A college student writes:  “Home is the place where I first learned fear, pain, and heartbreak. It’s the place I have suffered a great deal of lovelessness, violence, and trauma. It’s where I feel manipulated, hopeless, and resigned to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Home is dark for me.”
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Coronavirus closings: When college students must go back to abusive homes

When colleges closed abruptly, some students did not have safe homes waiting for them.

This is a guest column by one such student, who comes from a violent home and is now back living with her abusive parent after her Georgia campus shut down.

For her, college provided safety and stability. She has been cut loose from that and is now doing her best to stay positive and safe.

She offers solace and hope to others returning to homes marred by domestic violence. 

I also want to add the 24/7 number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 

Dear Survivors,  

I hope you are well, given the circumstances. I am sending you all love from afar. 

There are many of us survivors out there, and we are all in a heavy place right now. What is important is that you know you are not alone in this. 

I am a student at a university that recently closed down, kicked their students out, and asked us to stay home for the remainder of the year. Like most students, I’m sad and disappointed, but understanding of what must be done to fight this pandemic. The problem with schools at any level shutting down and asking us to stay home is that many of us have to do exactly that -- stay at home.  

I’ve always envied the lives of my peers. From what I can tell, most of them live relatively happy lives with parents who provide them with unconditional love and affection. They live in nice houses, have fun conversations over family dinners, go on vacations, and have family game nights. 

Home isn’t that way for me. Home is the place where I first learned fear, pain, and heartbreak. It’s the place I have suffered a great deal of lovelessness, violence, and trauma. It’s where I feel manipulated, hopeless, and resigned to deep depression and suicidal thoughts.  

Home is dark for me.  

Going to college was the best part of my life. For the first time, I was living in a place where I felt accepted for who I was. A place where I could make mistakes and know that I wouldn’t be silenced and met with violence or screaming.  

And that’s exactly how the past 3.75 years have been. I’ve made beautiful friends who accepted me into their lives and provided me with so much love and kindness. I spent my college years making wonderful memories with people who are nothing short of angels. 

I made a family at my university, and I have nothing but sincere gratitude for the warmth and support each of my friends have provided over these past couple of years.  

Because of this pandemic, I am back home and I am not faring well. While I had been anticipating a blowup since Day One of the school shutdowns, I really didn’t expect it to come so soon. I stayed calm in my moment of sadness and rage. I stayed quiet and resigned. I did not stir a single pot. But the rage came anyway. 

That’s the thing about abusers - you never know what will trigger their nerves and cause them to become unhinged. There is no way to know what topics or questions you should avoid. There is no guidebook that will help prevent being yelled at or hit. It’s impossible.  

This time, it was a simple suggestion of something we could improve in the house. I was immediately met with accusations of being overly negative. I was yelled at for complaining too much and for having an overly pessimistic attitude that they had no idea where it had come from. They refused to let me speak and make my case, instead calling me crazy, hysterical, and ungrateful. 

And so it goes. A few days into “social distancing” and I’m already in tears, wondering how I will be able to do this for another two months at minimum. I feel myself spiraling into the abyss of depression I know so well. I feel those intruding thoughts edging themselves in and I can feel my resignation to hopelessness and silence settling in. All I want is to sleep or leave, but of course, either of those paths would lead to more fights and yelling. I am stuck. 

I am lucky that I have one supportive parent who has been my rock. I stay for them, and I stay for my sibling. I should be clear -- we are all survivors to the abuse. Not one of us has been spared. Leaving them would mean leaving the people who were there when things were rough. Leaving them would mean causing them more pain for which I would feel responsible. 

So, it seems like I’m at home for a while, as you might be also.  As survivors, we must cope with how we will make it day-to-day living in a violent home. 

While social distancing and quarantining are essential steps to mitigate this pandemic, it puts survivors at great risk of abuse simply by isolating many of us with our abusers. 

We may be subject to incredibly evil manipulation and denial of our own humanities and freedoms. We may no longer be able to access our support systems that have kept us afloat and alive for years. We may feel an impending doom coming our way.  

If you are a survivor and find yourself in this situation, let me start by saying that I see you. I know you are out there, and I understand the pain, suffering, and turmoil you might be feeling. I understand how hard this situation is for you, and I understand how hopeless it might feel to be living in the middle of this all.  

We all know that prevention of abuse is the golden key to ending it all, but right now, prevention advocacy isn’t an option for most of us. The best we some of us can do right now is mitigate the pain and reduce our trauma as much as possible. 

Personally, there are a couple of ways I am learning to manage my own trauma. These methods may not work for everyone, so take what you need and be willing to accept that your needs are unique to you and your situation.

--Find what brings you joy. Do these things when/if  possible. Even the smallest things, like drawing, reading a book, or doing a puzzle, can put you in a better head space to deal with your trauma. These can become activities you look forward to doing, and they give you a sense of purpose and drive.

--Reach out to friends. Send messages to people you may not have spoken to in a long time. Find solace in talking to people, even though it may not be about your trauma or abuse. Simply speaking to people you love, even about trivial things, can make you feel less isolated and less alone. It’s ok to lean on people during these times - they probably need you, too.

--Find room to forgive yourself. This is not your fault and you must allow yourself room to forgive yourself. You may need to cope with your trauma in ways that feel like regression. Do what you need to do to stay healthy during this time. There will be time for improvement later, too.  

--Above all, we must remember that we are not alone. There are millions of survivors across every walk of life and we can come together, as a community, even in these times of isolation, and show our support and love for each other. You are not alone, and together, we will get through this. 

Yours truly,

A Fellow Survivor

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.