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“I was running for a long time. From the time that my son was born until he was two years old, I was running.”
A Childhood of Survival
Julie’s life was marred with chaos and abuse from a young age. After her parents split up, her mom got into an abusive relationship and that’s when life changed for her and her siblings.
“When I talk about drastic abuse, it was really, really bad. On Saturdays, we’d get up and clean walls. If we didn’t do it right, we got beat. One incident I remember was that I didn’t clean the bathroom right, so [her mom’s boyfriend] got the AJAX, shook it everywhere, and threw me around in there to where I was scrubbing the bathtub seeing my own blood. I was only 11 years old. It wasn’t so much of having a childhood, it was about learning how to survive.”
At 16, Julie was thrown out of the house, began a relationship with an older man, and got involved in gang activity trying to fit in. “I was holding a lot of anger issues I didn’t understand I had at the time.” Eventually, her choices led to her getting arrested and going to prison.
When Trauma Continues
“When I got out of prison, I went back to what I was familiar with, because all doors were shut on me. I couldn’t find a job. I ended up getting pregnant and having a daughter.”
During this time, Julie experienced a traumatic incident when a friend’s child drowned, and she further withdrew herself. “I didn’t know how to deal with the hurt. So I left my daughter with my mom, and I started making really bad choices. I was really angry. That’s when I ended up meeting my son’s baby daddy.”
From a “Queen” to On the Run
At first, Julie felt “like a queen” and thought she had found a great relationship. “I felt loved. I became that ride or die chick. He made me feel good. We were never apart.” But, the rose-colored glasses came off. “I started doing things wrong, according to him. I was put down. I wasn’t worth anything. I wasn’t a good mom. It got really physical on both ends, because I had to defend myself.” Julie felt herself switch back into the survival mode she learned as a child.
“I was living moment by moment. I walked on eggshells. I didn’t want to lose the love that I thought I found. I was trying to be that person he needed me to be, and at the same time losing myself.”
Julie got pregnant with her son, and she decided it was time for something different. She moved into her own place, but her ex would show up to break windows and “cause chaos.” She got thrown out, and it made her afraid she was going to lose her son. “I left there and stayed with a friend. He would come and do the same thing. I was running out of places. The way he got me to go with him is that he took my son from me, so I followed of course.”
After more incidents with the police, Julie took her son and found herself on the run. “I was staying in abandoned buildings. I’m breaking in, staying there so he won’t be able to find me. My son was a baby, not even a year old.”
Night after night, Julie wandered the streets to find a place to sleep. “In the middle of the night, 2:00 in the morning, I would be walking with the stroller with nowhere to go. But finally, I broke down and went to my mom.” Julie’s brother invited her to come stay with him. She took the offer and left. But after some time, she found herself once again on the street with nowhere to go.
Julie went to a local church with her son and the pastor shared resources that could help her get back on her feet. Although Julie was scared of what would happen, she was more scared of losing her son. “I decided to call Stepping Stones. I was shaking so bad. I was brought up where you don’t tell. But I decided to give it a chance.”
“The Beginning of My Life”
When the advocate answered the phone, Julie’s emotions overcame her. “I just cried and I spit out everything that was going on. I told them I was tired of running. I’m tired and I don’t know what to do. I don’t wanna go back to where I was, I need help.” Julie and her son came to shelter. “That was the beginning of my life that I have now.”
When Julie arrived, she was surprised to see a home. “My idea of shelter was like everyone living in bunk beds, in cots. I walked in and I saw a kitchen and a living room with a TV. I was like, this is a house and it’s really calm. This is nothing that I was used to seeing, because I was coming from chaos. And now, there’s peace and security.”
Next, Julie sat down with an advocate to debrief. “They’re listening and they’re hearing me out. They assured me of making the right choice. I wasn’t in trouble. It was confidential. They started giving me some resources. They’re like, we can help you with this and that, but first, just go be calm. Let your son play and just relax. Don’t worry about nothing. I feel like oh my God, they’re nice to me. I wasn’t expecting that. That’s my first experience sleeping with my son and feeling ok, safe.”
It took Julie a while to settle into life at shelter. “I didn’t realize I was actually in survival mode or victim stance because it was everyday life for me. I didn’t know there’s hope for something different until I started educating myself there and actually putting the work in.”
An “Ah-Ha” Moment
The real change happened for Julie during an educational group about domestic violence when she learned about the cycle of abuse. “I could really visualize step by step what was happening. When you had a blow up and then throwing yourself onto the blow up. I said, I’m involved in that. I started seeing that and seeing that you could break it. I wanted to break the cycle. So, I started looking at my part in it. It wasn’t so much of what other people have done to me, but what is my part and what am I gonna do about it? The only thing stopping me is me.”
Two Years of Hard Work
Julie spent nearly two years at Stepping Stones processing through her experiences. During her time in transitional housing, she served as a mentor advocate providing support for others. “Every time I saw a new girl come in, I saw myself and how I felt when I first came in. And I wanted to share the experience that I got. The welcoming experience, the clean home, the safe place. To let them know it was ok. Let them know you’re safe.”
Julie’s growth was not an easy journey, but she worked hard to “not be a victim” and “own” her life again. “That’s why I’m always grateful to Stepping Stones because if I was never there and never had the opportunity, I wouldn’t have my kids. If I didn’t make that choice to call and get past my fear, I would never have what I have right now. I probably wouldn’t even be alive, to be honest with you.”
“I didn’t know it could have been different until the tools were given to me. [Advocates] cared and really were pushing me to do more for myself. And because of that, they empowered me to do what I needed to do for myself and my children. What I have now is like inner peace.”
Today, Julie feels excited for not only her future, but her kids’ futures, too. “To have what I have now, it didn’t happen overnight, but I won’t give it up for nothing. I have both of my kids with me now. They don’t have [to wonder] when’s the next time I’m going to eat? Or what house are we staying at now? Or is my mom coming back? They’re not seeing that blow up, where their mom and dad are fighting and that fear. I don’t see that fear in my kids’ eyes. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I have a home and I have a job. I have a vehicle. I’m actually doing something productive. I’m caring for me and learning to love myself. My kids are growing up and they’re gonna copy that. They’re not gonna copy that violence that I grew up to see.”
“I can’t wait to see what’s gonna happen with my kids, and how their life is gonna turn out. I’m planning for graduation, I’m planning for college. Things that never even popped up into my head as actually possible IS possible. I’m forever grateful.”
If you or someone you know needs support – call our 24/7/365 Helpline to talk with an advocate today: 928-445-4673.