Editor’s Note: The woman featured in this story is a victim of domestic violence. For her own safety, her name has been changed. This is the fourth part of a month-long series that focuses on homelessness on the Eastside.
Alicia smiles as she gives a tour of her home, full of cozy furniture and pictures of Disney princesses colored carefully with crayons by her three young daughters. At first glance, it would seem to be a residence like any other. But it is a far cry from where Alicia and her daughters were two years ago.
This past September, Alicia moved into Compassion House, a house in Issaquah for women and children who are seeking refuge from domestic violence. The nonprofit, established in 1998, provides homes for three different families for up to two years at a time, as well as a support team that gives help with everything from job applications to legal aid, finances, insurance, parenting plans and even car repair. Compassion House also has pro-bono counselors.
“There’s really nothing else like it,” said Brynnen Bailey-Lewis, the executive director of Compassion House. “Although we’re small, I think we make a difference in the community by the fact that we serve. We are there for these families no matter what. Although we’re small, we’re mighty.”
Since she moved in to Compassion House in September, Alicia said the experience has transformed her.
“The sky is the limit now,” Alicia said.
In February 2015, Alicia nearly lost her life to the violence of her ex-boyfriend and father of her children, Justin.
One night, in a drug-and-alcohol-induced rage, 6-foot-5-inch Justin sat on top of 5-foot-2-inch Alicia and punched her in the face 25 time because she refused to hand him her cell phone, which contained proof of his violent behavior. To silence her screams, Justin forced blankets into Alicia’s mouth to the point of nearly suffocating her.
“I didn’t think I was gonna live,” recalled Alicia. “I thought, ‘If he punches me one more time …’”
Just when Alicia was sure her body couldn’t take any more, she was rescued by the strength of her then-8-year-old daughter.
“Right at that moment, my daughter came running down the hall and pulled her dad off of me,” Alicia said.
She fled the house without even taking the time to grab her coat. She took off running down Highway 2, with just a tank top to shield her from the freezing temperatures of Leavenworth, Wash. in February. Houses on that section of the highway, Alicia explained, contain 2 to 3 acres of land each, and she had to run across three properties before she found a house with a light on.
“It felt like I was running forever … hoping I would get to the next house before he got to me,” Alicia described.
Thankfully, Alicia’s hopes were answered and she was given shelter. Once back on the west side of the mountains, Alicia and her daughters went into hiding in just one room with a bunk bed, having left behind all of their clothes, toys and baby pictures (which Justin would later destroy).
It only took a couple of instances of physical abuse for Alicia to run away from Justin, but she said that the emotional abuse had been going on far longer.
Alicia’s relationship with Justin hadn’t always been one of abuse. For their first seven years together, she said, “he was the perfect man.” However, after Alicia suffered a miscarriage, Justin chose to ease the pain with drugs and alcohol, which Alicia said transformed him into a completely different person.
“When it’s an abuser that’s on drugs, it’s a whole other story,” Alicia said, noting that “fighting with someone on drugs is like fighting with a brick wall.”
After Alicia left Justin due to his substance addictions, he responded by tormenting her emotionally for seven years. Justin called her cruel names and tried to keep her self-esteem low — so that she would not date anyone else — by telling her that no one would ever want her.
“Whatever I did wasn’t good enough … He would break down any positive outlook I had,” Alicia said. “He was always above me; we were never a team.”
Ironically, Alicia had previously taught classes in high schools training teens to recognize signs of emotional and physical abuse, but found that even her training was hard to fall back on when faced with the real thing.
“After so much emotional abuse, you start to believe what they say,” Alicia said.
Bailey-Lewis explained that for women in emotionally-abusive relationships, “their self-esteem is broken down so far that they’re beating themselves up.” To make matters worse, she said, often the abusive partner will “isolate [them] and control everything.”
Alicia hopes that by telling her story of emotional and physical abuse, she can help other women who may be in an abusive relationship to change their situation.
“There’s a lot of moms out there who don’t think they can leave,” Alicia said.
Now, Alicia is keeping her outlook focused on her future. A trained hairstylist, her goal is to buy a house and to one day open her own salon, half of which she would like to turn into a nonprofit providing hair services to domestic violence victims. Working with the team at Compassion House, Alicia is able to fill out Personal Improvement Plans that help her work towards her dreams. Her most immediate goals during her mid-January interview were “to have a job and a car by February.”
“If you had asked me two years ago where I thought I’d be, I wouldn’t have thought here,” Alicia said.
The memories of the emotional abuse still haunt Alicia every now and then, but she said that “turning towards God has really, really helped.” And, she notes, she already “got through the darkest part.”
“It made me stronger, wiser and very blessed,” she said. She doesn’t wish that she could go back to a time before the abuse, but instead looks forward.
“You don’t want to be the old you,” she said. “You want to be a better version of you.”