Journey to Healing: Deondra’s Story
I didn’t have an idyllic childhood; in fact, my parents were drug addicts. This resulted in my three siblings and I being passed around from family member to family member. When my mom regained custody, we bounced around from place to place, shelter to shelter. Life was just as unstable and my mom wasn’t around much so we had to fend for ourselves. I’d like to say that was the worst of it but unfortunately all of us experienced sexual abuse at some point in our life.
My life changed when I met Ry’mone, my charming, high school sweetheart. Being with him was an escape from the chaos and abuse at home. Granted, our relationship wasn’t perfect. When we argued he would scream, call me names and insult me. But afterwards, he’d apologize and bring me gifts. He was extremely jealous but it seemed romantic at first. At the time, I didn’t recognize this as emotional and verbal abuse.
His mom passed away soon after our daughter, Amiarah, was born. That’s when things really changed. It was the first time he ever hit me. I didn’t believe it would happen again…but it did and each time it was just as shocking as the first. He’d blame me for the abuse. I remember thinking “I must be an awful person if I make you want to hurt me like that.” Eventually I ended our relationship. But as much as I wanted to be away from Ry’mone, I wanted Amiarah to have a relationship with her father. I didn’t want her to grow up without a father, so I agreed to share custody.
Amiarah was with Ry’mone one cold weekend in late October when he showed up at the apartment where I was staying with a friend. He demanded that I leave with him and threatened to keep Amiarah if I didn’t. My friend begged me not to go but I didn’t feel like I had any other options. I was only concerned for Amiarah’s safety. He drove me to an unfamiliar neighborhood, assaulted me in front of his friends, and abandoned me there without my coat, taking Amiarah with him. Thankfully, neighbors called the police who found Amiarah quickly. Once Amiarah was safely in my arms I said to myself, “she will not go through this again. This is the end.”
I came to Alexandra House because of Amiarah. I wanted her safe…but I had no love for myself. At that point, I had completely shut down. The first few days in the shelter were a blur; I felt numb. I could barely get out of bed to care for Amiarah. I hid in my room, not knowing how to start planning for the future. One of the advocates kept visting me in my room; asking me what I wanted to do next and offering her help and support. It took time but as I got to know the shelter staff I was able to face the job of piecing my life back together. I decided to attend one of the support groups offered at the shelter. There I found myself sharing my experience—and then everybody else started sharing what was happening with them. That was a really powerful moment for me. I could finally put my shoulders down and relax. The pain slowly started to come out— like releasing poison from my body.
When I left the shelter, I was given the opportunity to work with a follow-up advocate who’d provide on-going support. It wasn’t until I walked into my new apartment that I realized how much I needed that help. I was terrified to be alone in my apartment. I was certain Ry’mone would find me. My advocate helped make me feel safe and regain my confidence as a person. Working with her for that extended period of time helped me to work through experiences that I had completely blocked out. Having someone there to listen was amazing. It was really the first time in my life that I allowed myself to be vulnerable with anyone. That was a pivotal moment for me. I opened up these doors—that I didn’t even know were doors.
My follow-up advocate inspired me to share my story. She said, “I think that a lot of people could learn from your story.” It’s been eight years since I left the shelter and I have made it my mission to speak out against domestic violence—and to support other victim/survivors. I have a voice and a platform in my job training new staff and as a Miss Minnesota contestant. I want to let other victim/survivors know there is an open door should you ever want to walk through it. With help from Alexandra House, I was able to overcome this trauma and rebuild my life. There is hope!