Cecilia never stole a car or hid in a dark alley while police officers drove by in abject frustration. She was not imprisoned and tortured by a drug-crazed sadist. Her life has been much more sedate and middle class-proper. She raised her children in Ensenada Baja and was married to her husband for ten years. He became drug-addicted, however, and their dream life of quiet tranquility was shattered. She tried for two years to re-establish normalcy, but eventually gave up and left the home with her three younger children. She was exhausted and defeated by months of emotional and spiritual abuse, undone by her ineffectual toil to save her family.
Toward the end, she would stay up all night long, journaling and fighting with God: “Why don’t you do something? You know I am suffering, why don’t you help? Do you enjoy watching my children suffer? You can change my husband; why don’t you do it?” On June 8 of this past year, she stopped battling and said to God, “I just want you to know that I am here. I need you. My children have many needs. She was exhausted with a fatigue that drained her spirit and brought her resolve to the edge of despair.
She woke up the next morning with a voice in her mind, “Do whatever you want. I have turned my back on you.” She assumed it was a harsh message from the Almighty. The morning got worse. She took the children to her in-laws home and was met with a shocking threat: “You are the one with the drug addiction. We will take the children from you. Say goodbye to your kids as you will not see them again.”
Bewildered and frightened by their groundless claims and threats, she returned home and announced to her husband that she had decided to leave him. He dismissed the “drama” and returned to his cereal. Cecilia left with the younger children; her 18-year-old chose to stay at home. Within moments she was out on the streets of Ensenada without a plan or good idea. In little time, her children began to complain of hunger and thirst. They could sense her anxiety, and it troubled them. She had not been in a position where she could not pull out some money to meet their immediate needs. She lost her faith in God at that point, on June 9, convinced that He did not care.
Confused and staggered by the enormity of her recent decision, she noticed a nearby police station and headed there for some aid. The officers there were helpful and kind. They gave her two hundred pesos from their own pockets. Another citizen, who was in the office because of an auto accident, saw her plight and gave the officers more money so the “baby would be well-cared for.” She appreciated the generosity, but this was still clearly the worst day of her entire life.
The officers made some phone calls to locate a refuge for the family, and they arrived at Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo at about 5 pm that afternoon. The sweet welcome and warm food slowly took the edge off the day’s trauma. It impressed Cecilia that Dorothy and the ladies did such a great job of meeting their basic needs. That would have been enough, but Cecilia learned in the coming weeks that she and the children had needs of which she was not remotely aware. As they were embraced, encouraged, and supported, she began to feel a relational warmth and other things she had never felt in her own families. She didn’t even know she needed these things until she received them in abundance and was slowly transformed by their benefits. She also was introduced to a genuine love and faith in Christ. She did not expect any of that.
Over the two years, she battled addiction in her family, Cecilia was introduced to various social programs. They would send her out to find employment without preparing her. At Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo, she was equipped to get a job. She learned how to sew tapestries – a latent skill that was also a surprising, unexpected discovery. She also learned to make greeting cards with brilliant colors and intricate geometric designs, which she now sells for an income.
In addition, she quickly acquired the ability to talk and relate to people. Prior to the shelter, she had been inward and shut down. Early on, she would sit in the group sessions and think, “I have my own problems; I don’t want to hear about yours.’” In the second session with her individual therapist, she learned that she had the same emotional symptoms as the other ladies in the home; they had just arrived at them from extremely different paths. She was remarkably similar in many ways to these ladies, despite their strikingly different histories. She made breakfast for her children in a middle-class kitchen while they were being savagely beaten and held in captivity for years by traffickers, but their damaged souls emerged with similar scarring. Once she understood this, she began caring about the other ladies. She realized she could learn from them, and learn how to heal as they had healed.
A general rule of the home is that ladies do not go out into the community for 3 months; they are vulnerable and need to be protected as they learn coping skills. Leadership permitted Cecilia to find a job after only fifteen days, as she advocated strongly for it. She quickly learned the wisdom of their cautious approach. “The world is nothing like Dorothy’s place. It is harsh with little support. Dorothy wants us to understand that the world is an aggressive place, that you need to be prepared to live in that reality. She wants us to be ok when we go out there.” She would shake her head in disbelief when ladies would gather all their belongings in the dead of night and run away – run back to their abusers. She again heard from the group, “You are the same way.” She adamantly insisted she was not. “Didn’t you try to leave the difficult emotional work you needed to do here by running off too quickly to get a job?” Then, she understood.
Cecilia asserts that her transformation started with the attention of the house mother. When she was closed off and inward and didn’t want to relate to the others, the house mother would tell her, “I understand. I have been there, and I can help you move past it.” Initially, the fiercely skeptical inner response was, “And just how are you going to help me, lady?” But she noticed that the house mother, like Dorothy, was always there for her. When she had questions late at night, long after program hours, the bedroom door would always open and a gracious heart would hear her concerns and fears. During the day, the staff was willing to drop an important task to focus on her needs.
During her two year search to save her marriage, she met kind people in the other programs she encountered. But they would all leave their office at 5 pm and hurriedly promise to check back in the next day. Is it possible that our vaunted professional boundaries are often, in fact, an intruding boundary or barrier to healing? Instead, we must realize that many folks, crushed by abuse that few of us can imagine, require a little more than a fifty-minute session or something beyond the other limitations imposed by our professional rules.
Cecilia eventually grasped that Dorothy, her husband Eduardo, and the house mother were hyper-vigilant. They would give her hugs and tell her all would be OK, just when she needed to hear that. They did the same with the other women when she did not even notice that they were in an emotionally fragile state. How did they know? She now sees it as a spiritual gift. “There is no other explanation.” She believes they are so “locked in” and “in tune” to know when a bound-up and an inwardly-focused lady is needy and open to intervention. She sees examples of this frequently.
She also asserts that the morning devotional groups are powerful. The ladies recognize common problems and help each other overcome them. Eventually, she felt God was speaking directly to her through the words of the other women. She explains that she was “saved” when she was fifteen. But her faith never went beyond, “Why is this happening? Where are you?” until she arrived at Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo. In devotions she understood for the first time, “it is not about me now.” For example, she has property in Ensenada, and her husband remains in rehab. Initially, she had no intention of going back to him. Now she realizes, “It is God’s decision.” She trusts that He has a good and healthy plan for her and her family, though she may have no clue at times where He is leading her. For now, she knows she is to remain at the home and continue to grow in her faith and interpersonal skills.