Telling a New Story: SMH Client Goes From Chaos to Stability

When “Hope” (not her real name) arrived at SMH in 2010, she was caught in the maelstrom of domestic violence. She was leaving an abusive, long term marriage and wondering what the future would hold for her and her three young daughters.

A self-described “country girl” who grew up in small towns, Hope’s mixed heritage had always left her confused about where she fit in. Was she Hispanic? Black? White? At home, she was never treated well.

“Nothing was ever, ‘You CAN,'” she says. “It was always ‘You’ll never be good enough.‘”

This, and the relentless teasing she endured at school, ultimately set her up to fall into a codependent relationship with an abusive husband. “It was all that I knew.”

Hope’s husband had been able to hide his drinking, gambling, and substance use issues in the past. When these things did finally surface, he was cruel and frequently denigrated her for “Not being black enough, never being good enough,” she says.

Still, she accepted these things. “He wasn’t around much, and he paid the rent,” she explained. But in 2008 he lost his job. The psychological abuse, already intolerable, turned physical, and the downward spiral at last turned into violence and confrontation with law enforcement.

Hope saw her opportunity and, with the help of law enforcement, she left her husband and the years of abuse.

In what she calls a “silver lining,” Hope and her daughters realized that her husband’s domestic violence and their flight from the home could be an entry point to access supportive services. Unable to pay rent, the fleeing mother remembered what a friend told her about a nonprofit organization nearby that assisted families in crisis by helping single parents and their children achieve stability and greater economic self-sufficiency. Hope was able to receive transitional financial literacy training, employment and livable-wage development, and Section 8 housing case management from the organization. Shortly after that, she and her daughters began counseling with Sound Mental Health.

The team that helped her was the Children’s Domestic Violence Response Team (CDVRT), an innovative, multi-service program that addresses both the survivor’s need for safety and security and quality behavioral health counseling. Eventually, Hope connected with Dena Frandsen, a licensed mental health counselor in SMH’s Child and Family Services program who had come to Seattle after a decade as a wilderness counselor in Wyoming. CDVRT collaborates with domestic violence prevention agencies such as DAWN, the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, LifeWire, the South King County YWCA, and New Beginnings to increase access to resources, support, and information.

Dena, Hope says, “Agreed to take me on,” as she and her daughters sought direction and a new life.

Dena recalls, “This was a complex and layered situation. We began by learning about the impact of trauma, and the cycle of abuse. Hope began to understand and step out of the whirlwind of chaos.” Hope recalls Dena’s approach with appreciation, because it helped her understand how her family history led her to the abusive relationship with her husband.

“She never stopped. She was always gentle in bringing things out.”

Dena was helping Hope realize she deserved more.

“She was always there for me. She stuck by my side and allowed me to grow and learn to connect things. I knew I could call her any time, even after office hours, and she would listen. Dena saw me as a person.”

Dena’s approach is to engage her clients as unique individuals who need space to grow.

“Our job is to hold space for them as they define themselves and knit together who they are.”

Dena feels that Hope’s healing took two parallel tracks: healing herself and her family from their current trauma, and healing from the trauma of her childhood abuse. This was a long process, one that took until the summer of 2017, when Dena and Hope reviewed the progress she had made and decided she was ready to graduate to truly independent living.

“She had learned to journal, to change her negative self-talk, to take time for self-care as the mother of three active daughters,” Dena notes. “She learned organization and family management, and, most importantly, a great deal about communication. One milestone was helping her convince her shyest daughter that she could go to the prom and have fun! She learned she could have a positive impact.”

Hope is working on her AA degree, and has earned two certifications to start a career in nursing and working with babies. Despite the fact that she has been divorced for years, her ex-husband continues to harass and threaten her, and to involve her in frivolous lawsuits. Hope has handled this situation with strength and grace. She has also found allies in law enforcement and related agencies.

“For the first time since 2010, I feel safe leaving my house,” Hope marvels.

As for her daughters, they are thriving. One is now married, a mother of two, and works for Amazon. One was the first in the family to graduate from college. One will attend college on a baseball scholarship. Hope’s success in raising her girls is a testament to her transformation.

Hope also wants to help others through sharing her experiences. She feels she has learned a lot over the years.

“Trust your gut,” she says. “If you feel something isn’t right, pay attention to those red flags. Talk to someone. And keep talking until someone listens. Keep your faith, don’t lose hope, and connect. Find your allies and rely on your faith.”

“The credit goes to Hope,” says Dena. “She was willing and open to doing the work. I had the privilege of holding space for her and watching her grow.”