Many folks have asked me this past year, “What brought you to Arkansas?” And today I have decided to share that journey. Years ago, I was living through one of the worst times in my life.

I was alone and struggling very hard. I felt weak, trapped in a very dangerous relationship. I experienced physical, emotional and financial abuse, threats and violent sexual assaults throughout the relationship. And eventually, as a measure of safety, survival and escape- a season of homelessness.

During this time, I worked 12-hour days as a server and started lifting every day so I could shower at the gym before work. I slept in my car and tried to save money. I washed clothes at laundromats and hung them to dry in my backseat with the windows down. I ate at work. I parked my vehicle in hotel parking lots to sleep and was often bothered by police for doing so. I regularly had swollen feet due to the amount of time I was spending on them and being unable to elevate them when sleeping upright at night. I hid what was happening from everyone as best I could. On my days off, I went hiking alone because it was free and allowed me to pretend that my life was something else. I was so traumatized by my circumstances that I was cuddling a stuffed animal in my car at night, at 27 years old. I considered suicide. In the last couple weeks I spent in my car, it had become too cold to sleep through the night and I came down with a sinus infection. I was sick for the rest of the time I was homeless. I lived in that car, in New England, from July to nearly November of 2015 when I finally got the keys and moved into my own apartment.

Unfortunately, I spent the following several months in my new home being stalked, harassed, threatened and attacked by my ex. He went as far as breaking a window and entering the building one morning. No one in my life knew the full extent of what was happening so I had trouble asking anyone for help. My relationship had completely isolated me. The police had not made me feel safe or supported or protected. And after multiple arrests and short periods in jail for his behavior, my ex refused to change or stop. The only friends who would help me lived thousands of miles away. All of the stress, fear and harassment had me in a very exhausted and paranoid state of mind and making decisions was difficult. But after he had broken into my new place, with the support of far away friends, I decided it was time to leave.

In April 2016, I sold or donated most of what I owned to relocate over 1700 miles away. A close friend of many years, in my darkest hours of need, offered me safety and a home where I could recover. And by recover, I mean fall apart for some time and swim through a pretty heavy depression, often feeling completely suicidal and hopeless.

When they say healing takes time, they are not lying.

He housed me, fed me and listened every single time I needed him to, for hours. He gave me the first real home I ever really had. He let me focus on healing every day. I worked out so much that I didn’t do much else but eat, cry and sleep for a year. After the first year, the shock wore off and the shame set in and it was rough. Times felt dark in my head. But I had someone who was there for me and always reminding me how far I had made it. And so I kept pushing. And getting stronger and healthier. I began to feel safe enough to seek joy again. I changed my eating habits and completely purged my life of toxicity. Read a ton of self-help books. Committed to strength training every day. Started meditating. And dove head first into my yoga practice.

George.

The thing about healing is, it hurts. And it’s often lonesome and not linear. Some days you feel like you are okay and the next has you spiraling out. There were a lot of ups and downs. In a lot of ways, and for a lot of reasons, I felt like I could never trust anyone again, including myself.

In the years spent living with my friend, he gave me many priceless gifts; care, hope, healing and support, but the most life-altering was on June 2, 2017. On this day, I adopted my dog George. He was just 11 weeks old and I had never had a dog before. But when George entered my life, it allowed me to begin to bond with another being again. George taught me how to be responsible for something other than myself. How to trust. How to play. How to teach. He taught me patience, unconditional love, companionship, and selflessness. He drew me away from thoughts of suicide and despair. And I began to heal in ways that I could not before. He saved me. As he grew, I did too. I began to envision a future again. I started to map out how to move forward with my life. Our life. And finally in fall 2018, a full 2.5 years after my arrival, I got my own place for me and George, a few miles away.

When they say healing takes time, they are not lying.

We moved into our new home and lived happily there together for two years. I started biking every day. And making art. I started to celebrate my small victories and feel happy again. My entire life changed in every way from 2016-2020.

I was someone else now too.

I never did return “home” to New Hampshire. After 2016, I never saw anyone from my old life again. My life was in the south now and I wanted it to be. But I missed mountains and hikes all the time and desperately wanted to live closer to such experiences again. I decided to move out of Louisiana when considering whether I should renew my lease or not in January 2020. In March, we were already in lockdown when I decided on Arkansas and signed my lease. In April 2020, I moved myself, my dog and the life I’d made for us four hours north, all alone, amidst a global pandemic.

It was an expensive and difficult move to make alone but it has been worth every ounce of effort to have chosen my own path. To have been able to be the decision maker in my life and to not be pushed by crisis from one frightening decision to the next.

George is four years old now and it really baffles me how much we’ve been through to get to where we are now. I cry thinking about how grateful I am to have had him with me the whole way. I certainly could not have done it alone.

I think about my old life a lot. How scary and hard it was. And the past still reaches for me sometimes. I will never forget the things that happened to me. That is not possible. But I have healed enough to share this story. Without fear. Without shame. Without any need for anyone to feel any way about it.

This is my story. This was my life.

I hope that sharing this helps to illustrate some of the many complexities and difficulties involved in escaping and healing from a violently abusive relationship or home, as well as the fear, isolation and hopelessness victims face. But also, the strength, will and power we have to overcome and to survive. And finally, I hope this story makes clear the amount of time, support and resources needed to successfully recover from such an experience so that we may all be willing to provide what we can to anyone we can who is going through such a terrifying ordeal. I am very fortunate to have survived and arrived where I am today and am forever grateful for those who helped me to do so. Without them, I would not be alive today.

Thank you to AR Strong for allowing me to share this story on their platform.

And thank you to all who have taken the time to read or share.

Instagram: @by_dhvn

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