When we first leave the nest and move out on our own we typically seek independence, self-sufficiency and a lifestyle that embodies our beliefs and ideologies. It’s the American Dream. For Diane Collins, it took her 48 years to begin establishing such liberty.
“I’ve taken care of husbands, children, everything – cats, dogs,” Diane said. “This is very new to me to be all-alone. I have no husband, no children, no dogs, no cats, no baseball, no gymnastics, so I like it.”
Her dreams of working in radio were squandered in 1997 when her husband began abusing her. He kept her locked up inside the house and prevented her from having friends, from having a life on her own. She could not show emotion without suffering the consequences. “I couldn’t laugh, couldn’t cry. I was like a zombie.”
Diane is one of millions of women around the world who experience violence within their own home. It is a prevalent issue that has continued for centuries affecting every race, economic status and culture. “I wonder if it will ever stop really,” Diane said. “Really. With men this way. Women have always been treated like this.”
Like others, the repression and abuse she lived under created a forced dependency on her husband, disabling her from doing anything alone. “Nothing’s been on track since,” she said. “I’ve had all these goals and he just knocks me down.”
Diane’s experience with violence only worsened as the years went on and she married for the second time. Like her first, her second husband abused her as well. She refers to the experience as being enticed to enter a world she never thought she would. She did drugs; she was arrested and she received felonies for disobeying the law. More than anything, though, Diane was continuously belittled and victimized by a man she says she still loves.
“It’s such a complex, intricate problem, because see I still miss my ex. It’s weird. My mom told me it’s Stockholm Syndrome where you bond with the abuser – traumatic bonding – and it’s left me baffled. You’re so good to someone and then for someone to be the complete opposite is what I cannot comprehend.”
Despite her love for her ex husband, Diane decided it was time for the violence to stop. After experiencing a traumatic situation one night in August 2009, she reached out to a social worker who directed her to a women’s shelter in Bloomington, Indiana: Middle Way House.
“An advocate from the county I was living in drove me down here because I wasn’t up to driving,” she said. “So she drove me down here. I didn’t know one person. I had looked up Middle Way in the middle of the night and I called. I looked it up in the phone book, in the yellow pages, and that’s where I found it, and thank god I did because I don’t know what I’d really be doing right now. I ask myself that from time to time. Would I still be sitting on a couch? Frozen all the time. I don’t know.”
A year and a half later, Diane is on her own for the first time in her life, living in an eclectically furnished apartment that was provided by Middle Way House. She works a steady job and actively participates in workshops the organization provides in order to teach the women basic skills that can help occupy their minds and raise their self-esteem. Diane has taken courses in canning, gardening, cooking, and is currently in a photography workshop led by Indiana University senior, Courtney Miller.
According to Diane, the workshops make her feel like she can do something. They take her mind off of the pain she experienced in the past and help her focus on the way she can move forward. “I can believe maybe I can do something right. That’s what it makes me feel.” The photography workshop, in particular, makes her feel sane and helps her mental and emotional state, she says. “It’s a positive thinking.”
From Diane’s perspective, the workshop not only taught her about basic techniques such as lighting and composition, which she enjoyed applying to the digital camera she rented for the course, but also taught her about her ability to show her reality and express herself creatively. When asked about her images, she replied, “I’d like for them to speak about real life, the hardships of people that get unnoticed. I think that is probably my main priority.”
After several months of the weekly course, Diane has gone from discussing her frustrations, fears and pain to discussing her hopes and dreams. Without inhibition, she speaks of all the things she wants to do with her life. “I want to go on. I need to heal. I need to focus on positive things in my life.”
Diane is currently working to receive financial support for independent housing through the Family Self-Sufficiency Section 8 Program and is working to improve her life. “I want a house to have friends and family visit,” she said. “Start living my life again.”
This is her goal. This is her next step in creating the lifestyle she wants, the one she always thought she would have. It took her 48 years to get to this point, but to her it is never too late.