SAN ANTONIO – Spending the holidays in the Battered Women and Children's Shelter may sound somber to some people, but it's quite the contrary. For many families inside the shelter, this is the safest and happiest holiday season they've spent in a while.
For many women, the shelter means freedom.
"One of the first things they do when you come here is provide you with clothing that you can go outside with! Which is really exciting for me," said a survivor who got to the shelter right after Thanksgiving. Her identity will be hidden for her safety.
Clothing is a simple freedom. It is one of many that a controlling abuser took away from her over the past three years.
"It happened gradually. First it was losing my cellphone, then communication, then my driver's license and keys to the car. I lost the freedom to leave when I wanted to leave, or go to the store. I wasn't provided with any financial means to even clothe myself. I was bought things like pajamas, which I could stay home in but not things I could go outside with," she said.
She couldn't spend another holiday season trapped inside the prison of her home, so she gathered her strength and headed to the shelter. She said this will be the best and safest Christmas she's spent in years.
"And the least amount of stress because I don't have to worry about what's going to happen when I get home," she said.
She's one of many in the shelter who feel that way.
"I've heard so many stories this week about children whose first birthday parties were here even though they're 5 or 6 years old. That their first Christmas tree is now that they're getting gifts for the first time," she said. "I've heard very young children say, 'Mommy is happy and Mommy isn't scared today.' That's inspiring to me."
The holidays are a peak time for abuse and this year is even more shocking than others. The shelter's CEO Marta Palaez said just two days this week, 42 people have come to the shelter seeking safety and help.
"We're prepared with everything that the holidays should be in a home because this is their home. There is singing, gift sharing, plenty of food, there are parties that are offered here and at other locations," Palaez said.
Some shelters only let you stay for 90 days but that's not the case at the Battered Women and Children's Shelter. Families can stay for as long as they need. The point of that is to make sure women are not forced to leave prematurely and return to an abusive situation.
During the holidays that support is more necessary than ever, since there is always a lot of nostalgia and pain to overcome.
"When you see that person crying because they're not going to be able to see some of their family this year, because it's not safe to go back there, you have to be there to support each other," our survivor said.
She said with a true family of support the shelter is a home that's making many women whole again.