BG woman now helps others survive domestic violence
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Thursday, 21 June 2012 09:56
Christy Bennett was just about the last person her longtime coworkers at Wood Lane would have guessed was facing serious problems at home.
|Christy Bennett with her daughters Mara (from left) and Megan, and son Jacob. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Her breezy, self-assured personality and stylish appearance suggested this was a woman who had it all together.
In reality, however, “barely holding it together” was a better description of the state of her life.
“I was married to my second husband for less than a year when his anger issues began,” the 1988 Otsego graduate and mother of three will now admit.
“At first it was a lot of yelling and then he started coming home drunk and began to do things like wrestle me for my purse, call me all kinds of obscenities in front of my children and threatened physical violence.”
Bennett had just started going back to school and as the time she spent under his direct control became less, his anger increased.
“He monopolized our finances and would spend every penny we had so that I would have very little left to provide for the kids, and it was also a way to prevent me from leaving.”
Bennett had first heard about The Cocoon, Wood County’s shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence, shortly after her wedding.
“They opened in 2005, the very year I got married.” Bennett “happened to pick up a card with their number on it. I hid it in my purse and kept it there. I had a feeling it would later come in handy.”
As the situation at home continued to deteriorate there came a night when Bennett had to stay at her brother’s house after her husband got drunk “and threatened to come home and ‘talk’ about what I had done wrong this time. I quickly packed an overnight bag for the kids and me and stayed in Weston. It was a night of pure hell as he constantly called me, called my brother and harassed everyone.
“I felt embarrassed and guilty for putting my family in this situation and scared of what would happen next.”
She called the sheriff’s department and then finally called Cocoon.
“They brought us to the unit and I remember feeling a sense of relief and the feeling of being able to breathe again. I was actually able to sleep that night for the very first time — all night.”
The next day Bennett talked to staff there who gave her information about the cycle of violence.
“You see, this was not my first experience with relationship abuse. I had been in this cycle for about 15 years and didn’t understand how or why I kept getting into these relationships.”
Her first serious boyfriend, when she was 20, “was physically abusive. He was stalking me; he would run me off the road.”
“Back then the laws were a little different. It was his first time, he was going through the police academy, and they didn’t want to ruin his career, so I lost” in court. That experience later made her very leery of seeking help through formal channels.
Her confusion was deepened by the fact that she didn’t fully understand the definition of domestic violence.
“I had been through physically abusive relationships before” this marriage, including once having a gun held to her head.
“This was more emotional, financial. I needed their help, almost, to identify that it was abuse.”
Bennett believes the most helpful thing Cocoon staffers did was to help her set up an escape plan.
Unlike the image of the woman who suddenly flees in the middle of the night with only the clothes on her back, and her helpless children in tow, for many women in an abusive marriage or relationship the process of escape is complicated and delicate.
“It takes time. You have to put money away, get (the children’s) birth certificates.
“My kids are not his, but he knew my kids are my world. It’s all power and control.
“He took the box of all their school stuff — stuff a mom saves like old pictures, report cards; the filing cabinet with their Social Security numbers, birth certificates. He took my camcorder with the only movies I ever had of them.” That last item she never did get back.
Bennett pointed out that when a woman is in the middle of a chaotic situation with a partner “you are having trouble thinking clearly. You feel you are walking on egg shells and in a constant state of chaos. He would say I was crazy, and I actually felt as if I was going crazy and would question and second-guess myself.”
Many people who now know Bennett’s story ask why she didn’t leave earlier.
“The scariest time for a survivor is when you leave,” she explained. “It’s (also) the most dangerous time.”
The Cocoon workers gave her information, but didn’t pressure her to leave before she was ready.
“We stayed there about two weeks, then went back home. The next time he got drunk about three months later, he tried to throw the kids and I out of the house in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter. I called the BG police and they were there in about a minute. One officer got the kids and me into a bedroom, shut the door and stayed with us” while other officers wrestled with the angry spouse and removed him from the house.
Since making the break, life feels surreal, Bennett has found. “You’re not used to the peace and quiet. I still have PTSD” and saw a counselor for awhile to deal with it.
“I was afraid of guns. I had a gun held to my head in that first relationship.” In an effort to regain control Bennett “went to Cleland’s last winter and took a gun class. That helped.”
So does assisting other women who are where she has been.
Bennett found the courage to address a packed room at The Cocoon’s fundraising banquet last fall, where she told her full story.
Today her divorce is final, she has graduated with honors from Owens Community College and is a regular Cocoon volunteer.
Life goes on for local family after domestic abuse
Life beyond domestic violence is very different for Bowling Green resident Christy Bennett and her children.
"I have become determined, independent and strong," said Bennett, who was recently nominated as Wood County Volunteer of the Year for her work with the Cocoon Shelter that once provided her own family a roof, moral guidance and physical support.
Her identical twin daughters, who have had some anxiety issues as a result of the abuse that formerly surrounded them, "have come a long way."
Megan Hughes, 15, was recognized by the Exchange Club as a Positive Start honoree earlier this spring. She has been volunteering with an anti-bullying group at school. Megan's sister, Mara, was named student of the month at BG Middle School in January.
Son Jacob, 11, "was pretty much my husband's scapegoat. But he is learning. He says he will never treat a girl that way."
As for Bennett herself, "I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor and want to show other women and children who are victims that they too can find the peace, tranquility and relief that they deserve and they don't have to do it alone."
She's about to show her gratitude in a tangible way as she works to organize a Sept. 1 poker run and silent auction to benefit Cocoon.
The plan is to lay out the motorcycle run "to hit all four corners of the county" plus neighboring communities like Genoa "that have actually had a murder that resulted from domestic violence."
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 10:17