Winning the battle against abuse
Veronika Lopez was still married to her abuser when she began her life-changing journey with Hope Alliance, a Central Texas crisis center whose mission is “to assist those whose lives have been affected by family and sexual violence by providing services and developing partnerships that lead to hope, healing and prevention.”
At the urging of her mom and sister, Veronika began attending Hope Alliance’s weekly Help End Abusive Relationship Tendencies (HEART) group. “It’s a 12-step program that starts with admitting you’re in an abusive relationship,” she says. However, acknowledging that fact is not as easy as one might think.
Each week, Veronika would hear another woman’s story and think, “Well, at least he didn’t do that to me.” In time, however, she came to realize that no two stories are alike. “When you’ve met one survivor, you’ve met one survivor,” she says, meaning that each individual’s struggle is different. “It’s the courage of all survivors that is the same,” she says.
The first time she attended a HEART group meeting, Veronika sat in the back of the room with her head bowed and tears streaming down her face, listening to another woman’s story and wondering, “How do I get to that place of strength?” That woman became Veronika’s sponsor and is now one of her best friends. In time, Veronika became one of the strong women in the front of the room and has now sponsored four women herself.
Veronika’s story is not unlike those of others who live with domestic violence. The first violent incident involved her then-boyfriend kicking her car and reaching through the open window to slap her face. “I had no idea what was happening,” she says. “He apologized, so I let it go, and everything was fine for a while. Things got bad when I became pregnant with our daughter and then worse when I was pregnant with our son.”
Veronika blamed herself. “I always told myself I shouldn’t have upset him.” Having never experienced abuse in her immediate or extended family, she didn’t know what to do. “I just prayed that God would give me a sign,” she says. When her family asked why she didn’t leave, her abuser’s words would ring in her ears: “No one will ever want you. You’re used goods. Do you want a stranger raising our kids?” and on and on.
The emotional and physical abuse escalated from once a month to once a week until it was happening every day. “I woke up every morning wondering what I would do or say to set him off today,” says Veronika. Ultimately, the sign she was looking for came in the form of a vision of her children finding her dead on the bathroom floor after a particularly violent confrontation. “That was it. I got my children and my purse, and I left . . . for good. And I was blessed that Hope Alliance connected me with a legal aid attorney who helped with my divorce at no cost.”
During that time, Veronika continued to seek help. “I kept going to my therapist and to the HEART group because I didn’t want to be another statistic, another so-called battered woman,” she says. She knows now that abuse knows no boundaries; no one, regardless of race, religion, gender, age, or income level, is immune to it. “Everyone knows someone who either is or has been abused,” she says.
Now her degree, along with life experience and a desire to help others, has landed Veronika a new job as a victim’s advocate for a nonprofit organization in the Austin area. “This is my passion,” she says with a smile. “I never dreamed that my terrible experience would lead me to such an amazing place of being able to help others who are going through similar experiences.”
She also continues to work with Hope Alliance, sharing her story in interviews and at special events. “I like sharing the message that, as horrible as your experiences might be now, there is hope. You can be happy again.”
Veronika has found happiness in all areas of her life. Engaged to be married this summer, she says, “I am in a healthy relationship now, and I get to put my babies to bed every night. I think I won the battle.”
To learn more about Hope Alliance’s work, visit www.hopealliancetx.org.