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May 2024 Newsletter-Through the Eyes of An Advocate

Through the Eyes of an Advocate-It Depends...

It Depends

When I get asked what a typical day looks like working as a domestic violence advocate in a safe house, I catch myself saying “it depends.” In fact, “it depends” has become sort of an unofficial motto for me when it comes to this job. Simply put, this isn’t the type of job where you clock in, sit at your desk for 8 hours, then clock out. It is so much more than that, and not a single day is like the last.

But why does “it depend?” One day I might find myself answering back-to-back helpline calls. Not every call is a person looking for emergency safe housing, but perhaps they are looking for housing assistance, counseling, or just want the comfort of knowing there is a person on the other end of the line with an open, non-judgmental, and empathetic ear for them to vent or process feelings regarding their abusive relationship. Other days, I don’t hear a peep from the helpline, but that’s okay because there is a house full of adults and children who are looking to staff for assistance meeting their goals, or an impromptu counseling session in which they need to process some heavy feelings. Conversely, there are days where there aren’t any major crises-days where in-house clients are simply living and going about their daily routines-days like that consist of staff helping meet their needs such as replenishing food items from pantry storage or replacing toiletries. The fuller the house is, the more steps I take in a day!

It is not just the day-to-day tasks that are unique, but also the situations and stories of each and every individual who calls the helpline or steps through the front doors of our shelters. As I approach my two-year anniversary with DVSSP, I have learned that every single domestic violence experience is unique. Not all abuse was suffered at the hands of a partner or spouse, but also parents, siblings or other family members. Also, the trauma that our clients are left to carry might be heavy to some but light for another- but at the end of the day they are carrying that weight and no matter how big or small the experience was, they deserve our help and our services.

I also get frequently asked if, when dealing with so much trauma, does it make the job difficult? By now I’m sure you know my response. “It depends!” Like any job in any field, there most certainly are days that aren’t so great. I’ve had tough days, even. Maybe I had to intervene when a group of clients are having a disagreement about shared chores and the conversation isn’t received well. Or maybe a client who has been making progress decides to go back home to the person who abused them- a decision that they are allowed to make for themselves and the advocate’s role in these circumstances is to offer support and safety planning, and ensure they know they can always reach back out. Those days certainly happen, but it’s those good days that keep me coming back.

Very early on at the start of my time here, a woman who had just entered the safe house with her children asked if we could lend any headphones. We had had a great conversation about how important and cathartic music is for us and the person who had been abusing her had destroyed her headphones- she wanted to listen to music without disturbing the other residents or staff. A gave her a pair and she rushed in for a hug, but that’s not what made this memory great for me. A short while later, she headed to the basement laundry room to catch up on some chores while the kids were in school, with her brand-new headphones on. Not long after, I could hear some interesting and unusual noises coming up from the basement. I went to check; she was jamming out singing and dancing her heart out while doing her laundry. She had, even momentarily, let go of the heaviness of her trauma and felt free and comfortable enough to sing and dance in a house full of strangers. Looking back, this was the first time since becoming a domestic violence advocate that I remember being moved to tears in a positive way-and I’m more than happy to say it wasn’t the last. I’m looking forward to more days with DVSSP, and many more opportunities to say, “it depends.”

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