In support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Teresa Hamilton, a Maricopa resident and survivor of a toxic 17-year marriage posted her story on Facebook for the first time, in hopes that others might hear her story and be inspired to leave their abuser.
“I was the mom who always had a smile on her face, the Girl Scout leader, but behind closed doors I was living a nightmare,” Hamilton said.
In 2005, she penned a memoir titled “The Power of Addicted Love,” and shared her journey and escape from domestic abuse with the world.
“I was living with an alcoholic, a drug abuser, a cheater and I was addicted to love, to fixing the relationship, and in return, I lost myself,” Hamilton said.
Her husband would return home reeking of alcohol and ready to pick a fight. He broke plates of spaghetti over her head, called her worthless, poured milk on her in the shower and even kicked her pregnant belly.
“Had I been healthy, I would have packed up my kids and left forever. I was an enabler and a huge co-dependent,” Hamilton said.
The decision to post her story on her personal and work Facebook page at the end of last month came after an email from a young mother who shared that Hamilton’s book inspired her to leave her abuser. After that, 16 more Facebook friends came forward and said the book had helped them to do them same.
One in four women have been victims of severe domestic violence from an intimate partner and one in twelve men have experienced the same, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
“He always told me ‘I’m never letting you go…I’ll break everything you own before you can bring it out of this house,’” Hamilton said.
After one drunken binge, Hamilton and her four kids were forced to find refuge at a domestic violence shelter. Her husband stumbled to the pool, threw her purse in the water and pushed everyone out the door. He locked it behind them and passed out on the couch, forcing them to walk on 100-degree Arizona pavement to the closest pay phone to call for help.
No beds were available at the shelter, so they took a cab to a hotel as part of the shelter’s voucher system. The cab driver asked what happened and Hamilton shared her story. Then the female cabbie drove Hamilton to the grocery store, bought them food for the week and dropped them off at the hotel.
Later that night at 2 a.m., the hotel phone rang and Hamilton’s heart stopped.
She thought her husband had found where they were.
“But wouldn’t you know, that woman came home after her shift, collected clothes, shoes, socks, diapers, underwear and left a suitcase for us at the hotel,” Hamilton said through tears. “I called her my angel.”
After two decades of mental and physical abuse, three attempts at filing for divorce, and four kids later, Hamilton realized it was a relationship that couldn’t be fixed. She rented a storage space under a fake name and number, then slowly started moving her stuff out of her abuser’s home. Her parents showed up with a moving van weeks later and her divorce was finalized within 30 days.
As a co-dependent, she enable the enablers, says Hamilton.
“I kept going back for more because I wanted to make it work,” she said.
Domestic violence is nothing new. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, it’s been a social issue throughout history but experts just now understand the depth of its consequences, which include not only mental and physical pains but also chronic disease and higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a recent poll conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 90 percent of people believed that questions about interpersonal violence should be asked on health surveys.
Torri Anderson, an eight-year board member of the Pinal County non-profit Against Abuse Inc., describes domestic violence as “bullying or taking a person’s ‘self worth’ away.”
Against Abuse Inc. has provided Pinal County with education, prevention, social and behavioral health services since 1981. It is one of the only facilities in the area to also provide emergency domestic violence shelter for adults and children, transitional housing and case management.
Anderson became involved with the nonprofit because of the need to provide families a safe place to heal and get back into society.
“Recovery is different for everyone,” she said. “Some may never recover but instead, learn to survive.”
Arizona ranks eighth in the nation for highest in phone calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. In the first half of 2013, the hotline received an average of 20,000 calls a month from all over the United States.
Hamilton, like the more than 1.3 million women, wonders “how did this happen to me?”
“There are a lot of people who are in the situation currently who are afraid to speak, who are afraid to use their voice for fear of retaliation, therefore they say nothing,” Hamilton said. “If my story helps one person, than I feel it was worth writing and sharing such personal details.”
After graduating from Arizona State University and obtaining her second degree, she met her current husband, Tom. They happily reside in Maricopa, close to her four daughters and three granddaughters. Hamilton says she never thought in a million years that life would ever be good again, but it is. She’s no longer a victim of domestic abuse, but now a survivor.
Every October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, individuals wear purple to bring more attention to this serious issue. The Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence shared 31 Facts for 31 Days and #DVAM has been trending on Facebook and Twitter the entire month of October.
“You have to love yourself enough to say enough is enough,” Hamilton said.