My name is Tara Hamilton-Lloyd. I am a former client of the WCA, and I am now so very fortunate to be an ambassador and on occasion I get to share some of my story with others.
Today, I’m here to break some news to everyone; sadly, we cannot make other people’s life decisions for them. We all know this. But yet we try so desperately to impart our wisdom onto others, hoping that it will enact change and being disappointed when we realize our efforts are for naught. The good news is that the last part of that isn’t necessarily true; it’s just that change doesn’t always look the way we think it will. Words born out of kindness and concern aren’t always cast aside. Sometimes larger change emerges from a build-up of small moments. The summation of those moments is the fuel that allows people to fly if and when they are ready.
One of those moments from my past that I frequently recall, is the night the resource officer from school showed up at my house. Around 3am, I woke up to a commotion in the living room upstairs…a common occurrence in our household, unfortunately. I quickly went upstairs to assess everything, hoping to prevent my two younger brothers from waking up. I arrived to the living room to find my father swinging my mother around, slapping her, throwing her down onto the furniture by her hair. My mother was attempting to exit the house and get away. I stepped in front of my father and screamed at him to stop as I tried to keep him from touching her again. His eyes were glazed over in intoxication and rage. For a moment, I was afraid that he would turn his rage toward me, but instead he turned and ran downstairs. My mother immediately ran out the back door, because she knew, just as we all did, that the guns kept were downstairs. I ran into the basement after my father. I entered the room just as my father was loading a 10 gauge shot gun. I watched him cock the hammer, pull the barrel to his mouth and put his finger on the trigger. My brothers and I were screaming desperately for him to stop. I tried to block them from coming further into the room, hoping that if he did pull the trigger, maybe they wouldn’t see it happen. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, my father lowered the gun and disengaged the hammer. The police arrived a little while later. I was in the living room trying to figure out what was going to happen when I noticed the resource officer from school coming up the front steps. My priorities quickly changed from making sure we were safe for the night, to hiding nervously in my parent’s room, hoping the resource officer didn’t recognize me. I avoided that moment of discovery, because it was absolutely terrifying. What would happen? Would he tell the school? Would something bad happen to my father? Would my family be torn apart? I couldn’t risk it.
That pattern of veiling and avoidance followed me well into adulthood. Years later, I found myself 6 years deep in an abusive marriage. The concerns of friends and family were typically met with harsh denial back then; they were a threat to my safety. Looking back, I can see how many opportunities I bypassed out of fear for what that meant.
There was the time that my husband called the police on some neighbors down the street that he felt were doing him wrong. Officers came to our home and were asking him some questions when one of them turned to me and asked if everything was okay. I paused for a moment, reaching deep, secretly wanting to scream NO, but instead I put on a smile and gave a reassuring yes; even though minutes earlier, my husband had held a chopping knife to my face.
Another time, when I was 9 months pregnant with my daughter, my husband came home, intoxicated with alcohol and definitely some sort of stimulant. He accused me of stealing cash from him as I lay in bed, trying to pretend to be asleep. I tried to calmly walk him through the night’s events and convey to him that I have no idea what he is talking about. The situation escalated quickly when he upturned the mattress I was laying on and attempted to crush me against the wall with it several times. Nearly 3 hours later, the eruption was persisting. I was being swung and pushed around the house; getting things thrown at my stomach, and being pinned against walls. I knew that something would happen to me, the baby, or both if I didn’t get out quickly. When he finally left me in the living room alone, I put into motion a set of mentally choreographed movements, grabbing my keys and phone and quickly escaping to my car with him running out after me. I drove to the hospital where I knew a nurse that was on shift and verified that his car was there. I tried desperately to work up the gumption to go in and ask for him and ask for help, but instead I slept in my car underneath the parking lot lights and I waited there until around 11am before I returned home.
While completing release paperwork at the hospital after having my daughter, there was a section that asked me if I felt safe going home. That question gave me good pause and reflection, but I wasn’t ready to rock the boat, so I reluctantly checked yes.
Eventually my grip on these secrets started to loosen as the violence increased and I started to see that the trauma that would eventually turn my daughter’s innocent smile into a smile that is cloaking a deep inner sadness. I wanted to do anything I could to shield her from the trauma that she would undoubtedly experience, should we stay. I knew I had to leave but I just needed one more moment.
In late 2008, the company I worked for folded and I lost my job. A friend of mine started visiting me occasionally at a small retail space I had rented to sell furniture, as a way to make a little money. He let me know that he knew that things were not good and that if I needed somewhere to go, he and his wife had space in their home for my daughter and me. After a week or so of mentally and logistically preparing myself, I called that friend and asked if the offer still stood because I was finally ready.
Shortly after moving out, I found that my life had turned upside down and I was struggling to cope with the uncertainty and pain and letting go of my past. Someone suggested that I look into the RAP group at the WCA, an open group counseling session. In my orientation for that group, I discovered the abuse cycle and realized that my life was a defined problem, all summarized on a little sheet of paper. I knew from that moment on that I could not ignore these facts. Going back was no longer an option for me.
I have gone through an obstacle course of recovery over the years, and while the scars of those times will always be present, I look at them with reassurance and confidence for having survived and thrived through it all. Since those times, I have rehabilitated my career and obtained full custody of my daughter. I have found passions in life through fitness and the outdoors and made healthy relationships a priority in my life. Through both of those pursuits, I found love with a kind, loyal and supportive man. This last month we were married and committed to nurturing our family (which includes my daughter and his son) for the rest of our lives. Spending time with them are the moments I love the most now.
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