother. Life changes, but you have to have courage and be able to carry on.”

The Shine Foundation has provided financial literacy services in Waterlily’s center for the past year.

“Shine has been very helpful. I have not worked for 10-years, and I was worried about getting back into the job market. Shine has helped me put a resume together and taught be about interview skills. When I first arrived at the center I was in a very bad place, but Shine and the counseling has helped me to see that I do have a future to fight for.”

There is still a long road ahead for Waterlily, but her spirit, courage of conviction, and love for herself and her children will drive her forward.

“I have choice! I can do it! I will do it!”