50 Years 50 Voices "We arrived at the refuge with just our holiday clothes" Sara’s* Story *Names changed to protect identities My proudest achievement is having the courage to leave. If I had known about all the types of support available for women and children who’ve experienced domestic abuse, I would have left sooner. We arrived at the refuge with just our holiday clothes. We’d been to Turkey, but I knew as soon as we got back that I had to get out. I grabbed our suitcases, still packed, and left with my children. I adapted quickly in the refuge – I think that’s one of my strengths. It helped that the staff were just so good: reassuring and non-judgemental, and they listened to what we needed. I still keep in touch with little life updates about new jobs or my new flat. It’s been 18 months since I left Hestia’s refuge, and every single thing in my life has changed. There are moments every day where I’m still in disbelief. When I was with my ex-partner, I remember praying for what I have now. I prayed to be allowed to wear what I wanted, to be able to leave the house and have friends. With my ex, I was isolated from my friends and had to wait hand and foot on him and his family. Women had to cook, clean and be silent. It was crippling not being able to be myself, and my boys couldn’t be themselves either. They loved playing with tea sets and glitter but their father wouldn’t let them. Now, I love being able to let them express themselves. Watching them be themselves is the best thing that’s happened since we left. It’s the freedom – it’s changed our lives. People think children don’t remember anything, but they do. While we were in the refuge, my oldest told me that he knew we were there because “daddy hit mummy”. I was shocked – he was only three at the time. My ex’s family would be kind to him, and then throw a bike at me. He became confused about relationships. In the refuge, he became really timid because he’d been around lots of shouting and things breaking. I was so worried, especially about how he would handle future relationships. He also had to move nurseries because of our situation, and children in the refuge came and went. So, seeing him settled at a new school permanently, lights my heart up. He’s made so many friends and his teachers all know and love him. He’s getting his confidence back. My youngest, Rayan*, is very protective of me. When I got my new job, my partner Max* - who is an incredible support - bought me some flowers and gave me a hug. Rayan just started crying – he didn’t know how to explain it. The emotion of seeing someone being kind to his mum was too much. When we were in the refuge, I focused solely on my boys. Now, I’m making more changes for myself. I was put down for so long, but now I’m getting more confident every day. I’m wearing things that make me feel good. I’m learning to be more assertive and to just live life. And I’m thinking about the future. I work with patients at a GP surgery now and it’s going well. I’d like to keep getting better at it or do a role where I’m supporting people. I’d also love to study again – I did biomedical science at university. At home I want to keep building this loving, happy little family and embrace whatever comes our way. I never would have believed that we could be this happy. Now, it’s our house, it’s our rules, and we’re living for every minute of it. Which book has impacted me the most? I’d say A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve read it so many times and every time I read it I get different emotions from it. It’s about a girl who is an illegitimate child and then faces abuse in her marriage, and all the stigma there is because of that. It’s a book centred on kindness and the people who help her along the way. Which film has impacted me the most? Wonder. It’s about a boy who’s born with facial differences as a result of Treacher Collins syndrome but goes on to be a bit of a hero at his school. The story is about accepting people for who they are, which is a message I’m keen for my own two boys to learn. I want them to be kind, and I want them to be proud of who they are. Which song has impacted me the most? It’s a song by Little Mix called Little Me. The lyrics point to a girl telling her younger self to be a bit stronger, to speak up, and to be louder and prouder. These words speak out to me. Support our domestic abuse services today Tahara's Story: "I bundled our stuff into a bag and, with my two sisters, ran away." John's Story: "As an 89-year-old gay man, I grew up as an outsider. I have an empathy for those who are disadvantaged." Judy's Story: "When my son passed away three years ago, I was in bits, and I needed to fill that space."