We are often asked, “What’s a typical day like at The Cocoon?” We smile, unable to capture the complex experiences we have gained by responding, “There is no typical day, you never know what each day will bring.”
There are days that the crisis line continuously rings, when all hands are on deck, from the Executive Director to volunteers. Days when every single advocate is called to the hospital or the courthouse, when we’ve been up all night answering the on-call phone. Lunch sometimes means a half-eaten granola bar between meetings, when multiple families move in to shelter. Times when the doorbell chimes nonstop, and when it’s 5:00 p.m. and we realize we haven’t sat down yet.
Then there are precious days when the phones are quiet, when the shelter lazily slumbers, when there aren’t meetings scheduled every hour. We then can take all afternoon to catch up with a survivor who hasn’t called in months, who has finally gotten her own place. We make tea, we problem solve with our team, and we cherish the opportunity to catch up on research and case notes, knowing that the calm won’t last.
In the short years I have been an advocate, I have been honored to gain beautiful, painful, inspiring, challenging, hilarious and tender moments with survivors. I cannot describe a typical day. I can share with you a few of my treasured memories, to attempt to paint our world…
“Marta cried and hugged me, thanking us for the gifts for her three children for the holidays.”
Marta tried to say, “No thank you, I don’t need anything,” and with a stubborn smile, I still handed her the gifts we wrapped just for her.
Courtney had just turned 19. Her eyes were wide with terror. She hadn’t been in a hospital since she was born. She asked the nurse and I if we would tell her parents or her school, and we gently assured her that no one would know unless she wanted them to. She blamed herself. She thought it was her fault that her boyfriend assaulted her and her roommate, she thought she could have somehow prevented the violence she had experienced at the hands of the young man who she thought was her first love.
Jamie called at 5:00 a.m., asking if I was busy. She couldn’t sleep, and she hated the way her medication made her feel. She didn’t want to feel numb anymore. As we struggled through a jigsaw puzzle piece by piece, she excitedly described the apartment she had just secured, “It’s got a sliding glass door to the porch and there’s even a pool,” and couldn’t wait to show it to her kids.
Eric cried into the phone, admitting that he had been afraid to call us, feeling such relief to finally tell someone. He feared we wouldn’t believe him because, “Men are supposed to be able to handle themselves.” I comforted him with the assurance that we know anyone can experience violence, that we believed him, that he wasn’t alone.
Samantha was still unresponsive, but doctor’s assured me she was stable. I softly played a song I remembered she had liked on the radio in my car, hoping that the melody would touch her subconscious, communicating to her traumatized brain that she was safe, and that no one here would hurt her. I hoped that when she woke she wouldn’t remember the flashback that led us here. I hoped she would remember who I was this time.
“Yvette returned to shelter after no contact for days. We were so relieved to see her, knowing how violent her husband could be.”
Yvette was bruised, but whole. She hung her head in shame, embarrassed to tell us she had seen him, fearing we would be disappointed. I pulled my chair closer, to make sure she heard clearly, “We understand you miss your children, you miss your home, you miss the life that was robbed from you. You will never disappoint us; we are here for you, always.”
Elise bursts into the kitchen, carrying a pumpkin pie and whipped cream to share with the shelter for Thanksgiving. She had spent her remaining food stamps because she wanted to contribute. She offered it to her roommate first, to apologize for their argument that morning. They hugged and dug in to the feast that five residents had been preparing all day with staff.
While meeting with his mother, Colton runs up and leans his little head back against my knee, grinning up at me before shoving his fingers deep into his nose! We all laugh, mom unable to scold him because of how joyfully he stuck those little fingers up that little tiny nose.
I run into Samantha at the grocery, years later. Her face is full and her smile is warm. She thanks me and she shows me pictures of her garden.
This job is not an easy one, but it is rewarding beyond measure. It is an honor to be invited into the lives of survivors, during their most vulnerable and difficult times. It is an honor to share some of their stories with you today.
*This blog post is based on true success stories from The Cocoon. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.