Gemini detail

. . . I would love to hear more about the journey from the shelter to where you are today. Because the shelter is only temporary, women often go back to their abuser for financial security. What advice do you have that a woman could do to gain financial independence if she has children and cannot make enough to support her family?

When this question was posted I didn’t know what to say. How could I give advice? My journey to recovery was not smooth, easy, or comfortable. The only thing I can absolutely say that I did right was that I did not go back. So here it is, warts and all. Take what you can from my experience.

After the shelter:

My family helped. My abuser never cared to learn much about my family and I had a cousin he didn’t know. She took us in. That kept my mother and my sisters safe.
My family took up a collection to help me to buy a car (two hundred dollars – it was enough then to get a clunker). My uncle donated a typewriter so that I could brush up on my only marketable skill.

After I got a job, we got our own apartment. I am pretty sure that my mother helped, because I have no idea how I could have rented an apartment on my own. It was a large complex. Some days I would come home from work and find a new bookcase or coffee table in the living room… My girls had made some friends – the kids taught them where to shop for things that people had discarded when they moved out. They were so proud of themselves. I couldn’t complain. I didn’t. We had quite a number of cheap apartments over the years. Other things had to take priority. Rent had to be low.

We shopped for clothes at the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I bought a few nice blazers, some white blouses, and as many pairs of broken-in bluejeans as I could afford. I thought I looked pretty good, and I was working in places were it was acceptable.
We bought shoes at one of those discount places. I bought one pair of high heels and wore them every day until they fell apart. The girls could get by on one pair of shoes until they hit middle school. August and September were terrible: school clothes, shoes, then gym clothes and shoes and then school photos and I never seemed to be able to save enough to get through those months without stress.

I bought frozen food. It was easier for my girls, they would come home from school three or four hours before I got home, and they were hungry. I didn’t cook much. The girls didn’t complain and it gave them choices they could make. I can’t say it was a great diet for them. Food was not, still isn’t, a big deal for me. I smoked. I would hurry through a meal to get the cigarette after.

My cousin had a friend who helped me apply for a job at her office. Three months later they went out of business. Just my luck.
I needed to make more money. Always. So I would look for a new job about every two years. My theory was that the only way to make a LOT more was to change jobs. Nobody was going to give me a twenty percent raise.
After two or three “office” jobs I decided I needed to do something to make even more money. I applied at a law firm and got hired as a secretary trainee. It was a personal injury firm and I cried every day doing the typing. Couldn’t keep doing that.

I had taken a bookkeeping class about a thousand years ago, which got me a piece of paper and not much else. I had even taken shorthand, but was a dismal failure at it. So, I went to the public library and took out three different books on “note-hand” – I tried each one. Found a few good things in each and made up my own system. It worked pretty well. I practiced every night. When I thought I was ready, I looked for another job and said that I could take “note-hand” at about sixty words per minute. It got me in the door. I stayed at that job about two years. Another secretary there got me an interview at a downtown law firm. I went all out. I bought a blue suit. New shoes. I looked great. I got the job. On the very first day I learned why they pay secretaries so much to work there. The drive was terrible and the work was overwhelming and exhausting. The next requirement to moving up and making more money was to get “one year” of litigation experience before looking for an even better paying legal secretarial job, and that’s exactly what I did.

I got a credit card offer in the mail from AmEx. Hah! Yeah, right! They are going to give me credit? I signed it and mailed it in. I got the card! I finally had my own credit. It was a big help, and I was able to sleep better knowing that I had my own resources.

When my last clunker died I bought a used car, a nice one. Finally, I could drive to work without fear. The payment was affordable only because I used the small inheritance I had received from my mother’s death to make the down payment. I thought she would approve.

Advice:

- Don’t go back to your abuser. He will certainly get even, and you might not get away again.
- If your family will help you, let them – resentments, pride, and anger need to be set aside right now. You will be proud of yourself for making a new life and moving forward after a terrible time. Yes, you will.
- Improve your skills constantly so that you can get better jobs and make a better life for yourself and your kids.
- If you really can’t make enough money to support your kids, look into food stamps and free medical care. (I read years ago that Wal-Mart taught their employees how to get food stamps, because they were only giving them part-time work and the employees wouldn’t be able to make it otherwise.)
- If you think you need a man to help you or protect you, I suggest that you adopt a dog instead, they are much less trouble.