Providence House helps women thrive after the trauma of domestic violence

When most people think of domestic violence, they tend to imagine blood, bruises, and broken bones. After all, those are the cases likelier to make the headlines.

But for Sydney, her marriage was a nightmare that left no physical scars. Her husband was a “narcissistic psychopath,” she said, whose unpredictable, explosive outbursts and violent verbal abuse made their home feel hazardous.

“My sister was very protective and sometimes would stay with us. He would always make me go outside to talk to him, because he didn’t want her to hear how horribly he talked to me,” she remembered.

Last year, a military deployment took her away from her husband, and the separation helped her realize she could not return home. When the deployment ended, Sydney went to a safe house in North Jersey. From there, she reached out to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Providence House Domestic Violence Services in Burlington County (pictured, left) for help.

At Providence House, she participated in an eight-week program where she learned that the alienation she felt in her marriage was a common control tactic abusers use to prevent their partners from reaching out for help. She also shed her bad feelings about the many times she tried to leave her eight-year marriage, learning it typically takes seven attempts for someone to successfully escape an abusive relationship. And Providence House staff taught her to spot red flags in a partner’s behavior to ensure she doesn’t fall into other abusive relationships.

Finding strength in others

Sydney now attends a weekly support group at Providence House, drawing strength from other women in recovery. She especially loves the art projects there and self-care activities like manicures, facials, and yoga that volunteers provide on “spa days.”

All of Providence House’s services are free and confidential.

“Talking to other women was especially helpful for me,” Sydney said. “Sometimes you can’t believe other people had it worse than you until you hear their stories.”

Sydney is now divorced. She applied for a restraining order – but gave up the effort when she learned victims must face their accusers in court. So she moved onto a military base so that her ex can’t find or harass her.

While she feels stronger every day, her finances will be slower to recover: Her ex accrued debts when they were together. With their finances mingled, his debts became her debts, which she now must pay off.

Defining her own self

“Financial abuse is common and not something typically identified with domestic violence,” said Michele Fesler, supervisor at Providence House’s Burlington County Counseling Center (pictured, right). “But financial abuse can infiltrate your life, ruin your credit score, and force you to spend years climbing out of debt. It’s another barrier for women trying to leave an abusive relationship.”

Sydney’s emotions remain raw from trauma that’s not far enough in her rear-view mirror. Still, sharing her story gives her strength.

“I don’t want people to think I’m the person he made me,” she said, remembering the withdrawn, “miserable” person she became in her marriage. “I want to be me. I will not allow anyone else to define me besides me.”

She plans to get a butterfly tattoo, a permanent reminder of the powerful transformation she made this year.

“When a butterfly comes out of a cocoon, it is beautiful and adventurous and free,” Sydney said. “Like me.”

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For more information, call Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton Providence House Domestic Violence Services hotline at (609) 871-7551 in Burlington County or (732) 244-8259 in Ocean County.; or Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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