Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Reach Out for Help with Domestic Abuse

Woman leaning out of a passenger train window.

Reaching Out Doesn’t Guarantee Immediate Help

When you reach out for help, you show your strength and begin to stop the abuse in your life. Many people reach out for help with domestic abuse, but sometimes they reach out for help to the wrong people. Or they reach out to the right people but become discouraged. A lot of times, the shelter is full. Sometimes your best friend won’t be able to take your call. Maybe your county’s department of social services has a daily schedule for meeting with counselors, but your abuser is home during those times.

I ran into many stumbling blocks while reaching out for help. The best question I asked when a person or organization could not meet my needs was, “Could you recommend somewhere I could call that might be able to help?” Sometimes, the group they refer you to is the one that referred you to them. But sometimes, you get a lead. And while you’re butting your head against the wall because you can’t get a support system in place, do some more safety planning taking those limitations into account.

Don’t give up if the domestic abuse resource doesn’t meet your needs. Keep reaching for help and you will find it.

Don’t Reach Out For Help from Your Abuser

In the beginning, I thought my husband would want to stop abusing us once he knew what he was doing. I wanted to get my abuser on board with stopping the abuse. I wanted it so badly that I told him way more than I should have. It turned into a precarious and dangerous situation.

I learned that it’s okay to keep some things to myself. Habitually, I poured out my soul to my husband, probably looking for approval from a man who would not give it. In fact, he turned the information I gave him into ways to attack or undermine me. So remember: Reach out in private; this isn’t about the abuser, it is about your sanity and finding a safe place in your mind where you can plant a seed.

Hotlines Make It Easy to Reach Out for Help

We’ll start with the easiest way to reach out for help: the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). When you call the hotline, describe your situation. If you’re not sure you’re abused, tell them so.

The trained volunteers can validate your suspicions and help you get a handle on what’s going on in your mind. They’ll talk about what you want to talk about, but a good question to ask is, “What can I do about the abuse?” That question opens a world of possibilities and you can choose a viable solution that could work for you.

The volunteers can also put you in touch with domestic violence organizations and community outreach programs local to you.

Community Outreach Programs

Contact the Department of Social Services or the specific domestic violence agency in your state. Make an appointment to speak with a counselor so you can find out what resources are available to you. Counseling at DSS is free to you, thanks to the taxpayer.

The DSS counselor I spoke to helped me realize that leaving isn’t the only option. Although I did eventually leave, I was able to stay saner while living in that relationship because she educated me about options I hadn’t known existed.

Remember, much of the domestic violence help is secret because victims need the secrecy to stay safe; once you’re identified as a victim, the veil of secrecy lifts.

Get Help from Your Loved Ones

If your abuser hasn’t completely isolated you, reach out for help from other people in your life. Maybe you’ve spoken to friends and family before about the abuse but made apologies for your abuser or talked them and yourself into believing it’s not that bad.

Don’t do that this time. Tell them how bad it is. Ask if you can go to their home for an hour or so if the situation becomes volatile at your house. Or ask if you can call them when your abuser is acting out because many abusive people don’t want anyone outside the home to know how they act. Ask your loved ones if they will be key parts of your safety planning, but only if you trust them to keep your secrets.

Domestic Violence Groups

You will most likely find a domestic violence group meeting you can attend after reaching out to social services or the National Domestic Violence Hotline. There may be other domestic abuse group meetings outside of social services. For example, if you’re in the military or a military dependent, there is help available through the military too (contact the base hospital).

Meeting real, live, speaking breathing people in a group or one-on-one setting is very important. Online friends are great and you can keep them. However, you can’t beat the experience of in-person meetings. Looking another person in the face, hearing the emotion in their voice, and connecting with that person are of paramount importance.

You will be amazed at the emotions a group meeting elicits. I was all at once angry that my ex-husband treated me that way and angry at myself for allowing it. But I felt comforted by the empathy of the group, validated by the nods and smiles, strengthened by the stories of how they escaped. You can’t get that without visiting people in person.

Tell Your Medical Doctors

It’s a really good idea to get your medical doctors in the loop. No, you can’t call them during a crisis, but they can document the abuse you’re experiencing. They can write in your official files what you tell them about injuries (physical and psychological). There may be a time that you need those records.

To be safe, do not allow your spouse access to your medical records. There is a form you fill out about privacy. Maybe you previously checked the box allowing your significant other access to your records. Make sure you uncheck that box.

Also, medical doctors are often the people who open the doors to mental health professionals. They will sometimes start you on basic psychiatric medication. They are able to give referrals and will get the ball rolling on finding you some mental health help. But most important is that private record of the abuse in your official file. I hope you never need it, or your loved ones never need it, but if you do, it will be there.

Find a Great Counselor

Notice I said a “Great” counselor. I had two very different experiences with counselors. One was not helpful to my situation or my self-esteem; the other one empowered me without telling me what to do. Please find a counselor who is well-versed in domestic abuse or trauma treatment.

Your number one question when calling around could be, “Do you have experience working with abuse victims?” If the counselor gives a roundabout answer or says “No”, then they are not the counselor for you.

Church Leaders

You know your church best. Is the teaching there likely to suggest you stay with the abuser? If so, don’t go there. You need an open-minded person who can allow for leaving if you decide to go. But if your church understands that the abuser broke the marriage covenant by trashing you and your vows repeatedly, then perhaps counseling there will help.

It’s important that the person you speak with respects confidentiality. Don’t choose church leadership if there’s a possibility the church leader could leak information. Or worse, if they decide to bring the abuser into a meeting without telling you. If you’re at all concerned about potential problems in your church, find someone else to talk to. Keep your wits about you when considering your church leaders as advisors.

Get a Peer Mentor

Did you know there’s a group that offers free mentoring to people who want to leave or have already left abusive relationships? Learn more about Domestic Abuse Survivor Help (DASH), a peer support mentoring program.

There are many individuals and groups who want to help you. It is your job to find them and do what is best for you. It might take time to build this fortress around you, but just starting to care for yourself in this way helps you feel stronger.