"We arrived at the refuge with just our holiday clothes" Sara’s* Story *Names changed to protect identities It’s nearly four years since I arrived at Hestia’s refuge with my two boys and a couple of suitcases but I’m still so proud of myself for leaving that day. Our lives are so different now and when I look back it sometimes feel like it all happened to someone else. 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. I still remember the day we left. 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 with holiday clothes, 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 and the boys still remember their time there. At the time I told them that we were going to a special holiday home that was just for mums and children. The staff gave them so much attention and my eldest remembers having his fourth birthday there. Over the last four years my life has changed completely. I’m married with a new baby, a home of my own and my two boys are happy and settled in school. I feel that I’m back in control of my life. When I was with my ex-partner, I remember praying for what I have now. 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. Every so often though, something will remind me or catch me out. I remember in the summer wearing a strappy dress and I caught myself going to put a cardigan on before going downstairs and then I realised I didn’t have to cover up anymore because my new partner doesn’t care what I wear. Some of the feelings and fears still catch you unawares some days – I guess it will take a while for that to leave me. 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 was 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. The support at the refuge during our time there, really helped him and made such a difference. He’s so much more resilient now. Having to move nursery because of our situation wasn’t easy for him either 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 so confident now but he is also quite a sensitive little boy and I’m sure that’s down to some of what we went through. The other day he got a sticker at school because he had helped a little girl in his class and he is so kind and respectful towards me and other women. My youngest, Rayan*, is very protective of me. When my new husband 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 I knew I was pregnant again, I did feel a bit panicked. Although I wanted another baby with my new husband, it brought back a lot of memories about how bad things got with my ex after having the boys. I know they saw and heard things that you would never want your children to see. But it’s been so different this time around – I’ve had so much love and support. And I’m thinking about the future. I’m training to be a lactation consultant as I really want to do something in the community to support women. I never would have believed that we could be this happy. Sometimes I still think about what my ex said ‘Who is ever going to want you’ and I can’t believe how much has changed – I feel loved, supported and listened to. 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."