“My Fault”

Portrait of Dana Harris

“It was my fault,” Dana said the first time she was physically abused by her significant other. “That is exactly where my mind took me.”

Having grown up in a family where one family member used a push and pull, punish and reward style supervision, it was natural for Dana to be attracted to a young man with similar behavior patterns when she met him in the 10th grade.

“From the very beginning he exerted mental control over me,” Dana said. “Here I was, overweight, depressed, and little or no confidence in myself.”

Then in January of her junior year, she found out she was three months pregnant with her first son. Her abuser’s behavior didn’t improve during the pregnancy, and he continued to use mind games to mentally tear her down.

As a cosmetology student, she delivered her son on the first day of her senior year. But this didn’t stop her from graduating with her class. She continued to endure this rocky relationship for some 17 years. She left him multiple times during those years, but like most victims of domestic violence, she kept returning.

Just Leave

“They say most victims leave an average of 7 times before it lasts,” Dana said. “I know I left way more times than that till I figured it out. I always say the hard part is not leaving, it is staying gone.”

She left him in 2012 for a year and a half, but once again ended up back with him.    Shortly after returning, he stole her gun to intimidate someone and ended up doing prison time for Weapons under Disability.

But return to him she did after he got out.  After 15 ½ years of back and forth, now with a second child on the way and a man who had completed his rehab again, they married.

“After our wedding, we were in our hotel room opening our gifts and counting the monetary gifts we had been given,” she said. “When I woke up in the middle of the night, he had taken all the money, bought heroin, and had relapsed once again.” Laying on the bathroom floor, he was in and out of consciousness.

The couple moved in with her mom, and he continued to abuse her and drugs. Her mother kicked him out, which meant their whole family had to move out. He had gotten a job that offered them a place to live. Even though they were both working now, he continued his cycle of being high or going through withdrawal.

Staying Gone

“The turning point for me was when I found him in the bathroom, going through withdrawal. I noticed that on his way to the floor, he had torn down this fabric shower curtain that I had finally been able to afford to buy,” she said. “I left the bathroom and he came after me with a trash can lid which he threw at me, hitting me in front of our 14-year-old son. Then one week later, I found him overdosed again. Once I finally got him to come to, I told him to get clean, or I was gone.”

Things had gotten so bad she had been sleeping with her cash, debit card and car keys inside her pillowcase at night. She then informed her oldest son that when she gave him the sign, they would be leaving. On August 6th, they were up all night arguing. She called off work and took her boys to the safety of a friend’s house. Her friend and her mother told her to just leave but still fearful of being on her own, she asked God to give her a sign. She looked over towards her eighteen-month old’s toy box and there on the floor right next to it was one of his needles. It was at that moment she decided she was going to make her final exit. She then entered the OneEighty shelter.

Behind Safe Walls

“Being at the shelter gave me a different perspective on what I had endured,” Dana said. “There were others who had lived through so much more suffering than I had. Additionally, I was able to work with a victim advocate to enroll in the ‘Safe Address’ program which enabled me to use a PO Box on any and all public record documents making my safety even more secure.”

Those Who Care Are Willing to Share

Because Dana had continued to work all through these difficult times, her stay in the shelter was only from January until April. A non-profit program called “Care and Share” made her transition even smoother. Care and Share uses donated household items to furnish apartments for women leaving the shelter. They enter a new home that is warm and welcoming.

“I met Connie Benchoff who was in charge of the organization at the time. We talked about my family and things my boys liked. When it came time to unveil the place they had prepared for me, I was just blown away,” she said. “They had personalized the home with Paw Patrol and sports motifs for my sons. They had a china hutch filled withdishes and glasses, but also with framed photos of my grandparents. Finally, when they opened the bathroom door, there was a beautiful new cloth shower curtain waiting for me. I immediately burst into tears, remembering that day he physically assaulted me in front of our son.”

Coming Full Circle

Just like the agency name, OneEighty, implies, Dana has changed directions with her relationship with domestic violence and substance abuse. The same Connie Benchoff who led the charge on furnishing her new home, asked her if she would like to serve on the Board of Trustees for OneEighty.

“I am just about to complete my third year on the board,” Dana shared proudly. “My life is better than I could ever have imagined. By serving on the board, I have met so many professional people who are so uplifting. But I am the one who understands what our clients are experiencing and feeling. I know how one feels when living inside the protective walls of the shelter. I am the one who remembers crying inside my new beautifully furnished home because I was so scared of being on my own. If my involvement with OneEighty and others living through what I did can change even one life, I will be happy.”

When Enough is Enough

Her message for anyone reading her story is this.

“You are worth so much more! When you are ready to go, OneEighty can help you find your way. They have all the tools to help you achieve the hardest part: ‘staying gone.’ I encourage you to reach out for help and build yourself an even better future than you can imaging.”


To learn more about the domestic violence and sexual assault resources available through OneEighty, call us at (330) 264-8498. Call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-686-1122 for immediate assistance.

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